Fall Color Trip to Thunder Bay
During our recent Minnesota North Shore Color Tour, we decided to extend our travels to run up as far north as Thunder Bay, Ontario. The color was not as striking as what we found along Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Highway 61. Part of this reason is this far north we are getting into primarily Boreal forest with fewer hardwood trees in general and what is there are Aspen and some birch. Except in certain areas you don’t see the broad display of colors produced by the Maples, Oaks, Hickory, Sumac, Ash and other trees and shrubs characteristic of a Northern Hardwood forest. Yet the air was crisp, the sky was blue, and some nice scenery and fall color pictures none-the-less. The landscape leading to and around Thunder Bay is dotted with steep-sided ridges and flat-topped Mesas that jump up from the otherwise flat landscape. These distinctive formations of shale and greywacke are protected by an overlay of diabase rock which prevented them from being eroded and washed away by glacial meltwater and eons of wind and rain.
We came to Thunder Bay to primarily to visit Fort William and play the golf course at Whitewater Golf Club. Jo and I have been through and stayed in the Thunder Bay area several times but never have worked a visit to Fort William Historical Park into our itinerary so we targeted Fort William as a must-see on this visit.
Unfortunately, while the park was open they didn’t have their usual cast of re-enactors populating the village. In fact many of the buildings within the fort complex were closed, including the lookout tower that gives you an overhead view of the entire fort. In place of an active fort replicating life two hundred years ago, we got a guided hour and half long tour of a few of the buildings and operations. Our tour host provided what we found was an overly long dissertation into minutae that most of us had little interest in. Also unfortunate was the fact that the admission price ($13.50) was not reduced in line with the reduction in presentation. My recommendation would be either close the facility when the re-enactors retire for the season or offer a fall self-guided tour for about $5.00. Our visit did, however, give a hint at why this is a very popular historical attraction during its normal season. There are about 40 buildings within the trading post and in its day in addition to being the key post of the North West Trading Company it was essentially a self-sufficient city with all the usual artisans and crafts people a city requires, including its own farm. I would enjoy a return visit during the season to see this operation running at full capacity, instead of deserted . . . as it was during our visit.
The next day Dan and I golfed at Thunder Bay’s Whitewater Golf Club while Jo and Donna did some shopping and did the river walk in Centennial Park. The golf course was in great shape and offered a number of challenging and enjoyable holes including a few scenic ones with dramatic elevation changes. The course also offered a fall rate and a super discount for afternoon golf in October. Given the sunny and warm weather we had during this trip, and the good shape of the course, this was an especially good deal. Good enough to attract golfers staying in Grand Marais, Minnesota to take take an hour and half drive north to golf Thunder Bay’s Whitewater Course. You can go to our Golf Course Review of Whitewater Golf Course for more detailed information.
The girls enjoyed the Centennial Park trail – scenic and even though a city park trail on a beautiful Saturday, it was not crowded. The trail is paved during its entire length to accommodate both walkers and bikers. It tracks a portion of the Current River as well as goes around Boulevard Lake. They also wanted to visit Port Arthur’s Marina Park but it was closed undergoing some extensive remodeling and improvements. Next time we are in town we will stop there as we always enjoy strolling around this particular park.
During our visit to Thunder Bay we discovered a few exceptional places to eat. One was Chicago Joe’s Restaurant on Arthur Street about a half mile east of the airport. Jo and I stumbled upon this place about 10 years ago when we stayed nearby. We couldn’t remember the name, however, only approximately where it was located. So this trip we retraced our footsteps from our previous hotel and our memory came back when we got to the Victorian Inn and saw the name Chicago Joe’s on the marquee. Nice how some things stay the same. The wait service was outstanding: attentive, cheerful, and prompt. Among the four of us we had a variety of fare. All were finished to perfection and the quantities quite ample. The brews were served cold each in a signature glass for the brewery. Jo’s wine, although a smaller five ounce serving, was served in a large wine glass, allowing lots of breathing room. Small but classy touches.
The next day we had a restaurant recommendation to try Prospectors Steak House near the Port Arthur waterfront. Again, great service, great food, good quantities. And although known for steak, they do a decent job on fish, fowl, and pizza too. Also have a quite extensive salad bar. Funky atmosphere and even though crowded with patrons, we didn’t have to wait long for our food. The wait staff really hustle here.
All in all a good time in Thunder Bay. Discovered some great places to eat and a very nice golf course. Jo is looking forward to returning and checking out the new and improved Marina Park and I’d like to sample some of the city’s municipal golf courses plus do a retake at Whitewater. We’d also like to spend some time at nearby Sleeping Giant Provincial Park as it is loaded with interesting hiking trails and scenic vistas. Here’s a link to Thunder Bay’s Visitor Pages
PS. A note for RV’ers and campers. The municipal campgrounds close after Labor Day weekend and the new campground at Fort William closed mid-September. So if you are traveling to Thunder Bay in the fall your main choice for camping or an RV Park is the KOA Campground north of town near the Terry Fox Visitor Information Center. The fees are a little higher than we usually pay but the park is an excellent, super clean facility with lots of activities for families with kids.