city in Thunder Bay District, province of Ontario, Canada

Thunder Bay lies at the far northwestern point of the Great Lakes of North America. It is a transportation bridge between the rich agricultural Prairies of Canada and the rest of the world, via the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway which connects it to the Atlantic Ocean. In 2021, it had a population of approximately 109,000.

Understand

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European settlement in the region began in the late 17th century with a French fur trading outpost on the banks of the Kaministiquia River. It grew into an important transportation hub as its port was an important link in the shipping of grain and other products from western Canada, through the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the east coast. Forestry and manufacturing played important roles in the city's economy. They have declined and been replaced by a "knowledge economy" based on medical research and education. Thunder Bay is the site of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

The city takes its name from the immense Thunder Bay at the head of Lake Superior, known on 18th-century French maps as Baie du Tonnerre (Bay of Thunder). The city is often referred to as the "Lakehead", or "Canadian Lakehead", because of its location at the end of Great Lakes navigation on the Canadian side of the border.

Thunder Bay developed until 1970 as two rival towns: Fort William and Port Arthur a few kilometres apart. Today the town names are used for districts.

Climate

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The Thunder Bay area experiences a humid continental climate that is influenced by Lake Superior, with especially noticeable effects in the city's north end. This results in cooler summer temperatures and warmer winter temperatures for an area extending inland as far as 16 km. The average daily temperatures range from 17.7 °C (63.9 °F) in July to −14.3 °C (6.3 °F) in January. The average daily high in July is 24.3 °C (75.7 °F) and the average daily high in January is −8.0 °C (17.6 °F).

Thunder Bay holds Ontario's record for coldest day with wind chill, 10 January 1982, when the local temperature dropped to −36.3 °C (−33.3 °F), with a wind speed of 54 km (34 mi) per hour for a wind chill temperature that dipped to −58 °C (−72.4 °F).

The city is quite sunny, with an average of 2121 hours of bright sunshine each year, ranging from 268.1 hours in July to 86.2 hours in November, sunnier than any city in Canada located to the east of it. Winters are comparatively dry with the snowfall being very limited and temperatures much colder than in Houghton, Michigan on the U.S. side of the lake, where the climate is marked by heavy lake-effect snow.

Get in

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By plane

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Airport

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Destinations

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Has scheduled service to Thunder Bay from Montreal, Ottawa, Sault Sainte Marie (1.25 hours), Sioux Lookout (45 minutes), Toronto (2 hours), and Winnipeg (1.25-1.5 hours).

Flights to Thunder Bay from various small communities in northern Ontario. Seasonal service to Thunder Bay from Calgary and a few Mexican and Caribbean destinations. The airport doesn't have any direct flights to the United States of America.

Airlines

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Ground transportation

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  • One local transit bus passes every 30-40 minutes daily.
  • Taxi to downtown costs about $30.
  • The Airlane Travelodge and Valhalla Inn operate hotel shuttle buses.

By train

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Thunder Bay is not served by passenger rail. The nearest passenger route is VIA Rail's The Canadian, which serves the towns of Longlac (310 km northeast) and Sioux Lookout (391 km northwest), as well as the tiny village of Armstrong (256 km north). As well, White River (385 km east) is the western terminus of VIA Rail's Sudbury—White River train.

By car

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Thunder Bay is served by Highways 11 and 17, which are both part of the Trans-Canada Highway. West of the city, the highways are separate, but north of the city, the highways merge into one until they split up east of Nipigon. From the east, it is a 7-8 hour (700 km) drive from Sault Ste Marie and from the west, it is a 7-8 hour (720 km) drive from Winnipeg.

Do not expect to hitchhike in from Winnipeg; drivers in the area are notorious for drivers not stopping to pick up anyone while on those main highways.

There is no easy way to Duluth, across the US border, other than driving there.

By bus

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Get around

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Thunder Bay isn't known for being a walkable city. This is largely due to its Twin-Cities heritage which causes the city to be very spread out. Until 1970, the city was two separate large communities (Fort William and Port Arthur) separated by a swamp that has since been built up into an area of suburban big-box stores, shopping malls and chain restaurants known as "Intercity". City council seems to be developing the north end (Port Arthur) into an entertainment district with the Marina Park as its centrepiece, and the south end (Fort William) into a business district. Within each of these districts (North end and South end downtown cores) walking is certainly viable in the non-winter months. During most of winter months, you should bundle up.

By public transit

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  • Thunder Bay Transit, +1 807-684-3744. Your best way to get between these two district is by bus. Up-to-date schedules are available on their website.

By taxi

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By bicycle

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The city is expanding its network of bicycle paths. Transport by inline skates can work well on these paths, but sidewalks are often too mottled to afford any speed or efficiency on skates.

  • 1 Fort William Historical Park, 1350 King Road, . Hours vary by season. A recreation of the days of the North West Company and the Canadian fur trade circa 1815. Over 40 buildings on 225 acres, it offers a look at fur trade life, culture, rafts, medicine, business, domestic life and heritage farming. Serviced campsites are available for $35/night until mid-Oct, and pets are welcome. $5, child 12 and under free.    
 
Kakabeka Falls
  • 2 Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park (30 km west of Thunder Bay), +1 807 473-9231. Kakabeka Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Ontario. The Boardwalk Trail (750 m) is an easy, wheelchair-accessible trail from the main parking lot to spectacular views of the falls from viewing platforms on both sides of Kakabeka Falls. Other trails up to 4 km long are available.    
  • 3 Terry Fox Monument (Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout), 1000 ON-11 (turn right the junction marked "Terry Fox Scenic Lookout" on Trans Canada Highway). Always open. This park features the sculpture of Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research after losing his right leg to cancer. His cross-country trek began in the east coast and would end in the west coast. A site of national importance in the late 20th century, this memorial is the approximate location where he was forced to stop his marathon after the cancer has spread that ultimately costed his life. (The exact spot where Terry Fox stopped is approximately 4 km west of the memorial, but not visible from the road). The location provides a panoramic view of Thunder Bay.    
  • 4 Thunder Bay Museum, 425 Donald St. E, +1 807-623-0801, . June 15 to Labour Day 11AM-5PM, Labour Day to June 14th Tu-Su 1-5PM. A three-floor museum with varied exhibits, including historical and cultural displays. Tu free, W-M adults $3, children 6-17 $1.50, children under 6 free.
  • 5 Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1080 Keewatin St (in Confederation College), +1 807 577-6427. Tu-Th noon-8PM, F-Su noon-5PM. A public art gallery that focuses on the contemporary artwork of Indigenous and Northwestern Ontario artists Suggested donation of $5.    
  • 6 Founders' Museum & Pioneer Village, 3190 Highway 61 South, +1 807-475-7424, . Admission by donation.
  • Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre, 905 Victoria Avenue East, +1 807-623-3522, . W Su 1-5PM. Their mission is to collect and preserve the aviation history of the western half of Ontario.
 
Mount McKay looms on the horizon, as seen in this view from Memorial Avenue in Intercity.
  • The area has a large Finnish population, so saunas are common and popular.
  • 1 Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (take Highway 11/17 east and turn south on Highway 587). Enjoy a hike along one of the beautiful trails at Sleeping Giant. Take Top of the Giant, a challenging 25-km return trail to a spectacular lookout over Tee Harbour, Lake Superior, and a rugged cliff's edge. There are many other hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. In March, Sleeping Giant hosts the Sleeping Giant Loppet, a Thunder Bay tradition. Day use pass $15.25 per vehicle.    
  • 2 Silver Islet, Highway 587 (east of Thunder Bay, off Highway 11/17 through Sleeping Giant PP, at the end of Highway 587). Silver Islet is a well-kept ghost town, and one of the oldest in Ontario. A huge deposit of silver was discovered around 1845, but the volatile weather of Lake Superior prevented exploitation of the ore deposit for several decades. Breakwaters were built to contain the lake’s storms, but they were demolished by storms, ice surges, and a freak tidal wave. Finally, a breakwater of rock and concrete was built that allowed miners to extract silver ore worth $3 million. In 1883, mining operations ceased for lack of fuel for the furnaces and water filled the shafts. Many of the miners' houses have been converted into summer cottages. There is a convenience store that is open Th-Tu noon-5PM.    
  • Take a walk around the harbour in the north end.
  • Visit the amethyst or agate mines.
 
Ouimet Canyon
  • 7 Ouimet Canyon (83 km NE of Thunder Bay: follow Highway 11/17, and turn left onto Ouimet Canyon Road), +1 807-977-2526. The gorge is part of Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park (a day-use park with no camping facilities).    
  • 8 Eagle Canyon, 275 Valley Road, Dorion (45 min E of Thunder Bay, near Ouimet Canyon), +1 807 355-3064. May 1-Oct 15: 10AM-6PM. A private attraction that has a 90-m suspension bridge and a 180-m suspension bridge (Canada's longest) that offer beautiful views. Also has Canada's longest zip line — 800 m — that takes over the canyon at up to 70 km/h. Free shuttle service available to the bridges for seniors & disabled. Adult $22, child $12, under 4 free.
  • Drive west of Thunder Bay to Quetico Provincial Park: some of the best canoeing in the world awaits!
  • You can also canoe on White Otter Lake, near Quetico and Atikokan. Visit White Otter Castle, a three-storey wooden cabin single-handedly built by Jimmy McQuat on the shores of the lake. Legend is that Jimmy built it for his sweetheart and then got jilted. There is a walking trail from the castle area that leads to an abandoned World War II prisoner-of-war camp, but this has not been restored for tourists. Be careful of rusted metal and sharp edges in the camp.

South End

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  • 1 Cronos Cafe, 433 Syndicate Avenue South (2 blocks south of Arthur St), +1 807 622-9700. W–Su 4–8PM. This is a Greek restaurant that has strayed from a core-Greek menu to include decent burger-and-fry combos. The chicken souvlaki with fries or Greek salad is delicious. They're light on the fries though, so you might want to ask them to double up. You should specify thick for the milkshakes. Popular with high school students and business people alike at lunch, due to its proximity to public and Catholic high schools, city hall and the civic centre. ~$12.

North End

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  • 2 The Sovereign Room, 220 Red River Rd (around the corner from the Prince Arthur Hotel, heading west), +1 807 343-9277, . Tu–Th 5–11PM; F Sa 5PM–2AM; Su 11AM–3PM (closed M). Popular pub, the menu features North American pub faves with some added flare (like duck confit poutine), as well as a variety of Continental cuisine. Whatever you like to eat, wash it down with something nice from the cellar or choose from the best selection of beer in the city. $10-30.
  • 3 Calico Coffeehouse, 316 Bay Street, +1 807 766-9087. M–F 7:30AM–5PM; Sa 8:30AM–8PM (closed Su). Calico is a charming independent coffee shop, with fair-trade coffee and locally baked treats. ~$7.
  • 4 Thai Kitchen (Thai Kitchen Restaurant), 11 Cumberland Street S (near the casino), +1 807 345-1707. M–F noon–9PM; Sa 2–9PM. This husband-and-wife operation began as a caterer for special events, and has been a reasonably-priced local Thai restaurant since 2007. Both owners speak Thai (one is an immigrant from Northern Thailand) and most of the main dishes are $9 (including rice or noodles). Try the Kaeng Penang (#33). This establishment is busy at dinner (5-5:30PM) on Friday and Saturday nights, so arriving early may provide more prompt service and provide the cooks more time to spend on your food. $9-14.
  • 5 Seler Restaurant & Wine, 555 Dunlop St, +1 807-622-2478. Tu–Sa 5–10PM. It offers excellent fine dining.
  • Prospector (in downtown Port Arthur). A fantastic steakhouse with an amazing cut of Prime Rib, fantastic sides, and a delicious soup and salad bar.
  • Wasabi. Thunder Bay has a couple of sushi places: Wasabi and Sushi Bowl. They are tasty, but visitors from larger cosmopolitan centres or the coast will likely be disappointed as sushi is much more expensive than they may be accustomed to. Sushi is approximately twice the price here as in Toronto for example.
  • Persian Man. Thunder Bay is also famous for a unique pastry called a Persian. A Persian is similar to a cinnamon bun with a mysterious pink icing. Some say the icing is strawberry, others say it is raspberry, but it certainly is pink. It is also available with chocolate-coloured and orange-coloured icing. Locals eat their Persians just as they are, but for a special treat, have yours cut, buttered and grilled/toasted. You won't find the Persian outside of Thunder Bay, and can only have it at the Persian Man, which has two locations.
  • 6 Organic Garden Cafe, 415 Fort William Rd (drive up Water St and turn on Fort William Road, it is a bit hidden on your right hand side), +1 807 344-1917. Tu-Th noon-6PM, F noon-6PM. Amazing vegetarian food. Ovo-, lacto-, vegan-friendly, organic, western, take-out. Small organic café using some fresh produce grown by the owners.
  • 7 Naxos Grill & Bar, 610 Arthur Street West (next to the LCBO on Arthur street), +1 807 475-3886. Greek food. Great for lunch or dinner!

Drink

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  • 1 International House of Tea, 899 Fort William Rd, +1 807 626-0130. Loose leaf tea.
  • 2 Steepers, 122 May Street N (2 blocks northeast of Victoriaville), +1 807 476-0698. A tea house.
  • 3 Seattle Coffee House, 588 Arthur Street West, +1 807 577-3355. M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa Su 9AM-6PM. A local coffee house that serves espresso-based coffees. A wonderful café experience with cosy fireplaces and bench seating.
  • 4 Sleeping Giant Brewing Co Taproom, 712 Macdonell St, +1 807 344-5225. Noon-7PM. Taproom connected to the craft brewery. Beer and snacks for sale, outside food is allowed.

Sleep

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Budget

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Mid-range

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Splurge

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Cope

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Consulates

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Go next

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Isle Royale, a wilderness park, lies within sight in Lake Superior. Commercial ferries from Grand Portage, Minnesota provide the nearest official access to the island, but it's accessible from Thunder Bay by private boat.

Routes through Thunder Bay
Fort Frances ← Atitokan ←  W    E  Red RockCochrane
WinnipegDryden  W    E  Red RockSault Ste Marie
ENDS  N   S    → becomes  Grand PortageDuluth



This city travel guide to Thunder Bay is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.