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Paddling on Lake Superior in Thunder Bay Harbour with a great view of the Sleeping Giant

Urban Paddling in Thunder Bay



I admit it.  I hadn’t thought of paddling within the city limits of Thunder Bay until last summer when friends invited me on guided kayak tour on the McIntyre River and Lake Superior’s Thunder Bay Harbour.  Now I’m hooked on it.

Our group of five paddlers (including two novices) and two guides set out about a mile from the river’s mouth.  Kayaking on this river – which is actually 47.5 km long and drains a watershed of 15,410 hectares – was kind of surreal:  the waterway was peaceful and calm, as if we were wilderness kayaking somewhere, but peeking over the banks at times you could glimpse shopping malls, parking lots, busy road traffic and electrical towers. Interesting contrast.

kayaking river

We paddled off the river into Thunder Bay Harbour to a scene so spectacular that it was one of those ‘’wow’’ moments in travel:  straight ahead was an amazing unobstructed water-level view of the famous Sleeping Giant, an iconic landmark out on the lake.

We then turned the kayaks left towards our end destination, Prince Arthur’s Landing at Marina Park, but first we’d be paddling by some fascinating landmarks. First on our route was the huge Keefer Terminal where salties (ocean-going ships) unload heavy cargo for rail transport to the west. 

Next we  kayaked past a few of the city’s many famous elevators, mammoth concrete pillars of industry that stand like silent sentinels guarding our waterfront (at one time, this was the world’s largest grain handling port).

kayaking urban experience

Also on our route was the massive multi-storey abandoned ore dock. At the top there are train tracks that once held a steady stream of boxcars bringing millions of tons of iron ore from the now defunct Steep Rock Iron Mines (1944-1979) in Atikokan to be loaded on large lake freighters. Those mines were considered to be one of Canada’s all-time greatest engineering feats, recovering ore buried in Steep Rock Lake under 100 feet of water and 300 feet of silt.

We watched float planes land nearby, saw freighter traffic and waved at passing sailboats before paddling into Prince Arthur's Landing Marina Park, hauling the kayaks out of the water and meeting up at the nearby historic Prince Arthur Hotel (built in 1911) for an excellent lunch and lively discussion about our kayak urban adventure.

Urban kayaking is a sustainable tourism activity that is one of the fastest-growing tourism attractions in North America, especially here in the wilderness of Northwest Ontario. And one of the best places to try it out is right here on the waters of Thunder Bay.

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