Thunder Bay
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In many years of providing different tours out of Toronto we often had to answer this question: “Why are you offering tours of places, people hardly ever heard of before?”

So, our usual response has been: “We select interesting places which are off the ‘beaten path’, but ought to be better known – and this depends on us!”

Thunder Bay – the home of Bombardier Company

In case of Thunder Bay, there is no due to a lack of exposure – it is well in the news. Just last week a Toronto newspaper mentioned the biggest Festival of Kites in Canada taking place in Thunder Bay. And, with plenty of discussion in the local media about the future of public transit in Toronto, one could not miss the fact that new cars/trains for planned LRT and Subway are manufactured at the Thunder Bay plant of the Bombardier Company.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay. Photo credit:

Thunder Bay is a city with 120 thousand residents of 42 national origins that enjoys a diversified economy and a rich cultural environment. It is the home of Lakehead University and the Confederation College, both institutions of great prestige.

Thunder Bay – one of the busiest ports in Canada

Situated on the picturesque shore of a small bay on the northern shore of the great Lake Superior, about 50km from the border with Minnesota and 400km east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the port of Thunder Bay is one of the busiest in Canada – at any day you may see cargo ships coming from the Atlantic coast, or the great Canadian Lakes and, on occasion, you might have a delightful view of a beautiful white cruise ship.

Where did the name come from?

This city bears its impressive sounding name only from 1970, when 3 former cities: Port Arthur, Fort William and McIntyre were amalgamated into one. In a very heated debate local people reluctantly chose this fine name.

Bits and bytes from the Thunder Bay history

It is interesting to note that the earliest presence of European newcomers on this shore goes back to 1650s when voyagers from New France used this place as a base for starting the journey inland in search for furs.

In early 1802, the North Western Company from Montreal had built here a permanent Fort William as it was the most distant land reached by canoe in one summer – so trade goods were unloaded and bales of furs brought on board just in time to start the return trip to Montreal.

The intense competition between the Hudson Bay Company and the fur traders finally ended in 1823 with an uneasy merge under the Hudson Bay name. To commemorate those great times, Thunder Bay has a very interesting Fort William Historic Park as its major cultural attraction (opened year round).

The end of the 19th Century and the years prior to WWI were a period of a booming economy in this area, when 3 railways and a busy port were processing goods from 4 sides of the compass. Shipbuilding, as well a lumbering industry and railway cars-building plants provided many jobs. After the end of WW1 the situation changed and the slow-down lasted until 1937. Then, the new plant to build airplanes for export to England signified the beginning of economic recovery; during WWII, Thunder Bay area had truly become, in the words of Winston Churchill, “the arsenal of our victory”.

Why tourists like to go to Thunder Bay

One of the main reasons more and more tourists and outdoor enthusiasts choose to start and end their vacation experience in Thunder Bay – is simply due to its convenient location. Right in the physical centre of North America, the city is within 2-hour flight (or less) from most big cities. This awesome part of Ontario is surrounded with great natural wonders such as: Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, thousands of rich angling lakes ready for fisherman, millions of acres of forest with abundance of wild animals. It is no wonder that within a radius of 100km from this city there are more than a dozen Provincial Parks, and two Canadian National Parks.

Thunder BayThis is a real natural paradise!

Take a short but concentrated trip to Thunder Bay

In one long weekend, take a short, but concentrated trip to Thunder Bay starting with the flight from Toronto. Upon arrival, you may have a tour in the centre of the city and its waterfront, followed by a sailing yacht cruise in the bay for superb views of the city and its magnificent silhouette of the Sleeping Giant (Provincial Park) across the Bay. You can spend a night in the great historic Port Arthur hotel on the waterfront with stunning lake views. The next day may be devoted to absorb the amazing nature of Thunder Bay in two Provincial Parks: Kakabeka Falls (that has been called “Niagara of the North”) and Ouimet Canyon with stunning views of vertical rock walls with multi-million years of history and the blue waters of Lake Superior on the horizon. Most of the third day in Thunder Bay is spent enjoying history, culture and action in the outstanding Fort William Historic Park, before getting your return flight home.

By Felix Shuster

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