Remote and perched on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, Thunder Bay boasts a diverse population and a history that dates back to Paleoindians thousands of years ago. That’s why award-winning filmmaker Kelly Saxberg (50) and her husband, Ron Harpelle (55), a historian at Lakehead University, devote themselves to telling Thunder Bay’s stories. The couple met as university students in Manitoba, travelling together for years before Ron landed his job at Lakehead in 1996. Since then, they’ve co-founded the annual Bay Street Film Festival, shining a global spotlight on both local filmmakers and the city itself.

The price is right

Ron: “Real estate is a good deal here, and it makes a big difference to be comfortable. Our productions are international; we fly around the world and we have the ability to make films without having to worry so much about the high cost of living. We do pay what we call the ‘Thunder Bay Tax.’ That’s the price of a flight to Toronto. It’s two minutes to go through security, and then it’s an hour and a half, and you’re at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.”

Window on the world

Kelly: “We’re living in quite a remote place but we’re also very international. I think in some ways it’s because we’re isolated: we have to reach out. Our world is not one little centre. We’re an international port, don’t forget. I look out my window on the third floor and I can see the ships coming in! Our films tell a lot about our place. As filmmakers, we have shot in every location in this city – our spectacular 100-year-old courthouse, out on the runway with airplanes. And you don’t have to pay for it. People are so happy to support you, and that you are telling these stories.”

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