Thunder Bay 101

It’s go time.

Shannon Anderson, Arts & Culture Editor

Crisper air, lengthening shadows, and a faint whiff of distant pumpkin spice lattes. Students, September has arrived. Welcome to everyone who is still freshly navigating L.U’s irksome and winding floor plans, and to returning students and staff, welcome back.

For newcomers to Thunder Bay, congratulations! You have chosen (even if temporarily) to make your home in a city of surprising history and culture. To kick off your year with some facts and figures and to welcome you in style, here is a small guide to your new neighbourhood.

The two little cities that could

What is now Thunder Bay began as the two smaller cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, an amalgamation which took place in 1970. This is why the respective north and south ends of the city are often still referred to by those names. A tedious and confusing hangover from this marriage of cities is that a number of long and useful streets in Thunder Bay have three names or more depending on what area of the city you’re in. Be prepared for May Street to become Memorial Avenue to become Algoma. A similar pattern repeats for Simpson Street, Fort William Road, Water Street, and Hodder Avenue… All of which are the same thoroughfare. You’ll get the hang of it, and we have some remarkably friendly bus drivers who can always be asked for more precise directions on wherever you might need to go.

A fun fact: The three names offered to be voted on for the newly joined city included Lakehead, The Lakehead, and Thunder Bay. Both versions of Lakehead were by far the most popular, but, in a manner similar to why we now have Stephen Harper as our Prime Minister, the two near names split the vote and the winner emerged as Thunder Bay.

History, demographics, and pancakes

Thunder Bay is inexplicably home to the highest concentration of people with Finnish origin per capita in the country, and the highest actual number of Finnish people in Canada after Toronto. This is a great boon to our city, not only for the cultural richness and history it offers, but for the almost unnecessary number of pancake restaurants. The Hoito, one of the jewels of the Bay-Algoma Historical District, is a local favourite and a long-standing tourist attraction. Not far from the area is the equally delicious Scand. House, and up the road is Kengas Sauna, where you can not only have breakfast and pancakes, but an old fashioned Finn sauna as well. All three locations boast supremely affordable comfort food and a wide selection of pies for the hungry student.

Want to grab a persian before the shag?

If that sentence confused you, you must visit The Persian Man (on either Central or Balmoral Avenues) immediately, and order the eponymous local treat. A fluffy cinnamon roll covered in bright pink icing awaits you, and it will be heavenly. As to the Shag business… well, Thunder Bay, being comparatively isolated from other metropolitan areas, has evolved a unique and colourful local culture complete with lingo. “Shag” is the colloquial combination of “Shower” and “Stag.” Engaged couples party together, publicly, often sponsored by local businesses to help them raise wedding money through raffles and ticket sales. Whether or not this display of hospitable capitalism is in good taste, a Shag is usually a great party for a small price at just about any local bar or hall, especially at Halloween and New Years. Yes, clothing must be worn.

Party meets artsy

Thunder Bay has a thriving music and art scene, and the twain often meet. Artist-run Definitely Superior Art Gallery routinely organizes events ranging from local art shows to massive music and art galas such as The Hunger and Derelicte. Magnus Theatre offers a varied season yearly for show-goers, and also offers student and adult acting workshops for the theatrically inclined. Looking for a spot before and after shows? The Bay-Algoma area, where many of these events occur, is a hotspot for locally owned pubs, coffee shops, boutiques. Music and dancing after dinner? Check out for local and guest line-ups weekly and monthly. If your taste runs more towards the literary, Thunder Bay still has you covered. Check out The Walleye and Bayview magazines, or get ahold of N.O.W.W, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, to work with local authors and publishers, attend workshops and poetry readings, and perhaps take advantage of their blue pencil peer editing group.

If this seemed like a lot of information, have no fear! The Argus will work to keep you informed of upcoming shows, community events, and places that we think you should check out for yourself. For those of you just arriving, Thunder Bay is a pretty cool place to experience, and we hope you like it. Locals? We can all stand to learn a little more about our home, and there is always something new to visit.