Play, Explore and Learn in Thunder Bay with Big Boreal Adventure

When my family moved to Thunder Bay four years ago, we started exploring our new city and it wasn’t long before we started seeing cedar posts with round metal engravings on them—one at Vanderwees Home and Garden, another at Chippewa Park, a third at Vickers Park. Was it some kind of public art project, we wondered? Then we discovered it was nature-based scavenger hunt called the Big Boreal Adventure.

Frog Plate

Here’s how it works: you pick up a free kit—a laminated map and a spiral-bound guidebook—at any of the Thunder Bay libraries, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Wilderness Supply or a variety of children’s resource centres. There are 38 posts all over Thunder Bay in both rural and urban areas.

BBA map and books2

What they have in common is that they’re found in green spaces in a natural setting. You turn to the right blank page in the guidebook book, read the clues to help you find the post, and use a crayon or pencil to make a rubbing of the metal etching, each designed by a local artist.

goose plate

Each guidebook page includes different information about the area. For example, the Neste Boat Launch page describes the peregrine falcons at nearby Mount McKay, and the Centennial Park page talks about the brook trout that lay eggs in George Creek. Families with older kids will appreciate the nine sites (and counting) that have a geocaching element, where you use GPS coordinates to locate a hidden container with a logbook to be signed. Art, nature, tech, community…cool!

Marilyn Grudniski of Little Lions Waldorf School came up with the idea for Big Boreal Adventure when she learned about a similar program called the Lincoln Safari in Nebraska and adapted the concept for Thunder Bay. New posts are added every year and the guidebook is now in its fourth edition. You can also sign out a Big Boreal Adventure Kit at the Thunder Bay Public Library branches, which contains tools like a magnifying glass, a compass, and binoculars.

skating pond

So on a sunny winter day I headed out with my five-year-old daughter. Our first stop was the skating pond at the International Friendship Gardens. We had been to the garden before but the skating pond was new to us. We spotted the post at the south end of the pond and she barreled through the snow bank to do her crayon rubbing of some simple pine trees.

skating pond2

Next up was one of our favourite destinations in the city, the warm tropical setting of the Thunder Bay Centennial Conservatory and a post with an iris etching. As usual, we dropped coins in the pond and made a wish, and spotted the baby pineapple at the top of the waterfall.


On my own for the third stop the following week, I headed to Cowan Park, an awesome newer nature park that’s near our house at the semi-rural south end of the city.

cowan park sign

I was intrigued that the guidebook said there were two posts, as I had only ever seen one. I knew exactly where that one was though…or so I thought. After tramping up and down the pond shore on snowshoes half a dozen times I realized just how much the winter landscape changes things.

cowan park pond 2

I couldn’t find the second post either. You can bet that once the snow melts I’ll be back, guidebook in hand, to find them both! (The guidebook divides the post locations into four seasons for this very reason, I suspect.)

cowan park pond

If you’re visiting family in Thunder Bay or are in town for a sports tourney and are looking for a fun kid-friendly activity, Big Boreal Adventure is a clever, innovative way to explore the city and learn more about our beautiful natural heritage. History buffs won’t want to miss the newest program, Big Boreal Adventure Goes Historical, which offers free walking tours of Thunder Bay neighbourhoods.

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

Recommended Articles

Search Thunder Bay