Ontario is currently under a stay-at-home order. If you plan to explore, please do so digitally. More information on COVID-19 and details on the stay-at-home order are available here.
*Updated December 22, 2020*
You’re off to Thunder Bay, a community in the north-western reaches of Ontario. Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, the city is a nature lover’s dream. Across the bay rests the famed Sleeping Giant, a large landform which, according to Ojibway legend, was created by the spirit Nanabijou. For time immemorial the Anishinaabe have lived here, and in the late 19th to early 20th century saw a huge wave of immigration from Finland (it has the largest population of Finns outside of Finland). The rich heritage is reflected in the arts and culture of the city, from art galleries to local establishments.
EXPLORE THE BAY & ALGOMA DISTRICT – 9:30 AM
DAY 1 – 9:30 AM: EXPLORE THE BAY & ALGOMA DISTRICT
What’s now the Bay & Algoma district was one of the early centres of immigration and commercial activity in the region. The growing Finnish community established the Finnish Labour Temple, which served as a meeting place, a library, an auditorium, and a place for workers to grab a bite. The temple is where many Finnish Canadians gathered to advocate for better working conditions and quality of life changes for labourers in the early 1900s.
The area has only grown livelier in the century since. Several public art projects have beautified the street corners, and there are many cafés, shops, and boutiques to explore in the area.
Food tips: If you’re keen to grab a cup of coffee, there are at least three coffeehouses with a variety of offerings nearby, the Calico among them. You can also enjoy locally-sourced dishes and brews at the pubs and diners in the area.
Browse the collection at the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery – 12:00 PM
DAY 1 – 12:00 PM: The Anishnabae Art Gallery is a short walk away from the Bay and Algoma district.
The gallery was founded in 1997 by the late Roy Thomas, a leading member of the Woodland School of Art. Roy Thomas passed away in 2004, and the gallery is now owned and operated by his wife Louise Thomas. The walls are covered in artwork, much of it from the nearly 300 Indigenous artists from across Canada that the gallery represents.
Make sure to check visiting hours ahead of time and be mindful of social distancing policies when you visit.
Explore Prince Arthur’s Landing – 2:00 PM
DAY 1 – 2:00 PM: The scenic stroll par excellence in Thunder Bay is along the revitalized waterfront known as Prince Arthur’s Landing.
A series of piers jut out into the bay, many are host to pieces of public art exploring the intimate relationship between humanity and water. This is a restful place where you can watch the boats cruise by.
The nearby Baggage Building Arts Centre* is an exhibition space and community hub with festivals, performances, and classes taking place year-round. Originally a freight shed, the building was renovated and expanded as part of the redevelopment of the waterfront area.
While on the waterfront, walk over to the Spirit Garden, where you can see steel panels etched in the Woodland style by Roy Thomas and Randy Thomas. Three bentwood shrouds stand around the central Gathering Circle, and several ash logs serve as benches for anyone looking to sit and enjoy the space.
*NOTE: Prince Arthur’s Landing is open, but the Baggage Building Arts Centre is currently closed with no stated re-opening date.
TREK OVER TO HILLCREST PARK – 10:00 AM
DAY 2 – 10:00 AM: START YOUR DAY WITH THE BEST VIEW IN THUNDER BAY
Hillcrest Park is right in the heart of downtown Thunder Bay, and it offers an unparalleled view of the city, the bay, and the Sleeping Giant. There’s plenty to see in the park as well. You’ll find the sunken gardens where over 70 different flowers come together in eye-catching arrangements. Or, if you’re a military history buff, you can check out the two carronades (short cannons, basically) which point out toward the bay. There’s also a memorial to the Lake Superior Regiment who fought at Avion, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and many other key battles during the First World War.
Food Tips: This is a fantastic spot for an early morning picnic. You can recline on the grass and watch ships go by. You’re not far off from the Bay & Algoma district, so you can grab breakfast to go on your way to the park.
Visit the Thunder Bay Art Gallery – 12:00 PM
DAY 2 – 12:00 PM: visit the Thunder Bay Art Gallery and GO FOR A stroll around the grounds of Confederation College.
The Thunder Bay Art Gallery* started as a gallery in the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society back in the 1970s. It is now the largest public art gallery in the region, with a focus on exhibiting and collecting contemporary Northwestern Ontario and Indigenous art. Their permanent collection contains more than 1,600 works of art, including works by Joane Cardinal-Schubert and Norval Morrisseau.
Check out the walking paths and trails on the campus of Confederation College. Enjoy a nice stroll along the McIntyre River and take in the fresh air.
In a few years, you’ll be able to see the gallery in a brand-new location right on the waterfront. The building is being designed by Patkau Architects + Brook McIlroy and expected to be complete in 2022.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is currently open.
Explore the natural landscape and scenery in the city – 3:00 PM
DAY 2 – 3:00 PM: Wind down the rest of your weekend soaking in the abundant natural beauty that Thunder Bay has to offer.
It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s well worth the trip. Centennial Park is a love letter to the logging industry which helped transform modest Port Arthur into the sprawling city of Thunder Bay. There are a number of recreational trails, and spots where you can dip your feet in the water. Visitors can also wave hello to the resident farm animals, ride the Muskeg Express, or walk through a recreation of an early 20th century logging camp.
Once you’ve had your fill of the abundant natural beauty, hop in the car and drive out to the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout. The view is nice any time of day, but if you’re here in the evening, and the conditions are just right, you can watch the sun set behind the Sleeping Giant in a celestial display you won’t soon forget.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Bay & Algoma District – https://www.bayalgoma.com/
The Ahnisnabae Art Gallery – http://www.ahnisnabae-art.com/
Baggage Arts Centre – https://www.thunderbay.ca/en/recreation/baggage-building-art-centre.aspx
Hillcrest Park – https://www.thunderbay.ca/en/recreation/city-parks.aspx
Thunder Bay Art Gallery – https://theag.ca/
Centennial Park – https://www.thunderbay.ca/en/recreation/city-parks.aspx
Tina’s Breakfast & Lunch – http://tinas.ca/
The Persian Man – https://m.facebook.com/The-Persian-Man-399721353422346/
The Foundry – http://www.thefoundrypub.com/
Calico Coffee – https://www.facebook.com/Calico-Coffeehouse-48301064580/
Prime Gelato – https://www.primegelato.ca/
The Courthouse Hotel – https://www.courthousehotel.ca/
Valhalla Inn – https://valhallainn.com/
This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please contact us.
Tourism Thunder Bay provided information for the creation of this guide. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. The guide was written by Esther Lee.