Written for CBC’s Fresh Air morning show on CBC Radio One. Aired Saturday October 5th, 2019, live from Thunder Bay, Ontario.
As dazzling colours begin to transform the landscape, they say you will fall in love with Thunder Bay at this time of year and it’s absolutely true. It’s the picture perfect season with so many Insta worthy sites, but most importantly thrilling adventures.
Bird’s-eye view of Nor’Wester Mountain Range/Maple Trees: Northwest Heli-Tour
Fall in Thunder Bay is a very magical and colourful season, and some landscapes simply demand a view from above. You can see Thunder Bay’s awesomeness from an entirely different perspective, by taking an adventure with Northwest Helicopters.
The sound of the humming blades, the feeling of lift off, travelling by helicopter is a truly awesome experience. The flight will take you to see the Nor’Wester mountain range from a bird’s eye view. You will see the landscape come alive with the fiery fall colours, with Sugar Maples and Red Maples dotting the valleys of the mountain range, which are definitely the most spectacular trees of them all.
The NorWester’s stretch all the way from Mount McKay located on Fort William First Nation (which is also an amazing hiking spot at this time of the year), to the Canada – U.S. Border.
And yes, a local company makes 100% pure, single-sourced maple syrup. As many know, Maples like it warm, so these sugarbushes are a rare site this far north. This gives the maple syrup a very northern taste. You’ll have to try it for yourself from the Nor’Wester Maple Company.
An abandoned railroad tunnel hides off of an old logging dirt road and awaits hikers willing to get lost while weaving their way to the site. The Flett Railway Tunnel, located northwest of Thunder Bay off on Flett Road, was abandoned when the railroad was rerouted, leaving it to nature.
It’s a tunnel through a mountain in the middle of nowhere and is nothing short of epic. The massive stone walls stretch about 300 metres in length, and it’s the only abandoned railway tunnel you can actually drive through. Very often you will find hikers and trucks replacing the train’s loud rumbles. The spot is almost eerie and spooky and there are many rumors and ghost tales about things that might have happened at the old site.
Historic Prince Arthur Hotel and tunnels
I really love history and all of the secrets of the past. In Thunder Bay, the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel, the oldest hotel still standing in the city, is a historical treasure overlooking the waterfront that you really can’t miss. The classic location was designed by the same architects of Grand Central Station back in 1909, is the birth place of the idea of the the iconic Remembrance Poppy, and even hosted a Grand Royale gathering with King George and Queen Elizabeth. But it’s best kept secret—I went a little Nancy Drew and uncovered remnants of two tunnels that can be found in the basement of the hotel, one of which, now bricked over, leads toward the lake.
There are many stories that swirl about what these tunnels may or may not have been used for. While some hotel staff may tell you they were most likely there to help move supplies arriving by ship to the hotel, other seasoned staff that have been on site for quite some time might whisper you a story about the years of the prohibition era and smuggling alcohol to the U.S.
If you like thrills Eagle Canyon is definitely a place you are going to want to check out. Here you will not only be in the heart of the boreal forest, but you can either walk across Canada’s longest suspension bridge or sore down the longest, highest and fastest zip line (literally flying like an eagle).
Located near Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, the Eagle Canyon suspension bridge spans almost 600 feet at about 150 feet above the canyon floor. There’s absolutely breath taking views from the centre of the bridge, but if you are afraid of heights this definitely isn’t for you… especially if you go with me as I tend to get a little grade school and move around on the bridge (no horse play aloud however).
Now if being 150 feet is just not thrilling enough, and you want something even more, at half a mile long, 175 feet high, and reaching speeds of 45 miles per hour, you can zip down the very centre of the canyon for an exhilarating 60 second zip line. This sends you gliding over treetops from the top of the canyon to the bottom where you will almost dip your toes in the river below.
Speed boat to the Sleeping Giant & Hike
Looking East across the shores of Lake Superior it requires little imagination to see the form of a sleeping person — a giant, arms folded across a massive chest as if in a deep sleep.
So I know everyone who visits Thunder Bay, wants to get up close and personal with the Sleepy G. To get you there fast, the Superior Rocket is a 30- foot Rigid Inflatable Boat- Zodiac Hurricane, that can seat up to 12 passengers, (so you can bring all of your friends), and it is AWESOME.
At top speeds of 60 to 100 km/hour, passengers fly from Prince Arthur’s Landing to Sawyer’s Bay (Head of the Giant Trail) in under 40 minutes. You also get geared up in these super cool bright orange mustang floater suits with fancy goggles (youlook like you are ready for the ultimate ski trip). The outfit is half the fun, right?
Now no outdoor excursion in the Thunder Bay area is complete without attempting to tackle the giant. Once you arrive you can take a hike up rugged trails to the top of the giant for unbeatable views of Lake Superior. The Sleeping Giant Provincial Park actually has more than 100km of trails, nature walks- I would say some of the best hiking in Ontario. It’s definitely not an easy feat though!
Also, according to Ojibway legend, the Sleeping Giant known as “Nanabijou” — The Spirit of Deep Sea Water — was turned to stone when the location of a nearby silver mine at Silver Islet was revealed.
Silver Islet is also an awesome adventure. This small rocky community sits just off the tip of the Sibley Peninsula. and is most famous for (you guessed it) the HUGE deposit of silver that was discovered around 1868— $3 point 2-5 million dollars worth of silver ore to be exact, so at the time obviously the world’s richest silver mine.
Now in today’s time the Islet is a cute and quaint little camp community on the shores of Lake Superior that has a lot of personality and character, and shares tales of an extraordinary past.
While walking through the small community you will still see the names of the original miners that lived in the strip of houses, listed on what are now cozy cottages (but still very much resemble the original mining homes). You can also find a super interesting and very old historic cemetery. But it’s hidden in the bush so you’re going to have to talk to the locals to find out where it is.
Old School Alpacas
Everyone should get the chance to hang out with an alpaca. They’re gentle and sweet creatures with just a touch of sass…(probably why I get along with them so well).
The only thing better than an alpaca is a herd of alpacas, which is exactly what you will find at Old School Alpaca Farm. The farm located just before Nipigon, features a unique shop full of handmade items, all made from Alpaca yarn—-mitts, socks, sweaters, and beautifully hand woven Finnish style rag rugs fill the cute little store.
After moments of being around the animals at the farm, you will quickly come to the conclusion that alpacas have a personality that is curious and calm. They are just so neat! The oldest alpaca is in his early 20’s while the baby of the pack is only seven. If you bring up a bunch of dandelions, you will be sure to make best friends in the herd.
Sauna at Thompson Island
For this adventure you have to travel by sail boat (and with lots of energy in the lake at this time of year, it makes for good wind which is why fall sailing is so dreamy!).
So you are going to hop aboard the Frodo with Captain Gregory Heroux of Sail Superior and travel out past Welcome and Pie Islands, historic Lake Superior lighthouses, and about 14 nautical miles south of Thunder Bay where you will discover Thompson Island, Provincial Park, which is a BIG TIME favourite of the local boating community.
Let me tell you, there is nothing like jumping into a lake after a hot sauna, and Lake Superior offers a sauna bather an additional edge. It’s not only the biggest fresh water lake, but in my opinion one of the coldest as well. It’s like you are at one of those fancy nordic spas..but this is the real deal.
After soaking in a wood-fired heated sauna, combined with the and beautiful smell of the wood, you’ll take the plunge in the cold lake for a shocking cool-down—it will literally takes your breath away. Repeat this cycle three times, and you will know bliss.
Thunder Bay has a very big finnish population so any sauna you take in the Bay will be the best!
So after you have completed any of these adventures, I think it’s safe to say: You have earned your beer. Brewery tour!!!
What many don’t know is Thunder Bay is home to several craft beer breweries and the industry only continues to grow in the city.
Sleeping Giant Brewing Company the largest of them all, is an award winning brewery known for many of it’s beers including the famous Northern logger (light easy drinking beer). The most amount of brew packaged in a day at the site….8000 cans.
Right now they have this great seasonal beer called Pompous Pumpkin. It’s made with pumpkins from a local farm. The head brewer was telling me how all of the staff take a pumpkin home and roast it, all contributing to the brew.
Xo Bay Awesome