The Senior Fix-It Club Remains Closed

Seniors built Thunder Bay. Now the City seems to feel they can't be trusted to use tools.
Seniors built Thunder Bay. Now the City seems to feel they can't be trusted to use tools.

The Senior Fix-It Club - a safe, and fun place for seniors.
The Senior Fix-It Club – a safe, and fun place for seniors.

THUNDER BAY – LIVING – In the 1970s, a group of men in Thunder Bay got together and decided to form a club for the purpose of assisting seniors with small repairs. This is how the current Fix-It Club, which contributed a great deal to the creation of the 55 Plus Centre on River Street, first got started.

Many beginnings are humble. Ours was no exception. In a small house on Saint Paul Street, across from the Whalen Building, Daisy and Bill Ferro ran Porky’s Lunch, a one room diner. Porky’s sold hamburgers, hotdogs and coffee and became a popular destination for retirees to gather for easy conversation.

In the 1970s during one of these chats, Ed Lauson, a retiree from the Abitibi/ Thunder Bay Mill, and his companions decided to form a club to help senior citizens. They called themselves The Retired Men’s Club. Soon their meetings at Porky’s Lunch were overtaking the space, so Bill suggested they find a more suitable meeting place.

The message to retired seniors from the City of Thunder Bay? Hard to really tell when seniors are told they can't use tools?
The workshop was closed by the City of Thunder Bay after a senior got a sliver in his finger. It created a concern over liability insurance coverage.

The CPR Freight Office at the foot of Red River Road was available to rent. A local Art Club and the Retired Men’s Club shared this location. When the CN Station became available, the Retired Men’s Club moved in. The Club had a meeting room upstairs, and a small room downstairs for housing out bandsaw, table saw, lathe and other tools. With ample room for meetings, our Club attracted many retirees from Can Car, the grain elevators, paper mills, banks, Hydro, and the City of Thunder Bay.

The members changed the name to the Senior Men’s Fix-it Club. Soon we had between 80 and 100 dues paying members of various trades. There were people available for handyman repairs and to work as electricians, painters, gardeners, window cleaners and carpenters. While work was provided free of charge or at an affordable rate, one criteria was not to interfere with opportunities for local unionized labour. All the jobs came through the Club president who would then present the jobs to the members on the floor. A member would accept the task and be given a work order.

Seniors built Thunder Bay. Now the City seems to feel they can't be trusted to use tools.
Seniors built Thunder Bay. Now the City seems to feel they can’t be trusted to use tools.

During the CN days, our Christmas get-togethers were held at the Moose Hall at a cost of $7 with members paying $5 and the club picking up the additional $2.

In the early 1980s, our Club had to move out as the upstairs of the CN Station was taken over by retired CN workers who set about developing a model train installation. We moved to the former Port Arthur Clinic on Red River Road where moving machinery through the swinging doors proved to be an unanticipated difficulty.

When Loblaws moved out of the lower level of Keskus Mall, our then president Holly Sharp recede a call from Millie Foster about sharing the space with her group. Millie was part of the Old Folks senior group who would use part of that space for their bingo and card games. The two groups elected to share the rent..

The Clubs decided to get together and raise funds to direct toward our own building to serve the social needs of seniors in our community. We learned that we would have to raise $80,000 to be eligible to apply for a Horizon grant from the government. For several years in the 1980s, our Retired Men’s Club raised money by recycling aluminum cans and by making wooden toys and lawn furniture. Together with Millie’s group we converted part of our location to a craft store and continued to fund-raise and advocate for our goal of seeing a senior’s centre in our community. In the 1980s, the City of Thunder Bay allocated a property on River Street.

The Horizon funds were granted and the 55 Plus Centre was constructed by the City of Thunder Bay. Proud to be part of the driving force that helped create this facility, the Senior Fix-It Club set up in the workshop designed for this purpose.

In addition to overseeing a workshop for members to use, the Senior Fix-It Club continued to contribute to the 55 Plus Centre. We held an annual Valentine’s Day event, annual barbecues and continued to repair and construct items for seniors and senior groups for many years.

On September 25, 2013, the City of Thunder Bay elected to terminate the workshop for the Senior Fix-It Club located in the 55 Plus Centre.

Joseph Carniato

This is the first of a multiple part series on Senior’s Issues in Thunder Bay.

Does Thunder Bay need to know your story. Write for NetNewLedger.