Tisdale Municipal Building (1940)

When I was growing up in South Porcupine, the Tisdale Municipal Building was always an interesting one. The white stucco, though worn by the 1980s, glistened defiantly in the sunlight. When I would walk the single block from my family’s Bloor Avenue apartment with my mom, she’d often point out that my grandfather had worked out of an office in there in property assessment.1Brian Ehman. See Diane Armstrong. “A Proud Community,” Timmins Times, July 27, 2011. When I began to notice the building, it was more than a decade past Tisdale Township’s amalgamation into the City of Timmins2See John Slinger. “1,000 square miles: Timmins biggest city in McKeough plans,” Globe and Mail, June 13, 1972, p. 1; “New challenge for Timmins,” Globe and Mail, October 9, 1972, p. 6. and after hosting the new city’s engineering department for a short period, it was sold off and converted into apartments.

Advertisement from the RAIC Journal, July 1941.
Advertisement from the RAIC Journal, July 1941.

Outside of some childhood memories and family stories (most notably that there were a few jail cells in the basement as part of the police facilities), there is not much else that I have been able to say. The Porcupine Camp experienced the Great Depression somewhat differently than many other parts of Canada, with gold and lumber being important commodities at the time. Combined with a very cozy relationship between Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn and McIntyre Mine Chair Jack Bickell, life in the region was lived in comparative comfort.3See John Saywell. ‘Just Call Me Mitch’: The Life of Mitchell F. Hepburn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991) and Kerry Abel. Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006). Much of my own family, along with countless others, left other less fortunate parts of the province to find economic stability (if not wealth) in the mines of the Porcupine Camp.4Also see for example, Sidney Norman. “Towns of Northland Resent Inequitable Division of Taxes,” Globe and Mail, March 11, 1939, p. 23; Sidney Norman. “Porcupine Recalls Story of Civic Growth,” Globe and Mail, January 4, 1940, p. 50. Along with this in-migration came an increased need for professional municipal administration. The slipshod and catch-as-catch-can approach to governance in a frontier mining town was, in short, no longer adequate. In 1939, Tisdale Council retained the services of architect David Randall Franklin to design the municipal building pictured above, bringing together and giving space to all needed functions. A testament to one-stop shopping, it contained the expected administrative offices (assessment, water works, engineering, health unit), the police department, jail cells, municipal court, council chambers, and on the third floor, a public library.

It is likely that Franklin was selected because he had already spent time in the area during the 1930s. In 1936, he was hired to design Queen Elizabeth (Birch Street) Public School in Timmins and in 1937, Tisdale retained him to design the Porcupine General Hospital (now the Spruce Hill Lodge).5”Porcupine General Hospital,” Porcupine Advance, February 14, 1938, p. 1. With a level of client satisfaction that he did not enjoy in Toronto,6”New Schools Plan Passed: D.R. Franklin is the Architect Chosen for Both Schools,” Globe and Mail, April 4, 1919, p. 8; “Delay Money to Architect: School Trustees Protest Against Haste of Property Committee,” Globe and Mail, June 20, 1919, p. 10; “Recommend D.R. Franklin as Permanent Architect,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1920, p. 8; “Dislike Choice May By Board in Mr. Franklin,” Globe and Mail, March 5, 1920, p. 5; “Speaker Swings Jug, Threatens Violence,” Toronto Star, December 19, 1930, p. 39. it seems fitting that Tisdale was happy to hire him for the Municipal Building. It opened formally in September 1940.7”South Porcupine – New Township of Tisdale Municipal Building,” Porcupine Advance, September 12, 1940, p. 1; “South Porcupine – Photographs of new municipal building,” Porcupine Advance, September 26, 1940, pp. 1, 3, 5.

Outside of his design of the Melrose Theatre in North Bay in 1941, Franklin did not leave the Timmins area for work. He was behind St. Matthew’s Anglican at Fifth and Tamarack (1945), Goldfields Hotel at the corner of Evans and Golden in South Porcupine (1946), Schumacher High School (1946), Tisdale Secondary School (Roland Michener) (1947), and the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 88 in Timmins (1948). Franklin died in 1948 at the age of 66.

Update (2016/11/01): After having consulted the Porcupine Advance, I have added more detail here.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Brian Ehman. See Diane Armstrong. “A Proud Community,” Timmins Times, July 27, 2011.
2. See John Slinger. “1,000 square miles: Timmins biggest city in McKeough plans,” Globe and Mail, June 13, 1972, p. 1; “New challenge for Timmins,” Globe and Mail, October 9, 1972, p. 6.
3. See John Saywell. ‘Just Call Me Mitch’: The Life of Mitchell F. Hepburn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991) and Kerry Abel. Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006).
4. Also see for example, Sidney Norman. “Towns of Northland Resent Inequitable Division of Taxes,” Globe and Mail, March 11, 1939, p. 23; Sidney Norman. “Porcupine Recalls Story of Civic Growth,” Globe and Mail, January 4, 1940, p. 50.
5. ”Porcupine General Hospital,” Porcupine Advance, February 14, 1938, p. 1.
6. ”New Schools Plan Passed: D.R. Franklin is the Architect Chosen for Both Schools,” Globe and Mail, April 4, 1919, p. 8; “Delay Money to Architect: School Trustees Protest Against Haste of Property Committee,” Globe and Mail, June 20, 1919, p. 10; “Recommend D.R. Franklin as Permanent Architect,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1920, p. 8; “Dislike Choice May By Board in Mr. Franklin,” Globe and Mail, March 5, 1920, p. 5; “Speaker Swings Jug, Threatens Violence,” Toronto Star, December 19, 1930, p. 39.
7. ”South Porcupine – New Township of Tisdale Municipal Building,” Porcupine Advance, September 12, 1940, p. 1; “South Porcupine – Photographs of new municipal building,” Porcupine Advance, September 26, 1940, pp. 1, 3, 5.

5 Comments

  1. Always like the way that building looked.. for some reason it makes me sad when municipal places and other commercial-ish properties get converted into apartments, feels like something gets lost I guess…

  2. I agree! I’m a huge fan of commercial/industrial/civic buildings keeping their purpose, or finding another public purpose. Residential is, at least, better than demolition though!

  3. Great article Chris! My and sister and I actually decided to look inside the lower windows of the building a few Christmas’s ago and it’s still very interesting to see some of the old designs of the rooms and offices. We also thought we’d be able to catch a glimpse of those jail cells too…

    1. Thanks Grace! That’s really neat, and I’ll bet it still has some of Franklin’s flourishes in there. It has always been amazing that they retained the stucco chalices at the top.

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