Opasatika

Opasatika is a former mill town with about 300 residents set on the Opasatika River.

Opasatika, Ontario, Highway 11 fish

This is actually pretty cool in person. Well done, Opaz.

Opaz (as it is commonly called along northern Highway 11) used to have its own mill (and supposedly, from what I was told, its own dance club), but changes to the forestry industry in northern Ontario have meant that a lot of the smaller mills are being closed.  This means that communities like Opasatika, Smooth Rock, and Longlac are losing their mills, and fighting for their lives in the process. I was told that it used to be that there was a little mill in each little town from Hearst through to Smooth Rock.

Of course, Opasatika has its “some weird big thing” as you enter the town.  There’s a random fish statue . There’s also a mini logging boat sitting in the field.  Normally there are plaques for these kinds of things but not here – I guess everyone around here is just in-the-know. A resident emailed me to tell me that the fish was supposed to have a commemorative plaque, and be the start of a historical site. However, progress was delayed when the town mill was closed – and subsequently, all civic efforts have gone into finding a solution for the mill. That’s understandable, and unfortunate.

Lumber boat, Opasatika, Ontario Highway 11

Take note Longlac – it is obvious what this boat’s purpose is

Opasatika (pronounced locally as Opa-set-ticka) also has a nice little waterfront park with a boat launch to the river, and two marshes – du Village and des Lambert.  Sixty kilometres south of Opasatika you can find Christopher Waterfall which leads into Rufus Lake.

Opasatika River launch, Highway 11

NO SWIMMING. Okay Opaz, you made it clear.

As for businesses, Magazin Martel is a depanneur with a little LCBO outlet.  Mandy’s Beanerie serves coffee and meals as well.  There might be more for food and services, but I’m not sure. I haven’t been back in a while.

There used to be a mushroom farm in Opasatika.  I’m not sure if it is still running. I don’t know if it gives tours, but you could enquire – I’ve always found visiting any kind of factory/workplace type thing to actually pretty interesting. The farmhouse you see on the right is actually in Val Rita, and has some personal significance to its owner, a testament to the agriculture that used to occur in this area.Lonely farm, Opasatika, Highway 11On a personal note, Opasatika is the first place where my car was chased by a dog on the journey.  Imagine, if you live on Highway 11 and you have a dog that chases cars or trucks?  Boy are you in trouble…

Thanks to Anick for help with Opaz.

Hearst

There’s something really interesting about Hearst.

Hearst is the frontier of northern Ontario – you either live in Hearst, east of Hearst, or you live waaaaaaaaaaaaaay west of it.  It even has a Northern Store (how’s that for remote.)

Hearst, Ontario on Highway 11

Hearst from the air

Where else would a town of 6000 have so many bars, the “northern ballet”, and yet still have four or five churches?

What other place keeps you in their town by telling you just how far away everywhere else is?  I mean, Longlac is 210 kilometres west, with nothing in between.  Hearst has the last McDonald’s for 500 kilometres – I know it because I checked, in person. There isn’t another McD’s until Thunder Bay

The tourist office in Hearst. Highway 11

The tourist office in Hearst. So awesome.

I once applied for a government job in Hearst, but never got an interview.  To be fair, I realize now that I was woefully underqualified.  I swear that the ad had listed French as “an asset”.  Well, no French isn’t an asset – in Hearst, it’s a requirement.

One of the most interesting things about Hearst, however, is that it is the most francophone community in Ontario – something like 85-90 percent.  Hearst even has residents that only speak French, and no English.  Rue George is the downtown drag and it’s really cute, with small shops, a library, a diner, and a movie theatre showing French-language movies.  It’s reminds me of Penetanguishene, but more with more French.

Hearst, OntarioI (h)EART (h)EARST

Erst (as it is pronounced locally) is a pretty special town.  It has:

•    The motto: “The Moose capital of Canada” (or so they boast)
•    The only tin man on Highway 11 (he keeps watch over an appliance store)
•    The most millionaires per capita (or so someone emailed, apparently it’s due to the local forestry?)
•    The largest moose sculpture on Highway 11 (Believe me, I’ve seen them all)
•    The most suburbs (two) of any small town Highway 11 town (take that, King Kirkland or Geraldton East)
•    The most truckstops per capita (or so I’ve calculated, roughly)
•    The biggest woodpile on Highway 11 (I’ve seen them all too)

Trust me.  When it's not getting snowbombed, Hearst's downtown is super cute

Trust me. When it’s not getting snowbombed, Hearst’s downtown is super cute.  The problem is that it gets hammered all the time.

Heck, I’ve been to Hearst three times.  Most of the photos here are from the first time that I hadn’t been snowed in (because it was August.)  Both other times, I was stuck for three days in storms even that locals found nasty.

Set on the Mattawishkwia River, Hearst is a forestry town (hence the massive woodpile.)  It also has a tourism industry set around hunting, outfitters, and its proximity to three Provincial Parks:  Fushimi Lake, Missinaibi and Nagagamisis.  It is also the end of the Algoma Line, which runs fall colours rail tours from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst.

Despite its francophone heritage, Hearst was once the site of a Slovak settlement.  Bradlo, nestled 11 kilometres south of Hearst, the community persisted until the 1950s when the residents realized that the land was agriculturally marginal, and wouldn’t support farming in a modern economy.

Sculpture jsut outside of Hearst

Hearst is so cool, this wolf vs. moose sculpture doesn’t even count as their “some big weird thing”…

Hearst tin man, Highway 11

…instead, this does!

Food and Fun in a Frontier Town

Hearst is a center for most of the little communities west of Kapsukasing, and is the largest town between Thunder Bay and Kapsukasing on Highway 11.  And probably for Hornepayne on Highway 631, about an hour and a half south.  (Head off-route and take a trip along 631 here.)

No McDonald's for 500 km in Hearst, Highway 11

I’ve used this photo about a twenty-two times on this website and it never gets old

Therefore, Hearst has an abundance of services.  It has the only McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s that you’ll see until Thunder Bay.  In addition to the 24-hour garage and towing company that is advertised throughout northern Ontario, there are shops downtown and food everywhere.  Hearst also has an overabundance of places that serve Northern Ontario Chinese Food.

Hearst has something for everyone – the northern ‘hotel’ scene (the Waverly or the Windsor), cafés (although Café Duo doesn’t serve coffee, go figure), fast food (McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, and the only Pizza Pizza west of Timmins), authentic chip stands (Micko’s is great), sit down restaurants (Mom’s, John’s, Pizza Place has ok pasta), fine dining (you can find filet mignon, steak, and Cuban cigars at Ailleurs), and even a little night club (OK, fine, it’s the bar at the Companion.)

Snowstorm, Hearst, Highway 11

Highway 11 in Hearst, getting walloped, again

There are motels aplenty in Hearst so you should have no trouble finding a place to stay.  (A note to those staying at the Queens Motel, keep your kids away from the funny channels at the end of the TV dial there!)  There is also hockey in the winter – in fact, Hearst is the hometown of Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers superstar, as well as Pierre LeBrun, a hockey commentator who has appearanced on TSN, ESPN, and Hockey Night in Canada. Hearst is home to the local team les Elans de Hearst. And, there is bowling.

Come on, it’s northern Ontario. Of course there is bowling!

Super awesome Hearst woodpile, Highway 11

Hearst – simply the best woodpile of any Highway 11 community

Hearst, Ontario highway11.ca

And this is what happens to a woodpile on Highway 11, in Hearst (Credit: Wiki Commons contributor P199)

 

Hearst, Ontario airport

Not sure why I took a photo of Hearst’s airport

Constance Lake

Constance Lake off Highway 11

Turn north just west of Hearst to get to Constance Lake

Constance Lake is about six kilometres north of Highway 11. Constance Lake First Nation is a fairly nice community of about 700 people.  I’ve visited a few times but never thought to take photos before this trip, however I was anxious to make it past Hearst before lunch and therefore didn’t stop in on this journey.

There are advertisements for an Ojibway-Cree Heritage Centre on Highway 11 just west of Constance Lake.  However I think it is still under construction, even though it planned to open in June 2006.  This will likely be a worthwhile attraction for anyone driving between Hearst and Longlac.

Constance Lake First Nation, highway11.ca

I almost ended up playing Friday night BINGO in Constance Lake and have always regretted that I didn’t get to have the experience.  Or a shot at winning a truck!Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

You can get gas in town at Norm’s Gas Bar, and for food there’s Kendra’s Diner on the outskirts of Constance Lake.  Other services include the Sutherland General Store, an outfitters, and a shop called Crafts and Things.  There’s also a post office and the Lecours Lumber operation.

Constance Lake is also home to a power project that uses discarded wood fibre to make energy.  It is visible from Highway 11, about 10 kilometres before you turn off to Constance Lake.

Calstock Mill, constance lake, ontario highway 11 highway11.ca

The mill at Calstock, just south of Constance Lake. (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Longlac

Longlac is approximately half way between Toronto and Winnipeg, and is 320 kilometres from Thunder Bay. So for me, on one particularly longish trip, making it to Longlac was kindofabigdeal.

There is nothing between Hearst and Longlac save for maybe a gas station (and I mean maybe) and the Klotz Lake washroom/swimming combo rest station on the side of the road.  The drive seems. to. take. for. ever. (ok I think I got my point across, it’s probably not that bad.)

Longlac welcome sign, Highway 11

Longlac’s fur trader welcome statue was somehow both cheesier and cooler in person

So, for me at least, the oncoming arrival of Longlac was a big deal – finally, the end of this 200 kilometre stretch of nothingness…! It’s no surprise that the town’s Protestant church is named St. John-in-the-Wilderness.  And it wasn’t founded in the fur trading days either – this was founded ‘in the wilderness’ in, wait for it, 1943.

Today, Longlac is a former paper and forestry town trying to reinvent itself in a difficult economy and represents the westernmost edge of northern Ontario’s francophone belt – just under half its residents are French-speakers.  Hence the local  caisse.

Not immediately evident that this guy is supposed to pull logs

Not immediately evident that this guy is supposed to pull logs

When you get into the town you’re immediately greeted by a horse statue and two beached boats.  The horse is pulling logs (which you can’t see unless you climb up the little hill to the statue itself.)  I think the boats are supposed to carry logs too. They seem to be the remains of a former miniputt course.  It’s too bad it can be a bit confusing to the visitor.

Loggin boat, Longlac, Ontario Highway 11

Also not immediately evident that this is supposed to pull logs too

Longlac has a long history.  Prior to 1800 the town was a North West Company trading post.  In 1814, the Hudson Bay Company set up a rival post, and in the spirit of modern commercialism the two merged in 1821. There is a historical plaque with a statue of two guys in a canoe, representing the role of Aboriginal peoples and fur traders in building Longlac.  There’s also a town history board back at the tourist office/former mini putt site.

Longlac used to be a mill town but today, no mills operate in Longlac.  All three have shut down in the last few years. “Founded on fur, sustained by the forest” is Longlac’s motto, and considering that the forestry industry is contracting in northern Ontario, you have to wonder what a town of 1200ish will find to sustain itself. What other jobs can there be in the area? How long before parents have to start working in Alberta? It is communities like Longlac that you really feel for – they’ve survived this long.

Longlac, Ontarios main drag...don't hit the light posts!  (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons)

Forestry Road – Longlac, Ontario’s main drag…don’t hit the light posts! (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons)

Longlac’s main strip is Forestry Road, which runs perpendicular to Highway 11.  It has a row of streetlights right in the middle of the road, which practically invites you to play a game of bumper cars with your vehicle.  What happens if you have to swerve for a dog?

Longlac has the requisite truck stops and third tier franchises of a Highway 11 town, with places like Robin’s Doughnuts and 2 for 1 Pizza.  There’s an LCBO outlet, a bed and breakfast (Lily’s), and what seems like the newest Rexall pharmacy in Canada.  (It is so shiny and suburban that it looks a bit out of place.)

Abandoned mini putt in Longlac, Highway 11

Abandoned mini putt in Longlac, Highway 11.  I thought the horse and boat belonged to the mini putt!

Apartments in Longlac, highway 11

Seriously? This is northern Ontario after all.

I hope to visit again. Maybe someone can send me an email and let more know a bit more so I can add it here.

Beardmore

Eighty kilometres west of Geraldton is Beardmore, the “Gateway to Lake Nipigon.”

Welcome to Beardmore, Ontario

Not a pride parade float, it’s the welcome to Beardmore sign!

Beardmore started out as a flag station on the CNR before finding itself in the middle of the Lake Nipigon gold ‘rush’ in the 1930s.  The town faced ‘rapid expansion’ after gold was found on the Sturgeon River, as evidenced by the Timmins-style hotels that unfortunately no longer serve as watering holes for the community.

Today, it’s a town of about 200 people focusing on forestry and serving as a take-off point for camping and boating near Lake Nipigon.  So it’s pretty small, and pretty quiet.  But what Beardmore lacks in amenities it makes up in uniqueness. I liked Beardmore.

Beardmore church

A church in Beardmore – completely unrelated to the text that appears above or below this photo

Beardmore is known for Vikings.

The Beardmore Relics, which were purported to be a cache of Viking artifacts, were found near the town in the early 1930s.

The relics – including an old sword, and axe, and a piece of a shield – were supposedly found while a prospector was panning for gold, and for a time were claimed as evidence that Vikings explored much further than Vinland, Markland, and Helluland while they were in North America, and that they explored parts of northern Ontario and maybe even Minnesota.

The Royal Ontario Museum purchased the relics and displayed them for about twenty years until they were forced to hold a public enquiry as to whether the relics were actually found in Beardmore, or imported by Scandinavian settlers desperate for a historic taste of home and passed off as a discovery in an elobarate hoax.

Beardmore, Ontario on Highway 11 Ontario highway11.ca

Highway 11 as it runs through Beardmore, Ontario.  Note the lounge-hotel at right, once a fixture of every town in northern Ontario.  (Photo: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

In the “some big weird thing” sweepstakes Beardmore doesn’t disappoint.  Beardmore is also home to what it claims is the world’s largest snowman.  Does the title still count even though he’s not made of snow?  During the summer, the apparently nameless snowman sports sunglasses and fishing rod to signify that anything you can do, a snowman can do way cooler.

Beardmore, Highway 11's snowman capital, with the world's largest " snowman "

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor heat, nor hail will keep Beardmore’s snowman from standing watch over the community

The town sign isn’t just a normal wooden sign.  They’ve spelled out Beardmore on railroad ties in rainbow-coloured letters that you can’t miss. The town also has these nice new ‘Welcome to Beardmore’ pennants hanging from the lampposts.

This is what I love about Highway 11 communities.  They have pride. They have spunk. They have a sense of community. And this sense of community means that they’re not afraid to try.

Sometimes when you’re from a larger place you forget that, no matter where you’re from or where you live, everyone has some sense of pride in their hometown.  Beardmore is a place that reminds you of this.

Beardmore, Ontario war memorial - Highway 11Today Beardmore is a forestry and outfitting town, with a baseball field, a church, some gas stations and about 40 or 50 houses.  There is a Legion in town too.  Beardmore is the only real stop between Geraldton and Lake Nipigon, a 170 kilometre journey.

Beardmore is also where renowned artist Norval Morrisseau first showed his work to a Toronto exhibitor.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay has a big random curling rock statue?  A massive four city-block-long woodpile?  Statues of polar bears, even though polar bears live nowhere nearby?  Yes honey, we're still in northern Ontario.

Thunder Bay has a big random curling rock statue?  A massive four city-block-long woodpile? Statues of arctic animals that live nowhere nearby?  Thunder Bay may be the big city but we’re still in northern Ontario.

I once heard a pretty prominent Canadian comedian joke something to the effect that there’s a reason that the Marathon of Hope ended in Thunder Bay.

I never really got the joke.  Maybe it’s because the city’s initials stand for a deadly disease, but I haven’t figured out what he was talking about. I like Thunder Bay.

TBay has a list of things going for it. TB has probably the best lookout on Highway 11 at the Terry Fox memorial.  It also has a majestic port bordered by rock formations on both sides.  There’s a pretty decent rap song about the city that was recently written up in the Toronto Star. It is the hometown of the most pro hockey players per capita. They have their own special foods that you can’t get anywhere else – superflat Finnish pancakes and their own type of doughnut. And I’m told that it has the largest Finnish population outside of Finland (more than 10 000…)
TB-16-TBay-SkylineThunder Bay:  A Tale of Two Cities

TB-16-TBay-Thunder Bay Demilitarized Zone

The TB DMZ. Keeping hostilities between Port Arthur and Fort William to a minimum since 1907.

Thunder Bay is actually two cities – Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated in 1970.

Since then, they really haven’t come together in a physical manner.  There is a bit of a ‘no man’s land’ between north and south Thunder Bay, filled with a golf course, a hospital, an expressway, and some suburban-style office parks.  The street names change between north and south.

So how did they choose the name “Thunder Bay”? I have no idea if this is true, but I once read in a book that when Port Arthur and Fort William merged in 1970, they couldn’t decide on a common name. In order to solve the problem, they held a referendum. As always, the voters were split. Some thought it should be named “Lakehead.” While others preferred the more regal-sounding “The Lakehead.” When the final tallies were counted, the two Lakehead options combined had a majority of votes. However, with the two camps splitting most of the vote, plucky little “Thunder Bay” slipped up the middle to win a plurality. Is it true? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s as if the two cities are still buffering against each other, or just don’t know what to do with the space between them. Is there animosity?  Bobby Curtola is from Port Arthur.  Paul Shaffer is from Fort William.  I don’t know if a rivalry exists, but there’s potential…

My first car had only AM radio.  Which means only oldies music.  Which means you hear a lot of Bobby Curtola to make up the CanCon requirements.

My first car had only AM radio. Which means only oldies music. Which means you hear a lot of Thunder Bay’s Bobby Curtola so the station can be in compliance with CanCon requirements.

Thunder Bay has a lot of variety in neighbourhoods.  Many parts are littered with old northern hotels and taverns (a la Timmins), while some residential areas have stately turn-of-the-century homes (a la Haileybury), while there are the 1960s suburbs (a la Etobicoke, but with bigger lawns), while Walsh Street is essentially a paved hydro corridor with homes on either side (a la Longlac.)  The whole situation means that, while Thunder Bay is a really nice city, it can be sprawly, confusing, and makes for horrible driving.

The Sleeping Giant, from Thunder Bay's waterfront

A not-so-great photo from yours truly of The Sleeping Giant, from Thunder Bay’s waterfront

Of course, nothing says ‘Thunder Bay’ to the history-conscious Canadian than grain elevators.  The prevalence of shipping means that the city is criss-crossed by train tracks, which pretty much cut off the city from most of its waterfront, save for a nice park in the north.  I think that the port in south Thunder Bay is bigger, but that the elevators in north Thunder Bay are near the waterfront park and therefore make for nicer photos.  There are beautiful views of Sleeping Giant (the big rock formation off the harbour) from both the waterfront marina park or from Hillcrest Park on High Street.

One of the coolest thing about Thunder Bay is the massive rock-bubble-things that border the south part of town.  You can’t miss them no matter where you look to the south.  They’re called the Nor’Westers (after the fur traders) and the largest (Mount McKay) is open for cars to drive up, for a small fee.  There’s something Rio de Janeiro-esque about it – they just need a statue on top, looking down over the city.

Maybe they can put a statue of a famous Thunder Bayer up there.  Again though, who to choose – Port Arthur’s Bobby Curtola or Fort William’s Paul Shaffer? I’ll pledge 50$ to that.

Thunder Bay has art grafitti. Yep it's big

Flashes of the cosmopolitan. (Photo credit: Lloyd from Wild Goose)

Thunder Bay:  The North’s New York City…?

Thunder Bay wins the north’s big city sweepstakes not only because it is the subject of a rap song (click here, the video is surprisingly good) or the presence of art graffiti but also because, compared to the rest of the north, Thunder Bay is practically a metropolis:

  • Thunder Bay has 110 000 people
  • Almost ten percent of them speak a language other than French or English (Finnish)
  • Thunder Bay has multiple occurrences of the same store or franchise
  • There are more stoplights than you can count on your hands and feet in Thunder Bay
  • Thunder Bay has satellite towns that resemble suburbs (real ones, not like the hamlets outside of Hearst or Geraldton)
  • Eight cities on four different continents around the world are twinned with Thunder Bay
  • Heck, Thunder Bay even has its own semi-pro soccer team that employs a handful of Brazilians for a few months every summer

But nothing shows off Thunder Bay’s cosmopolitan flair better than its International Friendship Garden.

The Thunder Bay Soroptimist International Friendship Garden - featuring installations from the Chinese, Dutch and Croatian communities.

The Thunder Bay Soroptimist International Friendship Garden – featuring installations from the Chinese, Dutch and Croatian communities.

The Garden was founded by various ethnic civic organizations to commemorate Canada’s centennial in 1967.  You can meet Croatia’s King Tomislav.  You can pose with the concrete geese representing Finland.  Italy, Scotland, Greece, India, the Philippines, and others are all there too.  It almost feels like a ‘mini-putt your way around the world’ exhibit that you’d find on Highway Six south of Hamilton.  Maybe it’s the Dutch windmill.  Or the random Italian villa surrounded by a chain-link fence.  Or maybe it’s the sawmill from Deutschland, which I thought was a garden shed until I spotted the faux waterwheel (sans water.)

However, you have to give TB some credit here.  It’s actually pretty cool and totally endearing. Most cities couldn’t have attempted this.  Fewer would have even considered it.

It’s more than a bit hokey, but that’s what makes it undeniably charming.  Sure, the Confucius statue and adjacent mini-pavilion looks like it could be beside Chinese restaurant in Markham, but who cares?  It’s a great park and apparently one of the ‘in’ spots for wedding photos in Thunder Bay.

No, we're not on the set of Logan's Run, these are the Finnish, Italian and Slovakian monuments at the Thunder Bay International Friendship Garden

No, we’re not on the set of Logan’s Run, these are the Finnish, Italian and Slovakian monuments at the Thunder Bay International Friendship Garden

If you’re in Thunder Bay, you need to try a Persian. A Persian is a holeless doughnut rubbed with cinnamon and topped with a bright pink sugary raspberry glaze. They were …ahem…”invented” in Thunder Bay (in the 1930s), perfected in Thunder Bay, and only sold in Thunder Bay.

These look so much bigger in real life

The Norwesters.  These look so much bigger in real life

A Persian is like the oil-soaked goodness of a fresh farmer’s market doughnut and and the sugaryness of a Beavertail all rolled up into one bundle of super fatty northern Ontario goodness. As one of my co-workers has told me, she works with people in Thunder Bay and when she asks them about Persians, she could practically hear their mouths water through the phone. When she goes there for meetings, she buys two flats and brings them back from Thunder Bay on the plane, and only one flat makes it back alive. But if you’re gonna take the plunge – make sure you avoid the chocolate and go for the real thing – the one with the pink topping.

That being said, they're eerily similar to the Unique to TBay - except they look like the Paczkis of Cleveland or the doughnuts of pretty much anywhere else.

Persians – unique to TBay, tho eerily similar to the Paczkis of Cleveland or the doughnuts of pretty much anywhere else.

There are two locations that sell Persians (the doughnuts – not the ancient peoples) – one on Tungsten (out by the university), and one on Balmoral. Just look for The Persian Man.

For non-doughnut grub and shopping the major streets are Red River and Memorial in north Thunder Bay, and Arthur in south Thunder Bay.  There is a real mall, a movie complex, the only Swiss Chalet since North Bay, some other chain restaurants, but no Giant Tiger (disappointing.). At one time, TBay had the only East Side Mario’s since Timmins but Keith emailed me to deliver the bad news – it is closed.

To-Do in TB

Thunder Bay - Art Gallery highway11.caAs far as culture, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the campus of Confederation College had a great Norval Morrisseau exhibition while I was there.  The gallery is small, but entrance is ridiculously cheap.  Thunder Bay also has a symphony, as well as a charity casino.  The corner of Algoma and Bay in north Thunder Bay is a bit of a hip spot, with some pubs, a hostel, and specialty shops nearby (a Finnish-language bookstore, and Finn-tastic Sauna and Gift Shop).  While I was there, an Italian festival had blocked off the intersection (beer tent + meatball & sausage stands + old nonnas telling you to eat more = my kind of thing!)  There’s also a really nice ballpark in Port Arthur that hosts The Thunder Bay Border Cats, a minor league team in one of the American independent leagues.

But as soon as you get start getting visions of grandeur, Thunder Bay returns to its northern roots.

There are all-you-can-eat cabbage rolls and pirogi every Friday from 12-1 at the Polish Hall on Algoma.  The Superior Bowladrome is one of four bowling alleys I counted in TB.

(Where I grew up we had double the population but only half the bowling alleys.)

There are the second- and third-tier franchises some common to the north – Robin’s Doughnuts gives Tim Horton’s a serious run for their money in northwestern Ontario, and especially in TB.  There is Tacotime, some sort of Mexican franchise that has placed its geometric cacti throughout the city. (This picture does not do those catci justice. And the food is pretty good too…)

highway11.ca TACO TIME - Thunder Bay, ON, Logan, UT, Toronto, ON

Taco Time! I’ve been obsessed with Taco Time ever since I visited the one in Thunder Bay (left photo) and came under the spell of its sort-of art deco cactus. I was overjoyed when I found one on my honeymoon in Logan, Utah, and when another opened in the Atrium on Bay in Toronto. Sadly, the Torontonians have no taste. :(

But for a real Thunder Bay meal, you need to go to the Hoito. It’s a diner serving traditional Finnish food, and in its heyday it was a focal point for the very politically-active Finnish community. There’s even been a book written on stories told in the diner. It’s located in the old Finnish Labour Temple, which the local community is working hard to restore.

There are also the totally random people.  I saw kids sitting unseatbelted (not even strapped in with a rope or duct-tape) on a flatbed truck, as well as roving from side-to-sid

e in the cargo hold of pickups. This wasn’t just in cottage areas, but on main drags like Arthur.  I learned that Vampiro, Canada’s top wrestler on the Mexican lucha libre circuit hails from TB.  In one of my strangest (?) memories, I witnessed a man smoking a cigar walk out of his home with his dog on a leash.  He walked across the street to a cemetery.  He let his dog poo in the cemetery, and he walked right back across the street to his home.  Gross, but funny. (Maybe this is the sort of thing that inspired White River‘s pet relief station.)

Finally, you know Thunder Bay is a true northern town as it obeys the two main laws of Highway 11 – that each city must have something big, and something in a pile.  Thunder Bay has both – its five-foot tall curling rock, and the ever-popular pile of wood.

View from Fort William First Nation, near Thunder Bay, Highway 11.ca

I used to have these teeny-tiny 200 pixel square photos of the Thunder Bay waterfront on this site.  What would this website be like without User P199 at Wikimedia Commons saving everyone from my pitiful photography?  (The photo at the top of the post is also his.)

Thunder Bay - Sleeping Gia highway11.ca

An absolutely killer photo of The Sleeping Giant, thanks to Wiki Commons contributor P199