Thunder Bay, Ontario is a port town that is situated on the shores of Lake Superior, virtually at the center of Canada. The city is surrounded by the wilderness. With forest and mountains in the north, it’s a common sight to see bears and moose wander around town.
Thanks to its location at the western end of the St. Lawrence Seaway and its proximity to the western provinces, Thunder Bay is an important port city. It is a pivotal transportation point for lumber, grain, and other natural resources from the west, headed for the U.S. and Europe. More than a dozen grain elevators dominate the city’s skyline. Unfortunately, the shipment of grains, forest products, and mineral resources and thus the freight traffic through the lake has declined in the past decade. In recent years, the city has replaced some of the lost jobs with more of a knowledge economy based on biomedical research and education.
Thunder Bay has a rich ethnic mix, thanks to the many immigrants that have been attracted to the shipping jobs over the years. The ethnic mix includes a large Finnish community and more than 10,000 Native Americans.
Before the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway enabled ships to sail from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, Thunder Bay was known as Fort William and served as an important fur-trading center. Indians and fur trappers would meet at the mouth of the Kaministikwa in what they called “the Great Rendezvous” and sell their goods to European buyers who would take them back to the St. Lawrence River and sail off. In 1801, the British decided to build a settlement at this meeting place. They founded Fort William and used it as the headquarters for the North West Company. Every summer, over 2,000 voyageurs met for the Great Rendezvous and discussed, celebrated, and drank for six weeks. Fort William remained a trading post until the fur trade declined in the late 19th century. In 1970, the city merged with the Port Arthur community to form the new Thunder Bay.
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Elevator
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Elevator is the largest of the grain elevators in Thunder Bay and one of the largest in the world. It is open to the public. Tourists can take a tour of the inside at the Keefer Terminal, which is on the waterfront along Main Street just off Fort William Road. Learn how the cargo of grain is handled and processed for shipping.
Fort William has been reconstructed outside of downtown and consists of 50 village buildings. The fort features dressed-up Indians, fur traders, trappers, and voyageurs conducting business. Fort William can be reached by taking a boat from the marina in Port Arthur or by driving 10 miles or so along Broadway Avenue.
Thunder Bay Auditorium
Thunder Bay Auditorium is the pride and joy of residents. It is an arts facility that was completed in 1985. Not many people praise the design of the complex, but its acoustics are considered first-rate and the auditorium attracts hit shows and star entertainers from around the world.
Thunder Bay Art Gallery
The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is located at Confederation Campus and is devoted to contemporary Indian art. Its prized collections are the works of Norval Morrisseau, a renowned Indian artist born in Thunder Bay. Temporary exhibitions on photography, crafts, and sculptures are also presented.
Centennial Park encompasses 140 acres (57 hectares) of wooded area on the eastern fringes of the city. It has a museum, logging camp, and a series of nature trails. The park is open daily throughout the year, but the logging camp is only open in the summer.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (or Sibley Provincial Park) is another park, but outside of the city to the east. It consists of forests, cliffs, trails, and lake shores, but its real prize is the “Sleeping Giant”. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of Canada, this rock formation stretches out into the lake and looks like a giant lying on his back when viewed afar from the shoreline. The “Sleeping Giant” has inspired a number of legends. One Ojibwa legend has it that the rock formation is really the Great Spirit of Nanabijou, turned into giant stone to hide a secret silver mine the Ojibwa tribe revealed “treacherously” to white men.
There are, in fact, several amethyst mines nearby, but not actually within the park itself. You can reach them by taking Route 11/17 and driving about 35-45 miles east of Thunder Bay. You are permitted to pick your own amethysts from these mines or buy them in the stores there.
Rainy River, Lake Superior, and Centennial Park all offer great canoeing territory. The latter has venues that rent canoes and boats. Visitors can also enjoy fishing by taking an excursion to the stretch between Kenora and Thunder Bay, which is lined with numerous fishing lodges. Swimming can be done at the Sibley Provincial Park and at the beaches of Kakabeka Falls, which are located about 16 miles west of Thunder Bay. Of course, swimming in these areas, even in the summer, can get quite cold. For indoor swimming, try the multi-use Canada Games Complex, located at 420 Winnipeg Avenue. They have a huge waterslide and Olympic swimming pool.
Thunder Bay is more of a skiing town than anything else. Winters are long and summers are short, so locals have a saying: “there’s six months of good skiing, six months of poor skiing”. In the immediate area, you’ll find three downhill ski centers, all equipped with facilities and infrastructure. Five trails near the city are great for cross-country skiing and they offer après-ski and other package deals. Southwest of the city is the Big Thunder Ski Jump. This is where Canada’s national ski-jumping team practices. It has the largest jumps in the world; they range from 230-295 feet (70-90 meters).
How to Get There
Greyhound runs buses to Thunder Bay from all of the major cities in Ontario and Manitoba. If you are driving to Thunder Bay, the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 17) connects the city with Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, as well as with eastern and western Canada. If you are coming from the south, I-35 links Thunder Bay with Minneapolis/St Paul and Duluth. I-35 becomes Route 61 once it crosses the border.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
“Thunder Bay, Ontario.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_Bay,_Ontario>
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