The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is hosting one of the largest conferences in Thunder Bay's history this week as more than 850 delegates from 50 countries will talk about providing health care in underserved areas.    

Organizers said the logistics of hosting a global conference highlight the need for an events centre in Thunder Bay. 

Planning for the event started more than two years ago, said Sue Berry, an assistant dean at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and conference co-chair. She said she originally expected about 500 delegates.

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Sue Berry, assistant dean, Northern Ontario School of Medicine and conference co-chair. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"We had no idea that we would get over 800," she said.

But the increase in numbers presented a logistical challenge, as a single hotel in Thunder Bay simply couldn’t provide all the workshop rooms needed for that many people.

So the conference has split between the Valhalla and the Airlane Hotel, and video-conference links will bring the two together.

"Usually a conference centre of that sophisticated nature has all the tools and equipment that a conference needs," she said.

"So a lot of things we've had to improvise and work with and adapt and build."

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Thunder Bay tourism manager Paul Pepe. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Thunder Bay's manager of tourism, Paul Pepe, said having the right facilities can bring big tourism dollars into the city.

"An events centre, a flexible-use space, would definitely allow us to ... go out and bid on larger national and international events," he said.

Pepe noted the city is drawing more and more interest from convention planners as they look for alternatives to southern Ontario.