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ReportsSaturday, 28 June 2003
Marathon --> Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
This day Con Koevoet took me along from Marathon to Thunder Bay, only two hours west of the small town along Lake Superior. It was an easy drive on the Terry Fox Highway with a few stops (and a truck accident) later when I met up with Lynn Smith and her husband Paul in Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay (hometown of Paul Shaffer, the musical sidekick in the David Letterman Show) makes me closer to Winnipeg, Manitoba, than any other city in Ontario. Its population of 117,000 want to regard themselves as westerners in this country.
Until recently Thunder Bay was a booming grain-handling port, and the grain is harvested in the prairies (the real west). The train still arrives here by train to be stored in gigantic grain elevators and then shipped down the St Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean, but not in the same quantities as before. In the 1990s, the economics of the grain-trade changed in favour of Canada's Pacific (West coast) ports and Thunder Bay suffered as a result. Many of the grain elevators that dominate the harbour front are literally rotting away, while others are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Thunder Bay had to reinvent itself and is currently boosting up its image for tourism and manufacturing, created a cheerful marina and built the Charity Casino, to remind the citizenry that the profits be spent on good works.
Lynn is a administrator at a local school and Paul is a planning manager for the Bombardier plant in town.
"I have a 28-year-old son living in South Korea and I hope he will be in good care when he needs a place to stay, that is why I decided to help you out," Lynn told me.
My hosts live in a house overlooking the city and Lake Superior. "We used to have our own three storey house, but it all the constructions ate all our money and it always kept me busy too much. That's when we decided to rent the top floor of this house and have no more hassles."
After having dinner (steak and an enormous barbequed pepper with salad) , Lynn offered to take me for a drive around town. Or the towns, I must say.
Thunder Bay was created only in 1970 when the two existing towns of Fort William and Port Arthur were brought together under one roof. "They had a poll about how the city was to be called," Lynn told me in the car, "It was Fort William and Port William and suddenly, at the last minute somebody pushed in Thunder Bay and that's where all the votes went for. I still find it a very odd situation."
Meanwhile, during the 15-minutes tour through the city (it's not that big), I was shown the Charity Casino ("We never go there"), the five kilometre-long waterfront with its grain elevators (architecture: modernist lines and pure functionalism; impressive), the marina and the CN railway station (resembling a French castle, however there is no train running through Thunder Bay anymore and the building now serves as community heritage showcase…)
Lynn told me about the Finnish population living in Thunder Bay. Arriving in the 1870s, the first Finns to get here were left-wing refugees escaping the tender mercies of the Tsar, whereas those who arrived after 1917 were right-wing opponents (plus the odd anarchist) of the Bolsheviks. Most Finns live in an area in Thunder Bay named Little Suomi.
We ended our little tour at the Hillcrest Park, where we overlooked the city and enjoyed the view on the Sleeping Giant National Park, on the 42-kilometre Sibley Peninsula.
Back home I joined Lynn and Paul in their ordinary life. However it was Sunday, Paul was desperate with a certain file from the factory. "I have to figure out something very important." In the mean time I kept myself busy in their computer room, while Lynn played scrabble on her own computer.
Later this evening I joined the family in watching the 1970 Dean Martin flick Airport. It was one of the first official disaster movies ever made, so it was interesting to watch and see how this got Hollywood going crazy with earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, meteors and alien attacks a few decades later.
Lynn and Paul welcomed me to stay here one extra day, so I could update my website and do some backstage preparations again. And to catch some breaths after last weeks highway trails.
Good night Thunder Bay!