Vibrant Gardens and Fine Dining’ is the way the owners-operators-chef advertise this unique dining spot that operates spring, summer and early fall (until Thanksgiving.) The fully licenced restaurant in Tehkummah beside Highway 542 and on the banks of the Blue Jay Creek is situated in a beautiful ever-changing garden and features unique specials using Manitoulin sourced ingredients. “A gift for the senses.”
Its name presumably derives from an area of blown down trees that once distinguished its shore (or maybe it was just one fallen tree that tripped up a surveyor?), but the other meaning of the word seems suitable too. You can readily imagine someone stumbling upon this pretty, spring-fed lake and thinking of it as an unexpected stroke of good fortune.
Even long-time visitors of this smallish lake in the Sandfield part of Central Manitoulin find themselves delighted anew. “Every time I go there, I fall in love with the lake all over again,” a veteran fishing guide told me..
This guide began frequenting the lake in the 1960s, taking guests from Lake Manitou’s Timberlane Lodge out on Windfall for a day of bass (and later, pickerel) fishing. Although a resort named Windfall Cottages for a while sprouted on the north shore of the lake, at that time there was very little here.
“Venus Middaugh, who’s gone now, had a boat up there where the cabins are, an old wooden boat that he’d pulled on shore because there was no dock, and he’d rent it out for the day,” recalled the guide. “Of course, when you keep a wooden boat that out of the water, the seams dry up, you could see daylight between the planks. We’d have to soak it in the water, and even then it leaked the whole time we were out fishing.”
These days most people access the lake from the public launch in the south end of the lake. It’s located amid the 20-lot Dial Subdivision and can be reached by following Trail’s End Road from Highway 542, then turning onto the Dial Road.
The lane to the boat ramp is well marked but steep, making launching tricky. Township CAO Ruth Frawley, whose parents built a cottage on the lake over 50 years ago, says she’s seen “cars actually floating there.” The township has improved the launch, but four-wheel-drive Is still advisable, particularly if you have a hefty boat.
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My canoe weighs 50 pounds soaking wet, so I slid it off the roof of my rig and plopped it in the water. Ahead of me spread Windfall Lake, lightly combed by wind, not a single other boat in sight.
You can see pretty much the whole lake, shaped like a cordate leaf, from any point on its circumference, but it’s not a tiny pond. It’s nearly two miles long, and over a mile wide.
The depth varies. According to my guide buddy, even in the middle of the lake you might have just 10 feet of water. Yet just north and east of the public launch, there’s a 50-foot-deep channel, a half mile long by a quarter mile wide, that people call the “Blue Hole,” He says that “the pickerel go down in there when the weather’s hot.”
Windfall Lake was once prized for its pickerel, which were introduced in the 1940s. “We had wonderful walleye fishing there for 30 years, but the word got out, and in 10 years they cleaned her right down, taking the great big spawners,” my friend says ruefully.
There are still some pickerel in the lake, however, “they’re there if you know how to fish for them,” says the guide. “The sad part is that 70 per cent of the ones you get now are the two or three pounders that you have to put back, because they’re in the slot size of 16 to 22 inches.”
For many years pickerel were netted in Windfall Lake by the MNRF and fish hatcheries, and “milked” for their roe and milt. Some of the fry reared from those eggs would be returned to the lake, while others would be planted elsewhere.
Pike were large and plentiful at one time, too. Mr. Hayes recalls hooking a 16-pound pike that “looked like it had quills sticking out of its mouth.” As voracious as pike famously are, it wasn’t the case, however, that this one had attempted to ingest a small porcupine. “They were hooks,” explains my friend. “Nine or 10 nickel-plated and gold-plated hooks, which last, so they’d stayed in its mouth. Every time someone had caught this fish, probably with a light line for perch or bass, it had snapped the line.”
He says that more than 30 years ago, “I could go in there and catch my limit of pike. We’ve got them in there up to 18 pounds, nearly as long as a canoe paddle, over 40 inches.”
While you’re unlikely to find such behemoths now, the fishing guide maintains that “for a small lake, it’s still pretty good; if you want to work for it, you can catch a pike or two.”
I didn’t bring a fishing rod when I visited Windfall, just my paddle. As I paddled, I tried to imagine a pike the length of my paddle. Then I thought about pike poles, those long shafts with spearheads on the end. For the first time ever, it dawned on me that pike were likely named for their resemblance to these medieval weapons, not only because of the pointy snouts, but because of their length.
The lake remained perfectly quiet and utterly barren of boats. I didn’t see a single human being. At one point I caught the whiff of a barbecue, emanating from somewhere deep in the Dial Subdivision, but that was the only indication of sentient life. Unless you count the blue heron that flapped lazily along the tops of the trees, looking for a place to land.
The eastern shore I was following had a rocky limestone shore, densely clad in cedars, juniper bushes, maples, oaks and a few wind-toppled poplars. Windfalls!
There were wildflowers too: bright orange wood lilies, daisies, a profusion of small yellow flowers that I didn’t recognize (they weren’t snap dragons or butter cups, I know that).
There were still no other boats on the lake. I took my time heading back, pausing here and there to rest and gaze down into the remarkably limpid water.
Apart from being an exceptionally clear lake, Windfall is also one of the Island’s highest lakes, and unique in having neither an inlet nor an outlet. “It appears to be all spring fed,” says my guide buddy. He’s has seen some of these springs. “while canoeing you can look down and see them, a circular area about the size of bathtub, with water bubbling out,” he told me.
I tried in vain to see a spring from my canoe. I believe that they exist, but I didn’t see one. I got tired of leaning over my canoe and looking, plus it started to seem like a good way to dump.
The question I had, while paddling back down serene, silent, seemingly abandoned Windfall Lake, was: who’s going to rescue me if I suddenly get hit by a rogue wave or freak bolt of lightning? That guy whose barbecue I smelled an hour ago?
But I wasn’t worried. Indeed, I felt lucky to be paddling on such a peaceful, unpopulated lake. It seemed like a, well, unexpected stroke of good fortune.
With its unfortunate name and confusing status, many maps still mark aSucker Lake Indian Reserve (No. 25), although it hasn’t been a reserve for years. Sucker Lake tends to discourage visitation.
This is a shame, for Sucker Lake is an idyllic, peaceful spot with three uninhabited islands, a small public beach and boat launch, a fair number of perch and bass, and … absolutely no suckers.
“I’ve been coming back here for 50 years to fish and I’ve never seen a sucker in the lake,” says Murray Haner.
Mr. Haner grew up in Hilly Grove, near Manitowaning, and in 1969 acquired a farm and cottage property on the east shore of Sucker Lake. From May to November, the retired police officer doesn’t budge from his Sucker Lake retreat, while wife Gloria joins him as often as she can.
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A neighbour of Mr. Haner’s also didn’t know why the name stuck to the lake but overserved “Your guess is as good as mine.” “One story I’ve heard is that it’s named after bloodsuckers.”
Bloodsuckers (ie. leeches) do, indeed, inhabit the lake, but not in any greater quantities than occur in many other lakes. The name still seems unfair.
A number of years ago there was a movement to have the lake renamed. Dave Ham, the reeve of Assiginack Township at the time (and now the municipality’s Mayor) recalls that “a chap from Little Current approached me, and said what an awful name for a pretty little lake.” An alternative name was shortly proposed, but there wasn’t enough support for it.
A long-time permanent resident of the lake, reflects, “it’s been Sucker Lake all these years, why change it now?”
Mr. Ham’s choice for a replacement name at this time was Assiginack Lake, a tribute to the famous and controversial native chief John Baptiste Assiginack (aka Blackbird) whose family resided on the Sucker Lake Reserve in the late 19th Century.
Although few people inhabited the reserve after 1968 (at its peak, there were about 50 people, according to historian Shelley Pearen), a few descendants of Assiginack stayed on through the early half of the 20th Century. Finally, around 1950, Eddie Clark, took over the reserve land from his uncle Angus Assiginack. From that time forward, the land, which spans 680 acres and touches on both Sucker Lake and Lake Manitou, was considered privately owned and no longer a reserve.
Ms. Pearen says that the reserve was never an ideal location, and that the First Nations folks who had previously lived at Manitowaning were given a raw deal in being moved there. A corrupt Indian agent named Dupont “wanted the good land for himself,” she says, “and bought up most of the town plot in Manitowaning in the names of relatives and friends.”
Being relatively remote, and not blessed with the numbers of fish found in the bigger waters, there was never much to sustain a community. “In this sense, Sucker Lake was aptly named, I suppose,” quips Ms. Pearen.
Could it be that the lake got its name because the Indigenous settlers there were “suckered” into living there? Probably not, but it’s an interesting way to look at it.
At any rate, people who seek out Sucker Lake today for an afternoon of fishing or a dip in in its relatively shallow waters (the deepest point is about 24 feet, with 12-14 feet being the usual), are not apt to feel hoodwinked or disappointed. If anything, they will likely be surprised by how scenic the lake is.
Not to mention quiet. With only a few residences on the entire lake, three of them seasonal, there’s plenty of uninterrupted shoreline and very little boat traffic.
Mr. Haner and wife Gloria occasionally take a canoe or pedal boat out on the lake. The latter is Mrs. Haner’s preferred mode of transport. “My grandson Ryan and I would go out in the pedal boat and fish for bass,” she says with a laugh. One bass which was caught again and again, and released each time, was dubbed “ol’ Scarface” by Ryan, now a Mindemoya businessman.
Timbering also used to occur at Sucker Lake. And evidence of the logging still shows up in the form of notched timbers, possibly used as boom logs, that lurk under the surface of the water.
Today, visitors can follow the Sucker Lake Road, found just north of Manitowaning, and very easily reach the public launch and beach on the lake’s northest shore.
While not a terribly big lake, the scenery is varied with steep bluffs on the west and southeast shores and the three islands strung out in a row in the middle.
And while the lake has a remote feel to it, it’s not really that far back in the bush. The Haners say they often hear the Chi-Cheemaun ferry blowing its horn at South Baymouth and Lake Manitou is just a mile or so to the east.
“Our son and Andre LeBlanc used to take a canoe and portage it from here over to Manitou,” says Mrs. Haner of those days gone by.
Presumably the portage is downhill, since Sucker Lake is quite a bit higher than Manitou. According to Dave Ham, who has flown over all of the lakes on Manitoulin at some point or other “Sucker Lake is 55 feet above Manitou, and 230 feet higher than Georgian Bay.”
That doesn’t make it the highest lake in the Island (Mr. Ham says Whitefish Lake, on the M’Chigeeng First Nation, has that distinction), but it’s up there, so to speak.
Sucker Lake does, on the other hand, probably have the distinction of being the least appealing by named lake on Manitoulin, although Mud and Mog lakes don’t sound much more tempting.
That it hasn’t been renamed Assiginack Lake may have as much to do with uneasiness about the legacy of the famous and famously contradictory chief, as it does with tradition.
Mr. Ham notes that Chief Assiginack was unpopular among many First Nations people for signing the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty (which opened Manitoulin for settlement) and was effectively “booted out of Wiikwemkoong” as a result.
Assiginack was also known to shift allegiances at a whim between the Anglican and Catholic churches, says Mr. Ham, with the result that he effectively alienated himself from both at one time or another.
At the same time, though, Blackbird, was a very dynamic and intelligent man, a much-valued interpreter, and a great war hero, having fought many battles in the War of 1812 in defence of Canada against the United States invaders.
It is not clear how long he lived at Sucker lake, but Ms. Pearen says that “when he had to leave Manitowaning, that’s where he went.” In her book Exploring Manitoulin, she writes that the homestead of J.B. Assiginack exists near Sucker Lake, although nobody on the lake seems to know of its whereabouts.
Probably it has faded into the ground. The former reserve, however remains in the hands of the Clark family, who are descendants of the famous chief, so the thread has not been broken.
LAKE MANITOU—The largest lake within a fresh water island in the world, with 90 miles of shoreline and depths of up to 162 feet, Lake Manitou is a sublime, nearly unfathomable sprawl of blue.
Perhaps this is why it is named “Manitou,” the Ojibwe word for a spirit or power being, in this case apparently referring to the greatest spirit of all, Kitche Manitou. But Manitou, for all its size, is not an ominous or forbidding lake. Over the years, its surface has been ably plied by everything from canoes and ferries to runabouts and personal watercraft and its exceptionally clear, clean waters offer a paradise for swimmers, anglers and scuba divers.
Yes, it is the deepest lake on the Island. But it is not, notes veteran fishing guide Jack Hayes, as deep as it was once thought to be. “If someone drowned, they would throw out a grappling hook, but they didn’t allow for drift of the line, so they were fooled into thinking it was 300 feet deep.”
Not that the bottom of Manitou is often dragged for bodies. Indeed, Mr. Hayes recalls one drowning: John Wright, a well driller from Mindemoya, went through the ice along with another man while salvaging a vehicle that had sunk the previous week. Mr. Hayes knows the lake as well as anyone. For 35 years he worked as a fishing guide on Manitou, first for Mountainview Lodge and then Timberlane Lodge. He is retired now.
About a 25 years ago he was hired on as boat captain for a hydrographic survey of Manitou. He knows where the fish are, and the reefs too.
“We were depth sounding for shoals, doing surveys for water safety,” he recalls. Since that survey, “a lot of the bad shoals have been marked with buoys,” and a detailed map isavailable showing their whereabouts.
Mr. Hayes notes that all the shoals, and there are a lot, over 400, run in the same direction, northeast to southwest, “because this is the way they were shaped by the glacier.”
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Many other land formations on Manitoulin have the same orientation, including the Cup and Saucer Bluff, which, incidentally, provides an excellent panorama of Lake Manitou if you follow the popular hiking trail to its summit.
One particularly dangerous shoal out in the middle of Lake Manitou is named “Acre Shoal.” It may not be the exact size of an acre, but “it runs a good 150 feet, and is all hard rock,” says Mr. Hayes.
Manitou is famous for its fish, which include bass, perch, whitefish, pike and pickerel, but most notably, lake trout and ling. “It’s a natural lake for lake trout; since before the white man, they’ve always been here,” says Mr. Hayes, adding that, apart from Wolsey Lake (which is attached to the North Channel, hence not technically a lake), “it’s the only real lake for lake trout.”
It’s the depth of Manitou that accounts for its lake trout population, but, also, says Mr. Hayes, “its oxygen, and Manitou has a lot of springs.” These factors also explain the presence of ling. “Ling won’t stay anywhere but a clear, deep water lake.”
Clear and deep, that’s Lake Manitou, and clean. Until fairly recently, many people drew drinking water directly from the lake, without filtering.
Carol Sheppard, who operates the Rockville Inn on Green Bay, the northernmost bay on Lake Manitou, and has lived here for many years, says “we used to always get zero/zero readings” on water quality tests, meaning there was absolutely no bacteria or ecoli. The water quality got worse for a while in the 1970s, she says, due to old, substandard septic systems in place at most homes and cottages Now, Manitou is again a remarkably clean lake.
Ms. Sheppard is partly to thank for this. As a councillor of the former Howland Township, she led a drive to get many of the septic systems on the lake inspected through the Ministry of Health and to educate people about water quality.
Her concern began, she says, “when I was on my honeymoon down at Lake Erie. Coming from here, I’d never seen a brown lake before. I had to ask someone why it was that colour.” She says that ever since that wake-up call, she’s been determined to make sure that Lake Manitou retains its uncommon clarity.
And so far, it has. “I’ve scuba dived in this lake, and you can see 10 to 15 feet,” Ms. Sheppard remarks.
She’s also snowmobiled much of the lake and flown over it as well. In March, Ms. Sheppard says, the view from a plane reveals “a whole bunch of air holes”, spots in the ice surface that are either open or only thinly crusted over, a result, she believes, of either a spring or natural gas. “We have a picture of one hole, where it’s just bubbling,” she says.
One time she and her late husband Ron nearly drove a jeep into an air hole during winter, and another time “one of our neighbours (the late Larry Appleby) had his golden retriever fall in one, but he luckily managed to lasso her with a rope just before she drowned.”
It was Ms. Sheppard’s grandfather, Stan Batman (her maiden name is Batman), who first told her about the air holes. He also talked about crossing Lake Manitou in winter with livestock. “If he’d bought a cattle beast in Mindemoya, he’d bring it across Manitou on his way back to Sheguiandah,” the granddaughter says.
In the early days says of Manitoulin settlement, there was also a regular ferry route from the historic community of Van Zant’s Landing, on the southeast shore of the lake (where Manitoulin Resort is now located) to Lehman’s Landing on the lake’s west side, near the present-day turnoff on the Rockville Road to Camp Mary Anne.
Ms. Sheppard’s great-grandfather, Thomas Batman, operated that ferry. And, in a moment of entwined family lore, it was this predecessor of Ms. Sheppard (nee Batman) who “brought old man Sheppard”, aka Albert Sheppard, the grandfather of her late husband, Ron Sheppard, “across the lake,” a phrase that acts as both a literal description of what happened and an euphemism for “delivered him to his future home.”
Albert Sheppard was a locksmith, and his services, so the story goes, were required in Mindemoya, because the safe at the old Wagg’s Store couldn’t be opened. He went to Wagg’s and did his job, but it was the northwest shore of Lake Manitou, experienced during that ferry ride, that stuck with him. “So he decided to settle here in Rockville,” recounts Ms. Sheppard.
Which is where the ferry operator’s great-granddaughter and locksmith’s grandson made their family home and where Ms. Sheppard and one of her sons live to this day.
Rockville is one of many communities, most of them tiny and informal, but formerly bustling and organized, that dot the shores of Lake Manitou.
Apart from Rockville, there’s also Green Bay, Bidwell, Big Lake (just inland from Manitou) and Sandfield. The latter is the most happening community these days, but the others all sported post offices and school houses and churches in their day, and many of those buildings still stand.
If you tour the lake by boat or drive some of the cottage roads, you are also apt to glimpse a style of architecture that seems, if not unique to Lake Manitou, certainly most plentiful here: the so-called cedar pole building. Many cottages and lodges on the lake are constructed in this manner, in which the cedar logs are aligned vertically with the bark left on.
Ms. Sheppard says that most of these buildings, in the northern part of the lake, at any rate, are the work of the late Alfred Spry, who, true to his name, was spry to a ripe old age. So was his wife Lily Spry (nee Snow), who, despite going blind at the age of 27, worked as a midwife and lived to the age of 104.
Ms. Sheppard’s grandfather, Stan Batman, lived to 102.
And they all, presumably, drank water straight out of Lake Manitou!
One could probably do so now, too, but it is recommended that you filter or treat the water. As Mrs. Sheppard notes, “after Walkerton, you can never be too careful.”
But even if you aren’t dipping a cup straight into the lake, Manitou’s crisp, clear waters, teeming with lake trout and bass and perch, and home to numerous pairs of loons, cry out to be experienced up close, ideally by boat or by actually immersing yourself.
Public boat access to Lake Manitou is provided in three locations: at Newby’s Bay (on the Rockville Road southwest of the community of Rockville), at Sandfield, and just beside Manitoulin Resort (just off the Bidwell Road and very close to Manitowaing.)
There is also a wonderful little public beach at the tip of Green Bay where the Bidwell Road meets the lake. The spot is known as the John Dunlop Memorial Park.
Alternatively, you can hike the Cup and Saucer trail, and gaze out over the breath-catching immensity of the lake.
You won’t see it all, even from this promontory, but you’ll get s good sense of its grandeur.
1,2,3 and 4 bedroom modern cottages and 5 bungalow rooms on Lake Manitou, all with baths. Boat, motor, kayak, canoe and paddleboat rentals. Excellent fishing. Small, safe beach, play area and floating swim raft.
In our dining room, we serve German and Canadian home-cooked meals. Our dining room is open to the public for a unique resort dining experience in July and August. Enjoy a drink in our Manitou lounge. Casual American Plan, European Plan or overnight.
Operating as a lodge for over one hundred years, Bass Creek Resort is located on one of the finest shores of Lake Manitou where guests are able to enjoy excellent swimming, fishing and boating opportunities. Our fully-serviced cabins are available for weekly rental during the summer months. Boat moorage and boat launch.Kayak, canoe, boat and motor rentals.
Off the Bidwell Road, on Lake Manitou’s eastern shore. Centrally located just a few miles from the village of Manitowaning and its championship 18-hole golf course. Safe beach. Boat, kayak and canoe rentals.
Eight rental cottages with waterfront views and 50 seasonal camping/trailer sites. Docking facilities. Convenience store too.
On the southeast shore of Lake Manitou off Highway 6 midway between the South Baymouth Chi-Cheemaun ferry dock and Manitowaning. Seasonal and transient, RV and tent sites with hydro and water.
All modern services (shower house, washrooms, laundry facilities, RV pump out, firewood, bait and convenience store). Our features: clear blue water, great fishing, sandy beach, children’s play area, horseshoes, hiking, stargazing. Golf and tennis in nearby Manitowaning.
On the south shore of Lake Manitou near the picturesque hamlet of Sandfield and the start of the scenic Manitou River and only 10 miles from the Chi-Cheemaun ferry dock at South Baymouth. (We’re just off Hwy 542).
Our motto: “when you fish the lakes and rivers around Watson’s Camp, you can look forward to an enjoyable experience!”
We’re close to hospitals, churches, laundromat, retail stores, liquor and beer stores and retail shopping.
No frills cabins, nestled on the Lake Manitou shoreline, sleep 2 to 6 persons. Fully equipped. For campers, RVs, trailers, spacious campsites are situated along the shoreline. Electric hookups. Sheltered bay for safe boat or seaplane dockage.