Top 5 Reasons to Visit the Centennial Botanical Conservatory Today!

Thunder Bay’s Centennial Botanical Conservatory is having a bit of a moment, as residents and visitors alike discover or rediscover its charms. It’s a great year-round destination but it’s especially appealing as we shiver through another frosty winter. Here are five reasons to put it on your must-visit list.

Reason #1: It’s a mini tropical vacation

When you walk in from this...


You see this...


And this... 


And how about this?

birds nest

It’s a positive feast for the senses: the feel of warm humid air on your skin, the sound of trickling water, the scent of dirt and moisture and growing green things. Standing in the arboretum under its soaring glass roof on a cold winter day, or even a so-so grey day the rest of the year, instantly makes you feel better. And it’s the most affordable tropical vacation you’ll ever take—admission is free, although donations in the box at the door are much appreciated.

Reason #2: You can now go at night

The Conservatory is now offering extended hours—talk about the perfect way to decompress after a stressful work day, kick off a midweek date night, or explore with kids. Hours are 10am to 8pm from Monday to Friday, and 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. It’s open just about every day of the year, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. It's even open both Good Friday and Easter Monday from 10am to 4pm.

Kids Conservatory at night

It’s also a different experience after dark. “You can really smell the jasmine at night, and the white flowers pop-pow in the dark,” writes a member of the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory on the group’s Facebook page “It really feels like a jungle at night.”

Reason #3: You can check out exotic plants

Yes, fruit like lemons, papayas, mangos and even one teeny tiny pineapple grow on trees right in the arboretum, and they’re among the most popular plants, says Conservatory staff member Karen Nadeau.

Papayas growing in Thunder Bay! In winter!

The coffee bean plant is another guest favourite, adds manager Mike Dixon. “People are fascinated with every aspect of that one!” Other plants include eucalyptus, Indian rubber tree, fishtail palm and bird’s nest fern.

coffee tree
The Coffee Tree

Be sure to visit the “What’s Blooming” section at the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory website to view close-up images of exotic plants like a bird of paradise, “Powder puff” calliandra or hibiscus.

Reason #4: It’s a community gathering place

Stroll the pathways and relax on the benches: the Conservatory is great for people-watching. Artists come with sketchpads, photographers come with cameras and writers come with journals. About 50 weddings are performed in the Conservatory every year, and it’s also an in-demand setting for family portraits and graduation photos. You might see a person in a wheelchair with a caregiver, parents with kids (toddlers and preschoolers especially love cruising up and down the bridge, dropping coins in the pond, and feeling the chunks of amethyst that are embedded in the stonework) and occasionally someone who is a bit teary and looking for some healing.


The Friends of the Conservatory are starting to offer special events as well—two recent ones include a Valentine’s Evening, complete with live music, and An Afternoon in the Tropics. Stop by their website or Facebook page to get details on any upcoming events.

Conservatory at night 2

Another interesting factoid: every plant that’s transplanted in Thunder Bay’s 105 public parks and gardens every spring is planted, raised and tended by Conservatory staff in adjacent greenhouses. Staff will also answer phone inquiries from home gardeners with questions about plant care.

Reason #5: It’s good for your health

Surrounding yourself with the natural world has all kinds of health benefits. In a study by researchers at Kansas State University, for example, surgical patients who were in rooms with plants had shorter hospitalizations, took fewer painkillers and experienced less anxiety and fatigue that patients who were in rooms without plants. Other studies have found that being in a natural green space helps restore the mind’s ability to focus and reduces cholesterol, blood pressure and stress hormone levels.

pondersoa lemon

Plan a visit today to discover your reason for loving the Conservatory. The Conservatory is located in the Dease Street loop, off Balmoral. Guided tours are available. Call 807-622-7036 for more information.

norwood beauty


fig tree

fishtail palm

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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