About Us

As firefighters responding to residential fires, nothing is more frightening than knowing that children’s’ lives are at stake. Here, more than anywhere else is where we count our wins and losses. But although we know that kids are especially vulnerable to fire and smoke, our concern for them also recognizes other threats. Toys for Tots is the caring response of Thunder Bay’s Professional Firefighters to poverty at Christmas.

On December 22, 2009, the Toys for Tots committee of the Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association presented a cheque for $132,690 to the Christmas Cheer Fund to purchase toys for children of financially-distressed families in the Thunder Bay area. Christmas Cheer coordinates a city-wide mobilization of volunteers to fill and distribute hampers filled with food, including a turkey dinner, to less fortunate families in our community. The list of families who are the recipients of this Christmas giving is generated from social assistance programs and referrals by churches, advocacy groups, and concerned citizens. Unfortunately, the need is great.

Beginning in the 1950s, firefighters in the Port Arthur Fire Department, under Chief Sandy Ligate, made sure that the Christmas Cheer food hampers also contained a toy for the children in those families:  this was the origin of Toys for Tots in Thunder Bay. School children donated used toys (used, outgrown, or damaged) which were collected and repaired as necessary for redistribution. By 1962, the annual effort included a parade which had become one of the highlights of the season. The toys were loaded, along with Santa Claus, on the Department’s aerial ladder truck, which led a line of floats through downtown streets to the Armouries. From there, the toys were packaged and distributed.

1965 Toys for Tots
1965 Toys for Tots

In 1970, when the new city of Thunder Bay merged the former cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, the newly chartered Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association resolved that Toys for Tots must continue. By this time however, the nature of toys had changed. They were no longer as durable, or easily repaired because of their plastic and electronic components, so in 1973, the firefighters decided to raise money to buy new toys.

For several years Toys for Tots took the form of fundraisers like dances, or raffles with prizes ranging from cash to groceries to a new car. The winter of 1980 was the debut of the “Light up the Tree” campaign. This successful format evolved into a large scale effort that involved considerable support from sponsoring businesses and agencies, as well as the off-duty manpower of the firefighters. Every year in November, a huge Christmas tree donated by Abitibi-Consolidated was installed at Intercity Shopping Centre, and decorated with hundreds of lights donated by MGM Electric.

In year 2000, Abitibi-Consolidated Woodlands dedicated a permanent and living “tree for tots” to replace the past practise of cutting down mature trees. This tree is located near the south-east entrance to Intercity Shopping Centre and is marked by a bronze plaque. Every year starting in mid November, off-duty firefighters will staff a “toy” fire station inside the mall to accept donations, and a public appeal for funds will be broadcast by Dougall Media.

Other supporters of Toys for Tots include Fort William Rotary Club, TBayTel, Tim Horton’s Donuts, Parmalat Canada, Diamond P Services, and the John Andrews Foundation. TD Canada Trust has dedicated its annual gift to pay the operating costs of Toys for Tots so that the public is assured that its donations are used to purchase Christmas presents. Chiefs of the Fire Service have continued to support Toys for Tots with the resources of the department. Many dollars come from the pockets of generous individuals; however, organizations such as schools, service clubs, labour organizations, and businesses also organize unique fund raising projects and contribute the proceeds to the firefighters’ campaign. Toys for Tots has become a focal point of concern for children in our community at Christmas and this is reflected in generous giving year after year. Since 1973, Toys for Tots has raised more than 2.0 million dollars.

During this Christmas shopping season, firefighters will once again be standing by at the toy fire station in the Food Court of Intercity Shopping Centre, hoping to receive your cash donation to help make sure that the least fortunate children in our community will have a gift at Christmas.



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