Uncovering Thunder Bay's Hidden Gems: 7 Cool Spots to Explore in TBay

There are some real treasures around Thunder Bay—if you don't know about these ones, you should!
Stacks of plastic-wrapped gourmet cheeses inside a display case. In the background, two smiling shoppers are looking through the glass at the cheese.

Visitors to Thunder Bay, Ontario love the city’s go-tos: the silhouette of the Sleeping Giant, the deliciously sweet Persian, the inspiring Terry Fox Monument, the hip and historic Bay & Algoma neighbourhood. But the beauty and cultural touchstones don’t stop there. Be sure to check out these seven hidden gems of Thunder Bay.

1. Thunder Bay Art Gallery

A silhouetted person sitting on a bench in front of a large painting of flowers on a black background, hung on a yellow gallery wall.
See what's new at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is centrally located and easy to get to, right on the Confederation College campus just off the Harbour Expressway. Home to an exceptional collection of contemporary First Nations art as well as visiting exhibits, it is definitely worth the trip. A recent exhibit was the breathtaking Radical Stitch, featuring intricate, vivid beadwork by Indigenous artists from both Northwestern Ontario and across Turtle Island (North America). Other works in its collection include paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, and installations. You can also buy beautiful candles by Fort William First Nation company Heart/Soul Co., locally made jewelry, and other items at the gift shop.

2. Westfort Neighbourhood 

Shelves full of an vast array of small antique items in Black Cat Antiques
Unearth something special at Black Cat Antiques.

A thriving community in Thunder Bay’s south end, Westfort is beloved by its residents. The main street is Frederica. Discover longtime favourite eateries like The Sal (great burgers, tacos, and all-day breakfast) or colourful textile artist Paula Brasil, quirky antiques at Black Cat Antiques, or quality clothing at J. B. Evans, Swartz’s Fine Fashions, and Lewk. Pick up some snacks at Westfort Foods, including local fare such as Thunder Oak Cheese Farm gouda cheese or Heartbeat Hot Sauce, or get a made-to-order sandwich across the street at Fresco’s Deli. The Brown Street Pedestrian Bridge at Gore and Brown is a cool place to get a view of the neighbourhood. For more scenic views check out Mt. McKay (Anemki Wajiw).

3. Lakehead Region Conservation Authority Sites 

A very blue sky reflecting in a large,very blue lake that is surrounded by green forest.
Plan a boat trip or afternoon picnic at Silver Harbour Conservation Area.

There are 10 beautiful Lakehead Region Conservation Authority sites in and around the city, providing endless opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, paddling, and more. Head to Cascades for hiking or dog-walking, Cedar Falls for fishing, or Silver Harbour, Mackenzie Point, and Little Trout Bay to see Superior’s wild beauty. Go on your own (just remember to pay the $5 parking fee please) or check their social media for events.

4. A Lake Superior Experience

Looking for something fun and memorable? Check out experiences offered by partners Arthur Fiedler and Vik Wilen at their lakeshore studio. Pick your combo, with options that include getting your stretch on with a yoga class, a cold plunge in Lake Superior, or a guided art class to create your own painting as a souvenir of the northwest’s rugged beauty.

5. Bike or Bird

A smiling fatbiker riding through a snowy forest on a sunny day.
Explore Mount Baldy Ski Area by fat bike.

Ten kilometres of trails for fat biking or snowshoeing at Mt. Baldy Ski Area is a new addition to the city’s winter recreation scene. It’s free to use the professionally designed groomed trails (donations are appreciated), but you need to pick up a pass and a map at the Mt. Baldy chalet. Bring your own bike or rent from Rollin’ Thunder or Fresh Air. 

Visiting in the spring, summer, or fall? Another unique and free outdoor pursuit is visiting the McKellar Island Bird Observatory where the Kaministiquia River flows into Lake Superior, to help count and band migratory birds (a catch-and-release research project). It’s open daily (except when it’s raining), starting at sunrise and continuing for six hours, for the month of May as well as August, September, and early October.

6. Indigenous-Owned Businesses in Thunder Bay

A series of colourful quilted pillows with beautiful chickadee and feather designs.
Wolf Tracks Gallery features beautiful examples of Indigenous-made textiles and art.

Discover three newer Indigenous-owned businesses in Thunder Bay. The Bannock Lady at Intercity Mall serves up homemade bannock in a variety of ways, including bannock burgers and tacos as well as traditional baked bannock. The family-owned Wolf Tracks Gallery on Simpson Street has beautiful original textile art as well as shirts, beaded jewelry, and other items featuring Indigenous art designs. Niibing Tribal Tours in Neebing south of the city offers weekend packages as well as retreats at several points during the year where you can make a hand drum, gather amethyst, participate in a sweat lodge, and more.

7. Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre

A World War 2 era air force coat and hat on a mannequin, in front of a flag and a series of black and white photos on display at the Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre.
The Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre offers a fascinating walk through Canadian aviation history. Photo Credit: Denise Lyzun

Take a tour of northwestern aviation history at the Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre. This small volunteer-run museum features a wide variety of artifacts and information about bush planes like the iconic Beaver and Otter, the Hawker Hurricane (the World War II fighter plane manufactured right here in Thunder Bay), aerial firefighting, and more, covering the area extending from the Manitoba border, north to Hudson Bay, east to Fort Albany and south to Wawa and west to the Manitoba border. You can also see how you do as a pilot when you try your hand at their flight simulator. It’s open Wednesdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm or call to arrange a private tour.

Plan Your Trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario Today!

The city of Thunder Bay has lots to offer when it comes to gorgeous natural beauty, delicious eats, outdoor recreation, shopping, cultural experiences, and history. Why not discover some of these lesser-known spots on your visit? It’s a great way to get to know the city just a little bit better.

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of www.tbaywithkids.ca, 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 www.northstarwriting.ca.

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