British newspaper highlights Thunder Bay.
Jun 30, 2018 07:06AM ● Published by Editor
On Voyageur Island, overlooking Ontario’s Nym Lake, I sat outside my log cabin and appreciated the stillness – the peace interrupted, every now and then, by the haunting call of a nearby loon. This idyllic little corner of the world is 160 kilometres west of the vibrant city of Thunder Bay but feels a million miles away from reality, a popular base for adventure seekers who come to kayak across its thousands of lakes.
Nym Lake is on the border of Quetico Provincial Park and I’d signed up for the Voyageur Wilderness Programme, run by friendly husband-and-wife team Michelle and Dale.
Kayakers can spend weeks without seeing another human being, if they wish – their days are whiled away on the water, hopping from one lake to another using portages (trails which vary from a few metres in length to several kilometres).
And their nights are spent at isolated campsites or on Voyageur Island, enjoying Michelle and Dale’s delicious home-cooked food before retreating to a cosy communal bunkhouse or a gorgeous log cabin like mine.
On my first morning, I set out on a boat trip with Michelle, drifting up to a nearby island and walking along one of the shorter portages, listening to wildlife rustling through the undergrowth and breathing in the scent of pine.
Luckily, I’m not carrying a kayak, but those who first travelled these paths were carrying much more.
They were Voyageurs – French Canadians who worked in the fur trade during the late 17th and mid-19th Centuries.
It was backbreaking work.
They transported furs all over northwestern Canada, paddling thousands of miles and hauling bales of fur along portages, sleeping on sandy beaches under their canoes.
First Nations people, such as the Ojibwe, were the main suppliers of furs and often worked as guides.
Today, their ancient pictographs, depicting canoes and moose, can be seen throughout the park.
My sadness at leaving Nym Lake is offset by a delicious lunch at nearby Perch Lake Lodge, in the small town of Atikokan.
It’s a family-friendly, cheap and cheerful lakeside set-up, popular with visitors who come to fish and hunt. I enjoy my enormous burger with a side order of people watching, eavesdropping as locals discuss pressing issues of the day: the humongous perch caught on the lake that morning, or a bear-related near miss on the highway.
Sadly, it’s time to return to civilisation – in this case, Thunder Bay, a small city on the edge of Lake Superior. It’s a three-hour drive, although I quickly learn that anything less than four hours is considered a short hop for locals.
Not that Thunder Bay feels like a city.
On the outskirts, we stop at Kakabeka Falls, a spectacular waterfall surrounded by nature trails. Later, I spot one of the many deer, which live in the city’s forested, pine tree-scented outskirts.
Trees have always had special significance here. Thunder Bay, once filled with lumber mills, was the biggest paper supplier to North America’s newspaper industry.
GETTY Check out Kakabeka Falls – a roaring waterfall just outside Thunder Bay.
With the advent of the internet, demand plummeted.
Thousands of residents abandoned the city, but today they’re returning in droves, often after a stint in larger Canadian cities. Many grew up here before leaving, only to be lured back by Thunder Bay’s enormous potential, and the vast tracts of wilderness just outside the city.They’re setting up restaurants, bars and boutiques and injecting Thunder Bay with new life.
GETTY Visit Quetico Park Information Pavilion, Atikokan, to learn about the region and admire artifacts.
The beautiful waterfront areas have experienced the biggest revamp, with its once-dilapidated train station being turned into stylish apartments and several new hotels due to open.
I loved the downtown area’s first hostel, the achingly cool Haven Hostel.
The two-hour Toronto to Thunder Bay route is one of the busiest for regional Canadian airlines, but still feels gloriously undiscovered by tourists from further afield.
My advice? Book early, before this lovely little corner of Canada is uncovered.
WAY TO GO
Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies from London Heathrow to Thunder Bay (via Toronto) from £606 return.
Suites at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Thunder Bay (marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/yqtts-towneplace-suites-thunder-bay) start from £100.
For more on Thunder Bay and the surrounding region, go to visitthunderbay.com/en/index.aspx.
GETTY Sign up for kayaking or fishing trips, or just kick back and take in the spectacular views.
Ten things you must do from Thunder Bay
1 Head out to Voyageur Island, on the border of Quetico Provincial Park. Sign up for kayaking or fishing trips, or just kick back and take in the spectacular views.
2 Check out Kakabeka Falls – a roaring waterfall just outside Thunder Bay.
3 Visit the famous Lac La Croix ponies at the Grey Raven Ranch at the Seine River First Nation. Ranch owner Darcy Whitecrow is passionate about preserving this rare breed.
4 Wander Quetico Provincial Park’s Paul Kane Trail. It leads to the setting that inspired the Canadian artist’s famous painting, French River Rapids.
5 Explore Lake Superior on a beautiful sailing boat (see sailsuperior.com).
GETTYExplore Lake Superior on a beautiful sailing boat.
6 Visit Quetico Park Information Pavilion, Atikokan, to learn about the region and admire artefacts spanning 9,000 years.
7 Stop by the Atikokan Centennial Museum, which looks at Atikokanites’ love of canoeing and the region’s connections with the lumber and mining industries.
8 Set sail on a tour of the Thunder Bay harbour…
9 …then check out the revamped waterfront. Bight Restaurant & Bar is famous for its delicious seasonal food.
10 Head to Mount McKay Scenic Lookout for breathtaking views over Lake Superior and Thunder Bay.