On one of my really early Thunder Bay trips I stopped by this gas station in the middle of nowhere. I was driving to Nipigon and Highway 11 had some sort of accident that shut it down, so I saw there was a road called Lakeshore Drive that ran parallel to it. I figured that road would be a good detour to hopefully get around the stopped traffic.
I was a bit hungry and also was in need of some caffeine. I saw this little gas station along the way that seemed perfect to stop at. I got myself an energy drink and something to eat. I started talking with the cashier a bit and the owner of the store came in and our conversation lasted probably 45 minutes or an hour.
The conversation was great! We talked about all things Canada and the U.S. In our conversation we compared the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems. That’s where I was told about a “horror” story they had up there. Relatively speaking, it was minor compared to some of the U.S. horror stories I’ve heard.
I learned a ton. I eventually went on my way and found there was no traffic jam anymore. I’m not sure if they had cleared it in the meantime or Lakeshore Drive was actually the perfect detour. I remember the station owner said his name was John, but that was all I remember. This was in either late 2013 or 2014.
Fast forward to 5+ years later and I really wanted to find this place again. This was in my pre-blogging days so I couldn’t quite remember where I had went. When I was asking for recommendations of places to visit, someone suggested Crystal Beach Variety. When I asked if the owner’s name was John, they said yes.
Now why do I remember this gas station in the middle of nowhere? John is one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet and I gained a ton of perspective talking to him on that trip. I had to visit again and say hi! I did just that on my last trip to Thunder Bay when I was heading to Silver Islet.
Now the gas station itself is pretty small and unassuming. The pumps are the old school type.
The charm of this place is when you get inside. They seem to have pretty much everything you need! This is the essence of a small town convenience store.
Now what really makes this place an iconic small town convenience store is the atmosphere. John was working behind the counter. I introduced myself and we started talking. I jogged his memory and he remembered me when I visited. As we talked, other customers came in. They also talked a bit and you could tell we were in small town Canada where things were a little more laid back. It was cool seeing this laid back dynamic that is often forgotten in more rushed cities. We talked a good 45 minutes again before I had to get going with the rest of my trip. I asked John if he wanted to have a photo op for the blog and he agreed.
I went on my way again, but this time I definitely have a good pit stop mapped out for future trips north of Thunder Bay. Outside of the gas station has stellar views and a picnic table to take in the scenery.
There’s even a restaurant next door. I’ll have to try it next time!
If you’re looking for a great place to stop if you’re a bit north of Thunder Bay, Crystal Beach Variety is where it’s at. You get the charm of small town Canada and stellar views to go along with it. It’s also just a great place to slow down a little and have some good conversation. John is one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. This friendliness, along with the great conversation, burned into my memory to the point 5+ years later I knew I had to visit again. I’m sure glad I did!