Remember those summer days spent running around outside until sunset, listening to your favourite summer jams on repeat, eating freezies, swimming for hours until your hands turned pruney…the days of Sun-In, super soakers, slip n’ slides, Skip-Its—Day after day, being as wild and as carefree as can be. It was a magical time in our lives.
Now that we’re all grown up, it’s impossible to not feel nostalgic about those endless summer days spent squeezing the life out of every second. Ya, adulting is hard. With that said, I’ve decided to make the absolute most of this summer. Do it all.
Thunder Bay and the surrounding area has so many awesome things to do throughout the summer months. Surrounded by lakes and the great outdoors, not to mention a bunch of fun activities and locations just a step away in our very own backyard, there is soo much to do. But as Thunder Bay-ers, we know that summer can be short and sweet (or sometimes just plain short), so it’s important to get out there and enjoy this beautiful season that we have soooo patiently waited for.
Compiled with some of my annual summer traditions, waterfalls and some tasty brew, here is a list to help you make the most of your TBAY Summer!
1. Silver islet + Sea lion
Did you read Sarah Jane of Silver Islet when you were in grade school? I did, and it ignited my obsession with the silver mining town. Silver Islet is a small rocky community that sits just off the tip of the Sibley Peninsula. It’s most famous for the HUGE deposit of silver that was discovered around 1868— $3,250,000 worth of silver ore to be exact. Now a cute and quaint little camp community on the shores of Lake Superior, it has a lot of personality and character that share secrets of its extraordinary past. Grab a bike and take a ride, and you will still see the names of the original miners that lived in the strip of mining houses listed on what are now cozy cottages, a historic cemetery (that is hidden in the bush so you’re going to have to talk to the locals to find out where it is), and then go past the old General Store and you might even sneak a view of the Sleeping Giant’s backside.
Also while visiting the peninsula, sidetrack to visit the rock that roars. Prior to the 1900s, this landmark now known as the Sea Lion, resembled a lion sitting and looking out to Perry Bay, with the former shape of this natural arch inspiring its name. Looking at it today, you will see that the lion’s head has fallen off over time, but the beauty still surrounds this unique rock formation. Make sure you do get a glimpse of this regional attraction, because as the sedimentary rock continues to erode, it’s expected that the “arch” of the sea lion will eventually collapse and the entire section will disappear from the shoreline.
2. Shake Shoppe
The writings on the wall… well actually it’s the menu, and without a doubt the Shake Shoppe located in the heart of Kakabeka is the most charming little ice cream parlour you will ever visit.
It was founded 39 years ago when Reg Rosengren Sr. created the business as a summer job for his three sons Reg Jr, Ralph and Ronnie. It all began with a small ice cream and milk shake machine and a Sundae bar.
Over the years as the sons travelled back and forth from University they always returned home to work at the community shop during the summer, serving up the best and homiest ice cream. Drawing customers from all over the region, and investing in business upgrades, the little ice cream stand propelled into the landmark that it’s considered today.
Reg Jr. continues to run the family business, now joined by his three sons, Jacob, Lucas and Matthew.
A big draw at the Shoppe is the fact that the ice cream is made with actual CREAM. “That makes a world of difference. In taste, in weight, in texture, in the length of time it takes it to melt. Ice cream has a higher butter fat content, so basically it means it tastes a lot richer. It also means you have to calibrate your ice cream machines perfectly, to account for the blending of the product before it becomes ice cream.”
After almost four decades, I would say the family members are all experts! Two of the top sellers and customer favourites are the Hot Fudge Sundae and the Banana Split. You also have to try the “Dipped Cone” with eight different flavours to choose from, which include: Chocolate, Toasted Coconut, Cherry, Lemon Lime, Peanut Butter, Birthday Cake, Blue Raspberry, Butterscotch.
My personal fav, and what always has me coming back for more, is the raspberry frozen yogurt in a waffle cone. Expect lineups. But it’s worth the wait and only makes the ice cream taste better.
3. Patios! Patios! Patios!
When the sun shines down on the streets on Thunder Bay, there’s nothing finer than sitting on a patio with a cold drink, good food, and great people. Luckily, for us, after the introduction of a new patio pilot project in Thunder Bay this year, there are quite a few to choose from in the neighbourhood. YES, THUNDER BAY FINALLY HAS A SELECTION OF PATIOS!!!!!
The two-year patio pilot project allows temporary, pop-up patios at restaurants, located on sidewalks out front of their establishments. Wooo hooo! So there’s no longer a need to travel out of town to kick back and relax on an outdoor patio.
There are several excellent places to tilt back a cold one. New patios will include: (some are already in operation while others expected in July) Madhouse, Foundry, Red Lion , In Common, Rooster’s Bistro, Apple Chipotle’s. Did somebody say patio pub crawl?
4.Little Falls, Stanley Burger + Crystal
Year after year, I choose to spend the last day of my year (the day before my Birthday), taking in a beautiful hike and visiting a local tavern that is a flashback to the past (or my 19 to 20-somethings to be exact).
Located in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Little Falls Trail is one of the most ideal hiking trails offering everything you could possibly want from a trek in the great outdoors. The journey takes you along the gorge of the Kaministiquia River valley, offering stunning scenic lookouts, and then to the picturesque Little Falls- a set of small falls hidden amidst the northern terrain. At one point you almost feel like you are walking through an enchanted forest, as the sun shines through the peaks of the trees and you make your way down the trail.
The hike usually takes me just over an hour (round trip), and after seriously earning my beer, I head down the road to the classic Stanley Tavern for one of its famous Stanley Burgers. The double-pattie burger, with all of the traditional toppings, completed with the Stanley’s famous homemade relish, is by far my favourite burger in town. Add a side of homecut fries, and wash it down with a Labatt Crystal, and you have just experienced a classic northern “tradition”.
P.S. this is probably one of the only times you will catch me not drinking a local brew…although I feel like Crystal is local, and specifically made for Thunder Bay.
5. Flett tunnel
An abandoned railroad tunnel hides near an old dirt road, and awaits hikers willing to get lost while weaving their way to the site by navigating old logging dirt roads. The Flett Railway Tunnel, located northwest of Thunder Bay 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. Stretching about 300 metres in length, it is still possible to walk through the dark, cavernous space and some even dare to drive their trucks through the route. Silence, only being broken by the wind or the occasional human visitor, replacing the train’s loud rumbles. The spot is almost eerie and spooky, while many rumors and ghost stories swirl about things that might have happened in the area over the years.
6. Lost & Found Street Art Festival
To celebrate 10 years in the community, Die Active Art Collective is closing down Cooke Street for a day and packing it with live music, new murals, food trucks, art and business pop ups, and graffiti. The Lost & Found Street Art Festival is talking place July 14th, from Noon until 5pm.
The 9th Annual Y-art Sale will also be onsite, where you can buy original works from over 50 local artists and artisans including Knife Fight Press, boyRoland, Paige Guzzell, and Oaks & Acorns Designs.
During the festival, Die Active will unveil four new murals in Thunder Bay, which will complete the group’s five-year Cooke Street project, creating Thunder Bay’s Graffiti Alley. This year’s murals include N.V Night Club, Kathy’s Discounts, Upper Soverign Room, 224, and updates to previous designs.
Over the years, Die Active has created a program to mentor and support future artists while creating unique and contemporary public art. Sarah Mason has been painting with Die Active since she was 15, and almost seven years later, continues to be involved with the group as she pursues her own career as an artist and illustrator. “The opportunities I got from Die Active has definitely pushed me to continue with what I do. I’m excited to see how many more art careers can be impacted.”
Want to try it out yourself? There will be free art workshops throughout the festival.
At the end of the day if you haven’t had enough, head to the official After Party from 7:00 pm until 11:00 pm at Die Active. A new exhibition, titled Image Laundry, will be launched featuring emerging photographers from northwestern Ontario.
7. Sail Superior Wine & Cheese Cruise / The Superior Rocket
Depending on what you are in the mood for, Sail Superior will introduce you to the great Lake in a spectacular way.
Want to get up close and personal with the Sleeping Giant? Or perhaps you have a need for speed? The Superior Rocket is new to the Sail Superior fleet this year. It’s a 30- foot RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) Zodiac Hurricane, that can seat up to 12 passengers, and it is AWESOME!
Tours happen every day and can be customized. The Superior Rocket also does tours up the Kaministiqua River toward the Fort.
But if your not feeling daring but still want to get up close and personal…with your significant other or best pals, take the sunset sail, with Sail Superior’s Wine and Cheese Tour. Bring your own favourite bottle of wine and enjoy a smorgasbord of fine local and imported cheeses from the Cheese Encounter. (There are also these little salted caramel chocolates…soooo beyond good). Halfway through the twilight cruise the Captain will set the anchor and you can open your own bottle of wine, sample cheeses and watch the sunset, or city lights, and if you are lucky enough, you might even get to stop at the light house for you to explore.
8.Tomlin’s Heartbeat Chicken Fried Sandwich
Over the summer months we give a lot of love to hamburgers and hotdogs and maybe the occasional taco, but Tomlin’s Heartbeat Chicken Fried Sandwich deserves way more of your attention. It might seem like an act of sacrilege, but trust me…this is one time when you need to order a sandwich at such a fancy joint.
Here’s the deal- the chicken itself is brined in pickle juice, coated and fried, and then covered in locally produced Heartbeat Hot Sauce, finished off with some melted butter, and then topped with house pastrami pickles, iceberg lettuce, mayo, and cheddar. The kicker is the housemade sesame milk bun.
Hungry!? You won’t think you can finish it, but you will.
The sandwich is only available on Wednesdays and will be offered all summer long. I dream of it daily. You will thank me later.
9.Dock jumping & Cliff jumping at Oliver Lake
Camp is the best place to be in the summer. Secluded and away from the every day city life, you can truly relax and disconnect.
Now if your looking for a thrill, although the “official” cliffs have been closed to the public at Oliver Lake for several years, an insider has told me you can still swim to another secret location just past the old jumping hot spot, and take the exhilarating plunge. This one is definitely a good place to start if you have never been cliff jumping before. It’s safe, there is lots of room to jump and the water is deep.
10. Silver Falls
Silver Falls Trail is one of the classic hiking trails in the Thunder Bay area, that I was shockingly only introduced to last year. The trail follows the Kam River past several small waterfalls up to a lookout over a river valley, with many awesome scenic views along the way. While hiking, you will find many blueberry patches, so make sure to keep an eye and ear out for black bears. When you start your hike, you will stumble across a first set of falls, be sure to continue on…because bigger and more vast falls are straight ahead. This hike is more of a longer challenging trek compared to any others on this list, but there is a lot to take in a long the way.
11. Long Island Ice tea
It tastes like summer and is sure to bring a good time (whether you remember it or not)… I am talking about the infamous Long Island Iced Tea. The cocktail where four different spirits collide, to create a mighty powerful and fun drink with a kick. So who does it best? Easy- the Sovereign Room. Don’t even try it anywhere else. Leave it to the trusty bartenders at the Sov. This ultra bright, citrusy flavoured drink, is pretty smooth…so smooth that it barely tastes like a cocktail, and that’s exactly why it’s also one of the sneakiest drinks of them all.
AND although it may be called an iced tea, looks like an iced tea and even tastes like an iced tea, there’s actually not a drop of tea in it, just rum, gin, tequila, triple sec…. and a bunch of other ingredients.
But drinkers beware, limit yourself to one or two, because I can attest, this drink is responsible for a few stories of irresponsibility and more hangovers than I really wanted. ☺
12. Kama Cliffs Trail & Nipigon Lookout
This summer favourite takes you about an hour and twenty minutes outside of Thunder Bay. You will find the Kama Cliffs Trail past the small town of Nipigon, that will give you one of the most spectacular views of Lake Superior and Kama Point, but you are going to have to work to get there. Although locals have explored various versions of this trail for years, a maintained and cut trail officially opened just last summer, but it is still quite the journey.
It’s a well-defined and well-marked trail, that will take you across little streams, uphill, and walking on the edge of cliffs. The lookout itself, is an open area you won’t miss. It’s a flat rocky spot that offers the most dramatic landscapes of the north shore. I have done this hike annually for the past ten years, and its a view and journey that never gets old.
If your not too tired to keep climbing, pull off the highway into Nipigon on the way back to Thunder Bay, to visit its new lookout that takes it’s “natural edge” reputation to a whole new level. You will get a panoramic view of the area from the Railway Street tower site, that has the highest elevation in the entire community. The 40-foot high structure gives you a 360-degree perspective of the northern town and all of its surroundings including the Nipigon River Bridge and Lake Helen.
I also recommend popping into the local stores and shops and taking in the town from the Sunnyside Cafe, which overlooks the Nipigon River and Marina. Order the pickerel for lunch, you won’t be disappointed.
Fun Fact: Nipigon is home to the world-record Brook Trout. If you want to start conversation, mention how you heard the 14-pound, 8-ounce Brookie was caught in Red Rock.
Fishing, to me, is about packing up the boat and then getting to that one special place that you claim as your own. That place where your dad took you when you were little and you caught your very first fish. Fishing is actually not just about catching fish, its about stories… and everybody loves a good fishing story— like the time I caught that 17-pound salmon at noon in the middle of June on Lake Superior. It happened, I swear. (Just make sure you bring a camera because odds are, nobody will believe you.)
It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, adult, senior, boy, girl, or cat… fishing is truly fun for everyone. There’s definitely something to be said about that rush you get when you hook a fish. It’s like filming your own episode of Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing.
It’s been the talk of the town, and I haven’t been on it since I was three, but the Muskeg Express is on track to run again this summer and you most definitely will want to jump a board. This past spring, city councillors agreed to spend $50,000 to repair the amusement train ride, to get it back on the rails since being decommissioned in 2016.
The Muskeg Express has been an attraction at Centennial park for more than 50 years. The train takes passengers through part of the 1,500 acre park that was developed back in 1967. Built to represent the history of logging, check out the rest of one of Thunder Bay’s most treasured parks, that includes recreational trails, an animal farm, playground, replicas of old logging equipment, and the reproduction of a 1910 bush camp.
And no, you’re never too old to take a ride on the Muskeg Express. Do it.
15.BrewHa! Craft Beer Festival
The party continues! Created by friends who were looking to put on a big party for their community back in 2014, the 4th annual Brew Ha! Craft Beer Festival returns to Thunder Bay August 10th and 11th. With more than 50 craft beer samplings from over 20 breweries, year after year the party keeps getting bigger and better.
Bringing new and exciting breweries into the fold and offering beers that drinkers can’t get elsewhere, this staple event will take over Prince Arthur’s Landing also featuring local food and music, not to mention good times with friends… about 3500 of them.
Not a beer drinker? Well this year the event will also have other bevys available for you to enjoy, such as coolers and vodka drinks.
16. Finlandia Market
Pies, jams, shirts, plants- looking for locally crafted items and some sweet treats? Venture down to the corner of Bay & Algoma Streets beside the Hoito to find the Finlandia Market every Saturday this summer between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. With all the baking and craft vendors at the market, you’re sure to find a quick yummy snack, a unique gift for someone’s birthday, camp decor, or something for the garden.
New vendors pop up each week, and remember, when you buy local, it stays local. The market is hosted by the Finlandia Association of Thunder Bay.
Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLauchlan, Pat Benetar…GIRL POWER….enough said. This will be the event of the summer and it’s almost sold out which means you will see all of your BFF’s there. In its 17 year history, I think this will be the best Bluesfest to date. All I wanna do is have some fun, and soak up the sun—see what I did there?
Between the headliners alone, you have a Canadian music icon and founder of Lilith Fair, an artist who has sold 50,000 albums, and a multi-platinum selling rockstar. I don’t need to convince you… why don’t you have your tickets?
July 6th to the 8th at Marina Park. Dancing is required. Sitting is not aloud. 😉
18.Alexander Henry Tour
It’s been 60 years since the Alexander Henry went into the water in the Thunder Bay harbour, working the Great Lakes until the mid 1980’s as an icebreaker. The ship was built by the Port Arthur Shipping Company, and returned to its home in Thunder Bay last June, after being on display at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston.
At the end of the month you will be able to go aboard the historic vessel and explore the ship that has been restored to its original state, now including mini museums. Tours will take place Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm at the Pool 6 Dock.
Charlie Brown, the head of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society, explains that the ship is really impressive once you get on it. He recalls the days that it use to take families and workers to the lighthouses, and thinks many people will remember it opening the spring shipping season in the harbour. “It’s quite a historic ship and one of the last ones from that day and age.”
19. Grand Marais & The Mayhew Inn
We have a great neighbour. Located about 40 minutes past the US border and situated on the northwestern shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais is one of America’s coolest small towns. No, really, it was voted to take the title, and it’s not because of the weather. It’s a tourist destination in itself, with restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, bistros, a brewery, villas and so much to do outside.
Did I mention it also has The World’s Best Donuts? Located on Wisconsin Street, go take a bite of the World’s best, know for its cinnamon sugar cake donuts.
If your adventurous, take a drive to the near by landmark known as Devil’s Kettle Falls. This water portal to nowhere has long puzzled Minnesotans for years. Half of a waterfall goes into the river; the other half disappears.
And if you plan on staying the night, be sure to book one of the six units at the new Mayhew Inn. The boutique hotel located right on Main Street in downtown Grand Marais, has the best views of the harbor and features really unique and themed rooms. The common spaces include turntables with vinyl, a majestic outdoor fireplace, a custom pizza oven, and a really cool rooftop patio.
Also check out the Voyageur Brewery. It feels like home and has this unreal cucumber blonde ale. If you visit, please bring me back a growler of it and one of the plaid hats.
Fun Fact: Joseph Mayhew was the first lighthouse keeper in Grand Marais in 1886. They had a house on the point and then built the first lodging establishment in the town called The Mayhew Hotel.
20. Weekly Wednesday Trivia Night
Are you a bit of a know-it-all? Want to show off all the obscure facts, arcane vocabulary, and seemingly useless bits of TV knowledge that you’ve accumulated throughout the years? ME TOO!!!! Join the very entertaining Chris Barstow, as he tackles a wide range of topics and issues in modern pop culture at the Foundry’s Weekly Wednesday Trivia Night.
I truly believe it’s a badge of honour to know exactly how many half sisters Meredith Grey has, which team Iceman is on, or what Mr.Big’s real name is. So prove to your friends, strangers, and yourself that being a know-it-all isn’t always a bad thing (bonus: there are also prizes!).
How can you succeed? Bring a dream team of pals whose individual areas of expertise are just as diverse as the questions are.
Warning- people do take this seriously. Prepare for some intense competition. No you can’t be googling things on your cell, or call a friend. Show up early to grab a chair. It fills up fast!
Now go, Bay Awesome! xo
(Photography at the Shake Shoppe/cover photo by: DZ Photography)