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August 19, 2005

A Page from North Bay’s Heritage

North Bay’s Heritage Festival earlier this month is North Bay’s biggest annual celebration.  There have been some concerns that the word Heritage in the title is not accurate since there is not much heritage at the event.  Community Voices is a regional paper and does not generally include North Bay articles but the city is part of the life of everyone in the area in some way for health care, shopping, entertainment, business, etc.  With this in mind a look at an important, if often unrecognized, event in North Bay’s history may be of interest. 

Main Street North Bay in 1925.

That event is the 1925 Old Home Week which celebrated North Bay’s incorporation as a city for 8 days 80 years ago this month.  I came across a copy of the 120 page Old Home Week souvenir book at a yard sale a few years ago and have used it as an occasional reference along with several other later books on the Bay.  The book is remarkable for several reasons including the excellent photographs, first hand accounts of early history by those who lived it and the scale of the eight-day event. 

Using the souvenir book as a guide lets look at North Bay as it saw itself in 1925.  One thing that strikes you in the book is that North Bay was very much a man’s world.  Women did not get the vote and the right to be elected in Canada until 1918 and were not recognized in law as “persons” eligible for senate seats until 1927.  The book is “respectfully dedicated” to The Men of Faith… The Men of Action… The Men of Courage (and)… the Men of Vision who founded North Bay.  The book lists the very early pioneers 44 men and 3 women, 2 of whom were identified using their husband’s names – Mrs. Paul Bernard, Mrs. William Ledgerwood & Mrs. Amelia Parks (one of the rare times a woman’s own name was used).  The world has changed for women in 80 years. 

This history of North Bay recognizes the arrival of Samuel de Champlain 390 years ago this year on July 26th, 1615 and provides an insight (as recorded in Champlain’s diary) on the area then, especially the native people living here.  A drawing of Champlain graces the cover of the book.  Reference is made to Voyageurs and Priests passing through the area over the ensuing years.   

The coming of the CPR across the north side of Lake Nipissing in 1882 was the beginning of the development of what would be called North Bay.  The Grand Trunk came from southern Ontario in 1889. 

An original building on Main Street – Dr. McMurchy on right.

One of the early North Bay leaders was John Ferguson who built the first log house among “a jumble of slash and stumps and ties and poles scattered over the muskeg through which trails meandered going anywhere and getting nowhere in particular.” Other homes and businesses soon followed and North Bay officially became a town 115 years ago on April 7th, 1890.  The Temiskaming and Northern Railway (now the Ontario Northland) pushed north from North Bay in 1904 and the CNR came through in 1917 making North Bay a major transportation centre with all of the accompanying services and infrastructure. 

The souvenir book provides profiles of many of the early pioneers including John Ferguson & Dr. A. McMurchy North Bay’s first doctor who came as a railway doctor and stayed.  His son later became a doctor in North Bay.  There are also profiles of the educational institutions, churches, and service clubs, etc. 

A remarkably intensive program over the eight days of the event is outlined including some early movies, excursions on the Northern Belle, sports competitions, various performances including an early single airplane airshow, music, etc. 

The Normal School – now Ontario Correctional Services

Half of the book was made up of advertisements some of which were quite informative.  A Nugget advertisement told how it moved from Cobalt to North Bay in 1922 and published 6,000 copies Tuesday and Friday for $3.00 a year.  A footnote in the ad indicates that the Nugget published the souvenir booklet.  An ad for the Sunset Park subdivision, 2 miles east of North Bay, sponsored by John Ferguson “The Founder of North Bay and Pioneer Real Estate Dealer” offered lots from $100 to $300 with terms of $10 down and $5 per month.  An article on North Bay’s growth indicates the population of the city and its size (in brackets) as follows: 1895-2024 (500 acres); 1905-5204 (500 acres); 1915-10,041 (2100 acres); 1925-13,011 (2100 acres). (The City of North Bay amalgamated with West Ferris and Widdifield Townships in 1968).  (The population of North Bay in 2005 is 56,000.) 

This article just touches on some of the book’s contents – a fascinating piece of our heritage.

Heritage Perspective Home Page

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