Thunder Bay, once the two cities of Port Arthur (on the north) and Fort William (to the south) is a vibrant manufacturing and administrative city in Ontario’s northwest corner. There is history and lots to see & do in town, including historic Fort William in the south, check our the grain elevators loading prairie grain on freighters to the world, and the Terry Fox Memorial in the north,. You can head west to Kakabeka Falls and the vast Lake of the Woods, or you can head east to Sleeping Giant, Ouimet Canyon, the Amethyst mines, and Nipigon.
Thunder Bay Overview
Thunder Bay is the geographic centre of Canada and has a population of 125,000 (Ontario’s tenth largest city). It is one of the world’s largest grain-handling ports, is serviced by both of the major Canadian railway systems. The city is also a major centre for the area’s forest industries. The city grew as a result of its location at the western end of Lake Superior. It was in 1798 that the North West Company built Fort William along the Kaministiquia River. Rapidly this became a lively community of Scottish traders, French voyageurs and Native trappers, who used the community as a staging point to reach further into the interior, canoeing into what is now Manitoba and points beyond.
Thunder Bay features a rich ethnic mosaic offering a variety of cultural and recreational opportunities, all part of the fine quality of life for the newcomer or the visitor. It has a well-educated workforce and is home to Confederation College and Lakehead University. The city hosted the 1981 Canada Summer Games, which provided excellent recreational facilities to the community.
Whether it’s a visit to a park, an art gallery or the area’s history, Thunder Bay offers its visitors and residents lots to do every day of the week.
The main attractions in Thunder Bay are the Terry Fox monument JUST to the east of the city, the Ouimet Canyon & Amethyst Mines about 50 km to the east, the beautiful waterfront in the Port Arthur area with its view of the “Sleeping Giant” to the east, the industrial waterfront with the massive grain elevators in the Fort William area, the historic Fort William fur trading post, and Kakabeka Falls to the west of the city.
Thunder Bay History
In the mid-1800s, mining became the focus of international attention, as people began to prospect for & find copper, silver and gold, as well as amethyst, Ontario’s official gem. In the mid 1880s, the final links in the nation’s trans-continental Canadian Pacific railroad was completed. Heavy shipping on the upper Great Lakes was initiated to supply the fast-growing heavy industry in the American midwest.
The completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1950s changed shipping on the Great Lakes dramatically. Ships could now navigate from Port Arthur and Fort William all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond, bypassing Niagara Falls and the turbulent waters of the upper St Lawrence. More importantly, modern and standardized lock systems allowed a standard ship size to navigate the Great Lakes, increasing trade opportunities amongst cities around the Great Lakes. The 1960s led to the paving of the Trans-Canada Highway, which made the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior accessible to the masses. It also increasing motorized traffic through the region, with this community a major rest spot for those travelling by car across the country.
Cyclists can bypass the Thunder Bay Expressway, and get a scenic and fairly level ride through Thunder Bay, the only city in Canada with TWO DOWNTOWNS. Before they merged in 1971, Fort William to the south and Port Arthur to the north were cities in their own rights with their own manufacturing, port facilities and central business districts. If you are looking for Finnish food (or if you’ve never tried it before!) this is THE town for that! There is a waterfront casino in Port Arthur (nowadays called “North Ward”), and there is lots of shopping and the town’s movie theatre in the “Intercity” are, guess where?, between the two downtowns. You’ll also see tons of grain elevators, since this was major grain trans-shipment point for prairie wheat onto the Great Lakes freighters to various bakeries and factories around the Great Lakes or for export from Montreal. If you are heading eastbound, grab some munchies in town and have an outdoor picnic at Current River Park before re-connecting to the Trans-Canada.
Thunder Bay Road Trip Planner (explore our directory)
Look for what to see & do, and where to stay in Tuunder Bay and the nearby communities in Northwestern Ontario (“Sunset Country”), and the North Shore of Lake Superior. First click on the LOCALE to search, then use the CATEGORY filter on the left side for the feature of interest!