“We’re almost at the top!” I exclaimed out loud — more so to motivate myself than my dad who appeared to be effortlessly leaping up the top of the Giant trail, whereas my legs felt like I had bricks strapped to my shoes with each step upwards. Standing on the shores of the Thunder Bay marina, it’s easy to make out the outline of the Sleeping Giant in the distance, but the sheer magnitude of the natural landmark truly comes to life when you’re faced with climbing some of the tallest cliffs in Ontario. According to an old Ojibway legend, the giant is Nanabijou, who was turned to stone when the secret location of a nearby silver mine was revealed to greedy white men. Today’s mission, climbing to the top of the mesa to reach the Giant’s knees, is no small task — the trail is 22.4 km round trip — but as I get a bird’s-eye vantage of Lake Superior shimmering in Caribbean-like hues between a dramatic gorge from nearly 1,000 feet below, I get the overwhelming sense that every single step of the elevation gain was worth it. Out of hundreds of kilometres of trails found in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, this is the view that continues to draw people in from far and wide. Howling winds on a crisp November morning mean we don’t linger too long, but I know that this shared experience will stay with us for much longer. The following afternoon, I’ve come full-circle settling in for a rewarding flight of beer in the Sleeping Giant Brewing Company’s taproom next to a wall lined with an assortment of beer bottles from around the world. The craft brewery utilizes locally-sourced fresh water from Lake Superior and malt from Canada Malting Co. to create its flavourful beers. For anyone looking for inspiration for their next great post-pandemic road trip, Thunder Bay, should be a top contender. While people often drive through the city on the way out West, it’s worth more than just a stopover.
WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GROUP OF SEVEN
The impressive landscapes in the region are what first drew the legendary Group of Seven to the north shore of Lake Superior nearly 100 years ago. Today, some of the places that inspired the iconic artists can be discovered along a new self-drive route that traces the places and scenery that inspired their paintings. “Having experienced the rugged beauty of Algoma from 1918 to 1921, Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson decided to push further on to the north shore of Lake Superior in the fall of 1921,” explains Art Historian and Artist Michael Burtch. “From revelling in the riot of autumn colour on Superior’s east side to meditating on the broad mystical expanse of sky and inland sea on the north shore, Harris and Jackson, along with many other members of the Group of Seven, continued their annual painting expeditions to the region until 1928, and there produced many of their most iconic works, including Harris’ celebrated ‘North Shore, Lake Superior’ in 1926.” The Group is renowned for paintings that are inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement. “Driving the route today from Marathon to Thunder Bay, the breathtaking beauty of the many vistas over the lake make it easy to understand the Group’s fascination with the region,” says Burtch. “The constantly shifting moods of the lake, the dramatic sky and the towering, majestic landscape make the north shore one of the most scenic areas in Canada.”
While it may be the scenery that attracts travellers to this part of the country, there are no shortage of delicious things to taste while here. One local delight is the Persian, a pastry that the owner of Bennett’s Bakery and The Persian Man says can best be described as a rich cinnamon bun with an incredible icing topping. “This pastry has been a staple in Thunder Bay since the 1940s and has grown from there,” says Danny Nucci. “People that have lived here and moved away, have not forgotten [Persians]. They phone our office wanting us to ship Persians to them. We have shipped them all over the country.” On the average, the bakeries produce 100 dozen Persians a day from a secret recipe. The story goes that the treat was meant to be named after General Pershing of the First World War. Despite the wrongful spelling, the name stuck, and it indeed has nothing to do with the Middle East. Another must-try is Heartbeat Hot Sauce Co., a local business that started off as a hobby and quickly developed into a full-fledged small batch hot sauce production company. These also make for a great gift to bring back for friends and family back home. Finally, a notable option for those seeking a meal out on the town is Tomlin restaurant, which works alongside local producers to create seasonal family-style sharing plates. At the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant got a plug from Brian Baumgartner, the actor who played Kevin Malone on The Office.
IF YOU GO…
A WALK IN THE PARK
DO IT FOR THE ‘GRAM
Situated on the north shore of Lake Superior near Nipigon — about 100km from Thunder Bay — Ruby Lake Provincial Park is a non-operating park that is like discovering a hidden gem. The trail offers multiple stunning viewpoints overlooking the lake and Lake Superior from steep cliffs. Another surefire bet is the Kama Cliffs trail, which also offers sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Story and photos by ANN RUPPENSTEIN