Before and After – The Making of a Hostel in Thunder Bay, Ontario - The Haven Hostel

Before and After – The Making of a Hostel in Thunder Bay, Ontario

September 9, 2018

safe hostel following covid 19 protocols

Finally, a little glimpse into what it takes to build a hostel after all this time!

If you have been following our instagram and facebook @thehavenhostel, surely you have seen some funny moments over the last year that tell a visual story of flipping a massive property into a beautiful little adventure hub that opened in March of this year.

We still have so much more to do and can be really hard on ourselves. We are always trying to ensure our guests are having the best possible time and maintaining a high standard of comfort for everyone. We have to admit we get our hearts wound up in the process and are trying to get that under control and breathe a little bit. But, when we do get a chance to sit back and reflect with some photos that you see below, we realize it is truly amazing to see a  dream come to fruition that has been backed by the greatest community.

I still get asked quite often, “What spawned the idea of starting a hostel?”. Simply put, it was the experience of travelling to many hostels in the last ten years; definitely the only way I could have traveled as much as I did as it saves a lot on accommodation and allows you to travel longer and farther.  There is something to be said about the things you take away from these experiences. There are a few main reasons why opening a hostel has always been a dream.

  1. Hostels are unique. From beach huts with slack lines, outdoor showers made of coke bottle glass, bunks in the style of pods, murals on every wall, gear rentals, communal banter, worldly travelers … you name it. Obviously in Canada we cannot have outdoor showers all year,  but we sure can add some unique features that you won’t find in your average accommodation that you will soon see.


creating ceramic dishes in El Zopilotes hostel on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua with new friends

Hostel in Monteverde, Costa Rica, where the sloths are hanging low

2. They get you places unexpectedly. Usually most people in a hostel are from all different regions with many different interests. Once the conversation is started and everyone’s travels are discussed, you may find yourself going to the best hole in the wall you would have never known about, going in the opposite direction camping with a new group, or maybe even a whole other country. If you travel via hostels, you will know better than to make a solid plan. It is called: The No Plan Plan. Just better off that way.

That time you met an irish woman in San Juan Del Sur and randomly decided to go to Playa Gigante...

Getting there meant hitch hiking in no man's land...

3. The owner’s know how to make you feel at home. Being a person who loves to listen to older or more experienced souls, I always found myself chatting for hours with the masterminds behind the scene. Bluntly put, I wanted to be them. I wanted to travel, then stay put for some unknown amount of time, be rooted… share stories. Right now there is little time to chat being so busy with daily tasks, but the main goal is to share experiences past and present and continue to be inspired by our worldly travelers and travel again one day with their tales tucked away in our journals and back pockets. And maybe, just maybe, we may now inspire a few along the way as well.

Long story short in 2016 it was time to start getting serious about business planning. It took a year of sleepless nights, never ending research and about 20 mentors to iron out a plan and find the right place to set up shop. Including bringing one of those mentors on as a business partner who had a dream of a Gear Rental Shop which would be perfect combined with hostel culture. Paul had helped me with my global marketing strategy and believed in the idea since the first e-mail of inquiry.

After hunting for a building day in and day out for a year once I got real and moved back to Thunder Bay from Scotland, the perfect hidden gem at 226 Ambrose Street dropped significantly in price and was all of a sudden catching my eye. Being a 10, 000 square foot warehouse the possibilities were endless, however, a bit more than I can chew with so much space! Coupling the hostel with Paul’s retirement plan of Get Out Gear Rentals was  the first thing that crossed my mind as the storage seemed never ending and surely you could fit 50 or so motorcycles throughout. Needless to say, it took no convincing to fast track the retirement not retiring plan once you looked past the pink…


Actually, sometime in the past Paul had actually walked through this property conjuring ideas in his head as well, stumped like most, on how to transform this old school rail road gathering place meets casino training grounds crowned with a 1990’s skyline apartment into something functional in our newly hipped out downtown core. From those first head scratching thoughts, there are somehow many travelers sleeping currently in this transformed warehouse, and outdoor gear such as Townie bikes, mountain bikes, standup paddle boards, and kayaks that are now being used on the daily located within. Stay Tuned and follow @Getoutgearrentals on Instagram and facebook to see the progress.

Truly, the hardest work came with convincing financial institutions that a business type with absolutely no raw data  in our entire region was worth it. But… when you are relentless and believe in what you are doing, anything is possible. There was blood shed, sweat and pounds lost, and many tears and nervous breakdowns. But all that really matters now, is how far we have come and how far we plan on going.


Main Entrance.

Friends on demolition day, one day after we gott thte keys. June 24th, 2017 Before the main entrance transformation We tried the purple, we hated the purple, we got rid of the purple Get Out Gear Rental's Townie bikes on display by entrance        After the main entrance transformation complete with fire escape to second floor local artist Boy Roland putting up our signage Post signage

The Back Alley.


The Cozy Nook.

The Book Nook.

The Lounge.

Lounge_1  What do we do with this space?  Not to sure... but he has come up with some great ideas.    3J1A6344-Pano-Edit

The Kitchen.

Main Floor Washroom.

The Suite. Our Main Floor Barrier Free Queen Room with Ensuite.

The Stairway.

Private Queen Room #1.

Private Queen Room #2.

4 Bed Dormitory.

6 Bed POD dormitory.

Communal Bathrooms.

Upstairs Hallway.

Warehouse. Currently being mapped out for a pub and Get Out Gear Rentals.

We are Ride Lake Superior approved, have secure storage and work stations for your motorcycles ! Our garage has turned into a hangout for all the adventure riders out there. Even dogs like Moddey Dhoo.

The Logo and name.

Fooling around on the internet one day, I fell in love with the idea of a lion’s head and  the description of courage, strength and assertiveness. Taking on a project like this you definitely need all the things.

Being a fan of Narnia as a kid, and still to this day, a big lion with a crazy mane and a lot of detail came to mind. After looking at bohemian style lion ideas, it was the designer of the logo, Sonya Lacroix, that quickly made it obvious it would be too difficult to replicate for marketing. She was right. As one of my oldest friends, an amazing artist, and now a tattoo apprentice, I took all of her advice and she kindly put up with my edits and designed the final product that is now seen across all of our marketing material.

Another local and famed artist, Luc Despres, took Sonya’s design and created the masterpiece of stainless steel you can see mounted above the entrance to the gear shop. Without hesitation, it is easily the most profound part of the hostel that our guests and passersby stop and become mesmerized by.

The name was back and forth for months. In the end something simple and that described a safe and comfortable quarters for travelers that was watched by a powerful being, the lion, seemed fitting and so became The Haven.

In Business as of March 30th, 2018. We had our open house on June 6th.

Photo 2018-06-06, 12 49 25 PM

So many chapters yet to be written. So many ideas yet to come to fruition. A work in  progress indeed but we are so happy to have guests in house and the conversation plentiful!

If you have any questions at all about the hostel feel free to get in touch. After all, we are all about information sharing. We can give you the nitty gritty of what we have been through.

If you would like to book a room, check our discounts for sports teams and large groups,  or rent the entire hostel out for your wedding party, give us a call at 1-807-285-1142, e-mail: or check our secure website @

P.S. Let’s not forget about how many of our friends pulled together to make this happen. There were too many people from our community who came to help and could not capture them all, but here are a few #portarthurhoodlums who helped create communal space for all to share.

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