BOTB – North Bay City Hall and Its Toilet Origins

From: Darren D. MacDonald, staff

NORTH BAY – Many people in North Bay may be familiar with City Hall – home of the Business Centre, Ontario Works, and there place where the citizens can go to view the mayor in its natural habitat.

But what many may not know is the origins of the interesting shape of the building and its history as a tourist attraction.

The Part of The Article Not About The Toilet

In 1934 the Dionne Quintuplets were born in Corbeil.  It was a medical miracle.  Then Premiere of Ontario Mitchell Hepburn pushed the Dionne Quintuplets Act through in 1935: this officially made the quintuplets Wards of the Crown until the age of 18.  This prevented the quintuplets from being taken advantage of and turned into a tourist attraction by others, while also allowing them to be taken advantage of and turned into a tourist attraction by the government. 

“People came from around the world to view the Quintuplets, stopping through North Bay,” says Cass Gas, a former gas station owner. “We were ready to board up the windows and work the farms.  But as soon as the government started exploiting the Quints we saw our sales skyrocket.  In a single year we went from being ‘Cass Gas’s Snack Emporium’ to ‘Cass Gas’s Gas’n’Snack Emporium.’”

The success rubbed off on the surrounding communities, but when the Quintuplets reached 18, the show was over.  The Dionne Museum still stuck around, providing a supplementary tourist attraction, but the thrill of watching 5 little girls through a one way mirror was gone.  North Bay knew that they had to take matters into their own hands.  

Looking For Another Tourist Trap

“My dad started attending the City Council meetings about what we should do.  He saw the building of an attraction as a perfect chance to get the name of his business out to the world,” says John Den. “Sure the name Bill Den’s Buildings fell flat, but there were many worse ideas that happened in the 50s.”

In 1950 they fielded many ideas for tourist attractions and eventually settled on a “world’s largest” type of tourist attraction. 

The idea that was eventually picked was the World Largest Toilet.  Many believe that the idea was floated as a joke, with many opinion pieces from the time saying it was because “North Bay was full of [faeces]”.

The World’s Largest Toilet would be the tourist attraction for North Bay.

Giant John

Bill Den’s Buildings was awarded the contract to build the World’s Largest Toilet.  The project and the eventual attraction would be known by locals as Giant John.  The construction started in 1952, and concluded in 1955. 

In 1956 Giant John opened up to the public.  It was a nationwide success.  But it was a success that could not be sustained. 

“While it did really well, there was only so much to bring people back.” explains ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk Wilder, author of the unpublished book The Giant John: The Shitter That Put North Bay On the Map, “It was just a construction that looks like a toilet.  By the end of the 60s revenue started to drop.”

Disneyland, But For Toilets

Mayor Bruce Goulet wanted to breathe life into the City’s Titular Toilet.  They did this by renovating the inside of the building to contain a gift shop, and an edutainment performance that took place in the bowl of the toilet.  Topping off the experience was an elevator that led to the top floor where tourists could look down at the toilet bowl.

“It was like DisneyLand, but for toilets… Which is pretty much the most North Bay thing I thing I’ve ever said,” recalls John Den.

Pictured Above: Downtown North Bay circa 1965… or something.

This gave Giant John a longer life, but it wouldn’t last.  By the late 70s, it was back to pulling subpar numbers.  It was nearing the end of its life.

In 1978 the old City Hall was demolished.  This left North Bay without a permanent City Hall.  While there have been discussions about what they should do, it took time.  In 1985 North Bay acquired the Dionne Museum for $100 and whatever Canadian Tire money was in the ashtray of Mayor Stan Lawlor’s Ford Fiesta. 

A More Fitting Use

With a new tourist attraction that has stood the test of time now bringing North Bay those sweet tourist dollars, they needed to find a new use for Giant John.  There were talks of demolishing it and erecting a new City Hall in its place. 

“Many people joked that we should just turn the Colossal Crapper into the City Hall because it’ll be full of shit anyways… and the idea stuck.” remembers ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk.

Renovations on Giant John started in 1986.  It was finally brought up to code in 1988 where it was redubbed the Thomson Building. 

“By nature it still has the look of a toilet.  At the end of the day, it was cheaper to turn that big bog into a serious municipal government building” explains ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk. 

North Bay will always be remembered for the things that it has accomplished and what it has.  It is home to “The Hole”, birthplace of Darren Turcotte, and still home of the World’s Largest Toilet. 

But you won’t see that in the history books. 

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