Thunder Bay lies at the far northwestern point of the Great Lakes of North America, and is a transportation bridge between the rich agricultural Prairies of Canada and the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the world. The population of Thunder Bay was approximately 108,000 at the time of the 2011 census.
A few decades back there were two towns here named Fort William and Port Arthur and the combination was usually referred to as the Lakehead. Today we have the city of Thunder Bay instead, but the town names are still used for districts.
Do not expect to hitchhike in from Winnipeg - this stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway is notorious for drivers not stopping to pick up anyone.
Thunder Bay has not been served by passenger rail since 1989 due to a politically motivated right-of-way dispute between Via Rail and Canadian Pacific Railways. The closest rail service is in Armstrong or Longlac, 250-300km distant.
1 Greyhound runs intercity buses west to Winnipeg and east via Sault Ste. Marie to Toronto. The bus station is located at 815 Fort William Road, one block north of the Harbour Expressway. There is no easy way to Duluth, across the US border, other than driving there.
2 Thunder Bay International Airport, YQT IATA 15 minutes west of the downtown centre, has scheduled service to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and various small communities in northern Ontario; it also has seasonal service to Calgary and a few Mexican and Caribbean destinations. The airport doesn't have any direct flights to the US. One local transit bus passes each 30-40 minutes daily; the Airlane Travelodge and Valhalla Inn operate hotel shuttle buses.
Thunder Bay isn't known for being a walkable city. This is largely due to its Twin-Cities heritage which causes the city to be very spread out. Until 1970, the city was two separate large communities (Fort William and Port Arthur) separated by a swamp that has since been built up into an area of suburban big-box stores, shopping malls and chain restaurants known as "Intercity". City council seems to be developing the north end (Port Arthur) into an entertainment district with the Marina Park as its centrepiece, and the south end (Fort William) into a business district. Within each of these districts (North end and South end downtown cores) walking is certainly viable in the non-winter months. During the winter months, your face will freeze off.
As a result of this, your best way to get between these two zones is by bus. Up-to-date schedules are available on the Thunder Bay Transit website. There are several taxi services.
The city is increasingly focused on expanding its network of bicycle paths as well. Transport by inline skates can work well on these paths, but sidewalks are often too mottled to afford any speed or efficiency on skates.
- 1 Fort William Historical Park, 1350 King Road, e-mail: email@example.com. 10AM-5PM. A recreation of the days of the North West Company and the Canadian fur trade circa 1815. Over 40 buildings on 225 acres, it offers a look at fur trade life, culture, rafts, medicine, business, domestic life and heritage farming. RVs and tent campsites are now available, and pets are welcome.
- 2 Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, ☎ . Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario.
- 3 Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Enjoy a hike along one of the beautiful trails at Sleeping Giant. Take Top of the Giant, a challenging 25-km return trail to a spectacular lookout over Tee Harbour, Lake Superior, and a rugged cliff's edge. In March, Sleeping Giant hosts the Sibley Ski Tour, a Thunder Bay tradition.
- The area has a large Finnish population, so saunas are common and popular.
- Silver Islet. Silver Islet is a well-kept ghost town, and one of the oldest in Ontario. A huge deposit of silver was discovered around 1845, but the volatile weather of Lake Superior prevented exploitation of the ore deposit for several decades. Breakwaters were built to contain the lake’s storms, but they were demolished by storms, ice surges, and a freak tidal wave. Finally, a breakwater of rock and concrete was built that allowed miners to extract silver ore worth $3 million. In 1883, mining operations ceased for lack of fuel for the furnaces and water filled the shafts. Many of the miners' houses have been converted into summer cottages.
- Take a walk around the harbour.
- Visit the amethyst or agate mines.
- Visit Ouimet Canyon and/or Eagle Canyon. Walk across the suspension bridge at Eagle Canyon for beautiful views.
- Drive west of Thunder Bay to Quetico Provincial Park - some of the best canoeing in the world awaits!
- You can also canoe on White Otter Lake, near Quetico and Atikokan. Visit White Otter Castle, a three-storey wooden cabin single-handedly built by Jimmy McQuat on the shores of the lake. Legend is that Jimmy built it for his sweetheart and then got jilted. There is a walking trail from the castle area that leads to an abandoned World War II prisoner-of-war camp, but this has not been restored for tourists. Be careful of rusted metal and sharp edges in the camp.
- Norma Jean's Restaurant, 123 May Street South (1 Block from City Hall), ☎ . Burgers, fries, milkshakes, and a few other dishes. Nothing will blow you away, but sometimes when travelling that's a good thing. A nice way to eat locally. ~$13
- Cronos Cafe, 433 Syndicate Avenue South (Two blocks south of Arthur St), ☎ . 11AM-3PM. This is a Greek restaurant that has strayed from a core-Greek menu to include decent burger-and-fry combos. The chicken souvlaki with fries or Greek salad is delicious. They're light on the fries though, so you might want to ask them to double up. You should specify thick for the milkshakes. Popular with high school students and business people alike at lunch, due to its proximity to public and Catholic high schools, city hall and the civic centre. ~$12.
- Up In Smoke BBQ and Grill is a fabulous little Cajun gem. Take home a family pack, as it is both delicious and plentiful.
- The Sovereign Room, 220 Red River Rd (around the corner from The Prince Arthur Hotel, heading west), ☎ . Tu-W Sa-Su 4PM-2AM, Th-F 11AM-2AM. Popular pub, the menu features North American pub faves with some added flare (like duck confit poutine), as well as a variety of Continental cuisine. Whatever you like to eat, wash it down with something nice from the cellar or choose from the best selection of beer in the city. $10-$30.
- The Hoito, 314 Bay Street (Northwest corner of Bay and Algoma). For a unique dining experience, visit Thunder Bay's famed Finnish restaurant, The Hoito. On weekend mornings, it is packed with locals of all ages, families and friends eating together, delicious Finnish pancakes. The Hoito is a beloved Thunder Bay institution and feels just like eating at your grandma's house! ~$11.
- Calico Coffee House, 316 Bay Street (Next door to The Hoito), ☎ . Calico is a charming independent coffee shop next door to the Hoito, with fair-trade coffee and locally baked treats. ~$7.
- The Thai Kitchen, 36 Cumberland Street S (near the casino), ☎ . Originally a caterer for special events, this husband-and-wife operation has been a reasonably-priced local Thai restaurant since 2007. Both owners speak Thai (one is an immigrant from Northern Thailand) and most of the main dishes are $9 (including rice or noodles). Try the Kaeng Penang (#33). This establishment is busy at dinner (5-5:30PM) on Friday and Saturday nights, so arriving early may provide more prompt service and provide the cooks more time to spend on your food. $9-14.
- Armando, 28 Cumberland Street North (Across from the Prince Arthur Hotel), ☎ . Armando (the man) is an Italian-Canadian who hails from Naples. His family's Italian eatery serves classics and does them well, and he'll even sing to you at your table. The prices have been increasing in recent years, but the quality is superb. Expect to pay about $45 plus drinks per person. There are several excellent dishes that are not on the menu. Of particular quality are any of their meats in the signature Sambuca sauce. Ask for veal or bison if available. The closest you'll get to Donatello in Bologna without leaving Thunder Bay. ~$45.
- Bistro One offers excellent fine dining.
- Prospector, in downtown Port Arthur, is a fantastic steakhouse. With an amazing cut of Prime Rib, fantastic sides, and a delicious soup and salad bar, The Prospector is the place to be.
- Thunder Bay has a couple of sushi places: Wasabi and Sushi Bowl. They are tasty, but visitors from larger cosmopolitan centres or the coast will likely be disappointed as sushi is much more expensive than they may be accustomed to. Sushi is approximately twice the price here as in Toronto for example.
- Thunder Bay is also famous for a unique pastry called a Persian. A Persian is similar to a Danish with a mysterious pink icing. Some say the icing is strawberry, others say it is cherry, but it certainly is pink. Most people eat their Persians just as they are, but for a special treat, have yours cut, buttered and grilled/toasted.
- White Fox Inn, 1345 Mountain Road, ☎ . 5PM-midnight. a number of signature dishes including our succulent Rack of Lamb, juicy selection of steaks, and our ever-popular White Fox Salad. A wonderful place for a night out. Beautiful scenery surrounding the restaurant in the countryside. $$$.
- Organic Garden Cafe, 415 Fort William Rd (Drive up Water St and turn on Fort William Road. It is a bit hidden on your Right hand Side.), ☎ . Tu-Th noon-6PM, F noon-6PM. Amazing vegetarian food. Ovo-, lacto-, vegan-friendly, organic, western, take-out. Small organic café using some fresh produce grown by the owners. $$.
- Naxos Grill & Bar, 610 Arthur Street West (Next to the LCBO on Arthur street.), ☎ . Greek Food. Great for lunch or dinner! $$.
- International House of Tea, 899 Fort William Rd, ☎ . Loose leaf tea.
- 1 Steepers, 122 May Street N (Two blocks northeast of Victoriaville), ☎ . A tea house.
- 2 Seattle Coffee House, 588 Arthur Street West, ☎ . M-F 7:30AM-11PM, Sa 8AM-11PM, Su 9AM-11PM. A local coffee house that serves unique drinks along the lines of Starbucks. A wonderful café experience with cosy fireplaces and bench seating.
- 1 Thunder Bay International Hostel, 1594 Lakeshore Dr, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Longhouse Village, RR 13, 1594 Lakeshore Drive, +1 807 983-2042. Located 18 km east of the city. If travelling by Greyhound, tell the driver ahead of time to drop you off at the hostel; call Greyhound ahead of time to be picked up. Beds are $20 per night. Camping is $12 for one person or $19 for two people. Cash only.
- 2 Sleeping Giant Guesthouse, 139 Machar Avenue, ☎ , toll-free: . Located on the north side of downtown Thunder Bay. Beds start at $21 per night.
- 3 Eldorado Beach on Lake Superior Bed and Breakfast, ☎ , toll-free: . Located just east of the city, for those driving along Highways 11/17. Full breakfast, family friendly, starting at $65 per night inclusive.
Isle Royale, a wilderness park, lies within sight in Lake Superior. Commercial ferries from Grand Portage, Minnesota provide the nearest official access to the island, but it's accessible from Thunder Bay by private boat.
|Routes through Thunder Bay|
|Fort Frances ← Atitokan ←||W E||→ Red Rock → North Bay|
|Winnipeg ← Dryden ←||W E||→ Red Rock → Sault Ste Marie|
|ENDS ←||N S||→ → becomes → Grand Portage → Duluth|