Three people in a canoe paddle in front of the Sleeping Giant at sunset Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario  LOCATION: FORT WILLIAMS FIRST NATIONS RESERVE, THUNDER BAY, ON

Thunder Bay

Stunning landscape meets unique history in Thunder Bay. On the shores of Lake Superior, the city is an amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur and boasts the largest Finnish population per capita outside of Finland. Clues to the earliest inhabitants — stone tools, spear points — point to a 10,000-year history. On the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, the nearby Fort William First Nation is a hub for Northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities.

Day One

waterfront with two boats and building in background Prince Arthur's Landing is a budding cultural hub with a great view. Photo credit: City of Thunder Bay.
Prince Arthur's Landing
Walk the Waterfront

Prince Arthur’s Landing is an excellent vantage point to experience this port city. Public walking paths and art displays make it a lovely spot to stroll and reflect. Visit the striking Spirit Garden, inspired in part by the vision of highly influential Anishinaabe painter Roy Thomas, incorporating Indigenous art and building techniques. The design raises the profile of Indigenous knowledge while restoring the waterfront with native vegetation.

The waterfront district is also home to many of Thunder Bay’s major events and festivals including Wake the Giant Music Festival, celebrating Indigenous culture, or the Festival of India, for arts, culture, music and food.

If your glimpse of the lake leaves you wanting more, consider booking a sail boat tour — you’ll find the craft of your choice with Sail Superior at Pier 3. Want to stay shoreward? The Alexander Henry is a museum of transportation — on a ship! Visit Goods and Co and other artisans and boutique retailers, or grab a bite in the Waterfront District.

Goods & Co.
Arts at the Waterfront

After enjoying the waterfront view, take a short walk to Good & Co Market, also in the Waterfront District. This urban market is a hub for local artisans and boutique retailers. It’s also a growing centre for arts and culture in the city, featuring the Co.Lab Gallery space that showcases Canadian artists and hosts various community-based events and projects.

If you’re hungry for lunch, Good & Co offers a range of food options. You can create your own burrito or taco salad at PocosMas, grab some healthy treats at Superior Bakes, or savour dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients at Growing. If none of these options suit your taste, there are also numerous cafes and restaurants in the area.

While in the area don’t forget to check out the Anishinabae Art Gallery, founded by artist Roy Thomas’ widow, located just around the corner from Good & Co. Market.

Bay & Algoma
Finnish Finds

The pedestrian-friendly Bay & Algoma neighbourhood hints at Thunder Bay’s considerable Finnish and Scandinavian history with specialty shops like Finnport and The Kitchen Nook & The Finnish Bookstore. As you wander keep an eye out for other choice stops too, for instance, artist-owned-and-operated Fireweed and indie bookseller Entershine Bookshop. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to refreshment possibilities: Madhouse, Bean Fiend, Rebel Salad, The Bridge Kitchen – you may just have to return to Bay & Algoma for dinner!

In the summer, Algoma Street also comes alive with Festa italiana at the Italian Cultural Centre, a celebration full of food and entertainment for all ages.

Inside a museum with indigenous skirts and art Piitwewetam: Making is Medicine 2021. Installation image, Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Shannon Gustafson, Ryan Gustafson, Jade Gustafson, Justine Gustafson. Curated by Leanna and Jean Marshall. Photographer: Meaghan Eley
Thunder Bay Art Gallery
Inspiring Indigenous Art

A ten-minute drive brings you to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Specializing in art by contemporary Indigenous artists, the permanent collection of over 1,600 works aims to preserve the artistic expression and history of Northern Ontario notably Mary Ann Barkhouse, Christi Belcourt and Robert Houle. Art displayed in the gallery’s three exhibition spaces is only part of what makes the gallery tick: it’s also known for its workshops, artist talks and art camps.

Restaurant setting with diners sitting at tables Tomlin Restaurant. Photo credit: Scott MacKay
Eclectic Restaurants
Explore Thunder Bay's Dining Delights

We would be remiss not to note Thunder Bay’s burgeoning and increasingly eclectic restaurant scene. To name just a few hot spots, there’s Tomlin’s seasonal share plates, Bight’s Canadian fare (with a lakefront setting), Kangas Sauna, specializing in Finnish pancakes (and sauna rentals), Red Lion Smokehouse (think: pulled pork) and The Growing Season Juice Collective (cheery and health-conscious).

Magnus Theatre
Northwestern Ontario's Only Professional Theatre

For fifty years the Magnus Theatre has been putting on artfully crafted productions that reflect the company’s vision of being a leader of “innovative and relevant” live theatre and arts education. Intimate, with 250 seats, and historic — the theatre is located in the Port Arthur Central Schoolhouse in Waverly Park — Magnus Theatre is where you can enjoy everything from musicals to ground-breaking contemporary drama, all presented by the only professional theatre company between Winnipeg and Sudbury.

Day Two

Artifacts including phones and clock in the museum Thunder Bay Museum. Photo courtesy of City of Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay Museum
From One Fort William…

Start the day downtown in the Fort William Business District. (Those needing caffeine may wish to make a stop at Upshot Coffee House, with locally roasted coffee and artisanal pastries.) The south side core was home to the former city of Fort William and is where you’ll find the eye-catching Thunder Bay City Hall, plus the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre.

Head to the Thunder Bay Museum, housed in a former police station and courthouse. It’s a good place to explore some of the region’s history through Indigenous artifacts (including intricate Ojibway and Cree beadwork) as well as fur trade relics. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about Thunder Bay’s industries through the ages, from silver mining to pulp and paper. All that and music too, with a gallery that chronicles Thunder Bay’s musical history from 1870s brass bands to 1970s rock bands.

Two young girls in dresses knitting blankets Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario
Fort William Historical Park
…To Another

A twenty-minute drive takes you from the Fort William district to Fort William Historical Park, a reconstruction of the 1816 fur trade post. It’s one of the largest living history attractions in North America, where period-costumed actors guide your way. Located on 250 acres, with over fifty heritage buildings (as well as a modern visitors’ centre), you’ll get a close up view of fur trade life via culture, crafts, farming, medicine and more. The Anishinaabe encampment (eye-witness accounts from the 1800s note an Indigenous camp east of the fort) and the Voyageurs encampment will give you a sense of the complicated intersection of Metis, Scottish, French Canadian and Ojibwa lives in the region. (Science sidebar: the state-of-the-art David Thompson Astronomical Observatory, located in the park, has one of the largest telescopes in central Canada.)

Mountain surrounded by forest Fort Williams First Nations Reserve, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario
Anemki Wajiw / Mount Mckay
Visit Thunder Mountain

Located on Fort William First Nation, a twelve-minute drive from Fort William Historical Park, lies Anemki Wajiw (Thunder Mountain), also known as Mount McKay and a site of spiritual significance for Indigenous peoples. As the tallest point in the Nor’Wester mountains, a group of peaks south of the city, the views are magnificent — from the lookout, you can see the city’s south side, Lake Superior, and also Nanabijou (the Sleeping Giant), a series of mesas with a rich history of Indigenous legends associated with their formation. (And yes, you guessed it, it looks like a sleeping giant!) For centuries a place for traditional Indigenous ceremonies, today it’s home to Fort William First Nation pow wows.

well lit empty theatre with three stories of seating Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Tourism Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay Community Auditorium
Dinner and a Show

Before making your way to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium to take in a show, head back to the Bay & Algoma area for a good meal. Check out Nook for Italian fare, or Lot 66 for an intimate winebar experience. Or check out some of the options in the Downtown South core like Caribou Restaurant + Winebar’s “North American modern”.

Superior acoustics and a warm, intimate environment make the TBCA a fine concert hall, home to the Thunder Bay Symphony orchestra with its full season of masterworks and pops programs. It’s also the place to catch comedy, dance, pop and rock, and you’ll find all of that on Paul Shaffer Drive, named in honour of Thunder Bay’s own Paul Shaffer of The Late Show With David Letterman fame.

Take a Detour
Thunder Bay Country Market

If you’re inspired by Thunder Bay’s Finnish history, make your way to the Thunder Bay Country Market, open Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Finlandia Co-operative has opened up a pop Hoito Restaurant where you can try some Finnish pancakes!

Your trip at a glance

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please CONTACT US.

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.