A New Taste for Architecture: The Thunder Bay Museum’s Spring Dinner

Story by Nancy Saunders, photos by Rike Burkhardt

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The Thunder Bay Museum’s spring dinner, A Taste of Architecture, was an enjoyable evening of casual conversation, draws and door prizes, and a celebration of and education in Thunder Bay’s exceptional architecture.

Guest speaker Shannon Kyles teaches the History of Western Architecture and History of Ontario Architecture at Hamilton’s Mohawk College. She is also the architecture commentator on CBC’s Fresh Air, and creator of the website OntarioArchitecture.com that sees around one million hits each month and is full of examples of Thunder Bay’s architectural variety. Of all the buildings on her website, a certain house on High Street gets the most inquiries. Featuring a recently renovated Asian-style pagoda, it is listed on the website under “Arts and Crafts” as its windows are a classic example of “a large pane below and a series of small panes above.”

Kyle spent four days here in 2002, touring and taking photos of local architecture, and described Thunder Bay as “a gorgeous city with wonderful people.” She had planned to take more photos and gather new material this visit in preparation for her presentation—and then it snowed. Even so, by sharing the existing photos found on her website, Kyle shared her appreciation and passion for the many styles of architecture that can be found in our city.

Kyle’s presentation was peppered with interesting historical facts about architecture: a self-described “window fetishist,” Kyle chronologized the evolution of windows: initially wooden, then
with small pieces of glass. People took their windows with them when they moved until the 17th century when windows were designed as more permanent fixtures in homes. Kyle was quickly corrected by the audience when she stated a misunderstanding—that the buildings at Fort William Historical Park were restorations, rather than newly construction at a new location.

OntarioArchitecture.com was made to help people of all ages appreciate the architecture in their own town or city. Architecture is the most accessible of all the art forms, and once you start looking at buildings, you will never stop. By looking at the different styles of architecture and understanding the terms and where they came from, you may find that buildings that you have known for years become more interesting.” I absolutely left A Taste of Architecture with a heightened appreciation, awareness and curiosity for the buildings in Thunder Bay. While many in attendance recognized the buildings Kyle profiled, there was enough of us who could not immediately locate these gems nor describe the style. I’ve noticed myself looking around more as I travel through the city, craning my neck to see the details and artistry that deserve our attention. Even without knowing their inspiration or style, their characters and personalities reveal themselves when you take the time to look.