To know Thunder Bay is to love Thunder Bay.
Lake Superior's largest town is hard to get to know, though, in part because it was two towns until 1970. No downtown pops out of the landscape; people driving through see only the flat sprawl of Fort William, then the hillier sprawl of Port Arthur.
But Thunder Bay's surroundings are spectacular: Mount McKay on the south, Kakabeka Falls to the west and Ouimet and Eagle canyons to the north.
On the northwest corner of Lake Superior, a 1,000-foot-high sleeping giant stretches across the horizon.
Its mesmerized onlookers for millennia. In 2007, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. listeners voted it No. 1 of Seven Wonders of Canada, far outpolling Niagara Falls.
From Hillcrest Park in Thunder Bay, it looks exactly like a cigar-store Indian, with a square jaw and arms folded over a powerful chest.
Thunder Bay is the Miss Congeniality of Canada blessed but not beautiful, endearing yet not alluring.
Craggy bluffs flank this working-class town of 120,000 on one side, and Lake Superior on the other. But the candy-striped smokestack of a paper mill is the first thing seen by those who arrive by air or U.S. highway.
Beyond is an unremarkable sprawl of commerce and industry. But Thunder Bay's homeliness is only skin-deep to those who know where to go: To the marina, where lovely sunsets frame the Sibley Peninsula with glowing bands of peach and slate-blue.
Every so often, we stay in terrible places so you don't have to.
We know you love deals, so we're always on the lookout. That's how we ended up in a dormitory in Thunder Bay, the biggest city on Lake Superior.
Both Confederation College and Lakehead University are in the center of town and offer residence-hall rooms. Since the Confederation rooms have private baths, we decided to stay there and check out the Lakehead rooms afterward.