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June 2022

On December 22, 2021, a fire ripped through the Finnish Labour Temple building in Thunder Bay’s historic Bay & Algoma District, shocking the neighbouring community and devastating the century-old heritage structure. But the next day, when owner Brad McKinnon went to survey the damage, he found a shocking surprise – the iconic scales were intact and sitting in four feet of water.

“The resilience of these scales is incredible; they are very robust,” says specialist Denis Gaultier of D.G. Scales Services Inc. “The mechanical scales that were used in the paper mills and sawmills in Thunder Bay were built for years of usage with very little maintenance. They were designed to endure a lot of abuse.”

The scale is a vintage Toledo No Springs Floor Weight Lollipop Scale, built in Windsor, Ontario, circa 1924. The company itself was founded in 1901 by Henry Theobald in Toledo, Ohio, with the slogan ‘No Springs, Honest Weight.’ For decades, this particular scale sat at the bottom of the Hoito’s inner stairs, and only the bravest souls dared step on the historic platform after a meal of Finnish Pancakes, liver and onions, or mojakka.

I asked historian Saku Pinta how the scale found its way to the Hoito’s lobby.

“The scale is from the old Algoma Steam Bath,” says Pinta. “A public sauna that was located on the lot where Bay Credit Union is now. Algoma Steam Bath closed in the early 1980s and the building was torn down. I believe it was at this time that the scale was brought to the Hoito.”

Originally built in 1909 (with the Hoito restaurant opening in 1918), the Finnish Labour Temple was designated as a national historic site in 2015 and served as a cornerstone to the Bay & Algoma Historical District. McKinnon bought the building from the Finlandia Association in 2020 and the upper floors were being converted into condominiums at the time of the fire. The loss of the historic building has impacted not only the neighbourhood, but the city of Thunder Bay as well. McKinnon vowed to rebuild, with an eye to restoring as much of the heritage site as possible, including the distinct cupola and stairs. He also wanted to include the iconic scale as part of that restoration, which is why he contacted Gaultier. “I contacted Brad for the scale restoration. I went to the Finnish Book Store to meet with Brad and Richard when I heard they were storing the scale there and I offered may services”.

“Because of the rusted condition due to fire and water damage, the scale platform pieces were very difficult to deal with,” says Gaultier. “Trying not to break any of the cast iron pieces as I was dismantling it was one of the main concerns, since the replacement parts for this vintage are very rare. I had to reach out to my old colleges: Phil Beattie in New Brunswick, and Nestor Klewchuk in Saskatchewan, (both of whom are well into their 80’s) for assistance in researching the history and parts as required. Thankfully, I was able to salvage all but a couple of the original parts!”
The restoration was a multi-phase project, and much of it proceeded like the steps of a detective novel.

“The dismantling of the scale base and trying to match the original colour were the most challenging,” says Gaultier. “Matching the original colour was done by finding a part on the scale that the paint had not been altered by time. Underneath the serial plate was the ideal paint colour, and I was able to bring the sample to Superior Coating in Thunder Bay. With modern technology, they were able to scan and match, as close as possible, to the original paint. I also had assistance from Graham Paton at Universal Paint, a local auto body shop, in Thunder Bay who helped me with painting the main support and head of the scale.”

I asked Gaultier how it felt to be a part of such an iconic restoration project.

“It is always a humbling experience to be able to contribute to the preservation of history,” he says. “My family and I moved to Thunder Bay from Winnipeg in 1992, so when I was new to the city, my work-colleague Gary Wyman insisted that I try the famous Finnish pancakes at the Hoito Restaurant. Ever since, my family has made it our tradition to take out-of-town family & friends to enjoy the Finnish pancakes and hospitality at the iconic Hoito Restaurant. At every visit, I would check out the scale. Every time, I would see the scale needle move across the face of the weight chart and I just knew what was wrong with its mechanical operation, so when the opportunity came to restore it, I jumped at the chance to finally give this scale the much-needed attention it deserved.”

“We are grateful to Denis Gaultier for the time and skill he put into repairing it,” says Paula Haapanen, president of the Finlandia Co-operative of Thunder Bay. “Brad McKinnon has said that there’s
a good chance that the scale will be back on display in the Hoito once the restaurant is open, so we’re looking forward to that.”

McKinnon believes that the scale will return to its trademark location at the bottom of the stairs, but until then, it has found a temporary home across the street at the Finnish Bookstore/Kitchen Nook. Nestled among a collection of photos from the early days of Bay & Algoma, it can be photographed, admired, and honoured for the memories it gave.

“We’re very happy that the scale was saved,” says Haapanen. “It’s a sign of hope, a symbol of resilience.”

Resilience and hope seem to be a common theme after these last few difficult years, and what could be more hopeful for the residents of Thunder Bay than the return of Hoito’s Finn pancakes? Please pass the syrup…

For information on how you can support the restoration of both the scales and the restaurant, please contact the Finlandia Co-Operative at

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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