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Developmental Tourism Concepts
Thunder Bay & Lake Superior Communities

James R. Stevens M.A.

March 14, 2007


The City of Thunder Bay
Municipality of Shuniah
Township of Dorion
North Shore Communitie

Approaches to Effective Economic Tourism Development


          The incredible down sizing of the Pulp and Paper Industry across the Northwest of Ontario from 2005 to 2007 and the resulting loss of employment—in the thousands—has resulted in an inevitable outward migration of families, companies and individuals to vibrant economic areas elsewhere in Canada for jobs. In the face of this shocking turn of events some cities, municipalities and townships and their proactive citizens have begun to look at tourism possibilities in order to enhance this sector of their anemic economies.

          If an effective tourism sector on the north shore of the Lake Superior and the communities located here are to see some meaningful growth and avoid wasting scarce investment dollars on projects that have little draw on the International, American, Canadian, Regional and Local markets: just what should the general approach be? What projects would be effective in this area which has a very serious lack of tourism infrastructure.

          This overriding question is of the utmost importance if positive economic results are to be obtained at the end of the day. To supply some answers to this broad question a number of Tourism concepts need to be understood. These are:


Tourism Draw (TD): What projects for the Thunder Bay Water front and north shore area would have a dynamic and unique and international appeal that would draw people from the International Market?

Tourism draw may be defined as the amount of enticement an attraction (or proposed project) has for people who are part of the huge tourism market.

TD1 attractions exist in Old Fort William and Kakabeka Falls. Make no mistake here, further TD1 developmental projects have to be brilliant in effectiveness.


          TD2 projects would have tourism draw from American regional markets. These are interesting projects, of course, and linkage with other TD2 sites make them entirely worthwhile.


          TD3 projects would draw from the northwest Ontario region to the City of Winnipeg. This kind of infrastructure would answer the question: Why would a family or a secondary school class from Winnipeg, Kenora, Red Lake or Timmins feel that it is entirely worthwhile, educational and rewarding to spend a vacation or a field trip in Thunder Bay and the Lake Superior coastal region. For example, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum and the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame might be considered existing TD3 sites. It takes a number of TD3 sites to create meaningful Tourism draw.


          TD4 projects are infrastructures that draw local citizens to local sites where they might invest time and limited expenditure in the attraction. Examples here might be curling rinks, arenas, casinos, theatres, libraries, museums, although one can see that Event Tourism like a national or regional event can temporarily raise these attractions to a TD3 event.

          In considering Tourism Draw this classification is helpful in determining priorities for investment for the region.


Tourism Retention Time (TRT): The important concept of tourism retention time applies to infrastructure that holds the visitor on the site for a meaningful amount of vacation time. For example, the “Robins Hockey Tournament” for a family from Kapuscasing or Sault Ste Marie has a TRT of three or four days. (In a recent minor hockey tournament, ten families from Red Lake spent approximately $9,000 in Thunder Bay.) Whereas, the Terry Fox Lookout site on the Trans Canada Highway has a deplorable TRT of 15 to 20 minutes.

          So TRT can also be classified as TRT1 as several days through to TRT4 which amounts to only a few minutes. This concept can also be used to determine priorities for investment dollars.


Tourism Investment Dollars (TID): This concept is the amount of investment dollars visitors spend in utilizing infrastructure. TID1 would see the visitor spend several hundred dollars in utilizing and enjoying a site. A TID0 would be for example a skate board park at Thunder Bay’s marina site. It would be an investment of dollars that might not be warranted unless it was infrastructure that linked with a series of available attractions that would enhance TID at the location. This brings us to another very important concept.


Tourism Linkage Sites (TL): Tourism Linkage is absolutely vital and involves an effective regional developmental approach by citizens in the communities on the Lake Superior coast and it must be admitted that here significant barriers exist. Since many visitors will come along Highway 17 from the east or west, or Highway 61 from Pigeon River what are the attractions that will draw visitors along the whole route where they spend their dollars and invest their precious vacation time. If motels, hotels, and bread and breakfast establishments, gift shops in the area communities want to enhance their incomes, what interesting sites will encourage tourists to travel along the Canadian shoreline all the way to Sault Ste Marie?

To illustrate this concept I put this hypothetical question to the reader. Consider that you are an American tourist arriving at Soo, Michigan or Grand Marais, Minnesota and you are considering the idea of doing the Lake Superior Circle Route in Canada. You look at a brochure at the Soo to see whether it is worthwhile to make the long drive all the way to Thunder Bay. There is not a lot there to entice you to make that drive with the kids in your car. Unfortunately, there are just not many attractions to visit.

 If you are at Grand Marais, you might come for a day trip to Old Fort William and go and see Kakabeka Falls, especially if you hear there is lots of water cascading over it. So you might do that, but the TLS (Tourism Linkage Sites) are few and far between on the north shore of Superior. (Other than MNR parks) Thus, a tourist coming from Minnesota who might go to Old Fort William will probably not even consider stopping in downtown Thunder Bay or going east to Dorion or Nipigon.

          One can see in these answers that inward-looking citizens who see themselves competing for investment dollars, both private and public and who do not support each other will severely limit the effectiveness of each others development. It will be unwise, if for example, the City of Thunder Bay economic and tourism initiatives are not proactive in supporting the allocation of investment dollars in locales outside the city boundaries. Tourism effectiveness and economic enhancement of business’ in Thunder Bay is irrefutably linked to other regional attractions.

          The obvious conclusion to this concept is that the North of Superior Travel Association should have a voice in Thunder Bay as well as the Reeves of Shuniah, Dorion and elsewhere if TD and TLD are to be effective.

          Defeatist ego-directed community thinking must be overcome.





Tourism Development Ideas for the Lake Superior Coastline


          The author of this paper presents the following specific ideas using the concepts expressed above for consideration and assessment for the citizens along the marvelous Lake Superior coast-the greatest freshwater lake on the planet.       The potential projects listed below are in a geographical sequence based on TLS, Tourism Linkage Sites. The starting point is on Highway 61.


Highway # 61 : This third class highway is long overdue for a complete major upgrade into Thunder Bay. At present it is actually a deterrent for a tourist arriving from the USA in that it suggests a broken-down third rate country known as Canada. Action: MPP’s, Thunder Bay Municipal politicians and M.O.T. Ontario.


Founders Museum Hwy # 61: A good site already that should be expanded yearly to increase TRT. Possibly the site should have some interactive items to attract children and adults. Does it even have a working steam engine?


Entering the City of Thunder Bay Hwy # 61: What is the visual presentation here to the visitor-a simple plastic looking sign just doesn’t cut it. Where is the gleaming forty foot high Thunderbird statute?


Old Fort William : This is a TD1 site that has good TRT. In its special events category it has demonstrated it can attract local and regional citizens even if a Rock Festival in the early summer is somewhat incongruent to its historical intent. Possible a Gaelic Festival of a similar nature would align better with its history and could be held at an appropriate time in the late summer. Implementation would create another specific event that would attract an even wider audience from the mid-western States.


Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park : This also is a TD1 site depending on climatically induced factors. Thought should be given by MNR to increasing TRT by creating additional displays. Considering the historical nature of the site there is opportunity for doing this. Close-by the falls is a Hydro-electric station, one of the oldest in Ontario, but can you access it? How many people reading this paper have ever been in a hydro-electric power structure? Tours of this would enhance TRT at the village of Kakabeka Falls.


The City of Thunder Bay : Why ever would a tourist want to visit this city? There are some answers to this question but the answers do not really address the tourist question. If you are traveling west you might want to overnight. If you are from northwestern Ontario and need medical attention you will come for an appointment. If you are dropping off your son or daughter to attend Confederation College or Lakehead University you will overnight for a day or two. If you are visiting relatives you will come. If there is a sporting event, a concert or a regional or national conference you will come for the duration, however, after these answers, this writer is at a loss.

I go back to my original question, why would you want to visit the City of Thunder Bay for itself if you were a tourist from Minneapolis or London, England. Therein is a huge problem when it comes to developing tourism prospects for energizing the economic prospects for this city.

In the days of flourishing grain elevators and paper mills in the last century economic times were solid and little attention was paid to other potential aspects that would enhance the city. In hindsight, previous city fathers and mothers have made little investment in the aesthetics of the place. When there was money to invest city councils over the years did not have the imagination or the creativity to anything much at all. Well, yes, a very worthwhile Community Auditorium was built (a TD3 attraction) and a Canada Games Complex (a TD3 attraction) was erected and those were positives.

Now, however, City Council is facing a century of neglect in making Port Arthur/Fort William/Westfort=Thunder Bay a place one might want to spend a day driving around in just to look at the features of the place, or better yet, stay for five days. To say the task is a large one in order to rectify the previous lack of foresight is an understatement. In order to go ahead with meaningful tourism investment projects in Thunder Bay it is going to take some very hard-edged politicians and some assertive proactive citizens. Let us hope that Thunder Bay and regional communities have leaders in this category.


Projects for the City of Thunder Bay (General)


This old Lake Superior port city (s) has a marvelous history and in the early days some great politicians and entrepreneurs actually believed in the place as well as their own pocket books. It is time to celebrate their existence and little brass tablets half sunk in the ground don’t cut it.


In Thunder Bay South-bronze statues of Peter McKellar and Mr. and Mrs. Robert McVicar


In Westfort-a statue of C. D. Van Horne of the CPR (And let the CPR pay for it)


At the Airport-Dump the rocks elsewhere—they are not horrible as an artistic piece but they aren’t impressive either—and erect three statues for World War One flyers, Hector Dougal, Stanislaus Rekofski and pioneer airman, Orval Weiben.


In Thunder Bay North:-statutes of Simon J. Dawson M.P. looking west and James Conmee M.P looking east across from Waverly Park Library.


A large dimensional plaque celebrating the accomplishments of James Whelan near the Whelan Building ( PUC Building)


On the PA waterfront, a statute or plaque celebrating the first two Customs Officers, John Cousins and Peter Nicholson.


          There are certainly other historical personages worthy of such commemoration but I leave it to those interested to promote them.


          The intent here is to celebrate Thunder Bay’s historical past, enhance the aesthetics of the city, in short to create some class for an otherwise dull- looking place. If Thunder Bay Council would do three of these commemorative projects a year for five years that would give one the idea the city has a history and its people are demonstratively proud of it.


The Thunder Bay Waterfront Project


          One wonders what the mandate is for the development of Thunder Bay’s waterfront. The current proposed current plan, esthetic as it is, appears to be a large park that will have only a local draw (TD4), or regional if special events like the Blues Festival are held there.

          Just where are meaningful economic benefits for the business community in the current plan?

It would be prudent to understand there is no quick fix for development of a world class set of attractions on the waterfront. Plans for the water front have come and gone since the early 1960’s. This is not to say, however, that some smaller TD3 and TD4 infrastructure could not go ahead if a dynamic longer term site plan was further developed. This author notes the headline in the Chronicle/Journal of March 10, 2007: “Patience Pays Off.” One wonders if patience is being exercised here or is there a political rush for a quick fix.

The projects sited: public green space, two condominiums, a boutique hotel, market square, skateboard park, boating ponds and two private marina piers have serious deficiencies and intra-city business conflict in terms of some of the above stated infrastructure. Cautious private investors may have strong reservations about key components of this initial plan. How many more condominiums are needed in a city losing population? What are the benefits for, say, the Prince Arthur Hotel and many other hotel/motel business’ in having a competing structure on the waterfront? What is the tourism draw here, is it only to be local? If this is the intent, fine, but what does this add to the community business coffers?


Projects for International Waterfront Attractions at Thunder Bay


The Lighthouse -A TD2 project. The building of an impressive light house that would incorporate a number of features—some already suggested by citizens—at different levels depending on structural requirements. These would be: an aquarium with walk through featuring Lake Superior fish; a level depicting the grain trade history of the ports; an Omni-max theatre; a restaurant and viewing station with a functional light. The hallways and rooms will be decorated with photographs of the many ships of yesteryear and the old waterfronts in PA and Fort William. The Lighthouse design to be a competition.


The Chicora Ship- A TD1 project: This project involves the construction of a replica of the most famous ship to ever ply the Great Lakes. This functioning replica will be based on the waterfront site. Many readers will not be familiar with the vessel.



          The construction of a replica of this steel-hulled ship, 220’ long by 28’ at the beam with a depth of 11’ would mean Thunder Bay, Ontario would have at her docks, the only working side-wheeler vessel in North America. A brief outline of the Chicora’s history is in order. The vessel was built in England and run under the name, Let-Her-B out of Bermuda as a blockade runner to Confederate ports during the American civil war. After the war, the vessel was renamed, modified and brought to the Great Lakes. The Chicora, which made 22 knots on good seas, made runs from Toronto, Owen Sound and Collingwood to Prince Arthurs Landing. The Chicora had an operating life from 1864 to 1923 making her one of the longest serving vessels on the Great Lakes.

          The Chicora replica, rebuilt with contemporary metallurgy and engines and state of the art navigational aids with modern conveniences for passengers would be an operating tour ship based in Thunder Bay. For the tourist, a ride on this ship from say, Thunder Bay to Duluth or the Sault or Toronto would be a soft adventure that would attract the world wide market. The Chicora was once owned by the Canada Steamship Lines, perhaps, this company would contribute to the reconstruction costs.

          If you are tourist with a family from Richmond, Virginia, Dusseldorf, Germany, Duluth, Minnesota, or Toronto, Ontario to take a tour on this vessel would be a unique experience. One suspects you might have to book a year ahead to get a seat on her. And because her home port is Thunder Bay’s waterfront the linkage with the other attractions at the site and in the city is obvious in terms of TRT.

          This is a project that would proceed in a series of investment steps: architectural/engineering marine plans for the replica; construction of component parts/engines/electronics and hull. Quite possibly the hull could be constructed at the shipyards in Thunder Bay.


The S. S. Keewatin-A TD3 Project: It is pleasant to see some enthusiasm about the return of this neglected ship to rest in Thunder Bay. Refurbishing costs and insurance costs for the Keewatin are likely to be significant, but as a companion to an operating sidewheeler, the Chicora, this is an attractive possibility that needs realistic assessment.



The Thunder Wolves Arena -A TD3 Project:

There is much interest from the Department of Athletics at Lakehead University in constructing a new first class arena in light of citizen interest in the very successful intercollegiate hockey team. If the City is to invest in this construction there are compelling reasons for this arena to be built on the waterfront. No doubt the Thunderwolves arena would operate year round in terms of hockey schools, team training and tournaments and would enhance other facilities. If a condominium is feasible (many seniors utilize them) there would be easy access to the arena.


The Electric Street Car- A TD4 Project:

Recently some hard working volunteers rebuilt a Thunder Bay street car. Why not make it operational to run along to the waterfront site from one point to another.


Other TD4 projects -These are basically add-ons to the waterfront site; their value being their relationship to tourists coming by tour ships and automobiles and usage by local residents. Parking is obviously a consideration at the waterfront site. The TD4 infrastructure items are things like a fish pond for children; skateboard ramps for teens; flower gardens etc. etc which are included in the current plan.

          One must admit that the TD1-3 projects above are ambitious, but if proponents of effective economic tourism waterfront development are not proactive and ambitious, everyone might as well stay in bed.



Highway 17 East


The Terry Fox Site & The Terry Fox Courage Highway


This author has commented on the lack of investment and regard for a Canadian hero in his book, “Hey Rocky, Who Took Northern Ontario? The Book Ontario Politicians Don’t Want You To Read.” I refer the readers to pages, 69-72 in terms Tourist Retention Time and the quality of the so-called Terry Fox Courage Highway.



The Municipality of Shuniah


The Josh Klukie Nature Park- TD2 Project-. On the west side of the Mckenzie River a large piece of land is for sale that contains an eagle’s nest, a beaver dam and interesting flora. The east side of this site borders the river with access to swimming and fishing. What better way to honor the youth, Josh Klukie who sacrificed his life in far-off Afghanistan for the freedom of others. This park would draw highway tourists and local residents and be complimentary to the first class McKenzie Inn. Action is required here by the Shuniah Reeve, Council and local citizens.





The Township of Dorion


          Projects in the Township of Dorion are of importance to not only the citizens there, but to the economy of Thunder Bay. TD2 and TD 3 projects at this location fall in the TL (Tourism Linkage) category in motivating tourist users to drive beyond Thunder Bay or to draw clients coming from the east on Highway 17. Support for these interesting projects from Thunder Bay politicians is essential.


The Fish Hatchery Project TD3 - Supposedly moneys will soon be invested in an upgrade and expansion of the Dorion Fish Hatchery by the Ministry of Natural Resources. Action: MNR


The Speckled Trout Park TD2- This park, which this author has advocated for years, would be the only park of its kind in North America and have the potential to draw serious fishermen from afar. There is some MNR movement on this concept. The rules and regulation governing any such park are important. Questions in regard to winter ice fishing as to this winter sport’s impact on the health of the various small lakes in the area needs assessment. Action: MNR Toronto & MNR Regional office Nipigon


Ouimet Canyon TD3-This spectacle is in need of enhancement to increase TRT Tourist Retention Time which is at present limited to a maximum of about thirty minutes. Perhaps, this means additional walkways and viewing sites or a lift to the floor of the canyon, or at least careful access into the canyon floor with botanical information for visitors.


Amethyst Museum TD2-This museum located directly off Highway# 17 would be as far as is known, the worlds only such museum. The concept for the museum is that on entering, one is entering a huge vug with the ceilings and walls covered with various grades of high quality amethyst from area mines. The floor is made of polished northwestern Ontario granite. The Dorion location places it close to a number of mines, where tourists are urged to visit. Sales from local mines are promoted at the site.


The Moose Farm TD2 -This research station for moose in the Dorion area would have a number of animals that are partially domesticated for traveling families to access. This project under current jurisdiction would be an MNR initiative, a Ministry, that the Toronto government has allocated insignificant funds.


          Dorion in terms of TL, tourism linkage, is a key area in terms of tourism development along the north shore’s Lake Superior Circle Route that ties together a pattern of exciting attractions between Pigeon River and Sault Ste Marie.




Nipigon & the Township of Red Rock


          Few towns have been hit as hard as these two communities. The closure of the Norampac Mill in Red Rock and the unfortunate fire at the Nipigon plywood mill are shocking in local and regional impact for families and business’.

          Some local initiatives are under way here; “The Paddle to The Sea” program in Nipigon needs to be linked with a first class museum that focuses on the Nipigon River and the First Nations history of the area. Perhaps HBC Red Rock House could be rebuilt with its wharf on the river where the Chicora replica could dock or modifications made to the current Nipigon and Red Rock Marina’s to allow dockage for this large a vessel.


The Proposed National Marine Conservation Area : Lake Superior.

The NMCA will be a test study in the political will of north shore citizens and provincial politicians in securing a meaningful investment from Parks Canada in terms of infrastructure and jobs for locals. As the process stands now one wonders if any meaningful economic results will result in the hand-over of northwestern Ontario islands, shoreline and lake bottom to the Government of Canada through the severely under funded Parks Canada. Will an Ontario Provincial Government through the Ministry of Natural Resources simply give this resource to Parks Canada for $1.00 because it would please southern urban dwellers and provide some votes in an election? Or will there be secured tangible benefits received by citizens of Nipigon, Red Rock, Schreiber and Terrace Bay? This implementation of an NMCA in the middle of the Great Lakes Heritage Coastline (already a protected area) will be a test of Lake Superior’s coastal citizens’ negotiating skills.







1.      The City of Thunder Bay should first consider what major attractions for economic development can be implemented over time at the Water Front sites. These potential attractions should be built into the site plans before any major development at the sites occur.

2.      It seems obvious that a number of citizen sub committees are needed to investigate and advance meaningful Tourist Draw attractions for the water front.

3.      Regional attractions are important to the City of Thunder Bay thus linkage with area councils is necessary and the North of Superior Travel Association are necessary.



This paper respectfully submitted by James R. Stevens M.A.

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