Strolling the streets of a city, and eating its food, are two of the best ways to get to know a place and its people. Small wonder, then, that food tours are a growing movement all over the world. And now, Thunder Bay has its own guided food tour company, Seek Adventure & Tours. Sue Hamel is the owner and guide. “A food tour is such a great way to highlight and share what Thunder Bay has to offer: its story, its beauty, its food and its history,” she says. With 25 years’ experience with adventure travel, guiding and teaching, Sue is exactly the kind of guide you want to show you a little slice of Thunder Bay.
I joined Sue’s “Divine Treats & Hidden Streets” tour one Wednesday morning, and it was apparent right away just how much care and attention she had put into researching and creating the tour by talking to experts like historians and geologists, Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers, archivists and restaurant chefs. During our three-hour walk that covers a small loop of the waterfront district, Sue tells our group all kinds of interesting tidbits about the area. You feel like a cool city resident (which, of course, she is) is sharing details with you rather than canned tour-guide patter.
We met at The Habit, Urban Abbey’s social enterprise cafe, for coffee and tea (served in Seek to-go mugs—nice touch). Sue begins the tour by acknowledging the importance of the landscape to the Anishnaabe peoples, and the link of the city’s name to the huge thunderbirds or animikii that are an important part of the Indigenous cultures of the northwest. Coffee in hand, we tour the Abbey, a beautiful century-old former Baptist church that’s now the site of an Anglican mission. Stepping outside, we learn about the province’s second-oldest park, Waverley Park, and why Red River Road was built the way is was before heading to The Sweet North Bakery. Over iced tea made from Seek’s special local blend by The Teas of Fortunata, plus one of the bakery’s famous prosciutto and Thunder Oak gouda pretzels, our group chats with bakery owner Erinn DeLorenzi about the bakery’s site in the historic Ruttan Block. “You can really feel the history in this building,” she says, noting that it’s the city’s oldest consistent restaurant location.
Once we’re strolling on the sidewalk again, we check out both the really ancient and the brand-new: impressions of sea creatures in Tyndall limestone that faces the federal building, and DieActive’s vibrant, creative graffiti alley created by youth artists.
At In Common, they’ve opened a little early just for us and we stop for a delicious bowl of coconut spinach soup topped with a roasted garlic scape and a look at local artist Marianne Kyryluk’s work on the walls. Then it’s off to ChocoLitts, where owner Rena Litt treats us to a decadent mocha truffle and a mini-lesson on the ins and outs of melting and cooling chocolate properly.
Sue ends our tour with a couple thoughtful little thank-you treats (but I won’t spoil the surprise). As we start walking back to The Habit, we pause and look down the hill to the bay where a vast container ship is silhouetted against the Sleeping Giant. “That’s a saltie registered in Cypress,” says Sue (a saltie is an ocean-going ship). “I checked online to see what was going to be here when we were.” She really does think of everything!
Seek Adventure & Tours offers several other food walking tours with various themes, like “Big Lake Taco Fiesta,” “Superior Happy Hour,” “North Shore Arts and Eats” and “Rise with the Giant.” Guided hikes in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park are also in the works, complete with a picnic from Sweet North. “I have such a sense of awe for this place, both the landscape and its people,” says Sue. “The diversity is so rich.”
Get more info on Seek Adventure & Tours on their Facebook page.