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.
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 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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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- Thunder Bay Archives
- Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants, By Elinor Barr
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