HISTORY OF CHIPPEWA PARK
“Night after night on the shores of Thunder Bay, long ago, were heard weird chanting laments of the Indian braves. Hundreds of members of various tribes then made this inlet in Northern Ontario ring with their shouts and songs and the rumbling sound of wooden sticks thudding with monotonous regularity on buckskin tom-toms. There the Indians went to hunt and that was the site of many a tribal rendevous.”
Today on this same site may be heard the laughter of children and adults as they play and relax in the City of Thunder Bay’s popular Chippewa Park. It has taken hundreds of years and numerous events to see the change. Chippewa Park has always been a sign of the times in Fort William; reflecting the era as well as the desires of the people in the area, since its early days.
Although the inter-tribal rendezvous of long ago have never been validated, it is known that this land was allotted to the Fort William Band of Indians under Chief Joseph Peau de Chat a few years following a treaty signed on September 7, 1850. Under The Robinson Superior Treaty, between the government and nine Ojibway Chiefs, the Ojibway (or Chippewa) Indians surrendered territory extending 400 miles along the shores of Lake Superior. In return, they received three reserves, a cash settlement and a small annual payment.
The land allotted to the Fort William Band became known as the Chippewa Nation Reserve and later as the Mission Site. ‘Chippewa’ is the name the French, English and American use for the Ojibway Indians. It is from the Indians of this Reserve that the land for Chippewa Park was eventually purchased.
In February and March of 1911, the Fort William Board of Park Management discussed the possibility of purchasing some land on the Mission for park purposes. Chairman Dowler of the Board was instrumental in securing this land for the lakeside recreation of the public. The chief visionary of the park, he would often canoe out to the area and pitch his tent at Brule Bay for parley councils with the Band members.
On December 29, 1917, the Band surrendered 270 1/10, more or less, acres of land to the Crown, who in turn handed over the land to the Corporation of the City of Fort William. The City paid $25, 000 for this land; half of which they paid immediately and the balance was promised for 3 years after World War I at an interest rate of 5 ½%. According to Russell Brown, Indian Agent at the time, every man, woman and child living on the reservation received $92.00 from this transaction. They received half of it directly, and the remainder went to their interest fund in Ottawa.
The City turned the land over to the Board of Park Management with several conditions. The land was to be used for park purposes only. This included the use of the property for amusement, play and recreational grounds, summer hotels, boarding houses, cottages and cabins, as the City deemed desirable from time to time. Indian band members were also to be given special consideration and favours such as the use of a free phone at Squaw Bay and the rights to cut the timber along the roadway.
In 1920, the Fort William Board of Park Management began clearing out the park land, which was now known as the Mission Park site. Work was slow and in January, 1921, the Board declared that Mission Park was an absolute necessity to the Fort William public. Everything possible was to be done to have it open later that year. By July 6, 1921, the park had been sufficiently developed to receive an official name. It was give the title “Chippewa Park” in perpetuation of the original ownership of the property by the Indian tribe of that name.
Nine days later, on July 15, the new park was officially opened with a picnic and a Christening. Mayor Dennis, his wife and a few friends were brought to the park where they were given a short tour of the shoreline by Chairman Dowler. They found a “…natural park with shady trees, the fragrance of piney wood, mossy rocks and cave recesses that will be the delight of the romantic youngsters.” When more picnickers arrived at the site, the Mayor waded out into the lake to demonstrate the safety of the beach and water.
This was the official opening, but the park required more work before it could be open to the general public. During the remainder of 1921 and 1922, much work was done to develop the park. More land was cleared. Work on the long-awaited street car railroad connection with the park was begun and a road was constructed alongside it. Playground equipment was replaced. Camping and tenting privileges were provided and plans for park buildings were discussed. The Board signed a 21-year lease with the CNR for the use of waterfront land which was owned by the Canadian Government. And, finally, the first Chippewa Park Superintendent, Mr. Merrifield, was hired at $125.00 a month.
It was obvious that Chippewa Park was important to the Board when their budget for 1923 included $10, 000.00 for Chippewa alone and $9, 500.00 for all the inside parks together. A refreshment booth, store and pavilion were constructed and the Board hired a man to operate their first facilities for the summer of 1923. At this time, the Board received a coon and squirrels courtesy of the Honourable H. Mills. This donation began the long, and often infamous, history of the Chippewa Zoo. By the end of 1923, the zoo also displayed an owl, pheasants, another racoon and buffalo. The zoo became the feature attraction for the children, while the adults favoured the dances at the Pavilion. Picnics were popular with the citizens of Fort William and tourists alike. The Northern Navigation Company used Chippewa for their tourist outings, and the Board helped to entertain the visitors during their stay.
Chippewa Park was expanding rapidly and plans were made for new buildings, including some simple cottages that were available for rental as early as the summer of 1924. The inventory of buildings at Chippewa at this time included the six cottages, a dining hall, a refreshment booth, a dance hall, a bath house and a warehouse. The Parks Board also completed a rustic design rooming house which became known as The Lodge. Originally, the Lodge consisted of a main sitting room with a fireplace, surrounded by 9 bedrooms. It is still present today, although it has been renovated and the interior has been redesigned.
Permanent replacements for the older buildings were necessary when fall storms of 1924 ripped their canvas coverings. The result was a new dance hall and ice cream/cold drinks building completed in time for the 1925 season. The Daily Times-Journal described the latest additions to Chippewa:
“With their gnarled pillars of tree trunks and with the limb-like tracery evident everywhere, it does not take much of an effort of the imagination to see the set of buildings as something that has arisen almost without the aid of human hands, the work of the woodland spirits. The buildings are truly sylvan and breathe the spirit of the great outdoors.”
The massive dance hall was central and flanked by the ice cream parlour to the right and the dining room, which had been erected in 1924, to the left. Together, these 3 buildings composed the Pavilion which is still the main building at Chippewa Park. A wooden bandstand was built in the same style as the Pavilion and Lodge on a small island in the lake. An elevated sidewalk connected the hexagon-shaped bandstand to the beach and boardwalk. During the early years, this band stand was popular and the Fort William City Band would play favourite tunes for the crowds who flooded to the park for a peaceful Sunday afternoon away from the City. The bandstand was continually subject to storms off the lake and it later fell into a state of disrepair. It was bulldozed onto shore in 1954 and has never been replaced.
Later in 1925, the Parks Board discussed the possibility of leasing lots for summer cottages, as well as renting out their own cottages. They had the land surveyed and decided to permit 20-year leases with ground rentals starting at $30 a year. Leases were issued, and people began building cottages on sandy Beach in the late 1920’s. They were warned not to construct permanent structures in case the Board ever required the land for park purposes. As early as 1931, the cottagers formed a Campers Association and have since persisted in making annual requests of the Parks Board.
In July, 1926, the Board also discussed the possibility of purchasing a merry-go-round for use as an amusement ride at Chippewa Park. Since the Board could not afford to buy a merry-go-round, the Utilities Committee purchased one and the Parks Board agreed to operate it. This newest addition to the park was erected at the foot of the beach path near the Tourist Store. It became a favourite diversion for many people and was a bargain at 3 rides for a nickel for children and 5 ¢ a ride for adults. After its opening in 1927, it had little rest except for the frequent times it broke down. According to Frank Banning, it was a unique model, in which the curved wooden floor, not the horses, moved up and down. He also noted that the whirring of the cable mechanism beneath the board was almost as loud as the musical accompaniment.
Chippewa Park, like the rest of the City and the country, was booming in the 1920’s. It developed a unique character all its own because the Parks Board lacked a close model after which to pattern it. The result was a curious assemblage of attractions and amusements designed to please the crowds. Everything possible was done to encourage use of the park and to make the tourists feel welcome. Unfortunately, the Park Superintendent went too far one day in making the tourists feel at home. He was caught drinking and carousing with a car load of tourists and was promptly discharged from the Board’s services.
The next major project of the Board was a Tourist Camp Building, with hot and cold water, showers and modern toilet facilities, built in 1926. By this time, City Council had recognized the park’s potential for the tourist trade and established a Tourist and Convention Bureau in January, 1927. This committee approached the Board to build a modern Tourist Camp and supplied an initial sum of $5, 000.00.
The Board began building tourist cabins and, by 1932, 18 rustic log cabins were complete and furnished. Each contained a bed, dresser, wardrobe, 1 or 2 chairs and a stove-pipe chimney. In 1932, Chippewa Park also contained 18 summer cottages that were rented to citizens by the Board and a total of 66 private summer homes on the Sandy Beach leased property.
The success of the camp prompted the Tourist Bureau, the Parks Board and those directly involved with the tourist industry to join efforts to build a dock at Chippewa in 1931. They decided that offering lake fishing and cruising around the islands of Lake Superior would be a “real attraction for the Tourists”. The dock did receive extensive use and, in 1932, the Parks Board requested financial assistance from the Department of Public Works for a 400-foot extension to the dock. This extension was eventually built with government funding and permitted light craft to take out fishing parties and encouraged local boaters to use the facilities. It also provided a sheltered beach with warm water for the convenience of the bathers.
While the waterfront facilities were expanding, the zoo was having some troubles. It had grown through the 1920’s due to gifts of animals from different sources but, in 1928, the diseased coyote had to be destroyed and the pen was removed to make room for a sports field. The tubercular buffalo had to be destroyed in 1928 and more had to be destroyed in 1931. A black horse also had to be exterminated and a tough old male elk was punctured through the lung by a younger male elk in 1938. His head was stuffed and now presides over people eating in the Pavilion.
Despite these problems, the zoo did have some notable moments during the 1930’s. The arrival of a good-natured brown bear from the Winnipeg Assiniboine Zoo in 1931 caused a sensation in the twin cities of the Lakehead. Teddy’s gentle and active nature, along with his well-developed showmanship, helped make him the star of the zoo for many years. “His kindly nature permitted photographers from all parts of the continent to enter his den and take close-up pictures while he posed with people.” Teddy would alert his 500 pounds to his full height for a special performance when anyone neared his lair. His favourite trick was to point to his mouth when he suspected the promise of a peanut. Bill Hollenbeck, the Park Superintendent, related that Teddy could catch and swallow the peanut and dispose of the shell all in one single graceful movement.
The zoo’s favourite resident died at the age of 39 in 1955. He was the only animal ever to have the honour of being buried at Chippewa Park. His 24 years in the park were commemorated with a plaque over his grave.
Though the recession was evident everywhere, tourists and citizens were still flocking to the park to laze on the beach, swim, camp, visit the zoo, or attend one of the very popular dances at the Pavilion. New dance programmes were established, with Ted Goodsell’s Orchestra playing modern music on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Ernie Valley’s Orchestra played old time music on Fridays.
In the 1930’s, more cottages were built and the Lodge was moved to make it more accessible. To attract the attention of automobile tourists on the Trans-Canada Highway, ten signs were erected in 1935. The signs were ten by twelve feet in size with scenes of the area and a life-sized Indian pointing the way to Chippewa. These signs, along with 100 arrows pointing in the direction of Chippewa Park, produced amazing results. The Tourist Committee reported on July 31, 1936, that the Tourist Camp had been full every night since July 4th. When one visitor was asked if he had noticed the signs, he replied “I should say so; that is the very reason we are here. We saw nothing but Chippewa and Fort William signs for over 300 miles; you are certainly advertising your business and we are enjoying our stay.” Not every one commented so favourably. Art Conmee, President of the Port Arthur Chamber Of Commerce, retorted that the Fort William Parks Board had ruined the Trans-Canada with their “damned Fort William and Chippewa signs”.
The merry-go-round had been subject to many violent lake squalls and overuse since its implementation. It was deemed beyond repair in the early 1930’s and the Board searched for a replacement. They received and accepted an offer from Mrs. Maude King of “King’s Royal Canadian Shows”. She told them an old Parker merry-go-round with an Eli engine and Wurlitzer organ on May 23, 1934, for $1, 750.00 to be paid in 3 yearly instalments. The Board renovated and painted their new merry-go-round in May 1935, and it was soon ready for the crowds of keen youngsters and adults. In August, 1936, the first fireside meeting was arranged for the visitors to Chippewa Tourist Camp. This meeting was held in the ‘Cave’ – a natural rock enclave on the shore of Lake Superior just below the Tourist Camp. Campers and interested visitors gathered around a fire to listen to interesting stories about the district, to sing along with the musical talent and to meet with Chief John Thunder and the Mounted Police. The first fireside meeting was a great success and the Board decided to continue the programme.
Acting upon the suggestion of Reverend Dan McIvor, M.P., the Parks Board also decided to create an enclosed mooring harbour, basin and bathing area by building a rubble mound breakwater. It was to extend from the shore to the vicinity of the end of the wharf. The cost was to be kept to a minimum by using rock from the quarry sites on the park property. Chambers, McQuigge and McCaffery Company Ltd. had been using the park land for the extraction of construction materials since 1928. They had one lease for the use of the land as a quarry, another lease for property on the lakeshore where their buildings were located and a third lease for a right-of-way on which they built a railroad track for transporting materials. Their quarry, no longer in use by 1939, as well as other quarry sites on the Board’s property, were to be used for the park’s breakwater.
Construction of the wall began in the fall of 1939. While they were extracting materials for the breakwater, the workers were also requested to select boulders to be used in the construction of a cairn at Chippewa Park. The cairn was to be built near the entrance to the park and was dedicated to William Dowler, who had been Chairman of the Board of Park Management from 1910 – 1927. A bronze plaque with an etching of Chairman Dowler was placed on the cairn and the monument was completed in the summer of 1940.
Cold and stormy weather in November 1939 postponed the work on the breakwater but the Board was assured that money for the project would be available in 1940. However, early that year, the honourable C.D. Howe explained to the Board “… I must remind you of the necessity for curtailing ordinary peace time expenduitures, except those which are absolutely essential.” Obviously the breakwater was not essential and stone that had been placed on it was worn away by storm damage in 1943 and 1944. Little work was done on the breakwater throughout the 1940’s except to replace the lost rubble. Finally, in later 1948, with the help of the Department of Public Works, the Board resumed work on the breakwater.
The harbour was being used by tourists and citizens alike and was a major attraction for the park. Fish derbies and sailing races as well as lake cruises and fishing were typical summer events held at Chippewa Harbour. This popularity of sailing and boating marked the “advent of a new era in sport”. The Fort William Yacht Club was established in 1945 with headquarters and anchorage at Chippewa. They built a clubhouse on park property and eventually sold this building to the Parks Board for use as a toboggan chalet.
Chippewa Park continued to be a sign of the times and evidence of the second world war was prominent. Dances held at the Pavilion had a new policy that all men in full uniform were to be admitted free of charge. The annual picnics were more solemn as the International Order of the Daughter of the Empire erected hot dog stands like sentries along the beach, in an effort to raise money for war funds.
Even the merry-go-round was affected by the war. When Arthur Widnall, Secretary Manager of the Parks Board, attempted to procure a new top to replace the old one in 1944, he was informed that their request for a new top had been placed in the luxury category and would have to wait. He was persistent in his demands as the newly painted merry-go-round looked absurd without a canvas covering. He replied that “… The health of our people must be considered and we as Recreational and Park Directors are called upon to provide recreation and entertainment for the children of the men in our forces the children of the women working in the war plants and for the many war plant picnics we have to take care of and for that reason we hardly feel we should be placed in the luxury category.”
A canopy for their merry-go-round was shipped to Fort William that next day but within 5 years it had rotted and they were forced to order a new one. The zoo also suffered from the lack of funding in the 1930’s. A concerted effort was made to clean it up in 1940’s. A depreciating fence, the deer pen located in the swamp and the odours emitted from the buffalo pen were problems the Board had to contend with. They solved the problems by moving the large animals to a more remote wooded area where the ball field stands today.
There were also some new additions to the zoo and these included a golden eagle, silver fox, black squirrels and goldfish. At this time, vandals were becoming a threat to the zoo and in 1946, some “real terrorists” passing through Fort William from the East were charged with creating a disturbance in a public place, after they violently killed several rabbits while horrified spectators watched.
The fireside meetings held at the ‘Cave’ for the entertainment of the tourists increased in popularity during and after the war years. The emphasis on the Chippewa Indians at the meetings had increased until the central aspect was the Indian pow-wow. The number of Indian performers grew, the Chiefs speech was formally written and the Board purchased some Indian costumes from Gerry Burk, the Indian Agent. They purchased “…7 cloth suits, trimmed and decorated with moccasins and wax axes etc, 1 very fine white caribou suit which is very appropriate for the Indian Chief taking part in our ceremony at any one time…2 very fine white headdresses made of eagle feathers which will be on hand for our next ceremony, of bestowing a chieftainship upon some celebrity”.
The bestowing of honourary chieftainship was usually the highlight of the powwow. Frank Pelletier, Chief of the tribe, explained that a good deal of thought went into choosing a name for a new chief – “A new member is named after some object or animal in nature the characteristics of which are thought to resemble some important trait in the character of the new member.”
For example, Traver Matthews, the President of the Police Association of Ontario was given the title ‘GO-KO-GO-O’ or Chief Long Eared Owl at a ceremony on September 16, 1953. Chief Pelletier commented that, “The owl is a benefit to man because it destroys numerous forms of wildlife, predators and parasites. A member of the police force can well be likened to an owl. Society depends upon the police to control human predators and parasites…”
Many other notable guests were inducted into the tribe at Chippewa Park powwows through the 1940’s to 1960’s. Mr. E.J. Cosford or Chief Big Paddle, President of Canadian Car and Foundry was one of the many. “The head of Can Car and Foundry said that he was deeply affected by the ceremony that welcomed him into the Ojibway nation and thereby associated him with such historically famous people”. He also noted that it was a “distinction of the most special kind.” One of the highlights of the Band’s ceremonies was the trip to Minnesota for Duluth’s Fall Festival in October 1949. At this ceremony the Band honoured actorcomedian Bob Hope with an Honourary Chief’s title.
After the ceremony at the ‘Cave’ the pow-wow would continue with sing songs, band music, magic acts, films or floor shows on the beach. This programme again showed the Board’s efforts to please people. Problems occasionally arose with the powwows such as the time in 1955 when only 3 of the ordered Indian maiden outfits arrived from the distributors. In explanation, Mallabar costumes sent word that – “Our stock at the present time is very depleted, as the Vancouver Theatre Under the Stars is now playing ‘Annie get Your Gun’ and they have utilized most of our Indians.”
The beauty of the fire on the lakeshore and the atmosphere of pageantry and comradeship are well remembered by all who attended the fireside meetings at the ‘Cave’. Unfortunately, the ‘Cave’ eventually succumbed to the effects of weather and the pow-wows were discontinued but the memory of these magical events still lingers. After World War 2 and throughout the 1950’s Chippewa and the inside parks received some well deserved attention, as the Board began a long term plan for park development. The road from Chippewa Park to Squaw Bay, complete with a causeway over Brule Bay, was finished by December 21, 1948. The Lodge was moved closer to the Tourist Camp to again make it more accessible, the smaller cabins at the camp were removed and the Pavilion was renovated. City-owned cottages that had been leased out to Fort William citizens were removed and the land turned into picnic grounds with stone fireplaces for barbeques. More work was done on the wharf and breakwater and sand was removed from the harbour in order to improve the depth of the swimming water. The beach was widened and several hundred yards of sand were used to beautify it.
The ever-popular zoo was again in need of maintenance. Due to a lack of funds and space, the zoo was inadequate in many ways. People continued to donate old orphaned animals to the zoo but money for their upkeep was not as freely given. In 1951, the Parks Board considered closing the zoo down but after much discussion it was decided that it was a popular attraction and its curtailment would bring strong objections from the citizens of Fort William. The Board then decided to at least do away with the large animals since they were constantly plagued by parasites and did not have enough room or the proper plant cover for efficient grazing. The elk, deer and buffalo were destroyed in 1953 and plans were made for a new small animal zoo. The new 3-4 acre zoo was to include 75-100 animals from 30 species native to Northern Ontario. It was to be modelled after the best features of a number of zoos across Canada and the United States.
The first acquisition of the zoo was a pair of peacocks, followed by a rhesus monkey named Pepper, and Salt, his would-be mate. Unfortunately, Salt did not take to Pepper or to any other mates obtained for her. After the donation of Pepper in 1955, the Fort William Rotary Club donated money to build a monkey house. By the time Snowball, a polar bear from Hudson’s Bay, arrived in 1956, the small animal zoo concept had been forgotten.
Snowball delighted everyone when he arrived as a small cuddly ball of white fur but, by 1957, he was a massive 500-pound hulk of grown bear. Snowball was a premier attraction at the zoo but the Board could not afford to keep him. He consumed one ton of food each month and had outgrown his pen! The Winnipeg Zoo, donators of Teddy, graciously accepted Snowball for their new zoo on June 9, 1958. The faithful and popular merry-go-round was suffering from overuse so in 1959, the Board considered the possibility of adding more rides at the park. Fritz Altman offered his services as a proprieter of rides and, soon after, the second amusement ride at Chippewa was opened. The Lakeshore Express, a miniature train in the style of the grand railways, caused a wave of excitement when it opened on June 4, 1960. This mini train ride followed a circular route around the park, through a tunnel and across a scale model railway crossing designated by jangling bells and flashing lights. In 1964, there were an accident in which an automobile crashed into the Lakeshore Express, knocking over the engine and one coach. No one was injured or even distressed by the incident. One young American in the rear coach leaped out, raced to his parents and exclaimed “Quick, take a picture of me in the train wreck”.
In 1965, the rides consisted of the mini train, a ferris wheel, boat swings and the merry-go-round. In 1967, the Board purchased some new rides from the Winnipeg Beach Recreation area; bringing the total to 8 rides, plus the merry-go-round. Most of the rides are still present today and include a roller coaster, tilt a whirl, airplane rides, boats, tanks, and bumping cars.
In an effort to please the public and provide an alternate recreational activity for the long Thunder Bay winters, the Board of Park Management constructed a skating rink and toboggan slide at Chippewa. In sub-zero weather, on January 12, 1963, the Board officially opened the toboggan slide to a handful of hearty enthusiasts. The newest additions to the park consisted of a slide with 5 iced channels on a man-made hill and a circular rink on the lake. The old Yacht Club house was purchased and has been used as a Toboggan Chalet since then.
Early in the 1960’s, it became apparent that the Tourist Camp, especially the Lodge, was not receiving the business it formerly had. In May 1960, the Board discussed discontinuing the Lodge and it has since been renovated as a rental facility for organized groups or large parties of campers. The cabins in the tourist camp were painted and repaired at this time.
After being severely criticized in 1960 for allowing the facilities to become run down, the Parks Board initiated a five-year rehabilitation improvement and development program for Chippewa Park in 1961. This project, worth a total of $100, 000, was financed jointly by the City of Fort William and the provincial government under the Parks Assistance Act. It is interesting to note that Fort William was the first municipality to take advantage of this assistance. Improvements to the park included the addition of drinking water, 4 rest rooms, new picnic areas, facilities for tenting and trailer camping, benches and the paving of parking lots and walkways. The first stage of the project consisted of acquiring 27.7 acres of waterfront from the CNR. This land was purchased by February 15, 1961, according to the Daily Times-Journal.
The park was busy even during the improvement program. Art Widnall noted that “…one out of every four people in Fort William visited the park and, while some were just out for a drive, most stayed to participate in one of five company or organization picnics. The more than 10,000 estimated attendance is an all-time record…” The improvement program was a success and, in 1965, the official publication for the Parks and Recreation Association of Canada endorsed the park. They described it as a “beautiful playground, both bustling and captivating”.
Despite the views of the Parks and Recreation Association, some members of City Council still referred to Chippewa as a “mess”. While the park itself was looking good and quite modern, the zoo was again depreciating and could easily have been viewed as a “mess”. Many people felt the cages were undersized and dirty. At this time, there were 14 cages and the animals covered a space of 10,000 square feet. People also complained that the placing of the amusement rides next to the zoo was inhumane and that the noise was driving the animals insane.
Vandalism also plagues the zoo and, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a few highly publicized incidents, such as the butchering of Bambi the fawn in 1968 and the stoning of the swan in 1971, led to the inevitable closure of the zoo by City Council in 1973. A new society had been organized in 1971 to look into the conditions of the zoo and to raise money for its future development. They renamed the zoo the Chippewa Park Wildlife Exhibit and seemed to think the new name would change everything. However, nothing was done about the zoo until 1973 when it was closed down. At this time, a new zoo was proposed under a 5-year plan with $45,000 to be set aside each year. In 1974, the old zoo was demolished and work on the new 500,000 square foot animal sanctuary began.
The new zoo, when finished, will consist of mammals and birds of the Thunder Bay Region only, in a natural setting, with an elevated pedestrian boardwalk for viewing the animals. Plans include the following animals – moose, nountain lion, lynx, bobcats, wolves, foxes, bears, muskrat, beaver, otter, weasels, martin, fisher, mink, numerous birds and smaller mammals.
The event of Canada’s one hundredth birthday in 1967 was celebrated at Chippewa Park with a special itinerary of events which included races, a fish derby, dancing, singing, an Indian performance and the traditional fireworks display. Canada Day has been celebrated at Chippewa in one way or another since the park’s inception in 1921. In 1925, 7,000 people attended and by 1935, the crowds numbered 10,000. In recent years, the activities have become so popular that planners of the celebration are faced with the problem of providing adequate parking facilities.
In 1967, the Fort William Civic Recreation Committee implemented the first day camp program in the City of Fort William. Chippewa Park was an ideal setting. It was accessible and within a reasonable travelling distance. The park buildings, such as the Toboggan Chalet, were available for use on rainy days. The natural elements of the park, such as the open fields, nature trails, beach and water, all combined to create a perfect setting. These facilities, along with good staff and programming, have helped Chippewa Day Camp be a success.
In 1969, the Committee tried an experiment and set up the Brule Bay Wilderness Camp for boys 10-13 years old. The objective was to provide boys with an opportunity to learn about the outdoors while enjoying their summer vacations. Activities included canoeing, swimming, water safety, outdoor cooking, bush lore and survival, compass reading and camp crafts. The boys lived in tents for their 2-week session at the park. The camp was a success but was discontinued as a result of city-wide budget cutbacks. The Sandy Beach cottages built at Chippewa Park in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s are still present, although all the leases expire in 1989. There are 80 cottages, which bring the City $2,400 plus approximately $8,000 in taxes per year. Some people have constructed permanent homes on the leased property, although they were advised not to do so in case the City ever requires the land for park purposes. However, it is not known whether the City will need this property in the near future, as 200 acres of land is being reclaimed just behind the breakwater. This latest project at Chippewa Park, which started in 1976, provides a site for the dumping of materials dredged from the Thunder Bay Harbour. Other sites were considered but Chippewa was the closest to the dredging area, easiest to construct, using land-based equipment and, above all, the reclaimed land at this site would provide valuable recreation space.
The facilities at Chippewa have continued to be used throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s for small family picnics, as well as large group gatherings. There are 5 recreation fields with picnic booths and baseball diamonds available for the picnics of organizations, schools, churches and community groups. The toboggan chalet and Pavilion are also available for group rentals. Although public dances are no longer popular at the Pavilion, groups may rent the facilities for their private square or modern dances. The Pavilion now houses a penny arcade, a lunch and refreshment restaurant and, in the summer, is the home of “Moonlight Melodrama”, a local theatre group. The Tourist Camp has continued to be a main attraction at Chippewa Park. There are 80 tent sites, 60 trailer sites and the 18 original log cabins available for rental. The camp provides many service facilities, such as a grocery store, hot showers, a community kitchen, snack bar and concessions, a souvenir shop and a sanitary dumping station.60 Chippewa Park has come a long way since the inter-tribal Indian rendezvous of long ago. Since the park’s birth in 1921, which was a result of Chairman Dowler’s foresightedness, much growth has occurred. Through all the changes, Chippewa Park has served both the citizens of the Lakehead and tourists well. There is no doubt that it will continue to do so in the future.
Jacquie Cleveland, August, 1982