Thunder Bay Port is the seat of Thunder Bay district in west-central Ontario, Canada. Thunder Bay is on the north-northwest shores of Lake Superior, and the city of Thunder Bay is located at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River as it enters Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay Port is one of the busiest ports in Canada and one of the largest storage and shipment depots for grain in the world. In the heart of rich natural resources, it serves fur farming, lumbering, and fishing industries as well as gold, copper, silver, and iron ore mines. It is home to a variety of industries including woodworking; brewing; flour, pulp, and paper milling; shipbuilding and repair; and manufacturing of aircraft, buses, trucks, and bricks. In 2006, the city of Thunder Bay was home to over 109 thousand people, and the metropolitan area had a population of almost 123 thousand.
French fur traders first stopped in Thunder Bay as early as 1678, and the area was settled permanently in the 1800s. It began as two towns: Port Arthur and Fort William.
The North West Company built a fort for fur-trapping activities there in the early 1800s, and Port Arthur appeared in the 1850s as a silver-mining settlement a few miles to the north. Fort Williams thrived until the North West Company merged with Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, when the fort became obsolete.
French Jesuits built a mission on the Kaministiquia River in 1849 to convert the Ojibwe, and the government of Canada signed a treaty with the tribe in 1850, establishing a reservation to the river’s south.
Port Arthur was a larger, more active town, but the Canadian Pacific Railway and Hudson’s Bay Company favored Fort William. The two communities thrived as silver was discovered there and the railroad came in the 1870s and 1880s. When silver mining collapsed in 1890, the preference for Fort Williams created pronounced economic pressure on Port Arthur.
Both cities had modern public utilities by 1914, and both cities endorsed municipal ownership of those utilities. In 1892, Port Arthur had Canada’s first municipal electric street rails. In 1902, both cities created their own telephone systems, spurning Bell Telephone Company of Canada.
The cities’ building boom ended in the early 20th Century, but World War I brought recovery with munitions manufacturing and shipbuilding. The first pulp and paper mill was opened in Port Arthur in 1917, and a second opened in Fort Williams in 1920. The Canada Car and Foundry Company re-opened in 1937 to build British aircraft. Although there was rivalry between them, Fort Williams and Port Arthur were eventually combined in 1970 to create Thunder Bay Port.
Thunder Pay Port has struggled against economic pressures from outside. With shippers preferring ports on the Pacific Coast, grain shipping has declined. Both industry and shipping ventures on the Kaministiquia River have been abandoned, and Thunder Bay Port has shifted to a role as a regional service center for Northwestern Ontario.
Thunder Bay is, however, the largest city in the region, and it is the region’s administrative, medical, and commercial center. Larger employers tend to be the public sector. The largest private employer is Bowater Forest Products, although there are several important employers in the forestry sector. There is also a plant that manufactures mass transit vehicles in the city.
Thunder Bay Port has gradually transformed from a center for boat and train shipping to shipping by truck, and the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement has largely eliminated its position as a center for trade. Thus, Thunder Bay Port is in a period of economic decline. In an attempt to revive the economy, Thunder Bay Port has been trying to attract knowledge-based industries like genomics and molecular medicine. The first medical school to open in Canada for decades, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, is located in Thunder Bay.
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