Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda National Historic Site of Canada

Thunder Bay, Ontario
General view of Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda, 1988. © Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, 1988.
General view
© Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, 1988.
General view of Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda, 1988. © Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, 1988.General view of Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda, circa 1909. © Librairy and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, PA21347, ca. 1909
Address : 170 Red River Road, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1987-03-30
  • 1909 to 1909 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Port Arthur Industrial Commission  (Organization)
  • H. Russell Halton  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1986-046, 1989-OB-02, 2011-CED-SDC-022


This tourist kiosk was erected in 1909 to promote Port Arthur’s social and economic merits to visitors and investors. Its eye-catching architecture and strategic location reflect civic boosterism and the city’s rivalry with nearby Fort William decades before the two amalgamated to create Thunder Bay. This eclectic but carefully conceived structure combines a striking pagoda-shaped roof topped by a domed cupola, classically inspired pilasters flanking the entrance, and a patriotic beaver-and-maple-leaf motif over the door. Local architect H. Russell Halton’s cheery design still attracts the attention of visitors today.

Description of Historic Place

Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda National Historic Site of Canada is an early tourism bureau built in a novelty design inspired by a mixture of classical and Asian architecture. An octagonal brick structure surrounded by a verandah, it has a pagoda-shaped roof with cupola and a columned entranceway surmounted by a carved beaver. It is located at the foot of Red River Road and Water Streets, near the waterfront and historic railway, in the downtown Port Arthur section of Thunder Bay. The designation refers to the building on its legal lot.

Heritage Value

Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1986 because it symbolizes the themes of civic boosterism and inter-city rivalry in the early 20th century; and it has an eccentric but carefully conceived design.

The Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda was designed by local architect H. Russell Halton, and built by the Port Arthur Industrial Commission in 1909. It was an early tourism bureau designed to attract the attention of train and ship passengers traveling through Port Arthur, in order to promote the town's advantages as an industrial and tourism centre at a time when it's rival, nearby Fort William, was becoming an increasingly important transportation hub. The pagoda continued to be used as a tourism bureau until declining rail traffic made its future uncertain. By 1986 it had closed and its future remained in doubt until it eventually was restored as a heritage facility.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, Nov. 1986, Nov. 1989.

Character-Defining Elements

Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
the location of the pagoda at a historic nexus of water, rail and road transportation; its landscaped site; its octagonal footprint and single-storey massing under a broad pagoda-shaped roof with domed cupola; its broad, overhanging eaves supported by free-standing columns; the classical inspiration of its main entry under a pedimented porch with columns flanking the paneled entry door; the beaver and maple leaf motif decoration over the entry; the brick construction with wood detailing; its use of metal roofing; continued legibility of its original interior layout; the integrity of surviving original interior furnishings and fittings; evidence of its original tourism function.