The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020: Adventure North of the Border

Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Find more great travel ideas in The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020

A Voyage to Thunder Bay

By James Norton

Thunder Bay is less than six hours from Minneapolis–St. Paul, but it feels like another world. This metropolis of more than 100,000 Ontarians is a regional hub immersed in thousands of square miles of woods, rocky shoreline, and water.

As the fusion of two distinct former cities (Fort William and Port Arthur), Thunder Bay has a bisected center of gravity, and visitors should check out both central business districts to get a feel for the place. Italian, Finnish, and First Nations cultures are all strongly represented in this city on the lake.

A Taste Of Finland and a Crisp Kölsch

The one mandatory spot on the list is The Hoito, which has evolved from its founding as a cooperative restaurant powered by “comrade loans” from Finnish workers into a salt-of-the-earth diner that sports (fast-moving) lines out the door for breakfast. Finnish pancakes, viili (Finnish yogurt), rice pudding, and pickled herring sandwiches coexist happily here along with more typical North American fare from burgers to eggs Benedict.

Just to the east of Thunder Bay is The Fish Shop, a remarkable 50-year-old Finnish-style smokehouse that uses local fish from Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon, and includes a showroom with Finnish foods, crafts, and goods crafted from local amethysts.

Sleeping Giant Brewing Company touts a fine Kölsch amongst its stable of regular offerings. The brewery’s rustic taproom typically has about 15 beers on-tap and visitors are welcome to bring their own food.

Also worth a visit: the modern cuisine of Caribou, the cheerful Growing Season Juice Collective, and the gouda-specialized Thunder Oak Cheese Farm.

Walk Backward in Time

Fort William Historical Park gives visitors a chance to walk through a historic fur trading post, circa the early 19th century. It’s a striking, immersive experience—on our visit, we sat down with an Anishinaabe historical interpreter and chatted about native foods for nearly an hour in a recreated wigwam.

To connect directly with Lake Superior history, check out the Alexander Henry, a decommissioned Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker that now serves as a museum.

Giants and Waterfalls

Thunder Bay-based boat tours and charter fishing are both fine ways to explore Lake Superior.

The city is also proximate to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which offers several views of the scenic peak and a chance to scale the Top of the Giant Trail.

Less than 20 miles from downtown Thunder Bay is the spectacular Kakabeka Falls, the second highest falls in Ontario (after Niagara). Additionally, the Ouimet Canyon offers panoramic views of a sharply cut gorge with a trail and boardwalk connecting two lookout platforms.

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Winnipeg: Canada’s Heart Beats

By Paige Latham Didora

Stepping out of the car into Winnipeg after a 456-mile drive from the Twin Cities feels a little bit like time travel. (Think payphones and DVD rental shops, for starters.) But while dated in some ways, Winnipeg has experienced a palpable revitalization over the last two decades—with better food, attractive public spaces, and nascent nightlife.

A Gathering Place For The Ages

The birthplace of Winnipeg is The Forks, the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red Rivers. Historically, it’s been a gathering place of First Nations people, European fur traders, and other immigrants, who arrived first by boat, and then by rail. This area now boasts some press-worthy restaurants, arranged food court-style. The Common, a beer and wine bar, serves local and national beverages that can be enjoyed on a stroll through the mall, or sipped in the sunny atrium.

If an easygoing lunch is the goal, opt for Neapolitan-style Red Ember pizza. For a more refined experience, reserve a table for dinner at neighboring Passero. Not only is the creative Italian fare memorable, the service is unparalleled in town.

After filling up, walk the trails at The Forks and marvel at the Provencher Bridge and the ruins of St. Boniface Cathedral. Or, if temperatures are below zero, rent ice skates and join locals on the frozen river trails.

Spirits and Such

Finding a notable cocktail in Winnipeg is a project. The scene is young and eager, but beware: the neon-red maraschino cherry is alive and well. So visit the basement (or seasonal rooftop) bar at Forth, a hybrid art gallery/Dogwood Coffee cafe/bar, where drinks rival those of any posh cocktail town. For brown spirits, visit the transformed Whiskey Bar on Osborne Street.

Traditional Belgian ales, many meant for cellaring, are the specialty at Nonsuch Brewing Co., located in the Exchange. For a familiar mix, try Sookram’s Brewing Co. to enjoy a solid hazy IPA, a bright Pilsner, or housemade kombucha.

Additional Accoutrements

A Saturday afternoon in the Exchange District offers historic stone facades, artisan goods, and sophisticated bites with charming surroundings. The galleries at 290 McDermot include Wilder Goods leather goods and Lot.15 ceramics. The Cube, a small outdoor public stage and lawn, hosts frequent music. If brunch is in order, kick off the morning at Clementine, a beloved sous-terrain cafe with excellent coffee and morning-appropriate cocktails.

When evening arrives, an impressive meal is guaranteed at Close Co., a 12-seat situation with (literally) no room for superfluous dishes or mediocre pairings.

Noteworthy casual eats abound. An indecisive bunch would do well at the brand new food hall, Hargrave St. Market, while excellent Indian cuisine can be found at Charisma of India. Finally, the can’t-miss traditional bakery is indisputably A L’Epi de Blé, in the North End.