Many people have never heard of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Situated in the north-west of the province on Lake Superior, the city is beautiful, isolated, and usually a transit point for people travelling elsewhere. It’s also coincidentally my hometown.
People wouldn’t expect a city of just over 100 000 to be very vegan-friendly, but you’d be surprised. Compared to Hong Kong, a city of over 7 million people where I currently live, veganism is a lot more accessible in Thunder Bay. When I visited home this summer, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to be vegan in a place I never thought was booming.
Since veganism is largely a western movement, it comes as no surprise that most people generally understand the concept.
Thunder Bay is surrounded by forests, lakes, and beautiful landscapes. With a large Indigenous population and outdoor enthusiasts, people enjoy spending lots of time outside, camping, and for many — hunting. As a child, I tried all kinds of local meats like venison, moose, and rabbit.
As far as hunting goes, personally I believe that if you’re going to kill an animal for meat, at least hunting it quickly is more preferable than the misery of a factory farm. People in Thunder Bay are huge fans of hunting locally, eating local dairy and eggs, and buying fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market. People would rather buy their meat fresh from a local butcher than from a supermarket. There are campaigns everywhere supporting locally-owned restaurants and businesses.
Although I personally don’t approve of eating animal products, at least people in the city are aware of where they food comes from and are trying to make more conscious choices.
Unfortunately, people love their barbecue, meat fondue nights, and cooking hot dogs over the campfire. Many love their Canada goose jackets, moccasins, wool sweaters, and leather bags. Some might be able to wrap their heads around vegetarianism but going vegan is still a struggle for many.
The good news is that people here are exposed to the environment and have an appreciation for wildlife from a young age. Schools take students on field trips to outdoor education centers; children learn basic camping and survival skills; and there are many animal protection laws.
Best Vegan Dishes
Although there’s only one fully-vegan restaurant in the city, almost everywhere has at least a few tasty vegan options. I was surprised to find that on my most recent visit that even smokehouses and ice cream shops are incredibly vegan-friendly. Here’s some of my favourite dishes.
Roasted Beet Bowl from In Common
This is one of their daily specials which was easily veganized, as can be done with the rest of their menu. Staff are super accommodating and they usually have a daily vegan soup.
In Common, 40 Cumberland St S.
Curry from Thai Kitchen
Many dishes at this authentic Thai restaurant can be veganized, including all of the curries which are made with coconut milk. They can swap the meat for tofu, and all of their meals are absolutely delicious.
Thai Kitchen, 1 Cumberland St S.
Venus Rice Bowl from The Growing Season
This bowl is filled with house-grown sprouts, greens, veggies, seeds, and tofu, with a tasty tahini dressing. This restaurant is also famous for its fresh juices and desserts. Many menu items can be veganized — just ask.
The Growing Season, 201 Algoma St S.
The Vegan from Sweet North Bakery
This sandwich has black bean spread, wilted greens, sauteed tofu, mild antipasto, vegan mayo, pea shoots, romaine, and pickles, served on a pretzel bun. They have a variety of vegan desserts, specials, and plant-based milks for beverages.
Sweet North Bakery, 10 Court St S.
Fattoush Salad from Damascus Donair
The restaurant was started by a Syrian refugee family, and has several super affordable vegan options. This salad is amazingly fresh, but you can also try the babaganoush, hummus, and hummus wrap.
Damascus Donair, 17 St Paul St.
Raw Pizza from Bliss Cafe
The only fully-vegan restaurant in the city, Bliss Cafe serves up many raw delights, including this pizza. They also offer cooking classes.
Bliss Cafe, 87 Cumberland St N.
Salad Bowl from Rebel Salad
This is a great place for lunch where you order a build your own salad with as many vegan toppings as your heart desires. All vegan items are clearly labelled on the menu.
Rebel Salad, 320 Bay St.
Vegan Poutine from La Poutine
Poutine is Canada’s national dish, which is hard to find veganized. At La Poutine, they have several vegan poutine options, and everything is prepared on a separate grill.
La Poutine, 16 St Paul St.
Gelato from Prime Gelato
This place is packed in the summer — and for good reason. This artisan gelato uses as many local, organic, natural ingredients as possible, and provides several vegan flavors which change frequently. Vegan options are clearly labelled.
Prime Gelato, 200 Red River Rd.
Crabby Bonobo from Bonobo’s Foods
Bonobo’s is THE place to go to for vegan burgers and other comfort foods. Their homemade burgers were voted some of the best in the city, beating out many other meat-based ones in the same category.
Bonobo’s Foods, 493 Oliver Rd.
Aloo Gobhi from Monsoon
This Indian dish is always guaranteed to be vegan no matter where you are in the world. Hearty, spicy, and delicious, it pairs well with mixed veg. or rice. There are several vegan options here (just make sure you ask them to omit butter) and staff are super friendly.
Monsoon Thunder Bay, 588 Arthur St W #4
Organic Peach Tarte from Pineapple Express Cafe
This newly-opened restaurant and catering business offers food for gluten–intolerant, plant-based, and health-conscious eaters. They had 2 types of vegan tacos when I visited, as well as rotating vegan desserts, like this one.
Pineapple Express Cafe, 223 Algoma St S.
Cauliflower Steak from Red Lion Smokehouse
This smokehouse, which serves mostly meat, doesn’t seem very vegan-friendly upon first glance, but every Wednesday they offer different homemade vegan dishes using locally available organic produce. This cauliflower steak was smoky, healthy, and super satisfying.
Red Lion Smokehouse, 28 Cumberland St S.
There’s a growing vegan community online, including the Vegan Alliance of Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay Vegan & Vegetarian Official Association Facebook page, which has over 500 members. There have been activism and outreach activities in the city, such as anti-fur marches and vegan documentary screenings. A local doctor even made national news extolling the benefits of a plant-based diet as preventative medicine, revealing his goal to raise enough money to fund a plant-based food truck in the city.
Plus, it’s quite easy to find vegan groceries, cosmetics, and clothing if you know where to look. My go-to places are Bonobo’s for vegan groceries, Kelly’s Nutrition for vitamins, and Lush for vegan beauty products. There’s vegan baked goods and snacks at the local farmers’ market; handmade vegan cosmetics in specialty shops; and whole aisles or organic and vegan food in the major grocery stores. Nationwide burger chain A&W serves the Beyond Burger and plant-based milk is widely available in restaurants and cafes.
It’s clear that Thunder Bay has a lot to offer for vegans, and that the movement is slowly but surely growing in this small city. Next time you’re passing through, stop and try some of its delicious food or get in touch with other plant-based eaters nearby.