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Canada’s Most Welcoming City? Three New Thunder Bay residents Think So.

Article by Bill Wrightshell, Photography by Alan Dickson

We often refer to Thunder Bay as one of the best places on the planet to live. And if you’re someone who has called Thunder Bay home for any length of time, you likely cherish our strong sense of community and our unique northern lifestyle.

One of the benchmarks of a truly vibrant diverse community is its ability to attract new people, and as Thunder Bay’s economy makes a shift to a more knowledge based one, our in-migration of professionals has increased. Bayview asked three of our newest ‘imports’ to share what drew them to living in Thunder Bay.

Holy Freill – Dietician

Holly grew up in Carleton Place, a suburb of Ottawa. She attended the University of Guelph for a Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Nutrition and completed a Masters of Science in Food and Nutrition from Western University. In 2011, she accepted a position at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

"I came to Thunder Bay in 2011 after working in Windsor for a short time. My boyfriend, Daniel Lester, (who had been completing his law degree at the University of Windsor while I was at Western), had been offered a Clerkship at the Superior Court of Justice. While most law students article at a law firm once finished law school, Dan had the rare opportunity to clerk at the Superior Court, so quite obviously, he couldn’t say no. Dan and I had been dating throughout grad school, had lived in a number of cities since leaving Carleton Place and felt up to the challenge of living in one more city. We agreed that we would come to Thunder Bay for one year, the length of his placement, and then we would return to Ottawa as we had planned to do once we’d finished school. Famous last words!

I was able to find a job that I really enjoyed. Shortly after coming to Thunder Bay I was hired by Thunder Bay Regional where I covered a maternity leave with the stroke program, before being hired full time in the Dialysis unit. I was very fortunate to be given this position as in many other larger centres a renal dietitian requires at least five years experience. But honestly, this is just one example of the amazing opportunity for health care professionals in Thunder Bay.

I have also held positions teaching at both the local college and university and held three different contracts/casual jobs as a dietitian outside of the work that I do for the hospital. Dan found a great job here that he really enjoys and similarly, has held a sessional position at the new law school. The breadth of opportunity here is striking and I guess we haven’t left because we’re still caught.

I really love Thunder Bay because it is a community. People don’t just live alongside each other here like they do in some cities. I have lived in Guelph, London, Windsor, Toronto and Ottawa and do feel there is a strong sense of community living. Right after I moved here, Dan and I were starting to want the company of friends our age. I noticed that he was meeting people through hockey, and realized that I needed something like that too. Having played soccer growing up, I got the number for a soccer league from a co-worker and gave them a shout. I was on a team within hours, no questions asked and I still play on that team to this day. That’s a really great example of the strong sense of community here. Everyone is very accepting and willing to help each other out. I have come to meet a lot of great people that way, and it was the basis for a social circle that I now enjoy.”

We get to have our cake and eat it too.

– Holy Freill

"Other things I like about the community include recreational leagues of golf and ultimate frisbee. I also really enjoy the restaurants, and the emphasis that restaurants and local catering put on local food & drink. As a dietitian I see the value in local food and am happy to live somewhere that embraces that value. Dan and I also bought a little house that we really enjoy. We often laugh that we really do have our cake and eat it too considering that our house backs on to green space near McVicar Creek yet we only have a seven-minute drive to work every day. We feel like we live in the country!"

– Holly Freill

Karen Ratcliffe, Human Resources

Karen Ratcliffe came to us from the land down under, Australia, and grew up in Beaudesert, Queensland (a small country town about an hour southwest of Brisbane). She’s lived in Canada for almost four years, two of which have been in Thunder Bay. She studied International Business at Southern Cross University in New South Wales and works from home in human resources for a global consulting firm.

“I came to Canada for love. My husband is a Torontonian. We got married in Hawaii a month ago; it was the most central location for both families. I met my husband in Brisbane, Australia and we dated for a year until he had to move back to Canada. We had a long distance relationship for about a year until he “lured” me to Toronto where we lived for about 18 months and then we made the move up to Thunder Bay when he was offered a position with one of the local law firms.”

“I’ve experienced so many activities that I probably would never have done if I’d stayed in Toronto.”

– Karen Ratcliffe

"I like the size of the community. Having grown up in a small town with a population of about 5,000 people, Thunder Bay is a good size and has allowed us to make a great group of friends. You don’t get swallowed up like you would in a big city and you always seem to bump into someone you know at the local Timmies or the grocery store. I like the pace of Thunder Bay and the outdoor living. When my husband and I were considering the move here, I was very excited. As an expat, I felt living in northern Ontario would give me the opportunity to truly experience Canada. I haven’t been let down. I love the fact that we can be camping in almost isolation 30 minutes outside of the city, and I’ve experienced so many activities I probably never would if I’d stayed in Toronto. Additionally, you’re only a short flight away from Toronto and a short drive away from the U.S. I love heading down to Grand Marais for lunch, or Duluth or Minneapolis for the weekend.

The sports community in Thunder Bay is great. I’ve managed to find a group of friends here mainly due to the sports that I’ve played; soccer, ultimate frisbee and curling. I’m an avid runner and enjoy the fact that I can go jogging along a tree lined path down to the Marina in the middle of town, not to mention beautiful Boulevard Lake a five minute drive away. Thunder Bay is very picturesque with some great hiking. I work with people based all around the world – UK, Spain and USA – I’ve shown them pictures of the Sleeping Giant and they are blown away by how pretty it is.

My husband enjoys the fact that he can be at work in 15 minutes with no traffic. We recently purchased a house in College Heights and love the proximity to downtown. Just a ten-minute walk and we can be having lunch at one of the pubs or coffee shops on Red River Road or in 20 minutes we’re down at the marina enjoying the gorgeous view. We like the fact that Thunder Bay is affordable. Coming from Toronto we would never have dreamed of being able to own a house so soon, but in Thunder Bay it was very achievable."

Shawn Chopra– Dentist

Shawn Chopra grew up in Mississauga, born to Indian immigrant parents. He attended the international business (IB) program for high school students, completed his undergrad at Western University, and then went on to the University of Toronto for dentistry. He recently established a dental practice in Thunder Bay.

“I initially moved up north (Schreiber/ Terrace Bay) after living in downtown Toronto for five years but I wanted to change things up. I’d heard about the opportunities for dentists in remote northern Ontario. I wanted to see and do more than I was exposed to in my Toronto office; basically “earn my stripes” as a dentist, and save up some money. I had the chance to become the only working dentist for about 200 kilometres, and I figured this was the real sink or swim experience I was seeking. As it turned out, I ended up loving the carefree, easy lifestyle of northern Ontario, and some of the natural beauty of the surroundings. What began as a one-year contract has evolved into almost five years! I moved to Thunder Bay last summer and purchased the practice from Dr. Don Lecocq, who after 50 years of service is happily enjoying his retirement.

Without a doubt, this is the most idyllic place to practice dentistry. While we have a high demand for services, high patient loyalty, and affordable practice values, what really sets Thunder Bay apart is the camaraderie in the dental association."

Low stress lifestyle, clean air, affordability and friendly faces all around you.
– Shawn Chopra

"I was encouraged right from the very start from my friends from the University of Toronto, my neighbours in the building and down the street, the older and established dentists in town, the industry & lab representatives, and from the specialists here. There’s a joke among the younger dentists that Thunder Bay has a way of sucking you in, and it’s incredibly true because the dental community here will basically reach out and grab you if they think you’re a good fit! The dental association is a really special thing here, in that people look out for one another, are welcoming, non-competitive, and generally enjoy spending time together. When we host courses, the guest speakers are often surprised at our closely-knit group. Overall, I think the real winners are our patients. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t seen the other side, but in places like Toronto the market is over-saturated, unaffordable and highly competitive. Working in a much higher-cost environment, dentists in those types of markets are under much more stress.

On top of the professional opportunities, the dining & entertainment scene is constantly improving. The city has seen some important developments like the medical and law schools, the new courthouse, the waterfront district and the real estate developments. Overall, it just seemed like things here were moving in the right direction when I arrived here. Plus, it’s really easy to zip home for a weekend in Toronto (which I do quite often), or to see my sister who is an opera singer in Chicago. I often brag about how close to the departure time I can arrive at the airport, and how quickly I’m off the plane and back at home.

I think for most visitors, the first impression is that it’s cold (and that’s a really hard thing for southerners to wrap their heads around) but then they’re impressed at the friendliness of people, and the incredible outdoor opportunities. From ice fishing and snowmobiling, to camping and golf, the outdoor lifestyle is four seasons. I’m willing to bet that the reason most southern Ontarian’s hate winter (like I used to) is because they don’t know how to have fun in it!

When you factor in the low-stress lifestyle, clean air, relative affordability of housing and business, and friendly faces all around you, you come to realize you’re not only adding years to your life, but improving the quality as well."


PHOTO: Holly Freill, Karen Ratcliffe and Shawn Chopra

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