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 and had a population of approximately 108,000 in 2016.
European settlement in the region began in the late 17th century with a French fur trading outpost on the banks of the Kaministiquia River. It grew into an important transportation hub as its port was an important link in the shipping of grain and other products from western Canada, through the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the east coast. Forestry and manufacturing played important roles in the city's economy. They have declined and been replaced by a "knowledge economy" based on medical research and education. Thunder Bay is the site of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.
The city takes its name from the immense Thunder Bay at the head of Lake Superior, known on 18th-century French maps as Baie du Tonnerre (Bay of Thunder). The city is often referred to as the "Lakehead", or "Canadian Lakehead", because of its location at the end of Great Lakes navigation on the Canadian side of the border.
Thunder Bay developed until 1970 as two rival towns: Fort William and Port Arthur a few kilometres apart. Today the town names are used for districts.
The Thunder Bay area experiences a humid continental climate that is influenced by Lake Superior, with especially noticeable effects in the city's north end. This results in cooler summer temperatures and warmer winter temperatures for an area extending inland as far as 16 km. The average daily temperatures range from 17.7 °C (63.9 °F) in July to −14.3 °C (6.3 °F) in January. The average daily high in July is 24.3 °C (75.7 °F) and the average daily high in January is −8.0 °C (17.6 °F).
Thunder Bay holds Ontario's record for coldest day with wind chill, 10 January 1982, when the local temperature dropped to −36.3 °C (−33.3 °F), with a wind speed of 54 km (34 mi) per hour for a wind chill temperature that dipped to −58 °C (−72.4 °F).
The city is quite sunny, with an average of 2121 hours of bright sunshine each year, ranging from 268.1 hours in July to 86.2 hours in November, sunnier than any city in Canada located to the east of it. Winters are comparatively dry with the snowfall being very limited and temperatures much colder than in Houghton, Michigan on the U.S. side of the lake, where the climate is marked by heavy lake-effect snow.
- 1 Thunder Bay International Airport (YQT IATA). Thunder Bay International Airport, 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.
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.
There is no easy way to Duluth, across the US border, other than driving there.
- Kasper Bus service from the west (Winnipeg, Sioux Lookout), east (Nipigon, White River), and north (Geraldton, Longlac).
- Ontario Northland from Winnipeg, or from Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, and points east.
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 most of winter months, you should bundle up.
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 expanding its network of bicycle paths. 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, email@example.com. Hours vary by season. 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. Serviced campsites are available for $35/night until mid-Oct, and pets are welcome. $5, child 12 and under free.
- 2 Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park (30 km west of Thunder Bay), ☏ . Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario. The Boardwalk Trail (750 m) is an easy, wheelchair-accessible trail from the main parking lot to spectacular views of the falls from viewing platforms on both sides of Kakabeka Falls. Other trails up to 4 km long are available.
- 3 Terry Fox Monument (Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout), 1000 ON-11 (take the exit marked "Terry Fox Scenic Lookout" on Trans Canada Highway). Always open. This park features the sculpture of Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research after losing his right leg to cancer. His cross-country trek began in the east coast and would end in the west coast. A site of national importance in the late 20th century, this memorial is the approximate location where he was forced to stop his marathon after the cancer has spread that ultimately costed his life. (The exact spot where Terry Fox stopped is approximately 4km west of the memorial, but not visible from the road). The location provides a panoramic view of Thunder Bay.
- 4 Thunder Bay Museum, 425 Donald St. E, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. June 15 to Labour Day 11AM-5PM, Labour Day to June 14th Tu-Su 1PM-5PM. A three-floor museum with varied exhibits, including historical and cultural displays. Tu free, W-M adults $3, children 6-17 $1.50, children under 6 free.
- 5 Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1080 Keewatin St (in Confederation College), ☏ . Tu-Th noon-8PM, F-Su noon-5PM. A public art gallery that focuses on the contemporary artwork of Indigenous and Northwestern Ontario artists Suggested donation of $5.
- Founders' Museum & Pioneer Village, 3190 Highway 61 South, ☏ , email@example.com. Admission by donation.
- Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre, 905 Victoria Avenue East, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. W 1PM-5PM, Su 1-5PM. Their mission is to collect and preserve the aviation history of the western half of Ontario.
- The area has a large Finnish population, so saunas are common and popular.
- 1 Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (take Highway 11/17 east and turn south on Highway 587). 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. There are many other hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. In March, Sleeping Giant hosts the Sleeping Giant Loppet, a Thunder Bay tradition. Day use pass $15.25 per vehicle.
- 2 Silver Islet, Highway 587 (east of Thunder Bay, off Highway 11/17 through Sleeping Giant PP, at the end of Highway 587). 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. There is a convenience store that is open Th-Tu noon-5PM.
- Take a walk around the harbour in the north end.
- Visit the amethyst or agate mines.
- 6 Ouimet Canyon (83 km NE of Thunder Bay: follow Highway 11/17, and turn left onto Ouimet Canyon Road), ☏ . The gorge is part of Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park (a day-use park with no camping facilities).
- Eagle Canyon, 275 Valley Road, Dorion (45 min E of Thunder Bay, near Ouimet Canyon), ☏ . May 1-Oct 15: 10AM-6PM. A private attraction that has a 90-m suspension bridge and a 180-m suspension bridge (Canad's longest) that offer beautiful views. Also has Canada's longest zip line —800 m —that takes over the Canyon at up to 70 km/h. Free shuttle service available to the bridges for seniors & disabled. Adult $22, child $12, under 4 free.
- 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.
- 1 Cronos Cafe, 433 Syndicate Avenue South (2 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.
- 2 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
- Up In Smoke BBQ and Grill. A fabulous little Cajun gem. Take home a family pack, as it is both delicious and plentiful.
- 3 The Sovereign Room, 220 Red River Rd (around the corner from the Prince Arthur Hotel, heading west), ☏ . Th F 11AM-2AM, Sa-W 4PM-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.
- 4 Calico Coffee House, 316 Bay Street, ☏ . Calico is a charming independent coffee shop next door to the Hoito, with fair-trade coffee and locally baked treats. ~$7.
- 5 The Thai Kitchen, 36 Cumberland Street S (near the casino), ☏ . This husband-and-wife operation began as a caterer for special events, and 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.
- Bistro One. It offers excellent fine dining.
- Prospector (in downtown Port Arthur). A fantastic steakhouse with an amazing cut of Prime Rib, fantastic sides, and a delicious soup and salad bar.
- Wasabi. 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.
- Sushi Bowl. sushi
- Persian Man. Thunder Bay is also famous for a unique pastry called a Persian. A Persian is similar to a cinnamon bun with a mysterious pink icing. Some say the icing is strawberry, others say it is raspberry, but it certainly is pink. It is also available with chocolate-coloured and orange-coloured icing. Locals eat their Persians just as they are, but for a special treat, have yours cut, buttered and grilled/toasted. You won't find the Persian outside of Thunder Bay, and can only have it at the Persian Man, which has two locations.
- 6 [formerly dead link] White Fox Inn, 1345 Mountain Road, ☏ . 5PM-midnight. Signature dishes include a succulent Rack of Lamb, juicy selection of steaks, and White Fox Salad. A wonderful place for a night out. Beautiful scenery surrounding the restaurant in the countryside.
- 7 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.
- 8 Naxos Grill & Bar, 610 Arthur Street West (next to the LCBO on Arthur street), ☏ . Greek food. Great for lunch or dinner!
- 1 International House of Tea, 899 Fort William Rd, ☏ . Loose leaf tea.
- 2 Steepers, 122 May Street N (2 blocks northeast of Victoriaville), ☏ . A tea house.
- 3 Seattle Coffee House, 588 Arthur Street West, ☏ . M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa Su 9AM-6PM. A local coffee house that serves espresso-based coffees. A wonderful café experience with cosy fireplaces and bench seating.
- 4 Sleeping Giant Brewing Co Taproom, 712 Macdonell St, ☏ . Noon-7PM. Taproom connected to the craft brewery. Beer and snacks for sale, outside food is allowed.
- 1 Thunder Bay International Hostel, 1594 Lakeshore Dr, Longhouse Village (18 km east of the city), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Cash only. Beds are $20 per night. Camping is $12 for one person or $19 for two people.
- 2 Sleeping Giant Guesthouse, 139 Machar Avenue (on the north side of downtown Thunder Bay), ☏ , toll-free: . Beds start at $21 per night.
- 3 Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel, 17 North Cumberland Street, toll-free: . An old but clean hotel in downtown Prince Arthur with views of the marina and the Sleeping Giant. Portside Restaurant on site. From $99.
- 4 Eldorado Beach on Lake Superior Bed and Breakfast (just east of the city along Highways 11/17), ☏ , toll-free: . Full breakfast, family friendly. $100-120/night.
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|