On September 29, 1958, a founding meeting was held to develop a Unitarian group in the Lakehead. Rev. Philip Petursson, Minister of the Winnipeg church, and the Field Service Officer for Western Canada, held the first formal service in the Odd Fellows Hall in Port Arthur on November 6, 1958. On January 7,1959 the group received its charter as The Unitarian Fellowship of Port Arthur – Fort William, Ontario from American Unitarian Association headquarters in Boston. Immediately and permanently the group was called Lakehead Unitarian Fellowship (LUF). The merger of Unitarian and Universalist denominations in 1961 created the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), with the offshoot Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) that became independent in 2001.
From 1959 to 1963, members met in rented quarters and private homes while pursuing a permanent location. The 64 members considered five options: buy land and erect a building, buy land and wait, buy an existing building, rent a permanent facility, and/or hire a minister. By April 1964, the members investigated the cost of available lots and prepared sketches of a permanent building to accommodate 180 persons with Religious Education space for 100 participants. This early optimism faded and it was only in 1984 that LUF acquired its current home. Members of LUF did become active in such areas as the Unitarian Service Committee (now USC Canada) and the Memorial Society which challenged the monopoly of funeral homes.
In 1961, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was created from the merger of the American Unitarian Association and Universalist Church of America. The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) was formed as part of the UUA. By 2001, the CUC became independent of the UUA. Ken Morrison was a member of the CUC Board in 1970, and introduced the idea of chaplains (later lay chaplains), which has been a unique feature of the CUC. With a shortage of UU ministers, lay persons are trained to perform life passage ceremonies.
The 1970s were a difficult time for LUF as services were reduced and the group nearly folded but thought of giving up got people to try again to keep going. Past president Shirley Brougham agreed to return as president, if others would accept definite responsibilities, with the focus on suitable accommodation and regular Sunday services.
By 1983 there were only 30 members and it was difficult to find an executive. However, that fall things looked up. On December 11, LUF voted to purchase the Finnish Pentecostal Church (built 1937) at 129 S. Algoma St. and voted to incorporate. Members took possession in January 1984, worked on the building for the next few months, and then opened for services every Sunday. This marked a huge change in the fortunes of the fellowship.
By 1986 LUF was able to host the CUC Annual conference and Meeting. This happened again in 1997 and 2009 for the 50th Anniversary.. After several years of workshops, LUF received formal designation as a Welcoming Congregation in 1995. This was renewed in 2011.
The first Empty Bowls/Caring Hearts fundraiser for Shelter House and Thunder Bay Food Bank was held October 29, 2000 at Wesley United Church with 150 in attendance. This event continues to the present though now at the Moose Hall.
Though largely lay-led, LUF has had a number of visiting and consulting ministers over the years. Since 2011, Rev. Suzanne Wasilczuk has made monthly visits from Duluth, though she will be retiring in December 2019. In 2018 took on an eight week series on workshops on Truth Healing and Reconciliation, and continues to explore this issue. In the 60th anniversary year of 2019, a somewhat reduced number of members continues to be a beacon of liberal religious community, working to grow in spirit, nurture inclusive relationships, and act for a just and sustainable world.
(Thanks to Del Dickey for much of the material in this brief history.)