The Fort William Town Plot were surveyed in 1859-60 by the Province of Canada's Department of Crown Lands and opened to settlement.Once the Fort William Town Plot (later known as West Fort) was selected as the eastern terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and construction of the railway began in June 1875, Fort William began to grow, but very slowly. It would take the federal Department of Public Works, and later the Department of Railways and Canals, seven years 1875-1882 to build the Thunder Bay Branch from Fort William to Winnipeg.By 1883-84 it was clear to all but the residents of Port Arthur that the Montreal-based Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate, in collaboration with the Hudson's Bay Company, preferred the low lying lands along the lower Kaministiquia River to the rocky shores of Port Arthur, and the Company subsequently consolidated all its operations there, erecting rail yards, coal handling facilities, grain elevators and a machine shop.
Library services for Fort William began in 1885 when CPR employees opened a bath, smoking and literary room, with a library attached in the Round House, West Fort William. Fees were $1.25 per year for CPR employees; outsiders were required to pay $1.25 for use of the tub.The Mary J. L. Black Library, 151 West Brock Street, opened in 1938. Mary J. L. Black was the librarian of the Fort William Library from 1909-1937. She was one of Canada's leading librarians in her day and was the first woman president of the Ontario Library Association. It seems appropriate that the Westfort Branch was named in Miss Black's honour.