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We Were On The Radio!

The Adventures with The Roving Route #40

We know this newsletter is sent out a day late, but at least it's for a good reason! We were on the radio! The incredibly supportive Kenora community keeps coming out to the snow maze so Q104 reached out to us and had us on the morning show with Kim and Ken! While only one of us was able to speak, we were both jumping for joy over the pretty cool experience. You can check out the article that they have written up and listen to a copy on the Q104 website!

In our pre-Covid newsletters, we often discussed the history of the city and country we were in, as we feel it is the single greatest way for a traveller to understand the city's current and past forms. Now that our "isolated on an island" segment has wrapped up it's important we give some information about the city of Kenora and its history. The area has been populated for almost 8000 years so it should come as no surprise that it has evolved over time.

When the glaciers of the last ice age retreated north, they gouged and tore the earth exposing the bedrock and forming what we now call the Canadian Shield. For millennia after, the area became a great hunting and fishing spot eventually leading to the Ojibway settling in. Relying on the vast sturgeon populations and harvesting wild rice, birch bark canoes became the main mode of transportation through the many lakes and rivers. Using natural dyes and paints, hundreds of Pictographs (or Spirit Rocks) were created around the lake giving a peek into the intricate culture. Many can still be seen from the water but make sure to leave an offering if you do to pay your respects. We would love to learn more about the Indigenous history of the area and have found some great resources but if anything comes to our readers' minds, please pass them along to us!

Wigwams on an island in Lake of the Woods in 1872. Photo from KIINAWIN KAWINDOMOWIN STORY NATIONS
Wigwams on an island in Lake of the Woods in 1872. Photo from KIINAWIN KAWINDOMOWIN STORY NATIONS

When Europeans arrived, settlements like Fort St Charles- built by the French at the far west of the lake- helped fulfill the want for furs. It wasn’t until 1861, that the Hudson's Bay Company settled on the present location of Kenora and called it Rat Portage (in reference to the crossing of the muskrat). During this time, expansion west was moving fast and gold had been found all around the Lake of the Woods. The booming logging and gold industry in the 1800s brought European immigrants in hordes. Unfortunately, a growing population and a misunderstanding of Treaties (specifically Treaty 3), displaced many of the people who were originally living here causing long-lasting issues that are still present today. While the city has a long way to go to rectify its past, you can see the city is trying to reincorporate the original peoples' culture into its landscape.

By 1905, the northern banks of Lake of the Woods held three towns within walking distance- Keewatin, Norman, and Rat Portage. With fertile soils nearby and a growing grain industry, flour mills were starting to open up but were reluctant to locate themselves in Rat Portage as "rat" would then be printed on their flour bags. In an effort to incorporate all 3 communities into one and create a new city, the name Kenora was chosen to take "KE" from Keewatin, "NO" from Norman, and "RA" from Rat Portage!

While just a small sliver of the lumber industry is all that has survived in the city the impact of the industries can be seen in the grandness of the buildings that still stand along Main Street. Few other towns in Ontario have been able to retain so many of their historic buildings, preserving a time when local materials were what you relied on. On the corner of Main Street and Second Street stand 3 amazing buildings that have storied pasts.

On one side, you have Doner Block, the present-day home of the Cornerstone Restaurant as well as several other businesses. By 1910, the Imperial Bank had outgrown their space in Brydon Block (now home to Johnsons Pharmacy) and commissioned a new headquarters. Built from limestone that was quarried in southern Manitoba, the Doner Block is almost identical today as it was over 100 years ago.

Doner Block at its prime Photo from The Muse
Doner Block at its prime. Photo from The Muse
Doner Block today. Photo from The Roving Route
Doner Block today. Photo from The Roving Route

Across the street and one of the crowning staples of the Kenora skyline is the Kenricia Hotel. By the early 1900s, the Canadian Railway had crossed the country with Kenora vying to become a staple stop. This is when residents of the city decided it made more sense for them to privately build a luxury hotel rather than the railway and thus the Tourist Hotel (now known as the Kenricia) was built. Taking several years to construct and only at half the size as originally designed, the building was opened in 1910 to much fanfare. Still standing today, the exterior is northern Ontario's best example of Beaux-Arts architecture, however, sadly the interior is not as luxurious as it once was.

The Kenricia at its prime. Photo from The Muse
The Kenricia at its prime. Photo from The Muse
The Kenricia today. Photo from The Roving Route
The Kenricia today. Photo from The Roving Route

On the third corner of great significance and the current home of Tilleys Pharmacy and the Kenora Makwa Patrol, is one of the last remaining buildings using the Western Algoma Brick Company's red bricks. In 1897, Jacob Hose, the president of the company, commissioned a new hardware store to be built and placed an order for 150,000 bricks. The grand total... just $1312.50!

Walking further down Main Street, you pass buildings like Brydon Block (built-in 1897), A.T. Fife Hardware store (started in 1900 and handed down within the family for over 100 years), and Rioch Block. Rioch Block was built in 1905 for George Rioch one of the main jewelers in town and is still home to a jewelry store today! Main Street ends with the magnificent Old Post Office which is now used as part of the Kenora City Hall. To serve the growing community the post office opened in 1900 and is also built with the red bricks from the Western Algoma Brick Company. Kenora had an unfortunate history of fires (the first three fire halls even burned down) which is part of the reason that stone and brick were heavily used in a town whose main export was lumber!

As the gold and lumber industries faded, word of the wonderful area had spread spurring even more tourism development and the emergence of the "summer residents." Spending just a few months a year on the lake, people from all over Canada, built seasonal houses on the islands that surrounded the city. These cottagers helped the city during its transition period from the resource industries to the first-class tourism and recreation destination it is today. There is so much more history in the town (including a Stanley Cup win!) but not everything can be said in our short newsletters! In next week's newsletter, we will dive a little deeper into the modern-day tourism scene to get an idea of just why the city should be on your list of places to visit once it becomes safe to do so!

Cheers to the Kenricians!

The Roving Route


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