ALL ABOUT TRAVELLING
The Eastern Lands of Manitoulin Island
HOW-TO TRAVEL THE EASTERN LANDS
We begin our travel across Manitoulin Island on Hwy 6 at South Baymouth, where many visitors arrive by ferry from Tobermory including drivers, cyclists, and foot travellers.
The Village of South Baymouth has a unique character as a result of a major role it plays to serve the public as a port of entry to the Island. Spend some time here to discover what the local people have to share about their home. The Little School House and Museum and the gas station are both good starting points. Ask about upcoming community events, about Bowerman’s Walking Trail - cedar forest trails that take you to the limestone shoreline and Make Believe Island - camping at John Budd Memorial Park, and other local activities, special events, food and accommodations. Stop by Carl’s Trading Post, a friendly multi-generation family owned and operated business.
The museum itself is a wealth of knowledge about the farming, forestry, fishing days of the last century, including insight into daily life. Visiting the one-room school house with your children and pretending to be a student there is an educational experience in itself! And if you have an interest in the history of shipping on the Great Lakes including major storms and disasters, there is plenty here and at other museums across the Island.
As we leave the Village of South Baymouth and travel north on Hwy 6 we begin to get a sense of the rural farming character of Tehkummah Township, and in fact of much of Manitoulin Island. Imagine the challenges faced by our ancestors in attempting to clear enough arable land to plant. From limestone outcroppings, to glacial rubble, forests, cedar bush, lakes and rivers, doesn’t exactly sound ideal. In addition to being farmers, they were also fishermen and hunters, trappers and foresters, miners and sailors, scouts and guides – it took a wide range of skills and resilient people to succeed.
It took a lot more than a strong man – it took strong families. The Village of South Baymouth has a unique character as a result of a major role it plays to serve the public as a port of entry to the Island. Spend some time here to discover what the local people have to share about their home.
Take notice of the caution signage for horse drawn vehicles. There are a growing number of Amish families who are joining our communities and Tehkummah is one of them. It’s always a good idea to slow down when driving on the Island - deer and other wildlife appear suddenly, weather can change quickly, but also for the sake of cyclists, pedestrians and children playing.
A few minutes’ drive North on Hwy 6 and we come to the first exit for the Town of Tehkummah – the 10th Side Road. The town is a short drive, but on the way there are a couple of things to note. Travelling through the woodlands you will come to a beautifully landscaped family run garden centre. This park like setting is also the location of a locally well know summer cafe.
As the land begins to flatten out, you will come to a small bridge that crosses Blue Jay Creek. This is a great place to pull over for a few minutes to connect with nature. You can see the well established beaver dam on the right - a regular habitat for geese, ducks, hawks and eagles.
In Tehkummah you will find a classic rural general store family owned and operated. As you enter through the giant wooden door and hear the bell ring, you will go back in time, but to be certain all of your current needs will be met. From food to hardware, from local news and events to fuel, propane, ice, and lottery tickets, the general store has what you need. Tehkummah also has a baseball field, community hall, Municipal offices, fire hall, library and children’s playground, as well as family bakery, and a food stand with some very unique accommodations.
As with most communities, there are the regular activities of the local people that you are welcome to join in on. Euchre night at the Triangle Senior Citizen’s Club is a great way to integrate with the regular crowd, as long as you don’t mind losing to the professionals!
From Tehkummah you can head West on Government Road to the exit for Michael’s Bay Road. A beautiful drive that occasionally kisses up against the winding Manitou River culminates in a parkette and boat launch at Michael’s Bay.
This is the location of one of the Islands first settlements - a sawmill town. There is little evidence left today with the exception of several cemeteries, but the stories of the families and businesses of Michael’s Bay live on with local historical groups and museums.
Continuing along the Government Road you will come to Yonge Street, a secondary entrance to Mindemoya, and eventually to Providence Bay, but we will visit these communities of The Middle Lands later.
If we had stayed on Hwy 6 North and not taken the 10th Side Road to Tehkummah we would soon arrive at the exit for Hwy 542 and all communities westward. Within a few minutes’ drive we find the Blue Jay Creek Fish Hatchery of the Ministry of Natural Resources which is open to the public. Across the street is the 541 exit which loops back into Tehkummah.
Tehkummah Township has a number of local food producers and farm gate establishments. These are among the suppliers of fresh local produce to restaurants like The Garden’s Gate - a family run establishment which features ‘real food’ - healthy, organic, local, fresh and delicious, along with an excellent fine wine and craft beer list.
Reaching further West on 542 is the picturesque community of Sandfield which is centred around the Lake Manitou dam and the beginning of the Manitou River. This is a great spot to picnic and swim, to enjoy the river rushing over the rocks, to throw in a fishing line or rent a kayak, and to learn about the work of stream rehabilitation.
Sandfield has a strategic location because from here you can reach deep inland with ties across Lake Manitou to VanZant’s Landing and Green Bay, and a route from this point south to Lake Huron through the Manitou River and Blue Jay Creek water systems to Michaels Bay. This allowed the forest harvests of the inland regions to reach markets accessible from the shores of Lake Huron.
The community exhibits a pride of place with the landscaping and flowers and has provided beautiful sites to relax and enjoy. A general store cafe with fresh baked goods is just a few steps up the hill. Here you can find out about local events and activities including those held at the beautifully rebuilt community hall.
Returning to our route through the Eastern Lands we retreat back to Hwy 6 and continue our way north.
One of the remarkable natural phenomena of Manitoulin Island is the ever changing sky. The cloud variations caused by the lake effect (an Island in a large body of water) are ever changing and very localized. You can find yourself under blue sky and sunshine while watching the rain pouring down from the clouds on the horizon just a few kilometers away. This invariably means rainbows or double rainbows, early morning mist, evening fog, and every type of cloud imaginable resulting in extraordinary sunrises and sunsets.
Still it could be argued that the real magic happens at night. Manitoulin Island is known for its glorious dark skies and magnificent celestial displays. Local interest in protecting the dark skies of Manitoulin started more than a decade ago and led to the establishment of the Dark Sky Sanctuary designation. As we make our way north on Hwy 6 past the 542 exit we are entering the Dark Sky Sanctuary.
There are many ways to enjoy the night skies of Manitoulin Island, and one is to participate in the programs held at Gordon’s Park just past the Hwy 542 turnoff as we make our way north on Hwy 6.
This family run business developed their expertise on site and host special dark sky events including an annual Star Party. They are also well known for their nature trails and interpretive centre with programs for all ages. Gordon’s Park has a variety of types of accommodation as well.
Continuing north we can enjoy the pastoral landscape as we move into Assiginack Township. The sand hill cranes and Canada geese will surely be seen in the fields, perhaps among the big round hay bales dotting the land as far as the eye can see. Side by side with the cranes and geese are the white tailed deer - on average there are two deer for every one permanent resident on Manitoulin Island. The deer have specific wintering grounds and this region in the south east is one.
Gauthier Road is the turn for the Kicking Mule Ranch. Naturally you can go on horse rides along the beautifully forested trails, but it is also a unique and complete western ranch environment from jamborees to bunkees. And they operate on solar power to boot!
Traveling north on Hwy 6 we soon come to Fossil Hill at New England Road. This is an interesting and beautiful location. Fossil Hill is an outcrop of the Niagara Escarpment and tucked away among the exposed rock faces and overhangs are fossils that reveal the life that existed here 400 million years ago.
Certainly the escarpment is about much more than rocks and fossils - it is a unique habitat with specific plant and animal species and characteristics. This has resulted in some excellent hiking trails and nature walks. When we think of the New England of America we picture the autumnal colours of the mixed hardwood forests, and that is exactly what you will find a few minutes’ drive down New England Road.
A popular choice of locals who want to experience (and photograph!), the intense colours of autumn is McLean’s Park which offers 8km of walking and biking trails which are open year round. New England Road ends at Lake Manitou with a glimpse of what a family vacation at one of Manitoulin’s many family run Hwy 6 at New England Road is a great place to stop for a moment and enjoy the panoramic view. Motorcyclists like those participating in Manitoulin Rides enjoy this particular stretch of highway.
It looks and feels like a location for a car commercial – a sweeping curved highway descending and rising again, the La Cloche Mountains and the North Channel on the distant horizon. With paved shoulders in this region, it is also favourable for cyclists, joggers and hitch hikers. As we curve around the bend we approach the Hilly Grove Cemetery beautifully positioned on the hillside to face the evening sunset. This peaceful setting has a wonderful variety of majestic trees. A sign for Hilly Grove Trail reminds us this was once a community unto its own with a post office, school, church and a number of families.
Approaching the historic Village of Manitowaning notice also signage to the neighbouring community of Wiikwemkoong. Turn right off of Hwy 6 onto Meredith Street and at the bottom of the hill exit to the right for Wiikwemkoong and keep left to continue into Manitowaning.
There are many places you need to visit when you come into the picturesque village of Manitowaning. Assiginack Museum on Arthur Street which is located in an old jailhouse, has many exhibits in the museum as well as an extensive catalogue of family settlement history in the area. The Lighthouse, Queen’s Park and Assiginack Public Library are great places to visit in Manitowaning and only a short walk away. St. Paul’s Anglican Church is the oldest Anglican church in Northern Ontario.
Come and enjoy the waterfront in the summer. It boasts a sand beach, pavilion, amphitheatre and play structures for the children. Adjacent to the beach is a marina for those that like to enjoy life from the water.
Rainbow Ridge Golf Course is a beautiful 18 hole course situated just outside of town. Debajehmujig Creation Centre is on the main street and hosts many artistic and cultural experiences inside its doors, including an artist’s gallery, animation and music recording studios.
The community has a grocery store, pharmacy, LCBO, bank, Service Ontario office, and post office and several other private businesses to meet the needs of the locals and tourists.
Taking the right turn at the bottom of Meredith onto Caldwell Street will take you around the Manitowaning Bay and to the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve. On the way you will pass the Clover Valley Road exit which takes you to the Rainbow Ridge Golf Course (with licensed dining) and the Assiginack Curling Rink.
Staying the course will take you all the way into the village of Wiikwemkoong at which point the road name changes to Wikwemikong Way and is the main street. The 15 minute drive is beautiful as you climb back up from the lake level to the higher elevations of the escarpment. Billboard signs will let you know when you have entered onto the reserve, as well as promoting many of the community members who have been recognized for outstanding contributions.
Whether or not you are familiar with reserve life in Canada, Wiikwemkoong will come as a surprise to you as soon as you enter the village. It looks and feels expansive – it is one of the ten largest reserves in Canada and the largest in Northern Ontario, both in population and in area. Most impressive is the physical infrastructure, surrounded by well designed and kept buildings from stores and restaurants to health and emergency services. To find out everything you need to know about visiting Wiikwemkoong go to the Visitor Information Booth located in front of the plaza as soon as you enter town. The little cord-wood building with the red roof is operated during the summer by Wiikwemkoong Tourism.
In many ways Wiikwemkoong is like any other Northern Ontario town of similar size, and their slogan is ‘Open for Business’ as they rely on economic stimulus through visitors, vacationers and shoppers just as any other rural northern community. Surprising for most visitors is simply the experience that if you are non-native you are a minority here. A language that is foreign to you is spoken, traditions that are older than Canada itself are celebrated, and an artistic vision that is unique in the world has emerged. But it is not so easily understood, as outsiders will find equally curious the ongoing presence and active role of the Catholic Church through the Jesuits of the Holy Cross Mission.
There are many ways to engage with the local people and interact with their lives. The Anishnaabeg of the Three Fires Confederacy are a proud and progressive people, and they are always welcoming and honour visitors to their territory.
Wikwemikong is a large peninsula and there is only one road in and out so you will follow Wikwemikong Way all the way back to Hwy 6 where we will continue heading north from Manitowaning. Within a few minutes’ drive is the exit for Bidwell Road.
It would be a mistake to think of the Bidwell Road as a back road or short-cut across the Island as it can appear so on a map. The Bidwell Road is actually a series of small rural communities among the lakes linked together by this route known as Bidwell. It reaches into the heartland of the Island, and it needs to be driven at the speeds posted. There are sudden sharp turns and a few confusing rural intersections to navigate, in addition to watching out for deer, children, turtles, cyclists, and horse drawn wagons.
Bidwell is a journey through the early settler history when logging was transitioning into farming. Local museums as well as community records held by churches can give insight and bring meaning to the names you will see or hear – Van Zant’s Landing, Budges, Bidwell, Irish Line, Scottish Line, Green Bay, and Cold Springs.
The landscape is dotted with one room school houses and many small churches indicating there is a community in the vicinity. Every significant bay on Manitoulin at one time had a lumber mill and the hopes of a community being established. But after trees were harvested and the mill closed and the employees were let go, there was little left to sustain a community.
Consider stopping at the Green Bay United Church and Cemetery on Bidwell Road. This is a perfect hilltop cemetery with well-kept church and grounds, apple trees and lilac bushes and a magnificent view of paradise in all directions. The locals welcome you to visit, and you will find this to be the case with cemeteries across the Island who will make public their visiting hours.
Approached respectfully it is a great way to begin unraveling the history of man’s relationship with the place you are standing – there are clues written all over the grave markers. Begin by finding the earliest date of death – this might be the first settler in that region or a family member.
Bidwell Road takes us out of The Eastern Lands and into The Middle Lands where it joins Hwy 540 at Cold Springs. We will pick up our journey from this point later, but first let’s return to Hwy 6 North.
The gorge at High Falls can be very dramatic in the spring when the snow is melting and the run-off is high. This sudden opening in the limestone caused by thousands of years of water erosion is typical elsewhere on the Island as well.
During the next stretch of driving you might notice something that seems out of place for Northern Ontario – a grape vineyard. While this is a fairly new venture, grapes have been growing on the Island for generations as have many other foods you may not expect. Manitoulin Island is in the same growing zone as areas along Lake Ontario’s shoreline.
The location of an Island in a large body of water – Lake Huron - nestled against an ancient mountain range – the La Cloche Mountains - creates a more temperate climate. The summers are not as hot and dry as the mainland region, the winters are not as cold and dry. This lake effect is one of the reasons there is such great diversity of flora and fauna.
Another way of looking at it is to think of Manitoulin Island as a place where two zones overlap – a Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario zone. All the animals and plants and insects and birds of both zones together. It is estimated that 25% of all the species found in Canada can be found on Manitoulin Island.
Continuing along we begin to descend the escarpment with intermittent glimpses of the North Channel vista. Incredible sunsets, these views can be enjoyed from the shoreline during a classic family camping experience at Batmans Cottages and Campground. This well established operation is like a community unto its own, including programmed events throughout the summer, beautifully kept facilities, and friendly people.
Reaching Sheguiandah First Nation we discover another Northern Ontario version of the country general store, this time called The Trading Post. Fuel, propane, snacks, lottery, tobacco - you name it. These businesses are as important to our year round residents as they are handy for the traveller.
Sheguiandah hosts an annual Pow Wow every summer, and everyone is welcome to come and share in this cultural celebration on the beautiful park like pow wow grounds.
With the North Channel beside us, we soon come to another opportunity for a spectacular view at Strawberry Island Lookout. The land drops suddenly in front of us and falls way to farmers fields with a great display of split rail or cedar rail fencing. Just beyond we find the channel itself, with motorboats, and yachts, sailing ships, canoes and kayak all sharing this extraordinary cruising route.
All along the channel shoreline of Manitoulin Island you will find harbours, marinas and boat launches to serve the water loving community. You can also book boat tours to many interesting and beautiful destinations on the channel and among the many islands of the north shore.
On the outskirts of town as we approach Little Current is the location of the annual Country Fest Music Festival. This multi day event draws thousands of people, many of whom will camp on site throughout the festival. Like all events on Manitoulin Island, the festival emerged as an expression of the tastes of local people who want to share their enjoyment of country music. And so, like all events on Manitoulin Island, you will find there are just as many local people in attendance as visitors. The annual homecoming known as the Haweater Festival in Little Current is a good example.
Travellers on the waterways must all go through a single narrow passage created where Goat Island meets Manitoulin Island at Little Current. This is made possible by a century old steel swing bridge which opens to allow boaters to pass through.
Just next to the entrance to the swing bridge is the Manitoulin Welcome Centre where the staff and volunteers of the Manitoulin Tourism Association can help you with all of your Island info.
Another important place of convergence if you are interested in the local food movement is the Island Jar in downtown Little Current. In addition to the products and services they offer the Island Jar serves as an informal networking hub for organic growers, perma- culture practitioners, and local producers from across the Island.
Little Current is a busy port town and to navigate it by car you need know two things:
- Hwy 6 will take you Eastbound and South to Manitowaning, Wikwemikong and South Baymouth
- Hwy 540 will take you Westbound and South to M’Chigeeng, Kagawong, Midemoya, Gore Bay and Meldrum Bay.
Our final community as we leave The Eastern Lands and begin our journey of The Middle Lands is the First Nations community of Aundeck Omni Kaning or AOK. Previously known as Sucker Creek Reserve it celebrates with a summer pow-wow at its beautiful parklike grounds. Recently the community opened a new facility called the 4 Directions Centre, which offers a range of programming activities for healthy lifestyles.