THUNDER BAY – When the first client walks through the doors of Dr. Sanket Upadhyay’s new dental practice later this month, they’ll also be walking into a building that represents nearly a century of Thunder Bay’s history.
While renovations have made the South Algoma Street address’s past as the iconic Scand Restaurant indistinguishable from the inside, those entering will have a hard time missing the nearly floor-to-ceiling decal honouring the Scandinavian Home Society’s history in the foyer.
The Scand opened its doors in 1926, launched by the society to serve Scandinavian – largely Swedish – immigrants to the Lakehead, many of whom arrived with little money and few social contacts.
The restaurant closed in 2019 after struggling for several years, with operators citing stiff competition and an aging clientele.
For Upadhyay, who originally came to Thunder Bay from India to train as a dental assistant, it was important to recognize that history.
“I know losing the restaurant, especially the previous building, meant a lot to many people, so we’ve tried to honour [that],” he said. “It supported a lot of people who were looking for refuge here.”
The warm and homey foyer hardly feels like a dentist’s office. That desire to modernize is evident in other ways, like Upadhyay’s paperless office ambitions and potential plans to offer virtual reality glasses for customers to wear while undergoing procedures.
It hasn't been all smooth sailing - the pandemic forced last-minute modifications to renovation designs, shifting from a more open-concept plan to enhance ventilation and safety.
Upadhyay’s journey took him to Toronto and Saskatoon after first coming to Thunder Bay for school, but he was happy to return when an opportunity came up to join a dental practice in the city in 2016.
“You know how it starts – it was, we’ll be here for a couple of years,” he said.
However, he said he was won over by the community's proximity to nature, shorter commute times, and more.
“I’m four minutes away from home here,” he said. “In Toronto, I used to travel an hour and fifteen minutes just to get to work.”
Moving into the former Scand building, which offered character, abundant natural light, and a foothold in the Bay and Algoma neighbourhood, helped fulfill a longtime dream of starting his own practice.
“I instantly knew this was the right spot when I walked into the building,” he said.
He knows some still grieve the loss of a community hub in the space, but hopes that when his practice opens later this month, it will continue the Scand's welcoming history.