Chapter 5: Burners
Thunder Bay
Chapter 5: Burners
What if Thunder Bay isn't broken?  What if it's working just as it's supposed to?
November 25, 2018

What if Thunder Bay isn’t broken?

What if it’s working just as it’s supposed to?
***
Mayor Keith Hobbs’ statement:

I have copied my lawyer on this response. First of all I don’t consider Andre Lichtenfeld a former colleague. I testified against him in a Criminal Court proceeding and he was subsequently removed from the Thunder Bay Police as a result. I vehemently deny these allegations and invite you to read the definition of Slander. I did apologize to a group of people at a Public Event at Lakehead University early in my term as Mayor for saying that as a Watch Commander with Thunder Bay Police I was frustrated by the number of “ drunken Indians” that came through our cell blocks and that as a cop I should never have used that term. I came clean and several Indigenous people stood up and said they forgave me. I came clean and it made the media in Thunder Bay. I was thanked by many Indigenous leaders for my stance and my apology. As far as Litchenfeld’s allegations re: burners or putting someone in a boxcar that is just a bald face lie! Litchenfeld has had an axe to grind with me for years. I listened to your podcast last week and it is apparent to me that you chose to attack me as a result of the Indigenous deaths in Thunder Bay. Perhaps you should contact Chief Peter Collins of Fort William First Nation and ask him about my record on Indigenous Affairs. My first two trips as Mayor were to Fort Hope and Webequie to assist those communities when crisis struck. I have travelled to Sandy Lake First Nation at their invitation as a thank you from their Chief for the hospitality Thunder Bay showed them when they were evacuated due to fire. I have visited Pikangikum First Nation at the invitation of their Chief and spoke publicly about living conditions in that community. I have spoken on live radio to Northern Communities and welcomed Indigenous people to our community. For this I was threatened by a resident of Edmonton Alberta in his words for being “ An Indian Lover”. In 2011 when the Seventh Fallen Feather Jordan Wabasse disappeared I spent a frigid cold weekend searching backyards on foot for this lad. I subsequently attended the riverside service with Jordan’s family and Chief Cornelius Wabasse. After the service I was interviewed by the Fifth Estate and called for an Inquest into the deaths. Of course that interview hit the cutting room floor. I suggest you contact Chief of Gull Bay First Nation Wilfred King and ask him about my record on moving Indigenous people forward. In 2011, I signed an historic Declaration of Commitment with Chief Collins of Fort William First Nation and we have joint Council meetings and work on Economic Development, as well as social and cultural issues. I attended the last two Remembrance Days on Mount McKay with my Fort William First Nation friends. Yes Friends. I have attended numerous Indigenous Conferences as a speaker, attended numerous times at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School to speak to students, attended their graduations, feasts etc. Furthermore in your podcast you state that Mayor Hobbs should have been spending his time on the 140 something recommendations from the Inquest. Actually if you did your homework you would know that 34 recommendations were directed to the City of Thunder Bay and we are well on our way to implementing ALL of them. I sit on the Thunder Bay anti-racism and Respect committee and you can contact Amina Abu-Bakare Chair, and ask her about my work in the community. I have been in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and other national media outlets denouncing racism. Recently under my leadership and at my request our City Council donated a million dollar facility to Matawa Tribal Council for $2. This facility is a learning center and soon to be residence for Indigenous students coming to Thunder Bay for their education. A few years ago under my leadership our Council in partnership with the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Center attempted to pursue a community drop in center for Indigenous Youth. Our Council committed $8M towards this venture. When the Feds and the Province refused to assist with funds the project died. I could go on and on about the work I have done including being a productive Board Member of Shelter House that houses mainly Indigenous people that are homeless and suffering with addictions. Mr. Brown I shall listen to your podcast and I will guarantee that I will take legal action if you or anyone else chooses to slander me. It is easy to take shots at me right now due to the fact that I am presently before the Courts on a Criminal Charge. One charge has been withdrawn due to no evidence that would pass the test of a trial and I can assure you that the Extortion Charge will eventually be gone and I will be vindicated as my lawyer has already indicated to you. It was apparent by your last podcast that you don’t like me. In your words WTF? You don’t even know me.

Respectfully,

Keith Hobbs

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RYAN:
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LEANNE:
I’ve actually been learning about these streets pretty damn quick and I haven’t even been out on the streets for very long. I was only on dope for six months and I know enough about the dope and I know enough about these streets. Like, I’ve been doing it for years, right?

MAN ON STREET:
<indistinct>

LEANNE:
<laughs>

RYAN:
She’s young, beautiful and looking rough. She’s wearing what looks like pajamas. She scratches her arm, runs her hands through her short, choppy hair, and scans the road constantly. He looks wary. He moves about erratically. I talk to her.

LEANNE:
Stay away from Limbrick. Uh, stay away from, uh, places like that. And, uh, Windsor. When I actually went there to go see my cousin, I was leaving to go catch the bus, I got banged out by a dude. And I got three fractures my face, now, right? And you can still see it. Like, I can’t even see out of my right eye anymore. It’s blurry to me on this side, and I can’t hear out of my right ear because of that. That’s the places where you got to stay away from. There’s not anywhere safe, really in Thunder Bay anymore, actually.

RYAN:
That’s what I’m kind of wondering, is that—

LEANNE:
You can’t– There’s nowhere safe in Thunder Bay anymore. There’s nowhere you can go that’s safe.

RYAN:
Where do you go?

LEANNE:
I don’t go anywhere.

RYAN:
Yeah.

LEANNE:
I just walk around. I don’t really go anywhere, really.

RYAN:
What about your friends?

LEANNE:
I don’t have any friends. I’d rather not have friends. Because those friends are just going to eventually turn on you anyways. There’s no friends here in Thunder Bay. People… Everybody turns on everybody around here.

RYAN:
Is that, is that just ‘cause of the, like, the life you live with the dope and everything. People are kind of–

LEANNE:
It’s sad, too. But when I was sober, when I had my children, I’d never seen a fucking life out here like this, man.

LEANNE:
And I never seen myself doing what I was doing until I lost my mom. I lost my mom June 22nd. It’s really hard. I never thought I’d see myself doing what I’m doing now, and I look at myself, and I’m fucking disgusted with myself, really. And that’s why I’m trying to pick myself back up by doing what I was doing, right?

RYAN:
Yeah. Well, you just got out of… What was that place called?

LEANNE:
I just got out of Crossroads, it’s a recovery home. Yeah, I was there… I was there for a few a few weeks. I left over there today.

RYAN:
Yeah. It’s frustrating, eh?

LEANNE:
It is, but obviously I can’t do it out here, so that’s why I want to go back to detox and sit over there and get back into Crossroads because I can’t do it out here. It’s too much man. It’s way too much for me. I feel relapse, too. I can feel like I’m gonna relapse. I feel it, but I haven’t yet, so…

RYAN:
I want to offer you a ride over there, though. But you, you don’t want to…

LEANNE:
It’s not me not wanting to take the ride, it’s just if they don’t have a female <indstinct> and I’m stuck over there, right?

MAN ON STREET:
You can see a lot more than Thunder Bay. If you want to see that way, point your fingers this way, too.

LEANNE:
You know what? Actually I will probably take that ride just so I can get away from this guy, ‘cause he’s really freaking me out. So, yeah, I’ll take the ride. Actually so, if they don’t, I can always walk back. Sounds good. Sounds good to me.

RYAN:
I’m Ryan.

LEANNE:
I’m Leanne.

RYAN:
Nice to meet you.

LEANNE:
Nice to meet you.

RYAN:
She just got out of rehab today. She can feel the relapse. Nowhere is safe. This is “Thunder Bay.”

FEMALE NEWSCASTER:
Here in Thunder Bay the rate of overdose deaths is double the provincial average

MALE NEWSCASTER:
Here in Thunder Bay the rate of overdose deaths is double the provincial average

MALE OFFICER:
That’s a lot of fentanyl, as you see it there. That’s quite a bit of fentanyl. What I’d say… That’s probably forty, forty-five thousand dollars worth of fentanyl, street value.

FEMALE NEWSCASTER:
And that is what is attracting the gangs.

MALE OFFICER:
What these guys will do is they’ll provide them some drugs. And at that point, there’s an “owe” that’s required, right? So, to pay off your, your debt… “I’ll have to come into your house,” and almost essentially force their way into it. And they’ll sell out of their residence.

MALE NEWSCASTER:
Thunder Bay’s overdose prevention site is among three across Ontario to have its application frozen by Premier Doug Ford. Local officials say they’re saddened by the move, especially considering that our city has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in all of Ontario.

RYAN:
You want a coffee?

LEANNE:
Sure.

RYAN:
You want food?

LEANNE:
No, I’m okay.

RYAN:
You’re not hungry?

DRIVE-THROUGH ATTENDANT:
Hi there, how can I help you?

LEANNE:
No, I’m okay.

RYAN:
What kind of coffee?

LEANNE:
I’ll get a large steep tea, four and four.

RYAN:
Large steep tea, with, uh, four and four.

DRIVE-THROUGH ATTENDANT:
Large steep tea, four and four.

RYAN:
Large dark roast with two milk, and that’s everything.

DRIVE-THROUGH ATTENDANT:
Okay, that’ll be $2.95. Drive down.

RYAN:
Thanks.

DRIVE-THROUGH ATTENDANT:
You’re welcome.

RYAN:
Well, we have to figure out a plan for you.

LEANNE:
I don’t know. I’m probably just gonna roam around downtown. There’s nowhere for me to go.

RYAN:
How about a relative?

LEANNE:
Everybody’s is… I don’t have anybody. My brother honestly didn’t want me. The only reason why my brother kicked me out… I’m not going to go there right now because I’m just getting sober and I want my brother to know that I can do it.

RYAN:
Yeah.

LEANNE:
He won’t allow me back at the place because I do have my kids there, and my kids will literally flip on me. If she sees me, and then I leave again tomorrow. My baby, she’s, she’s so attached to me.

RYAN:
Yeah, I understand.

LEANNE:
I can’t go there because you know, I mean I literally just got sober so he’s not… I mean, “I’m not gonna let you back just, boom, right away,” so I’m not going to try there and Brent, my brother… Thank you. He’s really, like, the only one…

RYAN:
Thanks, brother.

DRIVE-THROUGH ATTENDANT:
You have a great night.

LEANNE:
Like, the only one. I don’t have anybody. Everybody’s gone. That’s why I say I don’t have nobody. The only family I have is my children and it sucks because I’m only 27 years old. I never thought I’d bury my mom at that time. When I did… Taking, taking care of her for a year and a half and seeing her fucking die in front of your face was the hardest thing that anybody will ever do.

RYAN:
Was she sick?

LEANNE:
Yeah, she had colon cancer, Stage 4.

RYAN:
Oh.

LEANNE:
Me and her were like two peas in a pod. We did everything together. Like, everything. Yeah. I kept telling her before she died. I was like, I kept crying, and I was like “Mom what do I do without you? Like, what I would do? Like I can’t do it without you.” And then she told me, she’s like, “If I raised… raised all of youse on my own, then Lianne, you can do it on your own with five babies. So I got… Yeah, my oldest is eight, and my youngest is 18 months. <sniffs> They’re all with their dad right now.

LEANNE:
Mom… Yeah, just losing my mom killed me. I basically just lost myself. I don’t even know who the fuck I am anymore.

LEANNE:
So, we have to go through the back.

RYAN:
Back.

LEANNE:
Yeah.

RYAN:
Around this way?

LEANNE:
Yes.

LEANNE:
So, we’re at the Balmoral Center and there’s no more beds. ‘Cause there’s… That blind is down, eh? Yeah. See? There’s no beds here.

RYAN:
Want me to check?

LEANNE:
Yeah, I’m gonna go check.

RYAN:
Leanne tries her luck and we wait for her in the tree-lined driveway. For a drug treatment shelter, this place is way the hell out of the way: Off an expressway, tucked away between industrial buildings and strip malls. But people still get here, more than they can handle. The Balmoral Center turns away over 1,000 addicts in need every year. They’re constantly begging for more money, for more beds, here in the city with the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the province. I can see why Leanne didn’t want us to drop her off here. It would have taken her hours to walk back to the bridge where we met her.

RYAN:
After about five minutes, Leanne emerges from the building, looking defeated.

LEANNE:
I was literally trying to bullshit her way through and then I was like, “Why? It says only one female downstairs. There should be sending two females downstairs if there’s no beds available here. She’s like, “No, we’re at max capacity, there’s not enough…” “Okay, you don’t have to be rude, man. Like, I’m a human being too. I’ve got feelings. You don’t have to yell at me like that.” I literally was just here.

RYAN:
Is that frustrating?

LEANNE:
Yeah, it’s very frustrating especially when I’m… I’m fucking, an addict that’s trying to get sober. Now I kind of regret leaving fucking Crossroads, really, but…

RYAN:
Can you go back there?

LEANNE:
You can’t just go and sign in. You have to actually go to detox first and then they bring you over there.

RYAN:
Can’t go back to recovery. No room here at the shelter. To get back into an extended recovery program like Crossroads, Leanne will have to detox first. But she doesn’t need to detox again. Not yet, anyhow. She’s still clean. Maybe if she relapses, then she can get back into treatment. For her immediate problem, making it through the night without using, there’s no help. There’s nowhere to go. We drive.

RYAN:
I heard a story about a Thunder Bay cop. It was told by his former colleague, Andre Lichtenfeld, who talked about just how frustrated that cop would get with people just like Leanne. Indigenous, addicts, drunks–At the time, not junkies–who roamed around the town with nowhere to go, turning up again and again. Rousting them from one place the next was a constant hassle for this cop.

LICHTENFELD:
I specifically remember him, “Fuckin’ burners,” and whatnot. “Put them on a fucking wagon and get ‘em out of there.” <chuckles> And, and he used to be one of the worst ones that just referred to them as “fucking drunken Indians.” “Burners,” and no good for ‘em, send them back to the reserve where they came from.

RYAN:
I thought I’d heard every slur there is for us, but “burner” is a new one to me.

LICHTENFELD:
“Indian,” for the brown skin.

RYAN:
Anyhow, Andre remembers how frustrated the cops got with an especially pesky “burner” who just wouldn’t go away.

LICHTENFELD:
This particular guy started up in Current River, the furthest north of the north end of the city. He started there. He got picked up. About forty-five minutes later he got another complaint. He was about four miles down, the other way. Another officer would pick him up and instead of running him in and doing the paperwork for him, give him a place to stay, they’d bring him into the next patrol area, and dump them off in the next area. They would get him.

LICHTENFELD:
He made his way all the way to the south, into the south, and ended up way in the south end almost up to the reserve. Um, he said, “Just another fucking drunken Indian.” He used to put them on boxcars. Send him west or send them east. You wouldn’t see him for a month or so. “Yeah, took care of that problem. That’s the only way to take care of them.”

RYAN:
Andre specifically calls out one former colleague.

LICHTENFELD:
Keith Hobbs. He used to kid about it all the time. That’s how he referred to them. When they came into the office… Even when I was jailer and whatnot, they’d bring another guy in and, “Another fucking Indian brought in! Another fucking burner! Fuck!” That’s what he was.

RYAN:
Keith Hobbs. For a few more days, as I record this… the mayor of Thunder Bay. Hobbs has admitted to making racist jokes when he was a cop, and he admits to us that he used to get frustrated with the, quote, “drunken Indians” who kept turning up in his cellblocks. But he denies ever putting anyone on a boxcar.

RYAN:
He says Andre has a grudge against him, ever since he testified against him. Hobbs says he’s apologized for his racism and that several Indigenous people have forgiven him. You can read everything he sent us on our website.

RYAN:
Hobbs didn’t run for re-election, what with his criminal extortion trial coming up. Residents were ready for a change. So, a guy named Bill Mauro promised it, and won. Toronto journalist Steve Paikin asked Mauro what he is going to accomplish with regards to racism, murder, and Indigenous deaths in Thunder Bay. He answered that his priority will be fixing the town’s reputation.

MAURO:
I am very, very concerned with the reputation that the city has received over the last number of years. It’s… In my mind, it’s unfair. This is an incredible city. I’ve lived here almost my entire life. It’s very concerning to me that Thunder Bay has ended up with this reputation. We have issues, just like all communities have issues, and we’re going to work on those and see what we can do to rehabilitate our reputation. But it’s a great place. It’s always been a great place and that’s gonna be one of the top-three priorities for me going forward.

RYAN:
What’s with this place? I promised you I would try to find out. I’ve told you story after story, looking for clues to help explain what’s going on here, why it all keeps happening here, and I still haven’t told you the half of it.

RYAN:
I haven’t told you about the local hipster barista with the artsy Café who turned out to be secretly running a white power themed mail order coffee bean business while hosting a neo-Nazi podcast.

PODCAST ANNOUNCER:
Glory to the North.

PODCAST HOST #1:
We’ve got a very precarious sort of relationship with the Natives. They’re just a lesser race. As long as we pretend they’re equal, they’re gonna be fucked.

PODCAST HOST #2:
Yeah, like, you know…

PODCAST HOST #1:
They have to be managed.

RYAN:
I haven’t told you about the Thunder Bay law school that hired an Indigenous law professor named Angelique EagleWoman as its dean because they wanted to train Indigenous lawyers. She quit two years later saying that racism within the university made her job impossible.

EAGLEWOMAN:
I really don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel at this point I just feel like too much has happened internally and with senior administration for me to truly believe that things are going to change.

RYAN:
I haven’t told you about Jolly Wally, a former vaudeville performer who was elected mayor of Thunder Bay for two terms in the 70s and 80s. He was famous for patting Queen Elizabeth on the ass when she was in town. Here he is in archival footage from Thunder Bay City Council.

JOLLY WALLY:
Don’t you cross me again Joe!

JOE:
I’m not crossing you.

JOLLY WALLY:
Don’t cross me! I’ll whip you bad.

JOE:
I wish you would.

JOLLY WALLY:
All right, you damn right I will! I’m going to have my say now, but I’m finished. I’ve said what I wanted to say, and I meant every word of it.

JOE:
Innuendo doesn’t belong in Council…

JOLLY WALLY:
You hear me? You’re no damn good, anyway and everybody knows it. All right, you’re nothing but a tramp! You’re not a man like I am. Don’t come to my defence, because I don’t give a damn for all you. Remember that.

RYAN:
And I haven’t told you about the violent art fraud ring that allegedly duped the Barenaked Ladies keyboard player, and hundreds of others, with fake paintings passed off as works by Norval Morrisseau, the great Anishinaabe artist and grandfather of Kyle Morriseau, whose body was pulled from the Macintyre River in 2009.

MALE INTERVIEWER:
They seem to think that this ring is based out of Thunder Bay. Is that the knowledge that you have?

MALE INTERVIEWEE:
Yeah, the, the work has definitely proliferated from Thunder Bay. I, personally, have seen images of more than 2,000 paintings that came from Thunder Bay that were not directly from Norval.

RYAN:
There’s no end to these stories. More stories of crime, hatred, indifference and corruption than one small city should be able to contain. Am I any closer to understanding why it all happens here? Or is this just a freak show for everyone to gawk at the most broken city in the country? And what good would that do?

RYAN:
My friend reporter Jon Thompson warned me about that.

THOMPSON:
It’s easy to say that the people are backward. It’s easy to say that people are racist. I believe that people are a product of the systems in which we operate. So, when you ask “How is this Canada? The answer is the systems of Canada continue to operate here.

RYAN:
What if I’ve been asking the wrong question? What if Thunder Bay isn’t broken? What if it’s working just as it’s supposed to. After all, it’s not the job of Thunder Bay police to heal addicts. Their job is to get them off the streets and out of view. Hustle them into holding cells, drunk tanks, rehab facilities, boxcars to nowhere, or better yet… back to the reserves.

RYAN:
Just as it’s not the job of Thunder Bay’s mayor to stop the overdoses, the racism, the hate. How could it be? No, his job is to improve the town’s reputation. What if Thunder Bay is also just doing its job? To absorb and contain people who the rest of the country doesn’t want to look at, or think about. For Canada to keep looking like the most gentle and diverse country in the world, it needs Thunder Bay. It needs many Thunder Bays. This show could have just as easily been about Red Deer, or North Battleford, or Prince George, or Winnipeg.

RYAN:
And nine dead Indigenous teenagers over 20 years is nothing special. It’s not even a record. Somebody sent us this article from The Globe and Mail. It’s dated April 21st 1966. The headline reads “Alcohol cited in train deaths of 14 Indians.”

RYAN:
I’ll read a bit of it to you. “Fourteen of the 15 Indians who have been killed under trains in North Western Ontario in the past five years had a very high alcohol content in their blood, Attorney General Arthur Wishart said yesterday. He said the 15th was blind. Mr Wishart told the House that the provincial police had recorded 30 deaths but later corrected the figure to 15. He noted no evidence about a suggestion that a suicide cult exists among the Indians.

RYAN:
This has been going on for a long time.

THOMPSON:
We do have this sense in this country that we talk about these issues as if it’s something that happened a long time ago. This isn’t our past. This is what we do here. Put aside the moral question for a second, because the moral questions should be obvious. Let’s just look at it on a policy basis for a second.

THOMPSON:
You can choose to believe that Canada has a fiduciary responsibility to First Nations that it has not lived up to demonstrably in any kind of way. People don’t have a drinking water even, and housing has mold in it, right? It’s that bad.

THOMPSON:
You can choose to believe that Canada failed to integrate the traditional British colonial resource extraction economy with a traditional indigenous economy in Northwestern Ontario, or you can choose to believe that Canada failed to orchestrate a genocide. But however you choose to believe it, the policy failed. What you’re looking at is the aftermath.

RYAN:
Thunder Bay is not failing, because you can’t fail if you’ve never tried. There was a plan to starve us. That failed. There was a plan to sterilize us. That failed. And there was a plan to blend us out of existence, taking children from their mothers and putting them into residential schools and foster homes. That failed.

RYAN:
But there was never a plan for us to thrive, to teach our own children, to eat our own food, to sell our own resources, to govern our own land. There was never a plan for Leanne.

LEANNE:
I’m gonna bum around. Just gonna…

RYAN:
Do you want to check the shelters, to see if there’s….

LEANNE:
I was actually there before you picked me up. That’s why I went walking down that way. They said about, probably about, uh, two o’clock, people start running out around there. Just, like, leaving, so, yeah.

RYAN:
Well, that’s in an hour.

LEANNE:
Yeah.

RYAN:
So, you’re going to try to get a bed?

LEANNE:
No, I’m just gonna walk around, probably around here. There’s nothing… There’s… I’m gonna go there in an hour and see, yeah.

RYAN:
You don’t want to go there now?

LEANNE:
There’s no beds, right now. I was already there.

RYAN:
Yeah.

LEANNE:
They said to come back about 2 o’clock, so I don’t wanna go back before then, looking stupid, looking… You know what I mean?

RYAN:
Yeah

LEANNE:
Yeah. So, thanks for the tea.

RYAN:
Okay, Leanne, well…

LEANNE:
There’s more people there for you to talk to. There’s a lot of people hanging around here.

RYAN:
Yeah.

LEANNE:
Yeah. Okay.

RYAN:
Thanks,Leanne.

LEANNE:
Okay.

RYAN:
I wish you the best, Leanne.

LEANNE:
Yeah. Thank you. Have a good night.

RYAN:
Leanne ambles off into the courtyard of Thunder Bay City Hall. Maybe she’s going to Robin’s donuts to wait out the hour until a shelter bed comes free, like she said she would. Or maybe she’ll join any of the dozen or two addicts milling about in the dark, the “lost souls” Mayor Hobbs says he watches from his office window.

RYAN:
Doesn’t feel right, leaving her here. And for weeks afterwards, I will wonder what became of her that night. Then, a few months later, I see her again. Her picture, on a missing persons bulletin, tweeted out by the Thunder Bay police service. She’s gone. Another missing or murdered.

RYAN:
And then, 15 minutes later, they find her. “Please delete her missing persons picture,” they tweet.

RYAN:
There is a bridge that connected Indigenous people to Thunder Bay. The James Street swing bridge. When a kid named Stephen Cole told his half brother that he pushed Jordan Wabasse off of a bridge over a bag of weed, this was the bridge he was talking about.

RYAN:
It was built by the railroad over 100 years ago. For most non-Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, this was the bridge you crossed if you wanted cheap gas, or cigarettes, or if you wanted to play bingo on Fort William First Nation. For Indigenous people who live in Fort William, this was the lifeline that you and a thousand others crossed every morning to get to work. It’s also how you got access to vital services you simply didn’t have on reserve. If you needed an ambulance, the James Street swing bridge is how it got to you in time.

RYAN:
Five years ago, the bridge burned. You can still watch the fire on YouTube. A bunch of locals took home videos. People seemed kind of excited about it. A lot of people were sure that the natives burned their own bridge, for some reason.

RYAN:
“My dad says they just wanted a new bridge,” read a tweet by a kid named Marshall. A local named Luca Giordano said, “Now we just need to fence up the other entrances to the rez, and Thunder Bay will be saved.” Another named Paige Ahola also saw it as an opportunity for Thunder Bay to be saved… but only if the fire kept on travelling to the rest of the reserve. “#JustSaying,” she typed.

RYAN:
There is no evidence that Natives set the fire. The fire marshal ruled the cause of the blaze undetermined. Anyhow, it burned and, ever since, members of Fort William First Nation have had to take an 11-kilometre detour every time they need to get into Thunder Bay. The response time for ambulances and other first responders getting into Fort William has been crippled. The gas stations, bingo halls on reserve… They’ve lost millions. And there have been over 100 car accidents at, or near, the detour juncture point where cars from the reserve join the traffic whizzing by on Highway 61.

RYAN:
The city says it’s the railroads burden to repair the bridge. The railroad says it’s the city’s. The case has been tried, ruled on, and appealed. It’s still before the courts. Five years have passed. There is a bridge that connected Indigenous people to Thunder Bay. Five years ago, it burned.

RYAN:
Nobody can agree on who’s responsible for the fire, and nobody can agree on whose job it is to fix it.

RYAN:
“Thunder Bay” is produced by Jesse Brown and hosted by me, Ryan McMahon. This episode was written by me, Jesse Brown and Kevin Sexton. Music by Kris Dirksen. Mixing and sound design by Chandra Bulucon. Additional production on the series by Kevin Sexton, David Crosbie, and Latifa Abdin, with research by Brigitte Noël. CANADALAND’s managing editor is Kevin Sexton. thanks to Allie Graham, Jonathan Goldsbie, Arshy Mann and Lidia Abraha for editorial input. Thank you to Jon Thompson, Willow Fiddler, Jody Porter, Kenneth Jackson and every other Thunder Bay journalist whose work informed this series, and who helped us find our way. Special thanks to the In Sight podcast for helping spread the word about this show. You should check out that terrific podcast, too.

RYAN:
This was the last episode of “Thunder Bay.” We would like for many more people to hear it. Please share it widely. We investigate, report and podcast with support from listeners like you. You can help

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