Travel: Islands of the Great Lakes
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Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, which separates northern Lake Huron from the Georgian Bay, is the largest freshwater island in the world. Its size — all 1,068 square miles — allows more than 100 lakes to call Manitoulin home. Some of these lakes contain islands of their own, on which small ponds can be found, resulting in a sort of insular mise en abyme.
It’s a repeating image easy to get lost in, much like Manitoulin’s natural splendor. But almost any traveler armed with an adventurous spirit (“Manitoulin” means “spirit island” in the Ojibwe language) and a little guidance will find something of interest among the quaint villages where Native American culture flourishes. There are fishing lodges, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and lakeside resorts that dot Manitoulin’s shores. Its wilderness offers a look at unusual flora and fauna. If getting lost is the goal, one need only look up after nightfall. An awe-inspiring, star-flooded sky serves as a simple reminder of just how small our ponds really are.
Fishing, hunting, cycling, hiking, bird-watching, golfing, antiquing, arts and crafts, museums, stargazing, boating, horseback riding, camping, swimming, and sightseeing.
From May to October, take the Chi-Cheemaun car ferry from Tobermory, Ontario, to South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island. (See chicheemaun.com for sailing times.) The drive to Tobermory from Detroit is approximately six hours when border-crossing in Sarnia via the Bluewater Bridge. A passport or enhanced driver’s license is required.
WHERE TO STAY:
Manitoulin offers a wide range of accommodations, from rustic campsites and cabin rentals, to high-end Swiss-style chalets and plenty of variety in between. For details: manitoulintourism.com.
Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve — “Wiky,” for short — hosts a traditional Native American powwow in June and a three-day cultural festival in August, but is worth a visit anytime.
Stop and swim beneath the 35-foot Bridal Veil Falls, near the town of Kagawong. If a sandy beach sounds more attractive, Providence Bay, also known for its salmon-fishing, is the spot.
Visit the town of Little Current for sailing lessons and to see the last remaining swinging bridge in North America. From there, head west about 11 miles to the Cup & Saucer Hiking Trails for a variety of trails and one of the best views of the island.
Gordon’s Park Eco Resort, less than 15 minutes from the ferry docks in South Baymouth, is an all-in-one island experience. Overnight visitors can choose between camping, tipi tenting, cabin rental, or a stay in the park’s bed-and- breakfast. Guests can take advantage of bike tours, educational hiking trails, stargazing and sky tours, fossil hunting, archery, bird-watching tours, scavenger hunts, and many more family-friendly activities.
LEFT: A turtle on a rock takes a breather on Manitoulin. RIGHT: The 35-foot Bridal Veil Falls
If you’re in the area of Gordon’s Park, stop at the nearby Garden’s Gate Restaurant for homegrown and locally sourced fare, winning desserts, and a selection of Niagara wines and small-batch microbrews.
In Gore Bay, the 1880-era former Queen’s Hotel is now the Queen’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, immaculately restored and resplendent in antique furnishings. A seat on the open-air veranda offers views of the harbor and nearby bluffs. On summer Fridays, Gore Bay Farmers’ Market visitors can find real maple syrup, heirloom tomatoes, jams and preserves, and a variety of crafts.
The Taste of Manitoulin Festival (June 8-17), now in its second year, offers culinary and cultural events across the island.
An archeological site was discovered on the island in 1952. Featuring artifacts thought to be between 9,500 and 30,000 years old, the spot, Sheguiandah, is a National Historic Site of Canada.
During the Beaver Wars of the 17th century, the Iroquois forced the Native Anishinaabe from the island. Manitoulin was largely uninhabited until the natives began returning after the War of 1812. The British government opened the island for settlement 50 years later through the MacDougall Treaty, which the Wikwemikong chief did not agree to. Thus, Wiky remains the only officially recognized Unceded Indian Reserve in Canada.
LEFT: A glorious Weagamow Lake sunset. RIGHT: Curious fox kits take in the scene.
Danny Dodge, son of John Dodge and heir to the Dodge Motor Co. fortune, married Annie Lorraine MacDonald, a telephone operator from Manitoulin, where Dodge owned a lodge. The young couple were married just 13 days before Dodge drowned in the waters of the North Channel after a bizarre dynamite accident at the lodge. The coroner ruled it an accident, but the incident is still shrouded in mystery. MacDonald’s $1.25-million inheritance from her husband’s estate and the Dodge family’s bewilderment over the class-crossing marriage only stoked suspicions.
Other Lake Huron Islands:
(136 square miles) Golf courses, off-road ATV/ORV exploration trails, kayaking, birding, hiking, biking, and 17 shipwrecks to explore.
(3.8 square miles) The most popular Great Lakes island for tourism, renowned for its fudge, fort, and the Grand Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. (In honor, overnight guests in 2012 receive free admission to the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum).
Bois Blanc Island
(34 square miles) Pronounced “Bob-Lo,” not to be confused with the isle in the Detroit River bearing the same name. Offers summer lakeshore cottages and a quiet environment.
Les Cheneaux Islands
(36 small islands) Known mostly for wooden boating (home to the nation’s first Chris Craft dealer), birding, fishing, and summer-cottage rentals.