2019 IW Winners

Influential Community Trailblazer - Thunder Bay

Patricia Forrest

Patricia Forrest

Patricia Forrest wound up in tourism thanks to a combination of happy coincidences and unexpected opportunities.

The senior co-ordinator of partnerships and initiatives for Destination Northern Ontario grew up just west of Thunder Bay, the daughter of a farmer and his Scottish wife. After the war, her father persuaded her mother to marry him and live on his “ranch” in Canada, which, in reality, said Forrest, was just “a little shack in the bush with no indoor plumbing or electricity.”

“We were poor, with not a whole lot of reasons to succeed in life except that my parents were very encouraging,” said Forrest. “They would tell us that we could be whatever we wanted to be and, as hard workers and lifelong learners, they were great role models.”

Forrest breezed through elementary school, but said being a couple of years younger than her classmates made high school daunting.

“In high school, it was hard to fit in,” she said. “I wanted to get into university where I wouldn’t stick out as a keener.”

Sure enough, right after graduating, off she went to study French and English. She graduated with First Class Honours, but found herself unexpectedly unprepared for the workforce.

“I remember after I graduated, going to an employment counsellor at the university,” she said. “He made it clear to me in that interview that I didn’t have a lot of opportunities.”

She decided to take a business course at the local college, and while she'd loved university, she picked up a wealth of practical skills there. This training launched her career.

“When I finished there, a teacher told me, ‘You’d be really good at marketing,’ and I said, ‘What’s marketing?’” said Forrest. “She said she had a friend who had a tour boat and was looking for someone to manage it and do the marketing. I got the job.”

“From there, I got to know the people at Fort William Historical Park. I was asked if I wanted to join them as the marketing manager, which would never happen today. You’d have to go through a whole hiring process! And I was so young!”

After a few years working in the North, Forrest decided she’d like to see the world and found herself in Australia, then Halifax, and then in the Kingston area.

In the early 1990s, she decided to move back to Northern Ontario with her baby son to take the position of manager of Thunder Bay Tourism.

“I wanted my son to grow up here because I believe it’s a great place to live,” said Forrest. “And I was right about that!” She spent some time as an independent economic development and tourism consultant before joining Destination Northern Ontario in 2013.

In her current role, Forrest has implemented exciting initiatives like bilingual wayfinding projects that make navigating around Northern Ontario easier, and food tourism development initiatives that promote local cuisine.

A trailblazer in more ways than one, Forrest spends much of her free time travelling and hiking: she recently completed the 210-kilometre El Camino hike between France and Spain.

She said she’s enjoying the results of her years of working in tourism.

“I’m incredibly fulfilled in my work because I know the things I’m doing are helping the North,” said Forrest.