Northwestern Ontario’s largest city, Thunder Bay sits along Lake Superior, giving it its nickname the ‘Lakehead’. The city is the bridge between the Prairies of Canada and the Atlantic Ocean, and the gateway to the region.
Thunder Bay is arguably the most visited city in all of Northern Ontario, as it has so much to offer. There is something for everyone here, from magnificent natural scenery to fascinating historic architecture.
Outdoor lovers, shopaholics, foodies and historians will all enjoy holidaying in the city. Regardless of what you are after, these are the 15 best things to do in Thunder Bay:
1. See a sleeping giant
Not literally, but a mesa and sill formation that is named the Sleeping Giant because it looks like a giant sleeping on its back. The best views are seen from the cliffs at Squaw Bay.
The Sleeping Giant is one of the top ‘Seven Wonders of Canada’. It is located within the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which has the most dramatic and steep cliffs in Ontario.
The park itself also has plenty to do, including fishing, cycling, hiking and camping. In fact, there are over 200 campsites throughout the park.
2. Learn about the fur trade
Visit the reconstruction of the Fort William fur trade post and learn about the city’s economic past. The post existed in 1816 and today is a National Historic Site of Canada.
The trade post is in the Fort William Historical Park, which is a living museum. Wander around the park and look at the reconstructed buildings and historians dressed in period clothing, reinacting what life was like during the fur trade industry.
At its peak, the trade post was a community that was filled with tradesmen. The historical park is now home to one of the largest amphitheatres in the country.
3. Enjoy the views
Enjoy spectacular views of Thunder Bay from the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout, which is located on the outskirts of the city. The monument sits in a park overlooking Highway 17and the city.
The Terry Fox Memorial was created to mark the spot where the famous athlete ended his run. It has since been moved to its current location, around four kilometres away.
The monument depicts Terry Fox atop a pedestal that lists all of the places he passed through on his cross-country run. There is also a tourist information centre onsite.
4. Surround yourself in greenery
The 263 hectare Current River Greenway sits along the Current River in the north end of the city. The massive green area is a great place to go to get away from it all and enjoy the scenery.
There are a number of areas within the greenway, including Birch Point Park, Current River Park and Evergreen Park. It also features a conservation area (Cascades Conservation Area) with hiking trails and beautiful landscapes.
You can also enjoy some magnificent views at the greenway’s Bluffs Scenic Lookout, which is open all year. As well, there is also a sandy beach, a playground and picnic tables at the Boulevard Lake Park.
5. Be entranced at a waterfall
The 40 metres cascading Kakabeka Falls is truly a place to be completely lost in the beauty of it all. The waterfall is located 30 kilometres west of Thunder Bay on the Kaministiquia River.
The falls have been nicknamed the ‘Niagara of the North’ due to its size and accessibility. The name ‘Kakabeka’ means ‘waterfall over a cliff’ in Ojibwe.
The rock that faces the falls features some of the oldest fossils in existence today, dating back some 1.6 billion years. As a result of the rocks sensitivity, there is no entrance to the gorge beneath the falls.
6. Explore the city centre
Downtown Thunder Bay South; also known as the South Core, is the centre of the city and a great place to explore. It is centred on Victoriaville Civic Centre and is home to a number of landmarks.
Many government buildings are located here, as are major employers. But it is also an area of arts and culture, being home to numerous cultural attractions like the Brodie Street Art Gallery and the Thunder Bay Public Library.
You will also see many places of worship in the South Core, demonstrating again the city’s diversity. These include the Gothic Revival St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, St Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Paul’s Anglican Church.
7. Surround yourself in history
The Thunder Bay Historical Museum is located in the former Fort William police station, which is a beautiful Classical Revival building. The building itself is a work of art, as is much of what is inside of it.
Step through the doors of the museum and learn about various aspects of local history. Within the collection are dolls, furniture, pictures, maps and plans. There are also 130 metres of linear records.
Also within the collection are 150,000 photographic images of the city and its surrounding area throughout time. Don’t forget to also have a look at its historic fire truck.
8. Go to the fair
This can only be done in August when the city hosts the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition. The annual fair is great for visitors of all ages, though it is a massive draw for families.
Walk around the fair and look at art by regional artisans or shop in its concessions. There is also a midway with games, rides and food stalls.
On the grounds of the exhibition are a few buildings that are open year-round. These include the Heritage Building, Coliseum Building, Sports Dome and a Famous Players Silvercity Theater.
9. Dine in an iconic restaurant
The Hoito Restaurant is the oldest restaurants in Thunder Bay, dating back to 1918. It is also arguably the oldest establishment in the entire country!
The restaurant is located on the lower level of the historic Finnish Labour Temple and serves Finnish-Canadian cuisine. It is most famous for its Finnish pancakes, which are served with maple syrup, sugar sprinkles or strawberry sauce.
The Finnish Labour Temple is also a landmark that was once one of Canada’s largest workers’ halls. It is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
10. Stare at art
Although it is not big, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is definitely interesting. In fact, it specialises in contemporary work by First Nation artists across Northwestern Ontario.
The gallery sits on the campus of Confederation College. It not only has a permanent collection, but also hosts travelling exhibitions.
The Thunder Bay Art Gallery also works with and promotes the work of both local and regional artists. It features three galleries that change every 6 weeks.
11. Spend the day in a park
Not only is Centennial Park a park, but it is also a living museum. The park features replicas of 20th century logging camp equipment and homes.
In addition to the historic logging camp, Centennial Park also has recreational trails, a craft shop and a playground. There is even an indoor picnic area!
In the summer months, you can take a ride on the Muskeg Express Train or visit the animal farm. Come in the winter and go cross-country skiing or tobogganing.
12. Go skiing
This is of course only available if you are in Thunder Bay in the winter, although Loch Lomond does offer hiking and mountain biking.
Loch Lomond boasts 17 ski runs that are equally divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced. The longest run is 2.4 kilometres and the highest vertical rise is 229 metres.
Whether you are a complete beginner or are used to double black diamond runs you will enjoy skiing here. You can also go tubing, snowshoeing and fat bike riding.
13. Look at flowers
Since 1967, the Centennial Conservatory has been open to the public. If you are a plant or flower lover, a visit here is not to be missed.
Wander around the greenhouses and look at the tropical flowers, plants and trees. There is even a cactus room onsite.
There are pathways with benches throughout the conservatory, as well as a wishing well that is filled with coins from wishful thinkers.
14. Canoe in wilderness
Head west out of Thunder Bay to the Quetico Provincial Park, which is renowned for its superb canoeing. The 4,760 square kilometre wilderness park sits along the southern border of the Superior National Forest.
Quetico Provincial Park is truly magnificent and offers some of the best canoeing on the planet! It has over 2,000 campsites that are spread throughout 600 lakes, making a true nature lovers paradise.
The park is home to some impressive wildlife and you may spot a moose, bobcat, cougar or black bear. It is also home to racoons, chipmunks, rabbits, beavers and bald eagles.
15. Walk through a canyon
Also outside of Thunder Bay, Ouimet Canyon is around 60 kilometres northeast of the city. The large gorge is 100 metres deep, 150 metres wide and 2,000 metres long.
Walk through the Ouimet Canyon and be in awe by the stunning scenery. There are also trails above the canyon that offer magnificent views overlooking it.
The canyon is believed to date back a billion years when it was split by advancing glaciers. Nearby is the privately owned Eagle Canyon that boasts a zip line and two footbridges.