Another One Bites the Dust

Another one Bites the Dust - St. Ansgarius Lutheran Church
Once upon a time, St. Ansgarius Lutheran Church could be found on the corner of Secord and Cornwall streets. The name, St. Ansgarius was after St. Ansgar, the “Apostle of the North”, who built Sweden’s first Christian Church.

St. Ansgarius,Port Arthur
The wooden structure illustrated a distinctive Gothic Revival style. Its beautiful steeple was adorned with a cross on top, and mini rounded finials on each of the four spires. Four vented louvres with ornamental quatrefoil and key hole cut outs surrounded the steeple, prominently emphasizing strong Christian symbolism.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
The church displayed narrow leaded glass windows with pointed arches (lancet windows), an unusual hexagon apse (where the altar sat) and featured deep gables.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
It proudly stood for over a hundred years as a fixture of Secord Street, and was a landmark to many Port Arthur citizens.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
St. Ansgarius has a bizarre history, and has been relatively challenging to research. The church began in 1906 with St. John’s Anglican Church developing the first, and last Swedish Mission in Canada. Apparently for years, Port Arthur Swedes and Norwegians were registering their sacraments without any sort of organization based on their affiliated congregation. Thus the divide between Swedish Baptists and Anglicans developed.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
As part of this new Anglican Mission, a Finnish/Swedish Pastor named Knute S. Totterman was sent to Port Arthur to establish the new church. Prior to moving to Port Arthur, Totterman had been ordained by the Episcopal Church, and served in Duluth at St. Peter’s Swedish Episcopal Church, which he helped build and encouraged an active congregation. St. Peter’s was located on a corner lot, with clapboard siding and a tall square tower with steeple over the front entrance and also included Gothic-style lancet windows. Is this church sounding at all familiar?

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
Upon leaving Duluth, Totterman was assigned to Port Arthur, where he was immediately met with hostility from the Swedish Lutherans and the Finnish community. He made waves, and openly criticized Finlanders of the area. In a public letter, he accused the Finnish society of practicing the doctrine of free love and Socialism. Additionally he went against his Bishop’s instruction and was determined to raise funds to build a church on the corner property of 179 Secord Street. He was successful in the collection of funds and triumphed with a new structure, but somehow was unable to maintain funding to sustain his church and congregation. Times became tough, money was scarce, and suddenly so was Totterman!

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
In 1912, St. John’s sold “Totterman’s Church” to the Norwegian Lutheran Congregation, where it operated for several years before changing to, Our Saviour Lutheran Church and finally sold to the Secord Free Methodist Church – which would be the last place of worship these walls would see.

The Rant

I’m guessing most people read my blog because they appreciate history, have a similar love for structures and the stories that go along with them. Lately I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about the things we USED to have, and it’s pretty damn depressing writing about things that no longer exist.

I took these photos knowing the church was going to be torn down, which made me even more morose. It felt wrong peeking through the mail slot to try and get some inside images, and I felt pretty ridiculous to feel badly for an inanimate object. But here’s the thing; I don’t feel badly for the building as a whole, I feel badly for our city and for our Swedish community who have lost a piece of their history.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur

I think what really pisses me off, was watching them tear down this church, but carefully remove the steeple (which I am sure was some health and safety reasoning). Only to land it safely on the ground, and proceed to tear into it; smashing it into tiny fucking pieces. Mind. Fucking. Blown. Also, if you’re the profanity Police, please do not leave any stupid comments, I’m too angry for a lecture about my language… again.

I cannot believe the steeple itself wasn’t saved from such destruction, or even the louvers or the spires? Would that have been something difficult to salvage or save for anything, I dunno … elaborate birdhouse? Lawn ornament? Wooden Hipster yurt?  Anything?

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur
The ironic and sad thing about this entire post is, I found a lot of my information from a book entitled: “Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants”. Sadly our Swedish community is slowly becoming invisible from our sight via their structures, such as St. Ansgarius. A shittier realization is this; nothing is safe in this community from a wrecking ball or a bulldozer, because there seems to be zero respect, protection, advocation and maintenance of historical structures from the people who can make a difference.

Sure, it’s easy for me to write all of this, but it’s also a challenge for me to research, dig and justify why many of these structures are here, and what historical significance they’ve had on our city as a whole. Maybe I need to continue gathering information and keep blogging. I want more people to learn about our fascinating past, and become advocates and protectors of our history.

St. Ansgarius, Port Arthur

I suppose this wasn’t only a loss to the people of Thunder Bay; as I mentioned earlier on, this was the first and the last Swedish Mission ever in Canada, and we just tore it down.

St. Ansgarius Church, Port Arthur - Another one bites the dust.

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  • Thunder Bay Archives
  • Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants, By Elinor Barr
  • Newspapers.com
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  • Reply Mike July 4, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    a great read Alex….and I was dumbfounded about the steeple not being saved….I thought I saw on the local news that the steeple was saved….to hear that it was smashed to bits was disheartening…I photographed the church on a few occasions and during different seasons and I agree with you that too many of the historic and beautiful buildings etc. in the city are being destroyed.

    • Reply alex July 7, 2018 at 8:40 am

      Hey Mike! I’m so glad that we are kindred spirits, it really was disheartening to see the steeple smashed into pieces. It’s been really sad to see how many buildings have been destroyed around here… we have lost so much of our history already.

  • Reply Kathleen July 4, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Alex, Thanks for your post. I would not have been able to watch the wrecking, it’s sad nothing was saved. If you want a subject for future research may I selfishly suggest my house. It is on my to-do list…. but I haven’t a clue what to do or any time to do it. I know it was Susan Ross’ house long before it was mine.

    • Reply alex July 7, 2018 at 8:43 am

      Ooooo Kathleen I love house history! Susan Ross is SUCH an iconic artist! Send me an email or a FB message and we can chat! 🙂

  • Reply Elle July 4, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Hi Alex, One piece of information about the church many may not know. In the 1950s, the church also had regular services of the Estonian Evangelical Church who at the time had a full-time Estonian minister resident in Port Arthur. There were a number of Estonian displaced persons (aka war refugees) from the Second World War that had arrived in the city, about numbering around 200. Each weekend, besides the church services in Estonian, there would Estonian school for the children; we’d learn history, geography, literature, Estonian grammar, language, etc., as well as we learned Estonian songs and folk dancing. There would be plays put on by the children, Christmas parties, and the like. The first Estonian classes were held in January 1952; not sure of date when the last class and service were held at the old church.

    • Reply alex July 7, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Elle! I had no idea! Do you happen to have any photographs you might be able to share? This is actually a huge part of Estonian – Port Arthur history, something most people would never even know about. I am wondering if this could be a whole new blog topic!? what do you think?

  • Reply Patricia July 7, 2018 at 1:00 am

    I was watching them tear down the church i was happy to see how they took so much time for the top to be lowered down,and then next watched how they ripped it apart i cannot tell you the awful feeling i was feeling it was very very sad to see these people do this no respect at all yes this city has taken down so many historic buildings down very sad.even the way the church looked bad to others I’m sure to others have seen the beauty in that church my personal feelings are i really thought the church had class and many many stories behind the walls.

    • Reply alex July 7, 2018 at 8:52 am

      Hey Patricia, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it would have been to watch, in person. You’d think… after lowering it so carefully… that it was going to be salvaged.

      Thank goodness there are a few of us out there who can come together to discuss/reminisce, and share the same sentiments. It’s good we’re not alone.

  • Reply pebarr@tbaytel.net July 20, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I was very impressed with your blog about St. Ansgarius Church, and thank you for acknowledging my book, Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants, as one of your sources. Thank you also for telling this story, and for taking so many wonderful photos!
    I understand that Thunder Bay’s committee for heritage studied this building and recommended that it be demolished because of its deteriorating condition. I don’t know if their study has been preserved, it would make interesting reading. Pastor Matthew Diegel of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church at the corner of River and Farrand Streets has accepted several items for preservation, including the cross at the top of the steeple. Elinor Barr, pebarr@tbaytel.net

  • Reply pebarr@tbaytel.net July 20, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Thank you for telling this story in such an interesting way! Also for your photos and for crediting my book, Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants, as one of your sources. I understand that Thunder Bay’s committee for heritage did a study of St. Ansgarius Church and recommended its demolition because of its deteriorated condition. Pastor Matthew Diegel of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, corner of Farrand and River Streets, has accepted several items from the demolition including the cross on top of the steeple.

  • Reply Jennifer January 28, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Hey! My daughter is doing a report of our ancestry ~ my great grandfather V. Johan Pederson helped to found our Saviours Lutheran Church, which was the first Norwegian church. My great grandfather was directly from Norway, and my great grandmother was directly frim Finland. It was great to see the pictures u took. Thank u for researching a piece of our history!

  • Reply Steve Foote April 19, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    Hi, sad to hear of this church being demolished. I came to know of it’s place in my families history way to late. My great grandpa ( John Hartviksen) and his many children and grand kids were all baptized there, married there, and alter boys and bible camped with the Lutheran Church. I wish I had seen it on my way through Port Arthur (T bay) my dad still bristles at calling it Thunder Bay. I have a whole pile of documentation from Our Saviours Lutheran Church, guess that as close as I’ll get to it. Thanks for the great essay, and helping me discover some of my Port Arthur roots.

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