Fort Williams First Nations Reserve.
© Photographer: Courtney Boyd. Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario.

Thunder Bay

May 25, 2022

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


DAY 1

PRINCE ARTHUR’S LANDING — 10:00 AM


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. (Note: the Waterfront District is also home to the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, founded by Roy Thomas’ widow, as well as the Wake The Giant Music Festival, celebrating inclusivity and Indigenous culture.) 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.

DAY 1

BAY & ALGOMA - 12:00 PM


A LITTLE FINLAND IN THUNDER BAY

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, Nook, The Bridge Kitchen…you may just have to return to Bay & Algoma for dinner!

DAY 1

THUNDER BAY ART GALLERY - 3:00 PM


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

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.

DAY 1

MAGNUS THEATRE — 7:30 PM


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


DAY 2

THUNDER BAY MUSEUM — 11:00 AM


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.

DAY 2

FORT WILLIAM HISTORICAL PARK — 1:00 PM


Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario

… 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.)

DAY 2

ANEMKI WAJIW/MOUNT MCKAY — 3:30 PM


Fort Williams First Nations Reserve, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario

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.

DAY 2

ECLECTIC RESTAURANTS — 6:00 PM


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 Caribou Restaurant + Winebar’s “North American modern,” 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).

DAY 2

THUNDER BAY COMMUNITY AUDITORIUM — 8:00 PM


HEAD TO PAUL SHAFFER DRIVE FOR A SHOW

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.

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Day in the life: Thunder Bay

Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior in Northwestern Ontario, the city is a nature lover’s dream with a vibrant arts and culture scene. Check out some top picks of Ontario Culture Days events happening at the Art Gallery and other Thunder Bay locations here!

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.

Ontario Culture Days thanks our Tourism Partners for their support and assistance with this article. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.