THUNDER BAY - The historic 110-year-old Finnish Labour Temple has a new owner after being on the market for a little more than two months and while some things will remain the same, there will be some significant changes as well.
The sale of the property was confirmed on Thursday and the new owner, Brad McKinnon, a former Lakehead University student who lived in the city for four years and now lives in the Barrie area, said the building will continue to evolve much like it has throughout its long history.
“Yes there are going to be changes, but change is part of the history of that building,” McKinnon said. “I think it will be good change and change that will bring more people into that neighbourhood.”
McKinnon said he will keep the Hoito Restaurant, though he plans on bringing in a new menu, qualified staff, and refurbishing and updating the inside.
“We would like to get the Hoito Restaurant up and running again,” he said. “I would like to see the restaurant get a facelift and brought back to its glory days where people were going there more often.”
“I want it to be a destination spot for people in Thunder Bay and tourists coming to the city.”
A more significant planned change will be to the banquet hall and auditorium, which McKinnon says doesn’t really allow the building to be profitable because he doesn’t see a need or demand for that space.
“My vision for the building is to turn it into high-end apartments,” he said. “The building has been losing money for a lot of years.”
“It went into bankruptcy. It’s not viable as a business the way it sits right now. In order for me to keep that building looking nice, to put more money into it, to keep it maintained, it’s going to have to turn a profit. The way it is set up right now, it’s just not anywhere near profitable.”
The Finnish Labour Temple was put up for sale following the Finlandia Association voting to liquidate the corporation last May.
The association was more than $1 million in debt and with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the closure of the Hoito Restaurant in the spring and RBC denying a deferral of a biweekly $2,000 mortgage payment, association members felt it was the only option.
In an effort to save the Finnish Labour Temple, a group started the Finlandia Co-operative and began fundraising in the summer to purchase the property.
In August, the Co-operative said it fell just short of arranging financing for the purchase.
The property was first listed for sale in July with a price of $599,000. The listing price dropped to $499,000 and according to McKinnon the final sale price was $375,000
Paula Haapanen, president of the interim board of Finlandia Co-operative, said they were looking to find a partner to help purchase the building and while she is sad they were not able to, she is pleased that the Hoito will remain and she understands why McKinnon wants to add in apartments.
"I’m not surprised about the residences," she said. "That’s a really nice way to have a stable income. From a fiscal point of view, I can understand why they can choose that. I don’t know how the heritage advisory board at the municipal, provincial, level will react to that."
Haapanen added she has spoken with McKinnon and she is glad he would like to see the neighbourhood develop as well, though their visions may have differed somewhat.
"If the heart of the building and the Hoito is saved and it does maintain some of the integrity of the original restaurant, then I’m sure people would be quite happy with what is happening," she said.
The Finlandia Co-operative will now be discussing what the purpose of the organization is and where it goes from here.
McKinnon said he has also been working with the Heritage Advisory Committee with the city of Thunder Bay to use the foyer as a means of highlighting the historical significance of the building with information and artifacts.
The decision to purchase the building was made in part to preserve a piece of the city’s history, McKinnon said, and keep it as a destination for people in the city and visitors.
“It’s a unique historical property and I think it serves to be restored and properly maintained and I think it could be a real positive place for people in Port Arthur,” he said. “I would hate to see it fall into disrepair and get knocked down eventually.”
But McKinnon acknowledges that not everyone in the community will be happy with the planned changes.
“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be unhappy with the banquet hall or auditorium changing,” he said. “No matter what you do, if you are changing something that has been around for a long time there’s going to be people who are going to be disappointed, upset, they don’t want to see that change.”
“The building is about 110 years old and how it looks today is not the same way it looked back in 1910,” McKinnon added. “It has gone through multiple changes throughout the years.”
McKinnon said he will be reaching out to the community for input on a business plan and the future of the property. He hopes to begin work on the interior this fall with completion by the end of 2021 and reopening the Hoito Restaurant in the spring.
There are also plans of possible future development of the adjacent lots to the property and McKinnon said he may add an additional building in the same architectural style.