Introducing Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay is about as comfortably isolated as you can get – it's 692km west of Sault Ste-Marie and 703km east of Winnipeg (Manitoba). If you're arriving by road, it's a welcome and obligatory return to civilization: no matter how beautiful those forests and that shoreline, it starts to blur together after a while. With a smattering of decent historical attractions, pervading natural beauty and a handful of creative restaurants and bars, you might be pleasantly surprised that Thunder Bay hums along strong, in defiance and celebration of its long, dark winters. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that 10% of the population are of Finnish descent.
The Ojibwe have inhabited the region continuously for thousands of years. Europeans arrived in the 1600s, but it wasn't until 1803 that the British erected Fort William as the trading hub for the lucrative North West Company (beaver-pelt central). Shortly after, the rival settlement of Port Arthur was born 5km up the road and became a center for mining and shipping prairie grain: these granaries are the gargantuan industrial structures you see along the lakeshore. It was only in the late 1960s that Fort William and Port Arthur became one, choosing the evocative moniker 'Thunder Bay' from the aboriginal name for the region, Animikie, meaning 'thunder.'
If you're passing through, consider staying two nights to get a sense of the place. Otherwise, if you're looking for something different, why not watch for a seat sale and fly in from Toronto for the weekend.