Walk this way: Self-guided history tours in Thunder Bay

There’s a new explore-the-city program called Big Boreal Adventure Goes Historical. (The sister program, Big Boreal Adventure, is a fun, nature-based scavenger hunt that takes you all over Thunder Bay in search of cedar posts topped with round metal engravings by local artists, read more about the Big Boreal Adventure here.) “I wanted to put a Big Boreal Adventure post near the Ontario Power Generation station near Mission Marsh, but the site wasn’t right for a permanent post,” says program director Marilyn Grudniski. “Then an OPG employee said, ‘look at all our history right here…you can see the grain elevators and the railroad and the ships on Lake Superior,’ and I realized that creating a series of historical walking tours was the way to go.”

BBA map and books2

The first guidebook in a series of three was recently released and, just like the nature-based Big Boreal Adventure kit, it’s free and available at any of the Thunder Bay libraries, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Thunder Bay Museum. There aren’t any cedar posts or plaques this time. Rather, the laminated spiral-bound book contains maps, archival pictures and descriptions about historic Thunder Bay buildings and sites, plus interesting snippets about geology and First Nations history.

There are five different walking tours in the first book: “In the Beginning” (Hillcrest Park, the Sleeping Giant, grain elevators and more); the “Bay and Algoma Cultural Tour” (featuring the Lyceum Theatre, the Prince Arthur Hotel and the Waverly library, among others); and “Superior Sea! A Waterfront Walk” (which includes the Pagoda, the old piers and the railroads).


Both of the old cities are represented too, with “A Day in the Life—Port Arthur,” which takes you around Algoma St, Red River Road and Cumberland Street. I chose an edited version of “A Day in the Life—Fort William” and headed out one super-cold day in search of a cure for cabin fever.


My first stop was Brodie Street Library, part of the Carnegie library legacy (it’s worth stopping in to see the arched stained glass windows of Shakespeare and the other boys of literature too).

st andrews vertical

Just up the street is the attractive St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1908 and a designated heritage building.

times journal

Going east on Victoria Avenue I walked to the 1906 Times Journal building, now home to the gift store Victoria’s Cupboard; and the somewhat post-apocalyptic yet imposing façade and pillars of the CIBC, built in 1910 and subject to its first armed robbery in 1911 (the crook and $5000 were later found at a nearby hotel).


The second book in the series is due out this summer and will focus on the Chippewa Park area with its incredible views of the Giant and the city, and, for the first time, will incorporate descriptions in Ojibway as well as English and French. The third book, done in collaboration with Fort William First Nation (FWFN), will offer a tour of the reserve, which is located on Lake Superior and includes the stunning Nor’Wester mountain range. This one is a driving, not walking, tour due to distances.

Whether you’re walking, cycling or driving, self-guided tours are a great way to get to know a city better, and the Big Boreal Adventure Goes Historical book and maps are clear, beautifully designed with handy fold-out pages, and packed with intriguing little factoids about Thunder Bay’s history. For visitors and residents alike, it’s a chance to retrace the paths of the pioneers and aboriginal peoples who shaped the city.

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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