Treasure Hunting in Thunder Bay
Every vintage treasure hunter knows that smaller cities and towns have the best second-hand stores, and Thunder Bay, Ontario is no exception. Actually, let me revise that—Thunder Bay is exceptionally good.
Why is that? Perhaps it’s Thunder Bay’s size (over 100,000) relative to its remoteness (a 15-hour drive from Toronto), which means a large supply of cool junk, paired with a down-to-earth population and very few hipsters scooping up all the good stuff to populate their Etsy stores? Or perhaps it’s a mystery we’ll never solve, but there's no doubt that T-Bay is a thrifter's bonanza.
Vintage and Thrift Shopping in Thunder Bay
The thrifting seed was planted for me when I was a little kid. I discovered that rather than waiting until Christmas for a new one, I could obtain multiple He-Men or Ghostbusters at a time at a flea market, church bazaar, or yard sale, for mere pennies. And some of them were old ones you couldn’t even get any more at the store. How cool is that? By the age of 11, I was pretty firm in my position that Mad magazine had gone waaay downhill since the 70s.
As a teen in Thunder Bay at the turn of the millennium, I would mix and match subcultures like a confused, attention-starved Mr. Potato Head. For my friends and me, the thrift store was an empowering place where we could fashion our shifting identities with ironic vintage t-shirts, grunge sweaters, old man pants, army surplus, or whatever else would set us apart from the “normal” kids. Besides the Salvation Army (or “the Sal” as we called it), the ultimate spot for vintage treasures was Catholic Action, an extremely well-stocked—if musty—thrift store where you could (and still can) fill a grocery bag of clothes for a buck or two, or cop a pair of decent vintage speakers for a song.
It was at Catholic Action that I bought the salmon-coloured suit, ruffled off-white tuxedo shirt, and burgundy bowtie I rocked at the high school dance (and in my grade nine yearbook photo). It’s also where I picked up the long, flowing wedding dress I wore on stage at an acoustic open mic night at the local youth centre—an attempt at being subversive?
And it was also a place where I brushed shoulders with a diverse range of folks from different backgrounds, most of whom didn’t have the privilege of choosing to shop there so they could express their individuality or offend their parents. The kindly, elderly volunteers who staffed the place had a warm and welcoming rapport with everyone who came through the door, and were always willing to strike a great deal, even on an already great deal.
When I went away to university, I was struck at how picked over the thrift stores were in Montreal, and always made sure to stock up on new fashion treasures and vintage doodads for my apartment when I was home for the holidays. Now, although my tastes have evolved, and my stamina for treasure hunting may have lessened, I still love a good dig. When I visit a new place, my first question is always: where are the thrift stores, junk shops, and antique markets? Below is a list that should serve as an excellent start to your next Thunder Bay vintage treasure hunt. Who knows what you’ll find?
Great Thrift, Vintage and Antique Stores in Thunder Bay
Adult and Teen Challenge Super Thrift
107 Johnson Ave
Well-stocked, well-organized, clean thrift store that benefits Adult & Teen Challenge, a 12-month residential program that helps folks with alcohol and drug issues.
Black Cat Antiques
133 Frederica St W
An incredible assortment of vintage items and antique ephemera.
Catholic Action-St. Vincent de Paul
129 Miles St E
Excellent Church-affiliated thrift store with 1990s thrift store prices. As with any charity shop with very low prices, if you aren’t low-income, consider paying extra or making a donation to help with operational costs.
133 Hardisty St N
A favourite spot for locals to score used furniture and housewares that also provides moving, upholstery, and furniture refinishing services.
The Hub Bazaar
507 Victoria Ave East
A venue for several different great vendors, including antique and vintage sellers, coffee, and art.
231 Brodie St S
Well-curated antique shop with an in-house certified appraiser and military expert who can appraise Grandpa’s old war medals.
The Salvation Army Thrift Store
Two locations: 870 Red River Rd & 915 Memorial Avenue
Ubiquitous Christian thrift store with two locations in Thunder Bay. Both locations usually have a pretty great selection of used clothes, furniture, housewares, and other items.
Sleeping Giant Antiques Mall
303 Victoria Ave E
With more than 10 different antique vendors, this is a must-visit spot for any treasure hunter.
1120 Lithium Drive
Reliable spot for all sorts of antiques and vintage collectibles.
Twice as Nice
250 May St N
Clean, well-organized little thrift store for clothes, furniture, and housewares.
915 Memorial Ave
Big thrift store chain. While prices tend to be a bit higher than other thrift stores, the selection and quality at the Thunder Bay Value Village location is quite good, and it’s located right next door to a Salvation Army.