Historic Bay Street Property Could Hit the Market This Summer

Story by Matt Prokopchuk

The cooperative formed to try and purchase the Finlandia Hall property will be busy this summer, organizers say, as the historic site on Thunder Bay’s north side could hit the market in a matter of weeks.

Grant Thornton, the company appointed to handle the liquidation of the Finlandia Association, the organization that owned and operated the building, says it intends to have the property listed some time in July.

The Finlandia Cooperative of Thunder Bay is organizing and raising money with the goal of purchasing the 110-year-old building–also known as the Finnish Labour Temple–after the Finlandia Association voted in May to liquidate, so it could settle over $1 million in debt. The dissolved association says its hand was forced after it missed a payment of less than $2,000 to RBC because the hall and the Hoito Restaurant, which is housed within, have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paula Haapanen, one of the directors on the interim board of the new cooperative, who attended the virtual meeting that was held to dissolve the Finlandia, says she was told that “August was a good timeline to where [the liquidators] want to be signing papers and finishing all the paperwork.”

“We’re at the beginning of June and … it’s fast,” she says.

Derek Parks, one now-former board members of the Finlandia Association who was appointed an inspector for the liquidation process, says he believes that everything will be wrapped up by September, but added that, generally, it’s “sooner rather than later.” Parks says realtors in Thunder Bay have been invited to “put a package together to sell the assets” that the association owned. That includes the labour temple property and the Tapiola ski trails site.

The new cooperative is proposing to function as a multi-stakeholder entity, Haapanen says; the interim board is finalizing its structure and memberships, as well as working to officially incorporate, all while fundraising and pursuing other sources of financing. The group has been raising money through a GoFundMe campaign. 

Cooperatives can take many forms, but in general are legally incorporated entities that are owned by its members, who also use, as well as provide, its services or products, according to the Ontario Cooperative Association’s website.

“We’re still trying to figure out the solid business plan that’ll make money that will make this a viable venture,” Haapanen says, adding that the pandemic itself doesn’t make things easier in their efforts to file necessary paperwork with senior levels of government. Still, she says she remains “quite confident” the group can be successful, saying that local MPs and MPPs are supportive and that “it is a question of whether or not we can raise the funds in time.”

Parks, who is not a part of the new cooperative, citing a conflict due to his former board position with the Finlandia Association and his involvement with the current liquidation process, says he’s encouraged by their efforts. 

“I think the reality is … the Finnish Labour Temple is such an iconic symbol for [the] Bay and Algoma [neighbourhood] and the city of Thunder Bay,” he says.

“Thunder Bay is a city of immigrants and you know, there’s more and more people with very vast, different cultural backgrounds coming in that maybe a co-op with various interests from other ethnic backgrounds makes sense to have.”

Haapanen stresses that, whatever form the cooperative ultimately takes–should it be successful in acquiring the property–that it will be an inclusive venture.

“It belongs to the community,” she says, referring to the labour temple. “It’s a living space that needs to be even more animated than it was.” 

“When the community’s involved in that, Finnish and otherwise, that’s when that place can grow and thrive.”

Haapanen says she’s encouraged by the level of community support that followed the cooperative’s formation and announcement of its goals.

“We need to keep moving forward,” she says. “We need to score a couple of big wins, perhaps bigger investors or bigger partners who want to contribute funds.”