Thunder Bay? Where is that?
Thunder Bay is in Northwestern Ontario, about an 8-hour drive from Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway. Both cities suffer from the same bad reputation and are places where most people hardly stop during a cross country road-trip. And that’s a shame !
I visited Thunder Bay in April 2018, after spending a few days in Minnesota. We had made a loop and had chosen to return via Canada to be able to see the frozen Lake Superior.
More posts about that trip:
– Welcome to Minnesota
– Ely, the perfect small town
– the North Shore scenic drive of Lake Superior
What to do in Thunder Bay
We spent a short day in Thunder Bay, on a holiday Monday. We had a car, and I would recommend the same, to save time between points of interest and to be able to see the Kakabeka waterfalls.
The Terry Fox Monument in Thunder Bay
Terry Fox is an icon for Canadians, an example of courage and selflessness. A Winnipeg native, his career as a varsity athlete was cut short by a cancer diagnosis at age 19. He had to undergo an amputation but with an artificial leg, he managed to walk again and decided to embark on a transCanada walk, from Newfoundland to Vancouver, to raise funds for the fight against cancer. It’s in 1980. He travels 5,373 km in 143 days before being forced to stop in Thunder Bay because his cancer has recurred. He dies a few months later.
A monument honours him in Thunder Bay, just north of the city.
Hillcrest Park is up – actually here’s the difference between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg: Thunder Bay has a bit of elevation, while Winnipeg is all flat! Hillcrest Park allows you to be right in front of the Sleeping Giant, a mountain on a peninsula off Lake Superior named after an aboriginal legend. It is true, it looks like a man sleeping on his back.
Go up Mont McKay
Big fail for this idea. Mount McKay provides a panoramic view from above of all of Thunder Bay and the frozen lake. If the road is easy to find, it was not cleared. Next time!
Look for street-art
Thunder Bay has a lot of street art all, and looking for the murals is an activity that combines well with Geocaching.
The Finnish street of Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay has the largest concentration of Finnish population outside of Finland (as Gimli in Manitoba has the largest concentration of Icelanders outside of Iceland).
So in Thunder Bay, there is a whole Finnish street with shops, the Labor Temple, which a community and political gathering place, a restaurant, and even the small Free Library is bilingual English/Finnish!
We had lunch at the Finnish restaurant, Hoito, and it was great. It was a European-style canteen, in the basement of Labor Hall, with cheap Scandinavian dishes. The restaurant celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018, but unfortunately closed in 2020.
See the frozen Lake Superior
Thunder Bay est situé sur le Lac Supérieur. On avait longé le lac sur plusieurs centaines de kilomètres la veille et du côté américain, il faisait zéro degrés, je me baladais en pull (oui vous feriez la même chose après plusieurs hivers au Canada) et l’eau dégelait. Dès qu’on a passé la frontière canadienne, il a refait moins 20 degrés et le lac était entièrement gelé. C’est drôle.
Thunder Bay is located on Lake Superior. We had drove along the lake for several hundred kms the day before and on the American side, it was zero degrees, I was just wearing a sweater and the water was thawing. As soon as we crossed the Canadian border, it was minus 20 degrees again and the lake was completely frozen. It’s funny.
More things to do in Thunder Bay
Traveling in winter in Canada is not necessarily a good idea: besides the cold and the snow, many attractions are closed and only open between May and September. If I had been to Thunder Bay in the summer, I would have added to my list of what to do in Thunder Bay the below:
- Fort William Historical Park. Every city in western Canada has its fort or forts, former strongholds of the fur trade converted into a museum. Near Winnipeg, we have Lower Fort Garry and Portage-la-Prairie has Fort la Reine. Thunder Bay also has its fort-museum and you will find all the information you need on their website.
- The Sleeping Giant, its peninsula is now an Ontario Provincial Park.
- The Thunder Bay Art Gallery, for its Aboriginal art collection.
- Take the time to hang out in Downtown Fort William. Thunder Bay is the result of the merger of two cities and the downtown area to the south is more charming than the north one.
What to do near Thunder Bay
Huge crush on these waterfalls! Kakabeka Falls is located 30 minutes / 30 km from Thunder Bay. You have to pay a fee since it is an Ontario provincial park. Then we paid only $3 per vehicle, prices seem to have increased quite a bit and access is $12,25 for a day in 2022 (as per the Ontario Parks website).
I love frozen waterfalls. Kakabeka Falls are accessible all year round and a promontory has been built around it. There are also hiking trails, but the weather was cold, it was less than minus 20 and we had an 8 hour drive ahead of us so we didn’t venture on them.
Seven Fallen Feathers
Just after returning from Thunder Bay, I read a book I wish I had had in my hands before I went: Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga.
This journalist and author has looked into the question of the disappearances and murders of Indigenous people, focusing on the lives of seven young people who have come to Thunder Bay for their secondary education. There is no high school on the reserves in northern Ontario and young people are forced to leave their families to continue their schooling. The book recounts, questions and challenges the management of the authorities. Moreover, the investigations will be reopened in 2019 after the controversy of the book. It’s a good read.
Thunder Bay is really well worth stopping for a day or two to visit, just like Winnipeg or Regina!