It’s not just a Wall, it’s our History

The historic High Street Stone Wall - Slated for Demolition - It's not just a Wall, it's our History | Alex Inspired

In recent news, Thunder Bay City Council decided to remove the historic High Street stone retaining wall and replace it with an artificial “rock face” at a mere $2.4 million price tag.

Many citizens are divided on this issue; some defending Council’s decision, others unfazed and many dumbfounded.

I myself am dumbfounded, and extremely disappointed.

Why? “It’s just a wall” after all…

The structure is vital to the roadway above it, and the road beside it. It’s called a retaining wall for a reason, holding soils between two different elevations. It’s pretty damn important, YET I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous comments on social media like:

“Get rid of the wall if it serves no purpose. Let us know what purpose it serves if it is there for a reason!!!!”

Hmm… please, just stop talking Facebook commenter. You’re bringing down my IQ.

I’ve also read comments like: “Get over it”. and “It’s just an old ugly wall”.  You’d think the discussion was about a bridge with the amount of Trolls commenting. Fine, call it what you will – everyone is entitled to their opinion, so here’s mine (not poorly written or chalked with grammatical errors and extensive unnecessary punctuation).

The stone wall is simply a small piece of a much larger issue; lack of preservation.

This city is notorious for it’s lack of historic preservation.  Without thinking, name 5 structures off the top of your head that are over or nearing 100 years old.

Difficult, isn’t it?

It’s because council after council and bad decision after bad decision have jeopardized buildings, structures and authentic pieces of our past. It begins slowly, first with a lack of maintenance and turning a blind eye, and suddenly it’s too late and too expensive to fix. Ciao!

It's not just a Wall, it's our History -1909 Newspaper Advertisement by J.J. Carrick | Alex Inspired

Which brings me to question…

Why hasn’t the wall been maintained throughout the years? Isn’t this due diligence, or common sense? The stairs were replaced recently, yet the stone was ignored?.

Why weren’t other options considered, like the motion of local masons assisting? And the offer from The Brick and Allied Craft Union (BACU) Local 25 to quote and repair the wall (this was made public in the Chronicle Journal)?

The Stone wall was little piece of history some of us were clinging to, hoping to avoid yet another bad decision. Alas, that’s now out the window.

I feel as though the ideas brought forward were purposely disregarded by council, and I’m not entirely sure why. Yes, they claim liability and it not being structurally sound, but couldn’t tradespeople and engineers tackle this situation together? If anything, this issue reiterates the fact that public opinion has little to no value to many of our city Councillors, nor does the preservation of our history.

Mariday Park Advertisement from 1909 - J.J. Carrick | Alex Inspired

Councillor Frank Pullia made a significant effort to maintain the stone wall, and vouch for a more cost effective and salvageable alternative. Sadly his plea fell on deaf ears, but I commend his efforts. I tip my hat to Mr. Rodney Brown, who has been advocating for the Stone wall – creating awareness and bringing many groups of citizens together. His tenacity has not gone unnoticed, and his passion has reaffirmed that I am not alone in my quest to preserve what little we have left.

For those of you wondering what the significance is, and why this wall is important – I’ve done a little digging. These snippets of information were gathered from both social media and ancestry.com.

Story has it, sometime before or during the second world war, this unique wall was constructed by an Italian immigrant by the name of Francesco Furfaro, who is listed in census records as being a cement finisher and mason. He and fellow labourer, Peter Steine, constructed the wall by hand, using authentic masonry techniques – taught to Francesco while he was an apprentice in Italy. Both men were residents of Mariday Park.

The Stone Wall represents far more than mortar and rock – it symbolizes what little we have left of our visual history. It’s more than a wall to many of us, it’s a metaphor of our City’s history; slowly eroding, ignored, undervalued and slated for demolition.

By the way, the above images I found in a 2 page newspaper spread from the The Winnipeg Tribune, 1910 – I have saved the entire PDF here, if you’d like to take a look. 

Maybe we’ll revert back to 1910, becoming a city with no past, just a future.

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  • Reply Mark Kusznier March 10, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Well said Alex. I’m sure that once the machines start digging into the wall structure the 2.4 Million dollar price tag will go up and up because they will find that it was built a lot stronger then anyone had guessed. Definitely a sad day when the wall comes tumbling down.

  • Reply Darlene Lewis March 10, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Super fantastic history. Thank you for all your doing to save the wall.

  • Reply Rodney Brown March 11, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Great up Alex. I like that your not an old guy. lol

    • Reply Rodney Brown March 11, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Great write up!

  • Reply Laurie L Sheppard March 11, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Great article Alex. We moved to southern Ontario from my hometown of Thunder Bay (I know, I know…one of those) and I can say that the most attractive towns are those that have preserved their heritage and history. Something as simple as a stone wall would have a plaque erected telling the story of why the artifact is significant to the people of the area. With historical facts comes knowledge and understanding of the peoples that built the town or area.

    • Reply alex March 14, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Hey Laurie!

      I think it’s beneficial when people leave their hometown for another, if only to see how other cities do it right. I couldn’t agree with you more – very well said, historical facts bring knowledge and understanding. Thank you for this 🙂

  • Reply Josie Riccio March 11, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you Alex for your wonderfully written article on the stone wall. I am one of the eldest granddaughters of Francesco Furfaro…it’s deeply saddens me and disturbs me that coucil cannot appreciate nor valye the historical relevance of various landmarks in our fine city.
    It is rather perplexing that the city can somehow budget millions towards rebuilding a “fake wall” yet preserving part of our storied past/history isn’t an option?? What will be the next landmark that our council decides to put on the chopping block? Thank you to the council members who were appreciate history in our city and took a stand on this issue and fought hard to maintain it……we are grateful and we thank you!

    • Reply alex March 14, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Josie! I am so glad you commented! I would love to know more about your Nonno! Do you have any pictures you’d be willing to share? it would be so nice for his memory to be documented.

      I am very sad this wall is being torn down, but I do think it’s so amazing that a little piece of Port Arthur history is part of your legacy. XO

  • Reply Frank Pullia March 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you Alex for your beautifully written article on the High Street stone wall and your perspective on how a city that has no roots cannot look forward to its future in a positive way. Our history and its preservation says much about who we are as a people. Thunder Bay has a lot to be proud for and its multicultural and ethnic history provides us with an amazing opportunity to celebrate our uniqueness in a world of mediocrity.

    • Reply alex March 14, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment Frank. I am so glad you are a voice for so many of us who don’t have one. We are truly thankful to have you on council.

  • Reply Lynn Burgess March 11, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    A great read. Thank you Alex. I grew up in Mariday Park and that wall is one of my favourite things about the area. Thunder Bay has done a terrible job of maintaining its historical sites and buildings. I no longer live in Thunder Bay and to me, the most lovely cities I have visited in my travels over the years, are the ones that maintain their history. When I return home to visit family it saddens me to see so many great buildings and sites gone. This wall be just another sad reminder for me.

    • Reply alex March 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Hey Lynn! Thank you so much for stopping by. Mariday Park is one of my most favourite neighbourhoods! You must have had a blast growing up there. I hope that perhaps people like you and I can at least share memories and stories to preserve these neighbourhoods and structures, hopefully eliminating the need to dismantle of what little we have left.

  • Reply Maggie Nattress April 3, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Well written, researched and presented article, Alex! This wall is such a beautiful tribute to old time masonry and is part of what makes Thunder Bay unique. The aesthetics of the wall compliment the bell, the cannons, and the other historical plaques and artifacts in Mariday Park and Hillcrest Park. It’s going to be a major loss to our city’s landscape. It’s truly kind-boggling that city council is so quick to dismiss options to preserve the wall. Love you. Maggie

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