Walking into a dark and chilly former Hells Angels clubhouse has all the charm and appeal of a Halloween haunted house.
It is one of the most unlikely places one would pick as a community gathering place.
To Linda Bruins, it makes perfect sense.
The bubbly entrepreneur and co-ordinator of Evergreen, a United Community has big plans to convert it into a neighbourhood drop-in centre.
It will be a symbolic cornerstone of a rejuvenation effort to inject new life in Thunder Bay's stagnant south core.
“It's the most infamous house in Thunder Bay,” said Bruins, whose non-profit volunteer group took possession last spring. “When I first walked in here, I thought it was really eerie.”
But she's developed a keen fascination for the history of the 100-year-old house, and when it changed hands from a corner store to a biker hangout, first with Satan's Choice, then the Angels.
The Heron Street house was seized by the Ministry of Attorney General after a joint forces police raid in 2006.
Bruins contacted the ministry who wasn't sure what to do with it. “They were hopeful they could sell it. That wasn't happening. It's too well known in Thunder Bay.”
Under the Civil Remedies Act, the group picked up the biker house for nothing.
Pending only a city rezoning approval scheduled for November, it will become the permanent home for the Evergreen office.
Situated in a residential neighbourhood with a public school only a block away, the building has a decidedly bunker-like appearance. The windows are boarded up or glazed over, and there are metal plates in the walls with inch-thick steel doors, front and back, replete with peep holes.
Inside, the stripper's pole and pool table have been removed, but the billiard lights and corner bar remain, along with some biker artwork.
Bruins said it will be a place to store records, hold community meetings, movie nights, or whatever the neighbours want.
Organizing and engaging people is something she loves to do.
Bruins runs a home-based business, An Extra Hand, a personal assistance service helping seniors and professonals with their shopping, housekeeping and gardening chores.
It's a part-time venture that she splits with her work at Evergreen, located in a renovated warehouse.
Thunder Bay's south core business district is filled with empty storefronts, abandoned buildings and derelict waterfront grain elevators.
“It's been neglected,” said Bruins. “Neighbourhoods have not been a priority for 20 years.”
Bruins, who grew up and still resides here, leads a pack of 60 volunteers that wants to instill community pride and make the 50-block Ogden-Simpson Street area cleaner and safer.
Evergreen was born out of a 2005 federal government program, Action for Neighbourhood Change. Thunder Bay's south end was one of five cities chosen.
The group has been instrumental in lobbying the city for some cosmetic changes with better street lighting, trash clean-up, building demolition and painting historic murals.
Bruins, who serves on a crime prevention council, regularly corrals residents for a “walking night club” to allay people's fears of being out after dark.
For the biker clubhouse, she's enlisted Confederation College architecture students to come up with some renovation ideas. Once the ribboncutting arrives, Bruins said they'll hold a First Nation smudging ceremony and have local clergy bless the building.