ALL ABOUT TRAVELLING
The Western Lands of Manitoulin Island
HOW-TO TRAVEL THE WESTERN LANDS
Gore Bay is a well-equipped town of 900 people that was established in 1890. It is beautifully nestled around the shore of the gorge, with a boardwalk, marinas, and Harbour Centre. To get a good sense of the town, start off on the East Bluff at the Harold Noble Memorial East Bluff Lookout. From this vantage point, you can see all of Gore Bay and the contours of the landscape. On most days the colour of the water looks incredible from here.
The town is the perfect size for a walking tour. After visiting the shops downtown continue over a street or two and start heading up the hillside on the far side of town. You will find some extraordinary grand homes on these steep treeline streets. You will also find the County Courthouse and Land Registry Office, and in the old jail the Gore Bay Museum which always has quality programming based on the sharing of the history of Gore Bay and Western Manitoulin Island.
If you head down to the harbour you can continue your walk in either direction or stop and dine while looking out over boats. Head north to your left and towards the open channel and you will come to the Harbour Centre, which houses a group of artists in the studio-stores. It is always more meaningful to meet the artist who was inspired to create the unique gift you have found. And the inspiration in part must be the beauty of this bay with its impressive tree-lined bluffs on either side.
On the third floor of the Harbour Centre, we are reminded how important it is to acknowledge the role of the water in our history, for none of the farming or logging or orchard growing would take place if it wasn’t for marine transportation and the people who dedicated their lives to travel on the Great Lakes and North Channel. The William Purvis Marine Museum links this history with our agricultural history, and the Harbour Centre is an extension of the Gore Bay Museum.
Make sure you take a walk outside along the giant veranda overlooking Gore Bay, just next to the beach. Workshops are held throughout the centre including on this inspiring deck lookout. And across the street is an ideal place for adults to refresh at the Split Rail Brewing Company. Relax and reflect on the beauty of the East Bluff and Gore Bay as you enjoy a cold beer and pizza outside in the fresh air.
Community events are well advertised in the coffee shops like Loco Beanz which has fair-trade cafes in Gore Bay, Little Current and Manitowaning, as well as stores on the main street. As they say, life’s too short for bad coffee!
There is theatre in the summer and an annual celebration called Harbour Days. There are no communities larger than Gore Bay from this point west, so it serves as an important resource centre for an entire region, and it is a good place to stop on your way west to pick up anything you might need. From here on, it is the growing beauty and spirit of the remoteness that propels us farther. It is about observation, reflection, and connection.
The area around Gore Bay is called the Municipality of Gordon/Barrie and it includes Barrie Island. The good people of this area have provided a number of ways to observe, reflect and connect: The Manitoulin Island Country Club is a beautiful setting and the licensed Clubhouse Dining Room is open to everyone. During July and August visit the Janet Head Lighthouse, built in 1879 and still operating.
On hot days there are two public beaches and a park to cool down: Julia Bay Beach and Tobacco Lake Beach along with Barrie Island Park all have change rooms and washroom facilities. Julia Bay and Barrie Island also have boat launches.
The Tenth Bike Path is a scenic paved seven km trip along the 10th Side Road Ice Lake, with a thoughtful bike shelter along the way. We are also in an active Farm Gate community, so if you took the advice and are travelling with some cash in your dash then locally grown produce and locally made goods will appear and be available to you.
More and more people are realizing that visiting Manitoulin Island in another season other than summer, is like discovering a whole new place. Everything changes with the weather and the seasons, including how we congregate and celebrate as Islanders.
A tradition in this area of the Island, is the annual Advent Festival Market held the first weekend in December. A Canadian style Christkindlmarket with outdoor fires and hot mulled wine.
As we continue west on 540 we come to the causeway between Wolsey Lake and Campbell Bay called Indian Bridge. You should definitely pull off the road here and enjoy the wild beauty of this geographically significant location. Looking west you can see Indian Point rising up to Indian Hill, and it was here at Obejewung that the local Indigenous people provided ferry service by canoe before the road was built.
The spirit of this place is evident in the two sentinels on each side of the bay – atop the telephone poles the mighty Osprey stand watch in all directions. Also known as the Seahawk or the Fish Eagle, the Osprey is a large predatory bird that feeds exclusively on fish and has been completely adapted to water-rich environments. Its physique is specifically designed to achieve greatness. It can submerge itself completely into water, and flies over the surface with its catch in its large talons with reversible toes! It can even catch more than one fish at a strike and this makes the Osprey the most significant competition to the worthy Bald Eagle.
The overwhelming natural beauty of this area sets the tone for the remainder of our journey west. We arrive on the other side at Evansville around the shores of Campbell Bay. This is a great area for fishing, and there are public boat ramps and family cabins, camping and resorts to relax here for a few days.
The stretch of road ahead is an opportunity for all kinds of things to happen, from eagle sightings to snapping turtles. To develop a good understanding of the richness of this environment – much that is important is very subtle like the Alvar itself - you must visit the Misery Bay Provincial Park which will come up on your left.
It is typical of rural Ontario how a great deal of important work is accomplished by a handful of dedicated volunteers and a small paid staff. The Visitor Centre is an eco-friendly interpretive centre housing a great deal of knowledge and resources, including an interactive exhibit where you can explore aspects of the park. It will open your eyes to all that you can discover on the trails through the park and down to the limestone shoreline.
As we begin the final western stretch of Hwy 542 from Misery Bay to Meldrum Bay, one can’t help but feel there is a certain natural balance to life when living like the rural people of Fernlee and Silver Water. You see the pick-up trucks go by. You notice the small gatherings in front of rural churches on Sunday. You appreciate the ‘All Welcome’ notice that appears on every poster for a community or church supper, every prize bingo or bake sale, every euchre tournament or community clean-up day. You know everyone really is welcome, even you. The cultural celebrations held by the Sheshegwaning First Nation and Zhiibaahaasing First Nation also represent recognition of this balance. The annual Pow Wow Celebrations open our eyes to our relationship to creation.
We share an unspoken recognition that the quieter, more remote, less accessible places are worth keeping – quiet. There is a spiritual quality in the Western Lands that comes from this close contact with nature in an environment that is not dominated by humankind.
Arriving at the picturesque community of Meldrum Bay, the most isolated of all the Island communities, you can now rest and pamper yourself and reflect on your journey of getting to know Manitoulin Island. The Meldrum Bay Inn can provide all your comforts – from sleep to nourishment to refreshment - packaged with the rural character of our historic past at this ‘seaside’ inn. In fact, within a few yards, you also have gifts and souvenirs, and the essential family run general store – The Dukes of Meldrum Bay - with groceries, fishing tackle, LCBO and bike, kayak and canoe rentals available.
Our travels across Manitoulin Island do not end here, as we will make the final trek to the western tip of the Island and the Mississagi Straits where we will find the quintessential Northern Ontario campground – beautiful, rugged, powerful, remote, natural. This is the Mississagi Straits Lighthouse and Campground. The limestone shoreline is at its most dramatic here, and the power of nature and the weather is evident all around. But tucked away among the cedars are intimate, private campsites, as well as hook-ups for trailers. There is plenty of space to explore and wander and dawdle along the shoreline, as well as swimming off the rocks or on the pebble beach. On the horizon is Cockburn Island which itself once had a community of people when life on the water was more common.
The Mississagi Lighthouse stands as a symbol of the determination of the people who came here – to all the communities across Manitoulin Island throughout time – who knew they had stepped on land that is special, perhaps sacred. It speaks of their determination to overcome all manner of challenges, to change with the times, and yet to hold on tight to the values of community and respect for the land. The ultimate challenge is not simply to survive but to thrive on this earth, as a way of honouring both ourselves, our grandchildren, and the incredible gift that creation is.