Thunder Bay is a relatively new city—with a storied past. Located on Lake Superior’s north shore and intersected by the Trans Canada Highway, this Western Ontario community of more than 100,000 was founded in 1970 as an amalgamation of two historic outposts. Fort William, established by the Northwest Company in 1803, was once the hub of Canada’s fur trade. Port Arthur gained notoriety from its 1871 establishment onward as the westernmost point on the Great Lakes chain of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The two towns came together as Thunder Bay, named for its large bay, identified on 18th-century French maps as "Baie du Tonnerre."
In addition to being the largest outbound port on the seaway, Thunder Bay is known as the gateway to Canada’s northlands. Its international airport connects with Nunavut, Northwest Territories and the Yukon. Thunder Bay visitors board floatplanes at the city’s Water Aerodrome to fly to remote enclaves and fishing and hunting lodges.
With its Great Lakes shoreline, two rivers and 124 parks, Thunder Bay beckons visitors to year-round opportunities for hiking, fishing and water sports. The rocky profile of Sleeping Giant, visible across the bay, is 77 kilometres away by car. The rugged beauty of the surrounding provincial park, rife with spectacular vistas and abundant wildlife, is considered one of Canada’s great natural wonders. Quetico Provincial Park, at the northern end of Boundary Waters Canoe Area, is 162 kilometres west of the city. This concentrated wilderness of fishing lakes and endless trails is a popular destination for canoeists and kayakers.
Vacation attractions in Thunder Bay run the gamut from outdoor adventures to arts and cultural pursuits. Magnus Theatre is a professional troupe with a national reputation, and the city also boasts a professional symphony orchestra.
Historic attractions in Thunder Bay include Fort William Historical Park, a re-creation of the former city’s 1815 fur-trading post. Each year more than 100,000 sightseers visit this national historic site, located on King Road southwest of downtown. Spending a day at Founders’ Museum and Pioneer Village, situated 17 kilometres south of the city on Highway 61, is like spending a day in a 19th-century village, complete with a general store and old schoolhouse.
Thunder Bay's rich ethnic and cultural diversity is evident in its Bay and Algoma Neighbourhood, one of seven downtown districts. Here, more than 60 Finnish and Italian restaurants offer authentic home-style dishes. In downtown Thunder Bay South, which was once Fort William’s city centre, museums and historic buildings share space with ethnic eateries and one-of-a-kind arts, jewellery and clothing boutiques. This area is home to Victoriaville Civic Centre and Centennial Park.
The focal point of Thunder Bay nightlife is its Waterfront District, where live music fills the streets and fine-dining establishments are interspersed with pubs and intimate cafés. OLG Casino offers games of chance and entertainment. During the day, Marina Park provides a lovely respite for Thunder Bay sightseers. Local artists offer paintings for sale there against a picturesque backdrop of Lake Superior and Sleeping Giant.