We're dabbling in pharology in Northern Ontario.
Ryan's pharaological tendencies are strictly of the amateur kind, falling in love with lighthouses all around the world. But we don't have to travel far from home to see them. Canada has hundreds of lighthouses - and not all of them are on the ocean coast! A handful call Ryan's childhood stomping ground of the mighty Lake Superior home and one in particular, Thunder Bay's Porphyry Lighthouse, is an especially fine destination.
Like the majority of Canadian lighthouses, Porphyry Lighthouse is now an automated facility and is no longer staffed with by a dedicated keeper. But it has found itself some new keepers, of a sort, in the form of the Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior organization. This volunteer driven group takes on daunting restoration, preservation, and promotion projects in order to save the region's light keeping heritage. And it's thanks in large part to their team that the hiking paths are now in good condition around Porphyry. Hiking around a lighthouse? It's definitely possible - and you DON'T have to swim there to get started!
In the high season, volunteers are on hand to welcome you to the lighthouse and eagerly show you around the buildings and offer interpretive insights. They're also more than happy to point you in the direction of the hiking trails (which were overgrown until recently).
In addition to the hiking and nature trails, visitors will also find two docks, a boat house, a picnic area - and also a cemetery, the final resting space of four members of the same family. The island is a pristine eco-system and the hiking trails traverse the Porphyry Island Provincial Park Nature Reserve. Visitors must bring in all food and drink with them (and are encouraged to take all refuse out).
Superior slumbers: Thunder Bay accommodations
If you're a day tripper with limited time, there's a host of more mainstream accommodations in Thunder Bay itself (though, really, it's hard to match the atmosphere of being a lighthouse resident for a night!) Our personal choice for hotels in Thunder Bay is the Holiday Inn Express. Ever since we stayed at one in Singapore, we've been really pleased with what the chain has to offer. For us, it's the perfect balance of value for money, comfort, and extra little travel perks (like stylish and clever room design and a hot breakfast).
Thunder Bay also has a good selection of privately owned motels and 2 to 3-star chain hotels (like Comfort Inn, Days Inns, etc) that are budget friendly choices.
Things to do in Thunder Bay
Kids (and big kids) will also feel very welcome at the Fort William Historical Park. This interactive historic site takes you back to 1816 when Fort William was an important fur trading post. Plan on spending several hours to check everything out.
If the weather isn't cooperating (or if you simply want some treats to bring with you to Porphyry Island), visit the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. (You didn't think I could go a whole blog post without mentioning cheese, did you?) Poutine lovers will gravitate towards the homemade cheese curds, but I think the real treat here is the smoked Gouda.
No matter your chosen activity, please take our top piece of advice to heart: keep an eye out for animals. Moose in particular call Thunder Bay, and most of Northern Ontario, home and you never know when they'll make an appearance!
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