Chill Out in Thunder Bay

“It was instant panic. Why am I doing this?”

For those intrigued by wellness trends, seeking out extreme cold is, well, hot! Social media, podcasts and other media are abuzz with people touting the benefits of controlled exposure to cold temperatures. Thanks to Thunder Bay’s significant Finnish population, the delights of going from heated sauna to cold lake (or even rolling in the snow) and back again are part of the routine of many northwesterners. Now, however, you can sample two different approaches to cold wellness: one new and innovative, and one a twist on the traditional. 

Chill out in a liquid nitrogen chamber

First up is cryotherapy, now available at Celcius, a new wellness centre recovery spa in the trendy Bay & Algoma neighbourhood. Cryotherapy refers to short exposure to extreme cold in a full-body chamber cooled by liquid nitrogen. How cold does it get? Well, over three minutes the air temperature drops to -120°C (-184°F). This cold signals the body to activate its “fight or flight” response, flooding muscles and tissues with natural compounds that help to quell pain and inflammation and boost metabolism. 

Cryotherapy is a popular therapy amongst athletes including the Raptors and Leafs. Photo credit: Celsius Facebook

Matt Kaskiw, owner and operator of Celcius, first heard about cryotherapy on a podcast hosted by Stanford University neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. Kaskiw, a self-described skeptical scientist, (he has a Master’s degree in chemistry, an education degree and CanFitPro certification) decided to give cryotherapy a try when visiting the United States. His companion felt elated when she tried it, but for Kaskiw, it was what he didn’t feel that was most interesting: his workout-induced chronic elbow pain had vanished. “I was hooked,” he says. “Here’s something that’s modern and progressive and backed by science.” For more details on the science behind the cold, the Celcius website helpfully links to a variety of studies in academic journals.


A post shared by Celcius (@celciuscryo)

Back home in Thunder Bay, Kaskiw decided to open a wellness centre. Celcius also includes a variety of other therapies: infrared sauna, red light therapy, and compression massage, all designed to help the body heal and relax. Celcius is believed to have the only cryotherapy chamber (formerly used by the Leafs and the Raptors, by the way) in central Canada and is likely the only centre in Canada to offer all four of these therapies. 

The cool, cutting-edge vibe starts the moment you step into Celcius, complete with immaculate white décor, club music and contemporary local art by Katie Hildebrandt. I decided to give cryotherapy a try. After Kaskiw gave me a tour, I changed into the provided cozy socks and slippers and a fluffy robe. Undergarments stay on, but no metal is allowed below the neck, including jewelry and bra underwires. There are also warm mitts in the change room, but I brought my favourite ultra-warm sheepskin ones from Egli’s Sheep Farm in Dryden. Then I stepped into the chamber with my head poking out the top and handed Kaskiw my robe. 

I am not big on the cold if it doesn’t involve skiing or snowshoeing, but this was pretty doable! Plus, it only lasted three minutes. Afterward I felt pleasantly rubbery, and my back and shoulder muscles, a bit sore from that morning’s shovelling, had relaxed. It didn’t take long at all to warm back up. (I also went across the street to the new Portuguese bakery Sweet Nata to treat myself to an order of Nata custard tarts, and there are plenty of other eateries, bars and shops in the Bay & Algoma neighbourhood to explore.)

“People leave all smiles,” says Kaskiw. “This place is made to kickstart your health journey and help you live a healthy lifestyle.”

cold lakes warm hearts

For those looking for a more traditional approach to cold wellness, there’s the Thunder Bay Cold Plunge group. As the name implies, this group of friends and fitness enthusiasts meets weekly year-round to strip down to their toques and swimsuits and take a dip in cold, cold, 4°C water, surrounded by some of Thunder Bay’s most beautiful natural settings, like Cascades Conservation Area, Oliver Lake, and Sandy Beach and Wild Goose Beach on Lake Superior. Spring and fall, they go for open water, and in the winter they cut a hole in the ice of an inland lake (for a higher level of safety, they choose a body of water without currents).

Photo credit: Lucas Augustyn

Come summer, they still keep things chill by going for a dunk in a barrel filled with ice water outside the doors of Afloat, a floatation therapy company that also makes its home in the Bay & Algoma neighbourhood

Photo credit: Lucas Augustyn

Lucas Augustyn first heard about the Thunder Bay Cold Plunge group more than a year ago on a popular local podcast called the Thamichaelated. The first time he got in the water, he says, “It was instant panic. ‘Why am I doing this?’” he remembers. “I think my first one I only lasted 45 seconds. And now I’m the crazy guy that stays in for 20 minutes.” For him, the appeal is both physical and mental. “It’s amazing. When you first start getting into it, it’s a lot of breath work and just trying to calm your nervous system down and try to deal with those fight or flight feelings. That quickly subsides within the first minute and then it’s just purely mental: how long can I stay in? And then when you get out it’s quite the rush.” 

As many as 30 people take the cold plunge on any given week, and Augustyn also loves the social aspect of it. “It’s a community and everyone encourages each other: ‘Just make it to five minutes; make it to two minutes!’” Visitors are welcome too. “It's very inclusive. We welcome anyone who wants to come try. We’re supportive of first-timers to both try it, and to get people to at least make it to a minute. Because after a minute, it’s not so bad.”

Ready to get cold? Take a deep breath, double check with your healthcare provider, and go for it in Thunder Bay!

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of, which covers fun family-friendly attractions, events and restaurants in Thunder Bay. She enjoys canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing and travel, and you can read more of her award-winning work at

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