Assiginack Museum

Assiginack Museum

Manitowaning

A plaque at the entrance of the Assiginack Museum recounts the years of the ‘Manitowaning Experiment.’ After the Manitowaning Treaty of 1836 formally acknowledged Manitoulin Island as belonging exclusively to the Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatomi in perpetuity, the village of Manitowaning–Ojibwe for ‘den of the Great Spirit’–became the centre of the Canadian government’s Indian Department to ‘Europeanize’ the Native inhabitants, with an Anglican clergyman, a doctor and a teacher in residence.

The treaty of 1862, still controversial today, revoked the previous treaty, removed the Native population to assigned reserves–except for Wiikwemkoong that was, and remains, Unceded Territory–and opened the Island to settlement by Scots and Irish immigrants from southern Ontario. The ‘Experiment’ failed, and by 1867, the Indigenous residents had moved out and non-Native entrepreneurs moved in, building mills, homes, general stores, churches, hotels and setting up shop as blacksmith, cabinetmaker, tailor, bootmaker, doctor. By 1879, when The Manitoulin Expositor newspaper was founded and published there, Manitowaning was a most prosperous town.

The Assiginack Museum and Heritage Complex, opened as Manitoulin Island’s first museum in 1955, commemorates the origins of the town of Manitowaning and the Township of Assiginack on its grounds, in its limestone lockup and home for the jailer built on Arthur Street in 1878, and in the adjacent temperature-controlled exhibition and research facilities built in 2000 as a millennium project. This newer space is where curator Kelsey Maguire, who has a degree in English from the University of Guelph, a certificate in Museum Studies from the Ontario Museum Association and a special interest in genealogy, directs visitors who are looking for genealogical information on the area’s early families and their descendants, or for records of old properties.

The archives in the air-conditioned and heated facility are open to researchers by appointment year-round; catalogued are census print-outs, obituaries, family trees, files on existing headstones in cemeteries, records of family farms and properties. “The first Manitoulin Expositor is here,” says the curator, “and most all the hard copies of the paper. Although some are missing, the archive is mostly complete.”

In the exhibition hall below, a large collection of early iridescent lime green ‘vaseline glass’ glows in a glass case and rare china pieces that once graced the grand dining rooms of Manitowaning tastefully attest to the wealth of the townspeople in those days. Most of the museum’s extensive collection has been donated by local families whose ancestors settled here in the 1860s and later. “The biggest part of our collection is the china and glassware,” says Mr. Maguire, and there are enough display cases throughout the museum of the most fanciful blown glass and now-vanished porcelain patterns to amaze today’s visitors with perhaps more ‘minimalist’ domestic tendencies.

The spacious reception room features the affectingly executed scale model boats of Jacob C. Shigwadja; the late model-builder handcrafted large replicas of Manitoulin’s first ferries, including the Normac of the 1930s, the Norgoma and Norisle of the 60s (the latter ferry is berthed just down the street in Manitowaning Bay), and a five foot long cedar model of today’s Chi-Cheemaun, launched in 1974.

The original rooms house tools, taxidermy–no home of distinction was without at least a stuffed loon or fox somewhere–and early domestic implements, all witness to a long-gone way of life. A WWI and WWII military display shows rare vintage photographs of Manitoulin’s uniformed contributors to the war efforts; another room houses the last telephone switchboard in Manitowaning, in use until 1973 when dial phones took over, operated for a time by the Assiginack Museum’s former curator, Jeanette Allen.

We pause before a display of early children’s toys, including a gangly, crudely carved wood doll with hand-painted eyes and mouth: “This one,” says Kelsey Maguire, “was made by my great-grandfather, Jim Leeson, for my grandmother Amy Maguire, nee Leeson, circa the 1920s. It was loaned to the ROM’s Ethnology Gallery ‘Dolls’ Exhibit in 1979. It’s a ‘dancing’ doll. If you sit down and hold a wood shingle off your knee and bounce the doll up and down on it, the hinged legs make it look like it’s dancing.”

Among the picnic tables around the grounds are a restored one room log schoolhouse (1878), moved from Ten Mile Point, a driving shed and a blacksmith shop with authentic period settings in which to imagine life back then. One tiny log cabin, belonging to Philomene Lewis, was moved here from Wiikwemkoong. A photographic history of the area’s first schools is a paean to settler industry in establishing education early on. Here are Budge’s Settlement School (1874), Manitowaning’s Continuation School (1880), the Union School in the Slash (1883) and many more.

The curator, born a Haweater, has always lived in Manitowaning, and he is in his element here, amidst the local mementoes handed down through the generations: “This is my family,” he says, taking in the whole museum complex, from hardscrabble beginnings to later grandeur.

On Friday mornings in summer, a lively market and performance by Debajehmujjig theatre group fills the historic setting with local food, crafts and frolic.

The ‘Historic Walking Tour of Manitowaning’ map, available free at the front desk, lists over forty places of interest in the town.

Assiginack Museum and Heritage Complex: 125 Arthur Street, Manitowaning. Tel: 705-859-3905. Hours in July and August: Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. www.assiginack.ca/assiginack-museum-heritage-complex

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #manitowaning

Gore Bay Museum

Gore Bay Museum

Gore Bay

Tucked into a hillside in the town of Gore Bay, a complex of limestone buildings was erected in 1889 when the town became the judicial seat of Manitoulin Island: a courthouse, a land office and a home for the jailer—with jail cells—perched on the lower slopes of the West Bluff, visible from every vantage point.

Today, the large courtroom in the classical-style building at 27 Phipps Street still hears the cases for the District of Manitoulin every week of the year. The jailer’s home, a quaint farmhouse-style stone structure at 2 Dawson Street around the corner from the courthouse, now houses the Gore Bay Museum.

The former home of the jailer and his family, and the ‘lockup’ part of the house—four tiny jail cells with a high barred window, narrow barred cell door and barely enough room for a cot—were separated by a thick wood door. Nowadays, this part of the museum, home and jail, accommodates early settler artifacts, furniture, lace bedspreads and table runners, dolls, toys, dresses, hats and kitchen implements in its perfectly preserved, original rooms; a noteworthy collection honours the career of local photographer Joseph Wismer with exquisite prints made from his glass negatives taken between 1900 and 1930. The prisoners’ wood refectory table, off-limits to photographs, is a moving memorial to the men who carved their names on its surface.

A new wing, designed by architect Brian Garratt and built in 2005, beautifully accentuates the old jailer’s quarters, and has also expanded the museum’s role in the community as host to artist exhibitions, lectures, concerts, book launches and readings within the wide space and, in summer, also outside on the long, stone-column-lined ‘porch’ on two sides.

Recognized with the Ontario Historical Society’s 2014 Russell K. Cooper Living History Site or Heritage-Based Museum Award for ‘heritage-based excellence in programming, ingenious problem solving, or site development,’ the Gore Bay Museum has presented unique cultural offerings for over 30 years.

Since 1987, Nicole Weppler has been the director of the museum, overseeing continual improvements as well as the building and programming expansion that then led to the development of a ‘satellite’ site on the waterfront, the Harbour Centre, dedicated to showcasing local art and artists in their studios, galleries and shops and the William Purvis Marine Centre on the third floor.

“Nothing beautiful happens without a multitude of people helping,” says Ms. Weppler, who works with the Museum Board of Gore Bay’s town council and many community volunteers to stage multiple events–with homemade donated catering–every year to benefit the community and raise funds for the preservation of the historic museum building. For the last three years, Cheyenne Barnes has been the able summer intern greeting visitors, clearly enjoying the “great environment and people experience” and showing her anime-inspired drawings in the gallery gift shop before she heads to Laurentian University in the fall for zoology and music studies.

This summer, until September 30, the large, modern space is showing two local artists’ fine works in traditional and modern media: ‘Confluence’ is an exhibition of brushwork paintings in Japanese Sumi-e inks and Chinese watercolours on Japanese and Italian fine art paper by Lynne Gerard. The artist, whose studio and shop is in the Harbour Centre, merges her considerable skills in painting, poetry and calligraphy to create each artful, enlightening meditation on birds, horses, ravens, hummingbirds, a bicycle ride home after work, life, art.

Another gallery is dedicated to the memory of Donald Moorcroft (1935-2015), a photographer who summered for years at Ice Lake; a former professor of physics at the University of Western Ontario, he was a hobbyist at first. On Manitoulin, he said, he could “suddenly see what was in front of my eyes.” His work is of deep contemplation of patterns, textures, landscapes and feelings in Nature: lichen as you’ve never seen it, mesmerizing veins in rock, a forest melting in golden fog.

Slipped in behind the gallery is the ‘dental office’ with two dental chairs and all the grim accessories necessary to the gruesome procedures available then. There’s a ‘grocery store’ display with cash register and typewriter on the clerk’s desk and boxes and cans of popular old brands of household goods stacked on the shelves.

Step over the door sill that separates the gallery from the home and jail to be transported into Gore Bay and environs of the late 1800s. In the warren of original rooms, upstairs and down, little dioramas are created, each a surprise to come upon. A child’s bedroom resonates with the care of the painstaking hand work in the lace bed cover and embroidered nursery rhymes. In the jail, one cell is exactly as it was then, cot overlooked by barred window; other cells are arranged as curio cabinets of fascinating relics of bygone days: clothing, dolls, wash bowls and jugs ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue.

At the Gore Bay Museum, the legacy of yesterday seamlessly melds with contemporary artistic expression, tomorrow’s cherished heritage.

Gore Bay Museum, 2 Dawson St, Gore Bay. Tel: 705-282-2040. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday 2 to 4 pm. gorebaymuseum.com

Harbour Centre, 40 Water Street, Gore Bay. Open Tuesday- Sunday 12 pm to 4pm. gorebaymuseum.com/harbour-centre

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #gorebayontario

Little Schoolhouse Museum

Little Schoolhouse Museum

South Baymouth

It’s a little harder to imagine now, looking around the busy ferry transportation hub that is South Baymouth in the summer, the two-family fishing base of 1878 that became the foundation of a booming fishing industry, when the village became known as ‘The Mouth.’

The original fishing families, the Ritchies and the Wilmans, joined by other pioneers, also built the first school in 1891. Heading south to the ferry, that school is the last building before the terminal–a bright red wood structure, trimmed in white, with belfry and bell, it is now part of the complex known as the Little Schoolhouse and Museum, just the place to explore the humble but ambitious beginnings of the port village.

The Little Schoolhouse was in use until the 1960s and is fully furnished with all the accoutrements conducive to learning–small wooden desks, blackboards behind the teacher’s desk and cards along the top with the perfect cursive writing all pupils had to master, a globe, a wall map of the world, a woodstove, all authentic to Manitoulin schools in the 1940s.

The separate Museum building a few feet away, opened in 2001, is a large, bright space holding captivating displays on all sides and curio cases in the centre that feature this community’s important role in the development of the Island economy. Highlighted are the early activities of catching, salting and shipping fish, the subsequent commerce in fresh fish, the families, Green, Chisholm, Sim, Owen, who joined the original two in building South Baymouth’s thriving fishing industry, the beginnings of regular ferry service to and from Tobermory with the 14-car ‘Normac’ in 1932.

Among the mounted photos of early settlers, mills and scenes of home and farm life are a hundred-year-old ‘Log Cabin’ quilt, an alcove honouring spinning and weaving arts, the community’s first telephone switchboard, and photos and artifacts of WWI and WWII donated by local veterans’ families.

The Museum devotes a section of the exhibition area to the enduring story of the ‘ghost town’ of Michael’s Bay; the site of the old mill town lies 15 kilometres west of South Baymouth. Here, in the place of a former Odawa settlement that dates to the 1600s, as soon as Tehkummah was surveyed in 1866, a mill was built on the rushing Manitou River that before long cut and shipped millions of feet of pine, squared timbers and lath; in 1879, a town plot was laid out. Called ‘Stumptown’ for its only major commercial activity, timbering (which some say account for the rapid rise and fall of Michael’s Bay), it saw the building of boarding houses, stores, a hotel, taverns, a bakery, a school and soon spawned such occupations as millwright, cooper, carpenter, lighthouse keeper, fisherman. By the mid 1880s, the population of Michael’s Bay had grown to 400 souls.

The whole settlement burned in 1914, razing the mill and the homes and businesses to the ground; the booming town that had appeared overnight similarly vanished in smoke. All that is left today is a large expanse of flat field next to the falls where the mill stood, now almost totally hidden by large trees.

The mandate of the Michael’s Bay Historical Society (MBHS) is “dedicated to preserving the history and restoring the Michael’s Bay Townsite …. with the goal of purchasing the land.” The MBHS seeks to protect the five found cemeteries from development; one of these, a Methodist burial ground where 43 graves were found, is roughly signed on Michael’s Bay Road and may be visited by taking a short path leading into an overgrown, leafy glade where underfoot, little white crosses now bloom in the dense ground cover.

For now, the Michael’s Bay town site is under the auspices of the Federal Government due to an ongoing series of complicated previous land dealings; the old ghost town is closed to public access. Outstanding issues, including the Indigenous burial grounds and Anishinaabe land claims, must be resolved. 

The Little Schoolhouse Museum is the repository of the old survey maps of the town plot of Michael’s Bay and of records, photos and artifacts of the time of the lumber boom, the bust years that followed and of the ultimate tragic fire. There’s not much left now but the poignant memories and artifacts of Manitoulin’s first lumbering town and of the dreams and aspirations, not only of the early builders of South Baymouth and Tehkummah Township, but of those of seek to preserve them.

The Little Schoolhouse and Museum, South Baymouth. Tel: 705-859-3663. Open daily (May to October) 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Admission by donation.

The Michael’s Bay Historical Society welcomes inquiries and new memberships ($10 annually) by mail at P.O. Box 7, South Baymouth ON P0P 1Z0

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #southbaymouth

Bikes on Board! MICA Initiatives take Island Cycling to Higher Heights

Bikes on Board!

MICA Initiatives take Island Cycling to Higher Heights

There’s a joyous upsurge in enthusiasm for bicycling on Manitoulin– the numbers are in and they show an increasing appetite for this healthy, enjoyable sport, year after year. For starters, the Island’s many natural charms and nostalgic appeal, tranquil back roads and welcoming inhabitants all but guarantee a stress-free vacation on wheels with as many or as few local activities as desired.

It was the Manitoulin Cycling Advocates’ (MICA) inaugural Passage Ride in 2012 that first brought eighty bicyclists on a free ferry ride to Manitoulin from Tobermory (sponsored by the Owen Sound Transportation Company), kick-starting the annual event that saw 250 riders disembark last year for two days of fully supported riding, food, music and fresh air infusions.For MICA’s president, Maja Mielonen, and vice-president Guy Nielen, the continual increase in bicycle riders on the Island provides the motivation to up the ante not only with new additions to their cycling adventure offerings but with their ongoing successful lobbying of the powers that be for better cycling infrastructure on the Island, all the while networking with tourism boards and regional bike trail organizations, attending Tourism Northern Ontario’s summit and promoting the Island at the Toronto International Bicycle Show in March. These two powerhouses of the pedal, along with MICA’s board and members, sponsor businesses and organizations are the wind behind all those bikes touring the highways and byways of the Island.

 

“In 2017,” says Ms Mielonen, “there was a 6.1% increase in cycle passengers on the ferry, in contrast to the .2% increase in general ferry passengers. Five thousand eight hundred and thirty-four bicycles were counted on the ferry, including walk-ons and bikes on cars. And in June, of course, the Passage Ride was sold out.”

Manitoulin Cycling Map

Purchase your Manitoulin Cycling Routes and Road map from the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates.

MICA’s annual signature event on June 2 and 3 this year includes free passage on the Chi-Cheemaun for participants and their bikes, free luggage shuttle to their choice of accommodations (pre-booked by participants) in which to hang their helmets for two nights, a dinner and dance on Saturday night and a musical community lunch on Sunday. The Passage Ride is supported both days with mechanical breakdown assistance and aid stations strategically positioned along three different routes.

Initiated in 2017, MICA’s ‘Cycle Adventures’ offer longer (five-day) touring packages in June and September on long or short routes, with four nights in a lakeside lodge or cottage, four breakfasts, lunches and dinners, free ferry passage and lots more. Last June, two intrepid cyclists booked the first package and in September, there were ten riders eager to explore Manitoulin’s spectacular scenery and amenities.

MICA’s working partners now include the Tourism Ontario Product Development Team, Northeastern Ontario Tourism and other arms of government (notably the Ministries of Transportation (MTO), and of Tourism, Culture and Sport, in the development of safe cycling routes and programs on the Island. 

Thanks to MICA’s multi-pronged vision and strategy to increase cycling, Manitoulin is part of the Georgian Bay Cycling Route – a thousand-mile signed route that encircles the Georgian Bay, winds through the Island to Sudbury before turning south again – itself a part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail which ultimately will connect to Sault Ste-Marie via the Lake Huron North Channel Route, opening more and more of Northeastern Ontario to safe cycle travel.

MICA’s working partners now include the Tourism Ontario Product Development Team, Northeastern Ontario Tourism and other arms of government (notably the Ministries of Transportation (MTO), and of Tourism, Culture and Sport, in the development of safe cycling routes and programs on the Island.

MICA’s tireless lobbying efforts at the highest levels resulted in getting Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to begin adding bicycle-friendly paved shoulders on the Island’s highways, starting with the stretch between South Baymouth, the ferry’s port, up Highway 6 to Ten Mile Point; the next stretch, from there to Little Current, will be completed in 2018, as will the northward route from Little Current to Espanola, connecting north and south with paved shoulders for the first time, starting from Mar on the Bruce Peninsula. Also due to MICA, paved shoulders were incorporated into the upgrading of Highway 551 between M’Chigeeng First Nation and the town of Mindemoya in 2016.

These are huge victories, as those who rode the Island’s previous shoulder-less incarnations will attest.

Sometimes the powers that be act in mysterious ways, too, as MICA discovered after lobbying for over three years with the support of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation (AOK) to get the MTO to pave the shoulders of Highway 540 in the resurfacing work being done last year from Little Current to Honora, passing through AOK. No response. The resurfacing started and when it was finished, lo and behold, there were paved shoulders the whole way! MICA’s work with AOK culminated in much-improved ease of access and safety for bicyclists in that community who travel to school, shopping or jobs in Little Current, close by yet too far to travel daily without public transportation.

The “surprise” shoulder paving of Highway 540 is like a beacon of hope to MICA for the future of bike infrastructure improvements on Manitoulin, as it was followed shortly after with a letter from the MTO to Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, also a strong supporter of MICA’s mission.  It outlines support for infrastructure projects related to “promoting cycling and cycling safety in the province” such as improvements to various roads that are part of the Georgian Bay Cycling Route, including those on the Island. More interestingly, there is an acknowledgement by the MTO of “the role that Highway 540 plays in supporting cycling in the community” in their decision (albeit announced after the fact) to add shoulders to that summer’s paving west of Little Current to Honora and, when work on the highway improvements recommences, the hope is that the paved shoulders will continue on to M’Chigeeng, and Kagawong and Gore Bay.

While the letter does not explicitly mention adding paved shoulders in further resurfacing projects, Guy Nielen says, “We’re hopeful that the bike route that has been initiated on Hwy 540 will continue in the next phase of highway rehabilitation.” MICA’s board plans to discuss “further efforts” as the next MTO project unrolls between Honora and Kagawong this summer.

And so, Island cyclists, MICA’s got your backs, powered by fierce commitment and resourcefulness to ensure safe, accessible and pleasurable pedalling now and into the future.

www.manitoulincycling.com   manitoulincycling@yahoo.ca   Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Sheguiandah National Historic Site: Twice the Age of the Pyramids of Egypt

Sheguiandah National Historic Site:

Twice the Age of the Pyramids of Egypt

When Thomas E. Lee, an archaeologist with the National Museum of Canada, found ancient stone implements in an Island farm field in 1951, they led him and his team to a nearby ridge of quartzite, part of the Precambrian geological formation over two billion years old that was poking out of the top of the younger rocks.

At the top of a hill in Sheguiandah, a picturesque hamlet on Highway 6 south of Little Current, Lee uncovered a stunning archeological find: a large, prehistoric quarry filled with innumerable stone tools, spearheads and scrapers that Lee claimed proved the existence of the oldest recorded humans in the Americas, some 25,000 years ago. His findings, developed before the use of carbon-dating, contradicted the ‘standard’ view – that humans came to North America after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago – and were not substantiated, fueling a decades-long controversy that is still debated today.

In 1954, the hill, quartzite quarry, and the habitation area that encompasses the village of Sheguiandah were designated a National Historic Site of Canada. For over forty years after Lee’s initial digs, the site lay dormant, the land privately owned and occasionally quarried in a different location.

“The heritage value of the remains found in Sheguiandah,” reads the Canadian Register of Historic Places, “resides in a series of successive cultural occupations of early inhabitants in what is now Ontario, beginning circa 11,000 B.C.E. with the Paleo-Indian Period during the recession of glacial Lake Algonquin.

“The site also contains artifacts from the Archaic Period (1000-500 B.C.E.) as well as Point Peninsula Culture stone tools associated with the Middle Woodland Period (0 – 500 C.E.).”

These were the findings of Patrick J. Julig of Laurentian University and Peter L. Storck of the Royal Ontario Museum who led a team of specialists to re-open the quarry site in 1991. They found strong evidence that the glacial till in which Lee had found artifacts and which dated the site to 25-30,000 years ago was in a fact a much younger beach of a receding glacial lake and the effects of wind and erosion in mixing the soil had caused some artifacts to be lodged in lower, older soil strata.  Julig and Storck dated the site at 9,500 carbon-dated years, after the last Ice Age, now the standard view among archaeologists.

A Geo-Archeologist, Patrick Julig has been a professor of Anthropology at Laurentian University in Sudbury since 1990, now part-time, and had been doing research on Manitoulin since 1985. He and his wife Helen bought a hobby farm in Sheguiandah in 2002, semi-retiring to the Island in 2005 – just up the road from the site of one of most exciting archeological finds of Dr. Julig’s long career.

“The new dig was a collaboration among local municipalities and First Nations; we were working with First Nations Chiefs from the beginning. The Chiefs of Sheguiandah and Aundeck Omni Kaning were involved in discussions about collaborative ventures for tourism; communication is ongoing. The First Nations did their own studies about a possible cultural or interpretive centre and there’s support from the major landowners and the Town of NEMI. Sheguiandah First Nation wants to honour their ancestors by allowing others to learn from the site.”

Also close to the archeological site on Highway 6 is the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah, a small but significant repository of artifacts found in the nearby excavations, ancient fossils and settler implements and buildings, offering fascinating glimpses of life in this culturally diverse area from prehistory to modern days. Last fall the Museum unveiled an engaging interactive exhibit dedicated to the National Historic Site of Sheguiandah with the backing of the Town of NEMI and grants from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and Canadian Heritage’s Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. At last, an easy-to-navigate, fun way to learn the amazing history, geology and archeology of this important place.

Dr. Julig is chair of the Museum’s Advisory Committee and designed the content of the exhibit into the clearly delineated archaeological periods of the site that are represented by descriptive panels and accompanied by the artifacts of those periods found by Lee in the 1950s and by Julig and Storck in the 90s. Museum Curator Lisa Hallaert was keen on activities for kids, so there’s a sandbox ‘dig’ with a screen for sifting out ‘artifacts’ like shells, stones and beads and an iPad station with a custom-designed archeological game featuring Dr. Julig as a cartoon character.

Among the educational panels of photos, maps and absorbing information on the site’s history, Patrick Julig indicates a display case of artifacts from the Middle Woodland Period and points to a clay pipe. “You see that in this era, people started to smoke tobacco and they made clay pipes. The Middle Woodland is characterized by the making of pottery and copper beads. Before clay, containers were made of skin or birch bark.” A beautiful clay pot from a similar site is shown as an example of artisan work from 2,500 BCE.

“Each cultural period is an evolution into the next,” adds Dr. Julig. “Paleo-Indians used long, thin, pointy spear points for thrusting at game. The quartzite knoll in Sheguiandah was their tools workshop for centuries, and we have the evidence of their scrapers and spear points, and of heavier ‘cores’ used to chip into a spear point or to flake into scrapers or knives. The spear points of different periods also indicate different ways of throwing spears, and in the Archaic Period they were fast and accurate, using ‘atlatls’ (spear throwers) and spear points with notches.”

A welcome development of the Centennial Museum project to bring the site into the light of day is the plan to allow guided tours to the prehistoric quarry in future, pending funding and consultation with those involved. “We need a boardwalk first, and gravel paths,” says Patrick Julig. The site is fragile and vulnerable to disturbance and is protected from any encroachment by the Ontario Heritage Act and the National Historic Site designation.

To Patrick Julig, almost thirty years after the publication of his team’s findings, the Sheguiandah Archeological Site remains a place of awe: “Sheguiandah is twice the age of the Pyramids of Egypt and of Stonehenge. You can see the different ancient water levels that are clearly visible and indicate the distinctive eras, the 450 million-year-old Ordovician beach conglomerate called Mystic Ridge, the artifacts that have been lying around for thousands of years and the dug pits, now bogs, at the very top,” says the archeologist. “Because quartzite is more acidic than Manitoulin’s more usual alkaline soil, there are blueberries up there.”

Until it’s possible to tour the famous site, the Centennial Museum’s interactive exhibit will whet the appetite for the archeological wonder that is Sheguiandah.

The Centennial  Museum of Sheguiandah, 10862 Highway 6, Sheguiandah.  Tel: 705-368-2367 Open May to October.

Manitoulin’s heritage lighthouses: still beaming brightly

Manitoulin’s heritage lighthouses:

still beaming brightly

Manitoulin Island is a marine history buff’s treasure trove, and the Island’s storied marine history is preserved in her surviving lighthouses that ring Manitoulin. Travel, fishing, lumbering, commerce in furs and food, even visiting relatives, all took place on the water from earliest days.

This increasing commercial water vessel traffic in the Great Lakes region brought a boom in lighthouse-building, writes the late Jean Hastings in her little book, ‘Lighthouses of Manitoulin and Surrounding Islands’ (now sadly out of print but available at some Island libraries). “More than 300 lighthouses have been built since 1808, with about 70 located around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Between 1866 and 1918, nine lighthouses were built on Manitoulin Island and six on surrounding islands,” most of which can be seen, and some visited, in the present day.

In the 1960s, lighthouses were automated and the need for the lightkeepers of old vanished. With solar power,wrote Ms. Hastings, energy is stored in batteries that are triggered into producing light by the diminishing brightness in the sky.

The first Island lighthouse was built in Little Current in 1866 where the downtown cenotaph now stands. It was essentially a two-story wooden box, with a “bird-cage” on top that protected the lantern. The building of the Swing Bridge in 1913 made the waterfront light obsolete and it was torn down in 1922. Today, an authentic recreation of the original bird-cage light may be seen on Little Current’s waterfront.

Other earliest examples of Island lighthouses, such as the one at Clapperton Island (1866) off Mudge Bay, and Cape Robert (1885) in Sheshegwaning First Nation, unfortunately, have been torn down by the Coast Guard and replaced with steel towers topped with solar-powered flashing lights. Not as aesthetically pleasing, nor historically resonant, but those lights still guide boaters today, and in Sheshegwaning, a visitor can hike the Nimkee Trail and have a picnic where the old lighthouse once stood.

Before the lighthouse was built on Lonely Island (1870), the location off Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory’s eastern shore presented a potential real danger to navigation. A painting by William Armstrong shows the ship, the ‘Ploughboy,’ in 1859, precariously close to Lonely Island’s formidable rocky promontory, narrowly avoiding certain disaster while carrying a prestigious passenger, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, across Georgian Bay. Today, Coast Guard helicopters land on a helipad adjacent to the original 46-foot octagonal wooden tower to maintain the sturdy building and its light that flashes every ten seconds, accessible only by boat.

Badgeley Island (1912) near Fraser Bay and close to Killarney also has a range light on steel towers, still working and picturesque. Narrow Island (1890), off Little Current, was dismantled suddenly by the Coast Guard in 1979, leaving only the stone foundation and a new steel tower that holds the old light.

Thanks to longstanding and vigorous local preservation efforts, led by historian Bill Caesar and Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong, and strongly supported by The Manitoulin Expositor, Senators Pat Carney and William Rompkey and development corporations such as LAMBAC, nine historic Island lighthouses have been designated of significant heritage value. All on original sites, they remain official aids to navigation and can be enjoyed much as they were when they were built. Work is ongoing to resolve outstanding issues related to the transfer of the lighthouses from federal control to municipalities and other sponsors in order to ensure lasting protection for the important sites.

In the 1960s, lighthouses were automated and the need for the lightkeepers of old vanished. With solar power,wrote Ms. Hastings, energy is stored in batteries that are triggered into producing light by the diminishing brightness in the sky.

Under the modern siding of the Strawberry Island lighthouse off the east coast near Little Current, says Bill Caesar, is the original 1881 wooden structure, “built with no nails or screws, only wooden dowels.” The three-storey building is in the “Georgian Bay style,” looking now exactly as it did then, with a home on the second floor and the lantern light on the top floor, reached by a ladder. Burning kerosene, filling the lamps daily to keep them alight for marine traffic at night, some of the early keepers of Strawberry Island lived with their families at their post for thirty years; children were born and gardens and livestock were kept there.

Strawberry Island has “the highest heritage score” for authentic period details, and, along with Janet Head (1879) in Gore Bay and Mississagi Strait (1873) in Meldrum Bay, is an outstanding living example of the style.

Following the automation of the Strawberry Island light in 1963, the lighthouse was preserved from certain demolition by the Coast Guard through the efforts of the late Barney Turner and Dr. Jack Bailey of Little Current. Since then, the lighthouse has been privately maintained by a family that lives there in navigation season, leasing the property from the Coast Guard.

The best way to see Strawberry Island lighthouse is by boat, but those on land can spy it from the Swing Bridge in Little Current and from Highway 6 across from Great LaCloche Island.

Janet Head and Mississagi Strait lighthouses may also be seen from accessible Island roads. Janet Head guided travellers over the ice and boats through dense fog to and from the North Shore and still does so today. It is located at the end of the appropriately named Lighthouse Road which follows the shoreline from Gore Bay’s west end where Split Rail Brewery and the Harbour Centre Gallery are located.

Mississagi Strait is home to perhaps the most dramatic tales of shipwrecks, including possibly of the ‘Griffon’ in 1679, and of whisky smugglers, the hardships of the weather and the rugged, lonely life of the keepers at the western treacherous tip of the Island. From this lighthouse, on a clear day, a visitor can see the Michigan shoreline of Lake Huron. The site features a good campground with some waterside sites. It’s a great place for birding, you can swim at a gravel beach, and the rock formations are interesting to clamber around. It is leased by the Manitoulin Tourism Association from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a tourist attraction.

Strawberry Island has “the highest heritage score” for authentic period details, and, along with Janet Head (1879) in Gore Bay and Mississagi Strait (1873) in Meldrum Bay, is an outstanding living example of the style.

The Manitowaning Lighthouse (1885), at 133 years old, is a beautiful wooden structure covered in cedar shingles near the town’s main intersection. The ventilator ball at the top of the roof dates back to kerosene-burning days, when the open flame filled the lantern room with heat and fumes. At the nearby Assiginack Museum may be seen coal oil lamps and a reflector from the lighthouse that guided steamers from Georgian Bay to Sault Ste Marie. The electric light still directs visiting boaters, and an opaque panel keeps the light out of residents’ homes.

Kagawong’s lovely light tower across from the marina was built for $293.81 after the fire of 1892 destroyed much of the town. Shipping was brisk from the 1870s to the 1950s, with steamers taking livestock, lumber, pulp, fish and passengers to southern destinations; the steady red light still shines directly over the water. Rick Nelson keeps a display of photographs of all the lighthouses on the Island as well as the old lighthouse lamp in the museum at the Old Mill.

Kagawong’s lovely light tower across from the marina was built for $293.81 after the fire of 1892 destroyed much of the town. Shipping was brisk from the 1870s to the 1950s, with steamers taking livestock, lumber, pulp, fish and passengers to southern destinations; the steady red light still shines directly over the water.

The lighthouse of Great Duck Island, of the Georgian Bay style, originally housed William Purvis, his wife and 10 children for the first 20 years. Destroyed by fire in the early 1930s, a scourge in those days of open flames, the keeper’s home was rebuilt and razed again in 1995, although the light continues to lead the way for boaters and tankers, and for the fifth-generation Purvis family fishing operations in the waters off the south coast and the Purvis fishing station at Burnt Island. Other notable lights include the South Baymouth Range Lights (1898) that steer the Chi-Cheemaun into port, and the Michael’s Point (1870) exquisitely rebuilt lighthouse by Ron Anstice and Ron Hierons, re-dedicated in 2006.

‘Alone in the Night: Lighthouses of Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island and the North Channel’ by Andrea Gutsche, Barbara Chisholm and Russell Floren is available in The Expositor bookstore, Print Shop Books in Little Current or from expositorsub@manitoulin.ca.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Get reel! Make fishing your Manitoulin mission

Get Reel:

Make fishing your Manitoulin mission

It’s 7 am at the Providence Bay Marina and a warmly-smiling bearded fellow walks towards a charter fishing first-timer, one hand clutching a coffee, the other extended in greeting. Neil Debassige is the owner of Island Sunrise Cottages and Fishing Charters, (he’s also the principal of Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng), and this morning we’re headed out on to the big water of Lake Huron on the south coast of Manitoulin to do some big fishing. Regular guest Glen McCosham, who goes out with Neil four or five times a year, is the other passenger; he hails from Lively, near Sudbury, and he is psyched. “I was up at 5:30,” says Glen, “I can’t sleep if I’m going out on a charter!”

We climb into Neil’s spotless craft, moored along thirty-odd others in the slips, and slowly move out of the bay into the open water. Neil sets up four downrigger rods off the stern, explaining how they work to catch the Atlantic, pink, coho and Chinook salmon, and the lake and rainbow trout this area is known for. “We’re fishing down and back,” he explains as he attaches the large shiny lures, “so the line goes straight down 30 feet to a release clip attached to a weighted ball. From there the line with the lure at the end goes back 125 feet. When a fish pulls on the lure, that line is released from the clip and goes slack, causing the rod to pop up, not down, which makes sense when you understand the mechanics of the system.”

With the mechanics taken care of, we settle in. “Today is perfect,” sighs Glen. It’s nippy and overcast, we’re all bundled in several layers; the waves are choppy, giving for a wilder ride than, say, fishing on an inland lake. With the insider knowledge of a long-time charter enthusiast, Glen adds, “What you don’t want is a calm day.” (You don’t?) “I call those ‘bluebird days’ when it’s sunny and the water is like glass out here.” Pressing for what possibly could be wrong with such days, when all is unruffled, even your butterflies, Glen replies, “then you’re swatting at deer flies and mosquitoes.” Fine, bring on the shifting seas! We’re looking for an authentic experience here, not some onboard picnic, after all.

More boats are zipping by now, heading into deeper waters. Out of consideration for this guest’s lingering butterflies, Neil stays closer in the bay, watching the sonar screen. He explains that fish feed in a ‘thermocline’ in the 50-degree range.

“Today is perfect,” sighs Glen. It’s nippy and overcast, we’re all bundled in several layers; the waves are choppy, giving for a wilder ride than, say, fishing on an inland lake.

“It all has to do with the water temperature. When it’s cold, fish won’t expend their energy to eat. We fish at the temperature where they’re feeding.” While the guests chat companionably, Neil quietly keeps an eye on the screens and rods the whole time. Suddenly he jumps up, seizes a rod and starts reeling like a man possessed. Glen grabs the net, and we land a beautiful pink salmon, small by their standards, about 2 pounds, but big by mine; it goes into a well filled with lake water. Off we motor, setting the rods for the Big One that Neil feels is out there.

Neil is a born teacher, and his wife Dianne is a teacher too; they fish in summer and hunt in fall. He taught in the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, and in Kashechewan First Nation in James Bay with Dianne before becoming principal of Lakeview School. “All kids, in all schools, are awesome,” he says, seeing his job as “unleashing potential.” He and Dianne have designed a program called “National Archery in the Schools” to teach this “very levelling sport that is not based on strength. It’s great for learning the ‘humility’ lesson of the Ojibwe Seven Teachings of the Grandfathers.” Neil also runs Fuel the Fire TV with another passionate outdoorsman, Rob Seifried, of Kagawong; their motto ‘Get Outdoors’ is on Neil’s t-shirt. Their first outdoor sports episode secured a deal with Wild TV on the Bell network, who intend to produce 13 more starting in January. The series’ pilot can be viewed at www.fuelthefiretv.ca.

The men are working like mad, bringing in the 11.5 pound Chinook salmon in what seems like seconds. They high-five each other, grinning like kids with their first catch. “It’s all about the charter captain,” enthuses Glen, “he has to know where the fish are, and stay on them!”

This reporter’s job so far has been to take notes–ok, just try this while on a bobbing boat!–and photos. That’s when I remember to unpack my camera. Just in time, too, as Neil races back to the stern while Glen assumes his position, lifting a rod with both hands and reeling furiously. “See?” shouts Glen, “Neil has that sixth sense!” as he manoeuvres the rod, the fish fighting him every inch of the way. The men are working like mad, bringing in the 11.5 pound Chinook salmon in what seems like seconds. They high-five each other, grinning like kids with their first catch.
“It’s all about the charter captain,” enthuses Glen, “he has to know where the fish are, and stay on them!”

It’s been about three hours, during which Neil reflects on how time on the water is just as important as catching fish: “Time spent outdoors is our most valuable time, it teaches us to respect each other and our environment.” He asks if I’d like to go out deeper. “The waves will be higher out there,” he says, compounding the butterfly issue. “Better to have enjoyed yourself than swear off fishing because you pushed yourself too far your first time out.”

As the two men stroll back to continue their quest, their relaxed forms seem to embody a phrase of the poet and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Back at the marina, we’re greeted by the harbour master, Ken Niles, who rings a bell to announce a catch over ten pounds. People flock to the weighing station to take a look. Ken takes two photos of the crew, one for the marina’s Facebook page and many albums, and one “to pick up when you come back.” Four years ago, Ken came from McKerrow, just off the Island, and started taking people out fishing. He’s since been hired by the Algoma Manitoulin Harbour Commission to run the marina, and now he’s “got no time to fish.” He loves promoting the fishing in Providence Bay, calling out in French and English to visitors from Timmins, Québec, London, “everywhere”, by name, overseeing the launchings and landings, answering the phone (“How’s the fishing? Fantastic!”) and manning the marine radio. His dog Lila follows him around as he keeps the coffee pot on and cleans the common areas; he also organizes an annual derby, fundraising for various local causes, offers the loan of a box of lures and awards a filet knife to “fish of the month” winners. Ken Niles is a prize himself.

At the immaculate fish cleaning station, kids crowd around to watch Neil rinse and clean the fish, filleting the red-orange flesh and vacuum-packing it. As the two men stroll back to continue their quest, their relaxed forms seem to embody a phrase of the poet and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
Fishing licences are required for all fishing, available at several licence issuers on Manitoulin.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.