French voyageurs, Scottish gentlemen and Ojibwe scuttle about while re-enacting life in the early 1800s at this historical park. From 1803 to 1821, Fort William was the headquarters of the North West Company. Eventually the business was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company and the region's importance as a trading center declined.
From the chandelier behind the bar to the ornate olive wallpaper, dark woody booths and upward curling staircase by the storefront window, the Sovereign Room stands on its own as a great spot for a beer. There's live music here too. Better still, the regularly updated menu is both surprising and delightful. Some come just for the food, others the beer, many for both.
This self-proclaimed supper club's focus is on rustic Tuscan cuisine but chefs aren't shy about getting experimental. The ever-shifting menu promises bursting flavors with every bite. Weekend evenings feature delectable sample platters and late-night drinks.
Country singer Shania Twain is the queen of her hometown, and her palace is the Shania Twain Centre . The shockingly large complex showcases her life and music through memorabilia, concert footage and an extensive collection of personal effects. The center is also home to North America’s only authentic gold-mine tour (705-360-2619; www.timminsgoldminetour.
This whistle-stop train is the only way to reach the remote communities of Moosonee and Moose Factory. It departs Cochrane in the morning, arriving in the afternoon, before turning around. The assortment of passengers is a sight in itself: locals, trappers, biologists, geologists, tourists, anglers and paddlers.
Mt Mackay rises 350m over Thunder Bay, offering sweeping views of the region's patchwork of rugged pines and swollen rock formations. The lookout is part of the Fort William First Nation , and reveals its most majestic moments in the evening when the valley is but a sea of blinking lights. A walking trail leads from the viewing area to the top of the mountain.
The bus station is downtown and serves as a terminus for local, domestic and international ground transportation. Greyhound Canada runs buses between Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury (four hours, three daily) and between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay (nine hours, two daily). For $2 a ride, try the network of city buses.
A visit to the Soo's most dynamic and kid-friendly museum is a great way to get a sense of how Northern Ontario works: bush planes are crucial to remote communities that are not accessible by road. Stroll amongst retired aircraft to see how tiny these flyers really are. A flight simulator takes passengers on a spirited ride along sapphire lakes and towering pines.
Before you send us hate mail for putting Timmy's in the guidebook, know this: Tim Horton was born in Cochrane and this link of his famous donut chain (started by his wife in his memory) is the busiest branch in the entire country. Truckers line up in droves at all times of the day (it's open 24 hours) to snag some sugary goodness from the remarkably efficient cashiers.
The newest avatar by the wild folks at Respect is Burning, Vespa is speedy sandwich shop that spins out flavorful bites betwixt thick pieces of freshly baked bread. It's all about homemade aioli, fresh farm produce, hanger meat from the butcher, and secret sauces.
Thunder Bay's premier gallery offers an eclectic assortment of contemporary art, including Aboriginal artists. The use of natural imagery, haunting masks and scorching primary colors will leave lasting impressions on visitors. It's free on Wednesdays.
Average Joe's is anything but average. Arriving by land, water, or frozen lake in the winter, enjoy tasty fare from the broad menu while staring out over the serene Trout Lake. The bar keeps the gregarious locals around until 1am or 2am.
This pioneer log cabin 6km west of downtown is filled with relics from an era when settlers first arrived to survey the land, oddly juxtaposed with the unmissable nearby smoke-spewing shaft, affectionately known as the 'Superstack.'