The Persian: Uniquely Thunder Bay
A Journey into Thunder Bay, Ontario
Thunder Bay, the most populous municipality in Northwestern Ontario, is often referred to as the “Lakehead”, or “Canadian Lakehead”, because of its location at the end of Great Lakes navigation on the Canadian side of the border.
European settlement in the region began in the late 17th century with a French fur trading outpost on the banks of the Kaministiquia River. It grew into an important transportation hub with its port forming an important link in the shipping of grain and other products from western Canada, through the great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the east coast. Forestry and manufacturing played important roles in the city’s economy. They have declined in recent years, but have been replaced by a “knowledge economy” based on medical research and education.
Thunder Bay’s main tourist attraction is Fort William Historical Park, a reconstruction of the North West Company’s Fort William fur trade post as it was in 1815, which attracts 100,000 visitors annually. The marina in downtown Port Arthur, an area known asThe Heart of the Harbour, draws visitors for its panoramic view. There are several small surface amethyst mines in the area, some of which allow visitors to search for their own crystals. A 2.74 m (9 ft) statue of Terry Fox is situated at the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout on the outskirts of the city near the place where he was forced to abandon his run.
The city of Thunder Bay was declared a “Cultural Capital of Canada” in 2003. Throughout the city are cultural centres representing the diverse population, such as the Finnish Labour Temple, Scandinavia House, the Italian Cultural Centre, the Polish Legion, and others.
Thunder Bay is also known for a local pastry called a Perisan.
A Persian is an oval-shaped, cinanamon-bun-like sweet roll with a sweet, pink icing made of either raspberries or strawberries. It is credited to have originated at Bennett’s Bakery in and remains particular to the former city of Port Arthur (which became known as Thunder Bay after its amalgamation with Fort William in 1970).
The persian is legendary to those from or who have connection to Thunder Bay, but by few beyond. So, to the rest of us beyond the Lakehead, here is its story.
Traditional lore is that the Persian was named for U.S. general John ‘Blacjack’ Pershing but the exact date of its inception and circumstances of its creation are no longer known, giving rise to competing claims and myths among people in the region. Its recipe remains a general secret with long-running debates on whether the icing contains raspberries or strawberries. Persians are often used as fundraising items to be sold at schools, churches, shopping malls, and other social events
It has been written that wistful former residents on a visit home often make a special bakery trip to get one last persian fix or stock up when they return to wherever they’re living. “I’ve sent them to Toronto and people have paid the overnight courier rate of $50,” Nucci sais to Bonnie Schiedel of Billy. “I’ve shipped them to California and Hawaii – we put the icing on the side – and I know people who have taken them on the plane back to England. It’s just feel-good food and it’s a tradition that reminds them of home.”
It seems that in addition to the taste of the pastry its appeal also comes from being remote from anything that one would typically associate with northwestern Ontario,” said Betty Carpick, an artist long intrigued by the persian to Billy . “As with many sweet, pleasurable and indulgent treats, the persian appeals to people of all ages and I like that.”
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