The Empire Heritage Site Plaque
For almost five decades the Empire was not only the finest hotel in North Bay it was also the social and business hub of the city.. Cannily located within walking distance of the CPR and CNR/T&NO railway stations when the sensible way to travel was by rail, the Empire Hotel was also only a block off east-west Main Street and close to a pair of north-south corridors when the automobile came along.
The Empire Hotel, built by contractor Leo Mascioli and designed by Jules Joanisse, both of Timmins, opened its doors on August 1st, 1928. The five storey structure was an unassuming brick rectangular box on the outside but inside, it was a different story, with “neither pains or expense…spared”. Attention to detail and heritage was also the case in 1997 when the 100,000 square foot building was purchased, refurbished and retrofitted as a retirement home by the Retirement Living Centres Company.
Elegant and ornately crafted original features still abound in the magnificent main lobby, the dining room, the ballroom and the main staircase; features which transport the viewer to a time gone by. The basement has secret areas which hosted clandestine card games back in the tumultuous 1930s as well as a barber shop, a bar and 20 product sample rooms.
Parts of the 1942 Warner Bros film “Captain of the Clouds” were shot in and around the city and some of the cast, which included James Cagney, Dennis Morgan and Allan Hale, were hosted by the hotel. October 29th, 1951 saw then Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh stay at the Empire during their first Royal visit to Canada.
The Empire was a popular choice for weddings, for service club, sports, business, political and civic group meetings, special banquets, fundraisers, Sunday brunch, New Years’ celebrations, dances and general fun making.
Not long after the Empire opened the dance band era swung into full beat. North Bay had an ample supply of trained musicians thanks to men like Egidio Virgili and the city’s vibrant concert band tradition. Dance bands and groups sprang up to play at the Top Hat, the Masonic Temple, the Capitol and Royal Theatres as well as the Empress Room.
The Empire was North Bay’s social and business anchor for fifty years. The North Bay Municipal Heritage Committee declared it a Heritage Building in 2011 and a commemorative plaque is mounted by the Fraser Street entrance.