Thunder Bay

Modbox rebuilds shipping containers for camps, homes in Thunder Bay

Four months to build a new camp seems like a record - but for one contracting company in Thunder Bay, Ont., they say it could be the new normal.

Company has built and installed two modular shipping container buildings around Thunder Bay

John and Anthony McRae are the co-owners of Modbox, a company which refurbishes and installs shipping container buildings in Thunder Bay, Ont. The structure they are in front of is located at Dog Lake. (Jeff Walters/CBC)
If you're looking at building a new home or camp, your future building could be on a container ship. Jeff Walters has a story about one company in Thunder Bay which is designing and building custom homes, from shipping containers. 8:28
Four months to build a new camp seems like a record - but for one contracting company in Thunder Bay, Ont., they say it could be the new normal.

Modbox, affiliated with Modstruct, takes used shipping containers, and re-purposes them to be used as homes or camps.

While shipping container buildings are not new, it is new to have the buildings completely assembled, and modified in Thunder Bay.

The company is owned by Anthony and John McRae.
Modbox shipping container camp at Dog Lake 2:14

"As I was building this in the facility, John was doing the site work. He tore down the old camp, he was doing the site work, he did the foundation," said Anthony. 

"We basically take the containers, do all the modifications, all the welding, all that kind of stuff, the framing, the drywall, the plumbing, pretty much almost completely finished to the point where we can ship them out and put this house together in about four hours."
A shipping container home, built and installed by Modbox Dog Lake north of Thunder Bay, Ont., is one of two the company has modified in the city. (Jeff Walters/CBC)
McRae said once the structure is in place, it takes about a month of finishing work inside the building to have it complete. The shipping containers are sourced from a company in Winnipeg.
The interior of the Modbox shipping container home at Dog Lake shows the walk-through kitchen, as well as dining area. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

At this point, the McRae's said they have built and installed two container homes. One, a camp at Dog Lake was originally going to be a stick-build frame. However, it was the travel time to bring in supplies that convinced the owners to look at a shipping container option.

The Dog Lake structure is a 1,000 square foot 3-bedroom building, and is built out of three 40 foot shipping containers. They were modified by being cut in half, and cut into 20-foot sections, with work being completed in Thunder Bay, and final assembly taking place on site.
Another Modbox structure was built and created by the company for a client at Fort William First Nation. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"Just with the road, and having to get out here, it takes about 50 minutes to get out here, we proposed to them we would have a quicker build time by building a modular building in town, and that's pretty much what happened," said John.

The build at Dog Lake took longer than four months for a variety of reasons, including an early season snowstorm in 2018 that made access to the site difficult. However, Anthony McRae said the goal is to have most builds completed within that timeline.

McRae said for the camp owner, re-using a product, such as a shipping container was important. He said re-purposing an existing product makes the container buildings a more sustainable way of building.

About the Author

Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.


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