The Emerging Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay is changing. Some are embracing change, others are fighting it.
Thunder Bay is changing. Some are embracing change, others are fighting it.
Thunder Bay is changing. Some are embracing change, others are fighting it.
Thunder Bay is changing. Some are embracing change, others are fighting it.

THUNDER BAY – Editorial –  The City of Thunder Bay is moving into new territory. The past twenty years have seen many changes in our city. The changes in Thunder Bay have come partly from technology, and from directions set by political leaders in our community.

Many in our city are embracing the change, and witnessing that positive change is happening. Some are fighting that change. The path forward must be one that moves at the speed of the majority, but it has to be a path that moves forward.

Often it seems, in Thunder Bay that the gap between moving forward, or moving backwards is far less of a balancing act than an ongoing argument.

As the world has changed, it often appears some in our city are far more comfortable with what was, rather than what will be. Proponents of change often see those opposed as ‘Cavers’ – Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

Those who want to slow progress often point to the cost. What is missed often is the lost opportunity cost.

It would be very easy, for some it seems, to head back to Thunder Bay’s ‘glory days’ where forestry and grain were the main building blocks of our economy.

All it would take is a time machine and to override technological changes.


While some saw a ‘perfect storm’ in the issues surrounding the forest sector, perhaps the real change was in how people read their news. Magazines and newspapers printed on paper are still very popular, and very common. But the overall trend is toward new medium options for news. Thunder Bay once had seven paper mills. Now there is one.

News is changing. Thunder Bay was a newsprint leader. Now that isn’t a category to be leading. The market decided that things would be different.

There are two moves that should demonstrate the changes happening in our world. In Kamloops British Columbia, the daily newspaper is not there. In Northern Ontario, the Anishinawbek News has shifted to an all-digital format.

Forestry isn’t going to die, but it is never going to be what it once was.


Shipping of grain in our city has changed too. Thirty years ago, almost 1400 ships came to Thunder Bay 17,679,719 tonnes of grain were shipped from Thunder Bay. Twenty years ago, that figure was 563 ships.

Ten years ago 416 ships came to Thunder Bay.

In 2013 that figure was 331 vessels and 5,428,626 tonnes of grain were shipped from Thunder Bay.

What happened?

Prairie elevators. Its really that simple, the old iconic wooden elevator is gone. The new structures do much of the work that was once done here in Thunder Bay. Farmers across the west, have moved to keep more jobs in their region and are not shipping their grain to Thunder Bay for trans-shipment and cleaning.

Once the grain is in grain cars, the shipping can head right to the Port of Montreal, or to Vancouver, Prince Rupert, or in many cases, Churchill.

That economy is changing, and our community and our port have shifted focus on many areas to adapt.

Emerging Economics

Our city is changing. Now it is technology, medicine, and to a great degree, government services which are leading the economy.

There are real concerns over an economy that is overly dependent on government funding. Ontario is running deficits, and piling up debt. It is not a solid economic strategy for our economy to be so dependent on tax funded and paid for processes. If Ontario catches an economic cold, Thunder Bay would run the risk of catching an economic influenza.

That is where bringing in the combination of digital economic activity, medical technology, and embracing the mining sector with more deeds, and fewer words is so critical.

Much of that work is needed in the research sector. There is also obvious demand for the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, and the Community Economic Development Corporation as well as the Innovation Centre to get the information onto the tables of planners, business entrepreneurs, and political leaders.

It is also key for more of the politics of our region to become more engaged in what is really happening, and start embracing the future even more.

Moving Forward…

Some of the needs of the Emerging Thunder Bay are to have the facilities in place that will attract and keep our changing population.

The young professionals, SHIFT Network in Thunder Bay, are a dedicated indication of the change happening in our city. Over the past five years, as the community has continued to evolve, groups of positive minded professionals are making their voices heard.

There is a contrast to the past. That contrast is social media, a medium that few on City Council seem to have either fully embraced or understood. There are 70,000 addresses listed on Facebook in Thunder Bay.

Not all are active all the time, but the reach of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the Internet is massive in our city. Many of the challengers in the October 2014 Civic Election are far more advanced in social media use than the incumbents. It is likely that 2014 will be the ‘Internet Election’.

In the last election, it was an “Army of Hobbits” who stormed the ‘Shire’ and swept Mayor Hobbs to office. It is very possible that those who embrace similar tactics in 2014 are going to sweep a few long-standing names from City Council.

Building tomorrow in Thunder Bay

Attracting and keeping a changing population in Thunder Bay means having more things to do in our city. Thirty years ago and on into today, a trip out of Thunder Bay was the usual for many. A ‘Duluth Weekend’ was the norm, today for many that trend continues.

The Best of Thunder Bay

The best of our city can’t be Highway 61 South. The changing population in our city means we need to become more of a destination and more of a hub for the region. That means bringing in some of the big box stores that have hundreds and in some cases thousands of Thunder Bay customers leaving our city to do their shopping.

Mayor Keith Hobbs
Mayor Keith Hobbs

Mayor Hobbs has been working to bring a Costco to Thunder Bay. So far, Mayor Hobbs has not been successful.

City planning often seems to be set on a path that restricts progress. City Councillors need to be directing City Administration far more. That happened recently, when Council overrode Administration in the building of a new neighbourhood.

Likely it needs to happen far more. There is a critical balance needed. That balance between spending and planning is a key.

The leadership to change has to come from the Mayor and from City Council.

If it doesn’t, that leadership void will be filled – often by City Administration.

This fall, voters in our city will get their voice and chance to be heard in the civic election. There are lots of issues.

The Emerging Thunder Bay awaits – It all comes down to believing our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.

James Murray

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