Windfall Lake

Windfall Lake

Keen fishermen may find:

Windfall Lake

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.

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.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

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.

Sucker Lake

Sucker Lake

Keen fishermen may find:

Sucker Lake

With its unfortunate name and confusing status, many maps still mark a Sucker 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.

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.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

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.

South Bay

South Bay

Keen fishermen may find:

South Bay

South Bay is the large bay with a fairly narrow opening to the “Big Water” and so it is to Lake Huron what Lake Wolsey is to the North Channel: each “lakelike bays”.

Visitors to Manitoulin arriving via the MS Chi Cheemaun at the ferry docks at South Baymouth can look straight up the bay, at least before those with vehicles are summoned to the car deck. They can look up the bay but it’s long enough that the northern end, the isthmus dividing the rest of Manitoulin from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, isn’t visible on the horizon.

In fact, the lower, southern of Wiikwemkoong’s two giant peninsulas is defined by South Bay on its west side and the community at the lower end of this part of Wikkwemkoong is called South Bay.

Visitors aboard the Chi Cheemaun and anglers fishing the plentiful waters of South Bay can see homes and cabins along the Wiikwemkoong side and farms and summer holiday camps on the municipal side that takes in part of both Tehkummah and Assiginack Townships, both of these municipalities’ named for important Wiikwemkoong figures who figure in the First Nation’s history. (They are the only ones of Manitoulin’s municipalities to be named for prominent local Indigenous figures when Manitoulin was surveyed for European settlement after the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty.)

South Baymouth, Manitoulin’s ferry town, is the sole town on the large bay, on either side, and the story of how it came by this name is an interesting one.

The community’s name had never been formalized since it was founded in the 1870s by commercial fishing families.

It was variously called South Bay (and so caused some confusion with the community of the same name that is part of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory,) South Baymouth and South Bay Mouth (which is an accurate description of the place.)

To formalize things, there was a local vote on the issue in the 1960s and the two-word moniker won out: South Baymouth is perhaps not as accurate a description but it does roll nicely off the tongue.

South Baymouth pays homage to the early commercial fisherman and it is still a popular place from which to set out into Lake Huron in search of the fruits of the deep but these days the “fishing fleet” is largely comprised of sturdy boats from which anglers fish deep, using downrigging techniques, to bring their line and bait to the depths where their next meal dwells.

There is a fine small craft harbour just to the south of the ferry dock with, pump out and marine fuel available, in addition to a handy dockside laundromat and sport fishing charter businesses operating from the marina.

The Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic is a major attraction for the South Baymouth sports fishing community from the last Saturday in July to noon on the fourth Sunday in August and details for this event can be found on

The commercial fishing legacy also lives on and often one of the Purvis Fisheries fish tugs can be seen passing in or out of the gap at South Baymouth on its way to set or lift nets.

South Baymouth itself is a colourful town with motel and housekeeping cottage options for staying a while in addition to the South Bay Resort campgrounds.

There are galleries, lots of dining options, local fudge and souvenir shops in this proud little town whose museum, just at the waterfront, is called the Red School House Museum and is (partly) located in the last of Manitoulin’s one room schools that has been preserved as a 1940s – 1950s era working school.

There is a modern exhibit building located on part of what was the schoolyard where visitors can learn of Tehkummah Township’s farming, fishing and military heritage.

A new attraction is the ‘flags of our town’ that adorn a wide length of garden fencing on Highway 6 in the village, just across from Carl Brown’s Store. The people who live there (and produce a significant garden) did some research and found that South Baymouth is home, many of them seasonally, to people whose origins are in the 30 or so countries whose flags they carefully reproduced for this display.

The Old Ontario Department of Lands and Forests (now the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) staffed a busy Great Lakes research station on South Bay, just outside the village, until about 30 years ago when it was deemed surplus to needs and the numerous research buildings and laboratories were torn down and the staff relocated.

Most people involved in the commercial and sports fishing industries in Northern Lake Huron and Georgian Bay believe this was not a useful change; that the research done there was (and still would be) vital to the balance of interests in this Great Lake.

All that remains is the research station’s dock on South Bay, often used by a Purvis Fisheries fishing tug.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

On the Wiikwemkoong side of South Bay, landmarks are a century-old church, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, lovingly built of dressed stone by local stonemasons. Just across the South Bay Road from the church is an ever-flowing spring that delivers cool, clear water (just like the song says) which is also imminently drinkable.

The proud community of South Bay also sports a timber frame community hall and many farms.

In watery South Bay, anglers’ fish for perch, bass, whitefish, salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout and pike.

There is a boat launch at the end of Cowan’s Road, which runs off Highway 6 some eight kilometres south of Manitowaning and right beside Black Rock Lodge.

As previously noted, the boat launch at South Baymouth’s small craft harbour offers access to both South Bay and Lake Huron.

Rogers Creek flows into South Bay flows on its western shore not too far north of South Baymouth and is well known as a pike fishing hot spot, both in its bay and in the stream.

Further north, in Assiginack township and just south of Manitowaning, the fertile farming region known as Clover Valley also has South Bay as a focus and there are several cottage communities on the bay there.

South Bay is part of Lake Huron but (usually) without the wind and storms, but not entirely as this deep bay sometimes hosts its own significant weather events, separate and distinct from Lake Huron.

If you do nothing else at or on South Bay, the village of South Baymouth, where the ferry docks and then leaves to return to Tobermory on her trans-Georgian Bay crossing excursions (from the first Friday in May until the Sunday after the Thanksgiving weekend) is a wonderful place to visit and   ferry watch. The spectacle of Ontario’s most prominent ferry coming into and leaving port is unique in Ontario.

There is a delightful park, perfect for ferry watching, just beside and south of the small craft harbour, that comes complete with modern children’s playground, two heritage range lights (they resemble lighthouses) and a great elevated boardwalk with benches and picnic shelters, all accessible via a wonderful hump-backed bridge that looks directly at the Chi Cheemaun’s shipping channel in vast Lake Huron.

Silver Water Lake

Silver Lake

Keen fishermen may find:

Silver Water Lake

Visitors enroute from Gore Bay to Meldrum Bay driving along Highway 540 west, when they reach the hamlet of Silver Water might be puzzled over the village’s curious absence of silver water.

The earliest settlers in this part of Manitoulin’s West End though, experienced no shortage of shiny H2O.

According to the late Arthur Edmonds, in his “Early History of Robertson Township,” the first community picnic was held, not in the village, but on the shores of nearby Silver Lake.

A secluded, sandy-bottomed and, yes, shimmering stretch of spring-fed water located a couple of miles west of Silver Water, Silver Lake is something of a well-kept secret, invisible from Highway 540 and its eponymous community.

But it was a logical place to mount the area’s first July 1 patriotic picnic.

The tradition, writes Mr. Edmonds, was begun way back in 1883 by Mr. Kemp, “a good public-spirited man” and the area’s first settler.

Activities of that inaugural 1883 picnic on Silver Lake included running races, caber tosses, and something described in Mr. Edmonds’ chronicle as “rowing rave.” The latter is almost surely a misspelling, though it’s tempting to picture staunch Victorians engaged in a “rave.”

There was also, at the first picnic, an activity involving a cannon ball, which had been found, writes Mr. Edmonds, in the “Indian clearing.”

A number of cannon balls, interestingly, are said to have been found on the West End of the Island. Jean H. Haines, in “An Historical Sketch of Manitoulin,” suggests they were during the War of 1812 to intimidate the area Natives, some of whom had fled to Manitoulin from the US.

Mr. Edmonds says the men at the picnic, including members of the nearby Sheshegwaning First Nation, took turns hoisting the cannonballs on their shoulders, presumably forming a type of shot-put.

You won’t see many antics involving cannonballs (or cabers) on the shores of Silver Lake these days, but the lake remains a scenic, inviting spot. Indeed, it is easily one of the most alluring lakes in the Island.

At roughly 2 ½ miles long by 1 ½ mile wide, it is a smallish lake, but big enough that sail boats occasionally tack across its surface. The eastern shore is scalloped with sand beaches, and because of the lake’s overall shallowness, you can actually walk across the north end, ensuring pleasant temperatures for swimming.

A string of cottages, many of them rustic log buildings, owned by people from as far away as Ohio and even Florida, cling to the east shore as well, but public access is provided at a boat launch in the south end of the lake and in a number of other spots along its circumference. The west shore is largely uninhabited, and the cottagers all seem low-key types, so the lake doesn’t feel overrun. It feels almost paradisaically peaceful.

And the water is amazingly clear. Bruce Duncanson, who lives on the east shore of the lake and has deep roots in the area, as his great-grandparents John and Catherine Duncanson homesteaded on the north shore of the lake in 1882, says the clarity is a combination of the lake being spring-fed, and having relatively little human impact.

“When we were out west at Lake Louise, you couldn’t see your fingers underwater,” he notes, “but here, you can always see your feet.” He believes the name “Silver Lake” originated with the area’s first peoples, who “said that when they saw the sun shinning off it, it looked silvery.”

Mr. Duncanson’s wife, Irene, points out that “there is another Silver Lake that you see off Highway 69 when you’re driving south to Parry Sound, but it’s not very silver.” Mr. Duncanson laughingly agrees. “No. That one is black.”

The two built a retirement home on the lake after living for years on the Duncanson family spread, in a building that was originally the schoolhouse. Mr. Duncanson attended that school for a short spell, before it was closed in 1936.

There has been at least one fatality on Silver Lake. In 1998 three men were firing up the steam broiler at a sawmill on the lake when it exploded, blowing them out the building, says Mr. Duncanson. “A couple of the guys were badly scalded, and one of them, Frank Guinn, died from the injuries.

Few hazards exist now, with the exception of some “sink-holes” in the northern corner of the lake, and a sign on that shore line warns swimmers to avoid the area.

The ice in winter is quite thick, given the lake’s shallowness, so snowmobilers need not be too concerned about going through.

That said, Mr. Duncanson’s two sons, when they “were young pups,” managed to sink a sled in the mushy area near the outlet of Silver Creek. “I think it was Glen; he was the daredevil of the family,” the father recalls with a chuckle. “Fortunately, it was only two feet of water where they went in.”

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

Another old timer recalls some ice antics of his own, from the time when he was a boy (and snowmobiles had yet to be invented.) “In 1934 the lake was glare all winter, no snow, and we would skate the whole length of the lake, right to the door of the schoolhouse.”

Summer was the best time to experience the lake, though. “We used to go our with a pole cut from the bush with a line on it, and we’d get a whole mess of big bass,” the old timer recalls. “Later, there was a lot of perch. So many that if you got a small one, you broke its neck and tossed it to the seagulls.

Fish still frequent Silver Lake, though not so many perch or bass as there once were. The main species now is pickerel, which were introduced a number of years ago.

And at least one sturgeon, according to Mr. Duncanson. “Joyce MacDonald was working at the cemetery one day”, (there is a cemetery on the eastern shore of Silver Lake, where many of Mr. Duncanson’s relatives rest,) and she saw this big old sturgeon swim by. Said it looked like a block of pulpwood, about four feet long. I guess it’s still in the lake.

If you would like to experience the warm, limpid waters of Silver Lake, and perhaps spy a wily old sturgeon as well, simply continue due west after reaching the community of Silver Water and keep to the right where the road forks south to Burnt Island.

Bring your bathing suit and sunglasses. And, for tradition’s sake, why not a picnic basket too?

Whitefish Lake

Whitefish Lake

Keen fishermen may find:

Whitefish Lake

A deep triangular lake located midway between Lakes Manitou and Mindemoya, at the foot of the bluff that culminates in the Cup and Saucer Trails, you’d think that Otter Lake would be hard to miss. But it’s really more of a mystery.

You don’t see it from any major road, and even if you know where to begin looking for it, you still might not find the lake, because Otter Lake Road, at its juncture with Old Highway 551 presently lacks a sign.

To confuse things further, the lake is alternately referred to as Otter Lake and Whitefish Lake. Most residents of M’Chigeeng First Nation, which abuts the western half of the lake, call it Whitefish Lake, and it is marked this way on the Turners of Little Current map. But Otter,( or “n’gig,” in Ojibwe) is the preferred name now, at least officially, and M’Chigeeng historian Alan Corbiere believes this is probably the traditional name, too. “I have a map of Indian place names, and it refers to it as ‘n’gig.’”

Both names, however, are accurate, in that both otters and whitefish are populous here. One regular visitor to Otter Lake, who prefers not to be named, told me that he often sees otters along the lake’s northeast shore. “I’ll run with a trolling motor along there and you can hear them chewing on fish under the rocks. Sometimes they’ll dive in, and you can watch them come up with a little rock bass.

Whitefish are plentiful, too, although not in as large numbers, or hefty sizes, as they once were. According to the same angler, “they used to set nets in there, and would get whitefish as big as 12 or 13 pounds.” Gill netting doesn’t occur these days, but people still catch whitefish. 

Cottages and a few year-round residents now ring the lake, which stretches about a mile and a half in length, but most are located in the southern, tapering portion, near the public dock. Here, the shoreline is clad in hardwood forest, and the water quite shallow. On the day I visited, in mid-June, a dozen kids from M’Chigeeng were horsing around on a swimming raft out front of a year-round home. They claimed the temperature was perfect for swimming, but I noticed a few goose pimples, and declined taking a plunge myself.

As you continue down the lake, heading north, the maple and oak forests begin to dwindle; white pines and poplars and cedars taking their place and dwellings begin to thin out too. The water, though, remains shallow for a good half mile or so, as well as remarkably clear. My unnamed angler estimated the visibility at 22 feet, adding that this clarity “makes it hard to catch fish, because they get spooked easily.”

As I paddled along I could easily make out the bottom of the lake, but no fish. Then I noticed a large pipe running along the lake floor and began to follow it to see where it would go.

The pipe doesn’t serve any purpose now (except perhaps as a haunt for smallmouth bass. A long time resident says he often sees them “hanging out there”). For many years, though, the Lakeview subdivision in M’Chigeeng drew its drinking water from Otter Lake. Now, all residents of the community get their piped water from West Bay, Well, almost all. Many of the lake’s residents still draw their water directly from their lake.

From my canoe, the pipe seemed like an endless, twisting snake. Except it probably wasn’t the pipe that was twisting, but just an effect of light filtered through the rippling water, and the yaw of my canoe. Sometimes I lost sight of the pipe in the shadow of the hull and then it would reappear on the other side of the canoe. And then, quite suddenly, it disappeared utterly from view. The lake had abruptly dropped off.

My guide says that, according to an MNRF map he saw once, the lake reaches depths of 170 feet. That’s pretty deep for a lake that’s not much more than a mile long, and not much more than half-mile widest. But it gets even deeper in one spot, according to my anonymous angler, he told me that he’s hit a place with his fish finder that registers 233 feet. “There must be a crevice down there,” he told me, “because 30 seconds later it comes back up to 60 feet.”

I didn’t bring a depth sounder, but the lake did begin to seem inkier and more fathomless as I paddled. It also seemed quieter and more beautiful. I saw only one other boat the day I was there, an aluminum boat with a small motor, whose occupant was quietly fishing. Personal watercraft are banned on Otter Lake, as is any boat motor over 9 horse power, so even in the busiest months of summer, I expect this lake is pretty peaceful.

Peaceful as it may seem, however, there are Ojibwe beliefs associated with the lake that suggest reason to be wary and respectful of its depths. In the book The Island of the Anishnaabeg, by Theresa Smith, both the late Mamie Migwams and Raymond Armstrong spoke about the presence of Mishebeshu, a lynx-like serpent with a long tail and horns.

When I spoke to Alan Corbiere about this, he acknowledged the traditional belief but was reluctant to name the spirit. “Some people, myself included I guess, don’t want to mention the name of the spirit, because he’s awake now, we don’t talk about these spirits in the summer, just the winter.

But he wasn’t averse to talking in general about the belief. “The idea, which doesn’t just occur here but on Lake Superior and across the whole region, is that these spirits live under the earth, and the way that they travel is through cracks, popping up in certain lakes.” Like Quanja Lake in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, and Manitowaning Bay whose very name, properly Mnidoowaazhig, means “den of the spirit” or “subterranean cave of the spirit” in Ojibwe. Otter Lake is unusually deep, says Mr. Corbiere, with “a precipitous drop-off.”

And like Quanja Lake, it had been said to have and unusual colour, or “bad colour,” as some elders describe it in the Theresa Smith book.

As well, notes Mr. Corbiere, Otter Lake is a “high level lake,” considerably higher in altitude than either Lake Mindemoya or Lake Manitou. This, combined with its depth, fuels ideas of underwater passageways leading to the larger lakes.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

My guide didn’t speak about Mishebeshu, but he did note that “old people used to say that if there weren’t fish in their net, they’d gone through the spring to Lake Manitou.” He admitted that the idea seems a bit strange, since Otter Lake is considerably higher than Manitou, but said that elders would speak of the “water being pushed up by pressure.”  Both Mamie Migwans and Raymond Armstrong spoke of whirlpools that had spooked their parents or grandparents.

Whether by a sub-terrarium passage or not, Otter Lake is certainly spring fed. There are no streams flowing into it.

Another elder told me that you can feel the presence of the springs while swimming. “One moment you’ll be in cold water, and then it will be warm.”

The resident of Otter Lake wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. He loves the clear, deep water, alternately cool and warm, and still enjoys fishing here. A number of years ago he was instrumental in getting a stocking program going through the West Bay Fish and Game Club, in conjunction with the MNRF.

Walleye were stocked, as were splake. And although the Fish and Game Club is no longer active, and the splake never reproduced to the extent that was hoped, anglers does still catch splake and walleye, as well as perch, and of course, whitefish, which some believe are better tasting coming out of Otter/Whitefish Lake than Lake Huron, as “they’re not as oily here.”

As I paddled back down Otter Lake to the public dock. I knew nothing about possible underwater passageways to Lake Manitou or splake stocking, or the small beach where generations of M’Chigeeng residents had apparently arrived on foot, to camp. I just knew that I’d enjoyed my spin on this small, special, mysterious lake, and planned to come back.

North Channel

North Channel

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About the 
North Channel

NORTH CAHNNEL—The North Channel is defined by Manitoulin Island: this famous waterway is, similar to Georgian Bay, a part of Lake Huron but if there was no Manitoulin Island, there would be no North Channel.

The North Channel of Lake Huron, to give it its proper moniker, is an extension of the St. Mary’s River, the outflow from Lake Superior to Lake Huron at the “Twin Soos” in Ontario and Michigan, not too far to the west.

It is much broader, longer and interesting than the St. Mary’s River, but the two are connected in that way that water likes to flow downhill.

On its eastern end, find the historic and picturesque village and Port of Killarney (in 2020 celebrating 200 years as a community) on the Killarney Channel which, in turn, flows into Collins Inlet and then it’s all Georgian Bay.

The majority of Manitoulin Island’s port communities are on the North Channel: Little Current, Kagawong, Gore Bay and Meldrum Bay. From late spring through fall each year, their docks, marinas and shipwright shops cater to cruising clientele. These are both sail and powerboat enthusiasts, in craft of all sizes, who are drawn to the North Channel because, well, they consider it the finest cruising grounds in the world.

While that may seem like a larger-than-life claim, consider also that Manitoulin Island itself is the largest Island in fresh water in the world, so the area can lay claim to double superlatives, courtesy of Mother Nature.

This fine cruising is the result of a number of factors but the primary one is the hundreds of islands that are not only picturesque but provide the challenges to navigation that sailors enjoy. Among them there are literally thousands of sheltered natural harbours that invite holidaying mariners to drop anchor, have a shore lunch, explore a bit, stay a while.

These islands are primarily Crown (i.e. public) lands. The ones that aren’t are easily identified by the fact that someone will have built a cottage (camp, as they say in Northern Ontario) somewhere on them.

For more than a decade now, North Channel sailors have been drawn into an even closer community by means of the Cruisers’ Net, a morning VHF signal broadcast on Channel 71 daily in July and August beginning at 9 am.

Roy Eaton, himself a veteran North Channel sailor, is the instigator of this useful service but also the voice behind the mic who daily provides bits of useful national and international news, relays important (sometimes urgent) messages to, among and from mariners, weather reports and more. Roy Eaton broadcasts from the second floor of the Anchor Inn Hotel in downtown Little Current and, on most days, he is surrounded by boaters in port who come up to say hello to him, and to one another, in person. Mr. Eaton receives thousands of call-ins each summer.

A port is a pleasant, and often necessary, place for boaters to occasionally visit and the North Channel, on both its Manitoulin and North Shore coasts, is home to a number of them so the mariner, while enjoying the rugged splendour of the Channel’s granite and sometimes quartzite features, is never too far from the services of a marine community.

Manitoulin’s North Channel communities have already been named. They are all well-established towns and each one has its own charm and culture.

These Manitoulin port towns and their North Shore counterparts have not only a vested but, in fact, an historical interest in serving and servicing the yachts that play in the North Channel together with their captains and crews. All of these communities were established from the water well before the roads were built (remember the port of Killarney is almost 200 years old and it had no road access until the mid-1960s!)

The docks that lined (and still line) their waterfronts were the means by which people and goods arrived at and left these communities, so their primary orientation remains very strongly to their waterfronts.

In Little Current, Killarney, Kagawong and Meldrum Bay, the traditional business district faces the dock and the water.

Gore Bay is slightly different in that the waterfront street isn’t the main business street, which it parallels. (That long-ago decision gave Gore Bay the chance to have businesses on both sides of its main street, an opportunity that was denied to those other port towns that chose to build their businesses directly facing their waterfronts.)

Each of these towns is continually upgrading its waterfront infrastructure in order to better serve the yachting community whether individual boaters and their craft are transients, headed the next day to the next port or are “seasonals” who lease a berth in a public or private marina for the season and venture out for North Channel adventures, and to visit other ports, as often as they are able.

On the North Shore side of the North Channel, the ports and marinas can be found at Spanish, Blind River, Richard’s Landing and Hilton Beach (both of these last ports are on the westerly St. Joseph’s Island) and at Thessalon.

As noted, the Port of Killarney anchors the North Channel on the east and the Port of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on the west.

For boaters who are also anglers, the North Channel is a giant fishing hole where every game species is there for the catching, together with sturgeon, a protected, endangered and non-game species.

Every species has its own habitat, of course, but yachting fisher people can down-rig for salmon and lake trout and look for bass near shoals, pickerel (walleye), pike, perch and muskellunge (muskie) at their appropriate depths and also set their lines and bait deep for whitefish.

Pleasure boaters exploring the North Channel can expect to see a Great Lakes cruise ship, heading east or west and hosting 200 or more passengers from all over North America, Europe and beyond who have chosen to enjoy the magic of this famous waterway from this elevated perspective with dinner and drinks always nearby.

The Port of Little Current is the only Manitoulin North Channel community where these ships dock enroute to their turnaround destinations of Chicago and Toronto.  They also dock at the Canadian Soo. Just like pleasure boaters, the cruise ships coming or going from Little Current must wait for the iconic swing bridge to open (to ‘swing’ on its central pedestal) and so leave motorists to watch as craft of every size pass through the North Channel at its narrowest point.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

The North Channel has some boutique features for the exploring yachters: Baie Fine northeast of Killarney, the Mississagi Straits that divide Manitoulin at its most westerly from neighbouring Cockburn Island (also a part of the District of Manitoulin) and where French explorer and adventurer LaSalle’s ship Griffon was quite possibly smashed into kindling against far Western Manitoulin’s rocks and shoals over 300 years ago. That particular mystery is ongoing although the old Mississagi Lighthouse, built right at Manitoulin’s western tip 140 years ago, still warns mariners about the same dangers that likely met La Salle’s ill-fated ship. Other lighthouses along the North Channel are at Strawberry Island just east of the Little Current swing bridge, a range lighthouse in Kagawong and the Janet Head lighthouse near the Gore Bay harbour as well as the Killarney lighthouse.

In addition to food, fuel, medical needs (there are full-service hospitals in Little Current and Blind River with 24-hour emergency service, and medical clinics in Killarney, Gore Bay, Thessalon, and Richard’s Landing) and all the shopping required to make any vacation voyage a pleasant one, there are two large shipyards in Little Current: Harbour Vue Marina and Boyle’s Marina and in Gore Bay, Fogal Marine Services provides service to yachters. There are boatyards in Killarney and Sault Ste. Marie.

But a yachter need not come with his/her own boat. Canadian Yacht Charters (CYC) in Gore Bay leases sail and power craft, both crewed and bare-boat, to accommodate boatless folks wanting a taste of the North Channel’s grandeur.

Another favourite destination, and a mid-point in the long reach of the North Channel, is the Benjamin Islands: quartz outcrops that nature painted a unique hue. It’s a natural gathering spot for boaters and a destination that veteran and novice boaters alike tend to work into their itineraries.

In fact, you can enjoy the North Channel for most of a day strictly as a passenger aboard Le Grand Héron, the North Channel Cruise Line’s spacious, licensed cruise boat that makes scheduled sightseeing trips all summer long throughout the week. One goes to Killarney, another to the Benjamin Islands, another to Baie Fine and there are several special events as well. Little Current is the home port for Le Grand Héron.

Just as it was and is for Indigenous people who have canoed the North Channel for thousands of years, for the Voyageurs during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who used huge freight canoes to carry trade goods west from Montreal and furs back from the west and north to Montreal, the North Channel is a useful east-west waterway for the modern-day yachter; one that also happens to present incomparable natural beauty, all services required for the boating community and the opportunity to become, even for an occasional season, part of the fraternity/sorority of boaters for whom the North Channel is one of the most special places on earth.

The North Cannel Marine Tourism Council officially represents the waterway and the public and private sectors that provide service to its mariners. Please contact them at

Little Lake Huron

Little Lake Huron

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Little Lake Huron

Lake Huron, the second largest Great Lake, spans some 23,000 square miles and has been known to swallow entire ships. Little Lake Huron, located just inland from Hensley Bay on the south shore of Manitoulin, is so small, maybe half a square mile, at best, that most maps don’t even show it, let alone name it and so shallow in most places that you’d be hard pressed to sink a pedal boat.

Infinitesimal Lake Huron might be the more appropriate name.

Bus as soon as I heard about the lake, I just had to check it out. How could you not want to see a lake with such a funny, fanciful name? You pictured toy sized freight ships plying its surface, tiny lighthouses perched on puny headlands, salmon the length of your baby finger?

You wondered if there might also be a Mini Lake Michigan or Lilliputian Lake Ontario to check out once you’d made you tour of this first Un-Great Lake.

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It was a young woman who pumped my gas in Mindemoya, who tipped me off about it. She saw the canoe on my vehicle, and we started talking lakes, and she casually let it drop that she’d recently been out paddling on Little Lake Huron.

“Little Lake what?” I said

“Little Lake Huron,” she repeated.

“Now this, you’re going to have to show me on a map,” I said.

As I paid for my gas she unfolded a Turners map and tried to point out where it was. But it didn’t seem to show up on the map. “It’s somewhere out there,” she said, vaguely waving her hand over a broad swath of the Island’s West End.

When I got home I did a Google search. I did a phrase search, putting the name in quotation marks to ensure I didn’t end up on a page for little fish caught in Lake Huron, or Little Current in Lake Huron, or some other predictable tangent.

I got exactly six hits. One page was in German, and another referred to a different Little Lake Huron in Wisconsin. Who knew there were two? The other four were clearly concerned with the Manitoulin lake my new friend had mentioned. So, she hadn’t been putting me on after all.

One of the sites even included a map, showing how Little Lake Huron Road departs from Highway 540 south of Elizabeth Bay, and winds up at Hensley Bay, near which is Little Lake Huron. I was all set.

But before I left I made a few phone calls to see if anyone in the general area had anything interesting to tell me about the lake. “There’s not much there,” was the typical response. That, and “If you’re going, take some bug repellent.”

Sure, it wasn’t exactly encouraging news, but, undaunted, I packed some Muskol and a bug jacket to boot and set off.

Little Lake Huron Road is easy to find. It’s clearly marked on the south side of Highway 540, about 20 minutes west of Gore Bay, directly across from the turnoff to Pine Haven and just past the entry to the famous Misery Bay Provincial Nature Park. This road, running a bumpy three miles or so, is half the fun of visiting the lake.

Uncannily, the song playing on the car stereo when I turned off onto the road was Mushaboom, by Leslie Peist, which includes the line “I tip my cap to a little dirt road barely on a map.”

The dirt part of Little Lake Huron Road didn’t last long, however. Shortly it became a short clay/sand mixture, pitted with potholes and puddles and then it became flat dark limestone pavement, fissured with cracks and pocked with numerous small depressions that made my tires bounce and teeth rattle and canoe threaten to slip off the roof.

But it was beautiful. This flat rock, technically an alvar, as can also be experienced in abundance at nearby Misery Bay, is a truly unique, almost otherworldly, landscape. As I jounced along I beheld gnarled jack pines growing from the cervices and a profusion of small yellow wildflowers that I later determined were Lakeside Daisies, otherwise known as “Manitoulin Gold,” and a threatened species.

Finally, I found the put-in for the lake, an unmarked grassy break in the forest, and glimpse of water, that occurs just before you reach the big water of Hensley Bay. I suited up in a bug jacket, slathered my hands in bug dope, and slid my canoe in the water.

And promptly got stuck. The water was so shallow here, at the put-in, that I had to frequently step out of the canoe and wade it forward. Soon it deepened, though, and I was off, paddling.

The whole lake is visible in one glimpse. It seemed circular from the water, although on a map it actually has a triangular shape, with two pointy bogs projecting from the northwest and northeast corners, like ears. On the map, the lake looks like the head of a donkey, or a German shepherd (more on that later).

The shoreline is thickly treed, mostly in cedar, and at first the lake looks utterly uninhabited. But a surprising number of camps actually exist here, discreetly tucked among the cedars, all of them, during my visit, seemingly empty. I counted as many as 10 uninhabited camps, and I might have missed one or two.

That’s because I was looking for turtles. When I had spoken with the late well known Manitoulin field naturalist Doreen Bailey, she had told me to keep my eye open for Blanding’s Turtles, which are increasingly rare, and have bright yellow markings on their necks and legs in early summer.

I eventually did spy a turtle, but only the top of its head, no yellow spots, and it quickly disappeared under the surface. Mostly what I saw were dragonflies, zipping around in squadrons, in pairs, on their own, some with shiny blue bodies.

And looking at the dragonflies, I simultaneously realized that my bug jacket and bug dope were unnecessary, there were no mosquitoes. Either the dragonflies were taking care of all of them for me, or it was the strong, steady breeze. Either way, I happily peeled off my jacket.

Why not visit these nearby businesses?

The bog in the northwestern corner was impassable, fully grown in, but the one in the other corner was easy to paddle through. I followed some serpentine channels and made it nearly to the end, where a deer was browsing on the tall grass and a great blue heron was flapping around in its awkward prehistoric way.

Coming back up the east side of the lake, I suddenly found myself battling strong gusts that sent my canoe scudding annoyingly to one side and the other, and when I got blown into the shallows, my paddle blade would bang on rocks and submerged logs, and my knees were getting sore from kneeling, so I yelled out a colourful complaint into the wind. “Golly darn,” I’ll say I said.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone on the lake. Two dogs, German shepherds, nasty looking ones, starting barking in response to my outburst. I let myself drift in to where they were (hey, I’m a dog person), and they charged into the water to greet me, or maybe eat me.

But they were friendly. One even tried to climb into my canoe to show me how friendly she was. Their owners, from Levack, were friendly too.

I beached my canoe and they took me on a bit of a walking tour. We walked to the south end of the lake, where a stream flows under the road and enters Hensley Bay. The distance separating the lake from the bay, Little Huron from Big Huron, can’t be more than 50 yards. In the spring, red fin suckers are thick in this creek, I was told.

Then we walked down to another interesting place, a camp located next door to theirs, where an eccentric Hungarian sculptor named Josef Seris had summered for many years. He also spent one winter in his cottage, which he built himself out of logs.

The building, now owned by someone else, is quite unique, octagonal in shape, with a tacked-on irregular shaped loft. Almost more intriguing to me, though, was the tiny cabin with miniature dormer-like peaks and patchwork shingles that Mr. Seris apparently lived in while building the cottage proper. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, the lair of some wise man with a long white beard, or maybe a hobbit.

Someone else had mentioned this sculptor to me before my trip and remarked that he was fond of eating turtles. I asked about that. “He’d eat anything,” he said with a laugh. “He would make tea just out of leaves that grow around here, and he once made fish soup that had heads in it.

I wondered if all Blanding’s turtle made their way into the eccentric sculpture’s pot, hope not. One day I would like to see these turtles with the bright yellow spots.

In the meantime, my trip to Little Lake Huron has still been worthwhile, seen a deer, dragonflies, the head of a turtle, and two German shepherds. I hadn’t gotten eaten alive. I’d met some friendly folk.

And driving back out, got to look again at the bare black rock strewn with the bright yellow daisies called Manitoulin gold.

Lily Lake

About five kilometres shy of Meldrum Bay, Manitoulin’s westernmost community, a sign appears on the south side of Highway 540 saying “Lily Lake.” 

Lily Lake

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Lily Lake

About five kilometres shy of Meldrum Bay, Manitoulin’s westernmost community, a sign appears on the south side of Highway 540 saying “Lily Lake.” Few people venture down this unprepossessing byway, and the ones who do might be somewhat reasonably expect to find a pond choked with lily pads, or alternatively, a lake chock-a-block with cottages.

Neither is the case. The water lilies, for which this idyllic lake was presumably named, are few and far between, and cottages are practically nonexistent.

It boggles the mind, really, how such a scenic, inviting spot could remain so pristine and unpopulated. There is just one camp on the entire lake, and you won’t even see it unless you know where to begin looking; it’s hidden behind a thick screen of trees.

This camp, used primarily for hunting, was established by the late Pauline Smith of Gore Bay, and her late husband Fred in the 1940s. “My husband and his brother learned about the land from Slim Golden (a lawyer on Manitoulin, now deceased), and we had the camp built out of material that came from the old skating rink in Gore Bay,” Mrs. Smith recalled several years ago. The late Alf Turner of Gore Bay “built it in his yard,” she remembered, and then they trucked the structure over to Lily Lake.

Prior to the death of Mr. Smith, the Smiths passed on the property to their niece and husband, Lynn and Len Doucette.

The rest of the shoreline of Lily Lake is essentially undisturbed, except for the “quad road” that comes down to the water’s edge, and could be mistaken, from a distance, for a deer trail. Kingfishers swoop along the thickly wooded banks, and terns’ wheel above the open water.

Larger critters have also been known to frequent Lily Lake according to the late John McRae whose family owned two islands on the lake since the early 1930s (daughter Shelagh McRae is a physician in Gore Bay.)

At one time, Mr. McRaes father, W.F. McRae a crown attorney in Gore Bay, owned most of the property surrounding Lily Lake which he used for timbering. When he sold the property to the Ontario Paper Company “he kept the islands” said his son, “because he enjoyed them so much.”

As a boy, Mr. McRae cherished the time he spent at Lily Lake with his father fishing for bass and exploring the shorelines. The family never built a cottage on the islands, or on the mainland, but would stay in an old farmhouse near its shores. “We used to call it the old it the Armstrong house.”

There were several Armstrongs who inhabited the Lily Lake area. Ivan Trick, formerly a harbourmaster in Meldrum Bay and now deceased, said that Joe Armstrong, a bachelor, used to farm at the corner where Lily Lake Road begins, and his brother Jackson, whom everyone called “Manny” also lived nearby.

There was yet another Armstrong, named Lawrence, “who lived back in the bush and was something of a hermit,” according to the late Mrs. Smith. “My husband Fred taught him to drive.”

The Armstrong clan inhabited a settlement that was referred to as “the Burnt Land,” a string of about 10 farms situated on land near Lilly Lake that had been burnt over. Mrs. Smith said that “years ago, you could still see the burnt stumps.”

Dale Van Every of Meldrum Bay points out that “there was a school there at the Burnt Land, S.S. #2 Dawson. The building is still there on the north side of the highway.” He recalls when the first children from the Burnt Land community were bussed into Meldrum Bay to go to school, in the mid 1940s, because their school had been closed.

Mr. Van Every also remembers some of those children walking into Meldrum Bay, about a 5-kilometre walk, and assumes children from Meldrum Bay would have “walked out to Lily Lake as well.”

Going out to Lilly Lake as a boy was for Mr. Van Every, “the highlight of the summer.” His family would visit the lake at least once each summer and “have a picnic at the landing,” he recalls.

The landing is still there, and a fine place to picnic. A volunteer cuts the grass and empties the trash can, and shade can be found beneath a tree near the shoreline.

Lily Lake is warm, particularly near the landing, where the water remains quite shallow. It’s pretty shallow over all, maybe 10 to 12 feet average, and 25 feet at its deepest, according to long time Lily Lake visitor and fisherman.

The lake, said Mr. VanEvery, boasts a good number of bass, as well as pike and pickerel, the occasional rock bass and sunfish and also suckers.

Mr. McRae said the fishing was “fantastic” when he was a boy. At that time, in the 1930s, “the bass were so hungry they’d go straight for a feathered hook, and you didn’t even have to be trolling, you’d just drop a line.” The bass might not be as hungry as they were then, but Lily Lake remains “a great lake,” recalled the late Mr. McRae, “and it’s still got some good fishing spots.”

It also has a great beach, located on the south shore. Which means you have to have a boat, or be a particularly powerful swimmer, to get there.

But it might be worth the trip, not only for the beach, but for an additional reason. According to Mr. McRae and Mrs. Smith, you can hike overland from the south end of the lake to Greene Harbour, a bay on the south shore of the Island that used to feature a quarry.

This quarry (long defunct now and partially grown over) predates the massive Lafarge quarry on the extreme west end of the Island. Mrs. Smith believed that it supplied the stone used to build the locks at Sault Ste. Marie.

Why not visit these nearby businesses?

The hike from Lily Lake to Greene Harbour doesn’t take long, according to the late Mrs. Smith’s memory, or it didn’t used to, at any rate, when there was a discernible trail. It might be tougher going now, she admitted.

There is, on the other hand, a road that leads most of the way there, located just west of Lily Lake, Mrs. Smith pointed out.

But before you go looking for the “quarry road,” why not try truing off at Lily Lake Road. It’s a short trip to the water, and you won’t be disappointed.

Lake Wolsey

Lake Wolsey

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Lake Wolsey

Perhaps the most striking thing about Lake Wolsey is that it is not, properly speaking, a lake at all. A man-made causeway divides it from the North Channel, but since the lake is still connected to the big water by a narrow passage under Indian Point Bridge, it would really be more accurate to call it a bay or inlet.

The other striking thing about the ‘lake’ is that it helps form the narrowest part of Manitoulin by cutting a deep five-mile notch in the shoreline. The remaining distance between the southern tip of the lake and the Island’s south shore is a mere mile and a half.

Looking at a map, it seems obvious that this narrow strip of land was once used as a portage. Not only is the bay located directly below the lake called “Portage Bay,” there is also a tiny lake between Lakes Wolsey and Huron the “Portage Lake.” A stepping stone, as it were in the trail, or more accurately, a brief respite from the trail. Presumably first nations canoeists would have broken up the slog by a short glide on this small lake.

I brought my canoe when I visited Wolsey, thinking I would explore the south end of the lake and look for evidence of this historic trail (if not actually attempt to tote my canoe across it). And I did, indeed, eventually find evidence of the portage, although it wasn’t through my particular effort on my part or help from my canoe, which stayed firmly attached to the roof of my vehicle the whole time I was there.

What can I say? Well, it was choppy on Lake Wolsey the day I visited. It was also an extremely hot day. Wading in the shallows and sitting in the shade seemed far preferable to me than bucking around in the waves and attempting a bush-crash portage.

Wolsey Lake is easy to find. Simply drive west of Gore Bay on Highway 540 until it appears on your left. Crossing Indian Point Bridge, a massive headland is visible west, while the wind-scuffed sprawl of Wolsey Lake can be beheld to the east.

This scenic view is all that most people know of Wolsey Lake and environs. It’s all I knew, anyway. But there is much more to experience.

If you want to put a boat in for a tour of Wolsey, the place to do it is immediately after you cross the bridge: on the north side of the highway there is a picnic ground which includes a boat ramp. You will actually be putting your boat into Campbell Bay, part of Bayfield Sound, but from here it takes no time to zip around and go under the Indian Point Bridge into Wolsey.

Not far past the picnic ground is a restaurant, GG’s, and it is in this approximate spot that an historic Ojibwe and Odawa community was located, called Obejewung, the native word for the narrows separating Wolsey Lake and the big water, alternately translated as “at the place where the water rises” and “the place where the water runs in.”

In the 19th Century, the First Nation community spanned some 700 acres and numbered 43 individuals, according to Exploring Manitoulin, by Shelley Pearen. The population presumably swelled when, as Ms. Pearen writes, natives from the Magnetawan River arrived around 1874.

The residents of Obejewung were “admired by their neighbours for their elegant canoes and their ability to skillfully manoeuvre the sturdy but delicate craft,” notes Ms. Pearen. It’s a detail that I found particularly intriguing, because if these people were noteworthy canoe builders and paddlers, it lends credence to the theory that a portage would have been used to get from Lake Wolsey to Lake Huron.

Largely because of my fixation on this portage, I decided to turn off on Indian Point Road, your first left after the causeway, and head for the south end of the lake. A tourist camp ground called Lake Wolsey Obejewung Park is located here.

A seasoned camper says the fish don’t bite quite as much as they used to, and he did show me a picture of a 14-pound pike he caught a few summers ago.

“I was trolling for rainbow with eight-pound test and no leader when I caught it,” he noted. He says it’s not unusual for pike that size to be hooked in Wolsey, “but it’s rare to catch and keep them when they’re that big.”

The camper’s family told me about a nice sand beach that can be found on the steep, eastern shore of the lake. Near the beach is a series of natural springs.

Painted turtles are also abundant in this spot. Baldheaded eagles, golden eagles and ospreys are often seen on the east shore as well.

Wolsey Lake is one of the Island’s largest and deepest lakes, next in line after the “big three” of Manitou, Mindemoya and Kagawong. It stretches five miles in length, and reaches depths of up to 110 feet, according to a camper who preferred to be known only as Big John. My friendly camper told me they’d “never seen anything deeper than 80 feet,” but Big John maintained that he’d hit a spot with his depth finder had registered at 110’, theorizing that “it was a crack or something.”

Out front of the public beach, however, it’s extremely shallow. The day I was there, about 50 people, toddlers, teens, adults, were relaxing on the beach and wading out through the tepid water to reach a deeper, cooler spot. I waded out into this bathtub myself and snapped a bunch of pictures of cooling-down kids. Many of them were heading for a swimming raft located a couple of hundred yards from the beach.

While standing thigh-deep in the warm lake, surrounded by kids and rubber rafts and a couple of stationary personal watercraft, I gazed over at the reedy end of the lake, speculating about where the portage might have started, telling myself that if I was a thorough journalist, I should really go back to the car, get my canoe, and do some paddling and bush-crashing.

Instead, I decided I had a touch of sunstroke, stepped out of the lake, checked my legs for bloodsuckers (there weren’t any, nor did I really expect to see any, it’s just a reflex), and started walking lazily back to my vehicle in bare feet.

That’s when I found the “nature trail.” It was located at the back of the campsite, just beyond a ball diamond and a washroom facility. There was a sign, somewhat faded and battered, at the trailhead. Here’s what it said:

“This section of the trail was cleared previously to the coming of the white man. It is believed to have been the Indians’ land route to their hunting and fishing grounds near Lake Wolsey, portaged overland to Portage Lake, and on to Lake Huron.”

Okay, so I’m aware that tourist spots often play up these bits of folklore without spending too much time in the archives or doing much fieldwork. The nature trail wasn’t very long; it didn’t get me anywhere close to Lake Huron.

Still, I took the experience of that trail as further indication that a portage once ran from the bottom of Lake Wolsey to Lake Huron. Maybe not in this exact place, along this exact trail, but here somewhere.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

One day, I told myself, I will return and portage this area just like the Odawa and Ojibwe had.

Ah yes, one day. In the meantime, I sauntered over to Lake Wolsey Obejewung Park snack shack, got myself a burger and a Coke and drove slowly home, dreaming about future adventures.

Lake Wolsey boasts other features: when Mike Meeker hung up his skates after a brief stint in the NHL, he researched the burgeoning European aquaculture industry and began Manitoulin’s first aquaculture operation on Manitoulin, in Lake Wolsey just south of Objewung Park. It’s still there, producing Rainbow Trout in its cages, but Mr. Meeker’s initiative led to several other fish farming operations in the North Channel and the industry remains a vital one.

On the other, Gore Bay side of the lake is Lake Wolsey Cabins, a tourist camp for fishing enthusiast, where fishing boats can also be rented. This camp also caters to ice fisher people in the colder months.

Lake Mindemoya

Lake Mindemoya

Keen fishermen may find:

Lake Mindemoya

On a satellite map of Manitoulin Island, Lake Mindemoya leaps out immediately: it is a startling turquois hue amid the darker tones of the other lakes.

But this striking beryl-blue colour, appreciable, it should be noted, from the lake’s shore as well as from outer space, is just the most obvious of the lake’s many unique characteristics.

The third largest of the Island’s 100- plus lakes, Mindemoya is also noteworthy for its central location, its swimmer-friendly temperatures, its abundance of whitefish (among other fish species), its importance to both native and non-native communities, and, of course for the dense, hilly island that provides both its signature image and its name. 

Now called Treasure Island, this 87-acre hump of hardwood-clad limestone, rearing some 300 feet above lake level, was originally known as Mindemoya, or more properly, ‘Mindimowenh,” in the Ojibwetongue, which means “old woman.”

The true pronunciation is subtly (but notably) different from the one employed today. An elder from  the M’Chigeeng first nation, which spans the northern shore of the lake, notes, “the words got ‘slanged’ a bit to be pronounced easier in English.

The origin of the name is variously explained, but the constant in each version of the legend is that this island, Mindemowenh, is embodiment of an Anishnabek women.

In one version Nanabush, or Nanaboozhoo, the notorious trickster and demigod of Ojibwe belief, is said to have been running north across the Island with his grandmother on his shoulders, when he stumbled, inadvertently shrugging the old woman into the lake. In a more grisly version related by F.W. Major in his 1934 history of Manitoulin, Nanabush beheads one of his wives and kicks her into the water.

A kinder account was passed on by the late Ernie Debassige of M’Chigeeng. According to his nephew, Blair Debassige, Ernie’s version was that the grandmother of Nanabush was dropped in the lake, but not abandoned, as the trickster would return to visit her, assuming (as he was inclined and able to do) a variety of shapes.

Allan Tustian, who has spent most of his nearly 100 years on Lake Mindemoya, (the exception is the five years he spent on much bigger water, serving in the navy during World War II,) has heard many of these stories. And he has many of his own to tell, too.

One even echoes the Ojibwe myth, inasmuch as it involves a woman plunked in the lake. On a particularly stormy day in the 1950s, Mr. Tustian was making a habitual run across the lake, (he worked for the lodge on Treasure Island, which was owned by his sister Jean and her husband Joe Hodgson,) when he came across a pair of people in distress, floundering in six-foot waves.

“It was a woman and her father,” he relates. “They had been out with Billy Vincer, who was a Baptist minister, and had capsized.”

Pulling the father out of the heaving water wasn’t difficult, Mr. Tustian recalls, because he “was a light guy.” The woman, however, was heftier. “Eventually, I just grabbed her with both hands by her girdle, and hauled her in.

Mr. Tustian received a citation for bravery for rescuing the two. Unfortunately, Mr. Vincer had drowned before Mr. Tustian came onto the scene.

The lake isn’t usually so deadly. A typical summer day will find dozens of people lolling in the peaceful, shallow waters, trolling lazily in boats for bass or pickerel, or sun tanning on the shore.

Local anglers reference the “whitefish hole” that the late Fred Wagg discovered “many years back,” a deep, cold, spring-fed dimple in the lake floor that still teems with the tasty species (which are also fine fighters for sports fisherpeople). “There used to be eight to 10 boats at a time all congregated around this hole,” one older fisherman recalls.

The hole, of course, looks nothing like a hole from the surface. “it looks like, well, any other spot on the lake, smooth, turquoise, semi-opaque.” But my local fisherman knows where the hole is. “Years ago” he had some divers go down to confirm his suspicions. They found a greater depth than usual for the lake, and cold water bubbling from a spring.

Lake Mindemoya is, on par, shallow, just 30 feet deep in most places. There is one spot, near Stanley Park, that plummets to about 80 feet, but generally it’s the height of three basketball hoops out in the middle, and extremely ‘wadeable’ near shore.

This accounts for its warm temperature, as well as, partially, for its lustrous aquamarine hue, although locals also credit “the blue clay bottom” for that almost surreal coloration. The blue clay some say, also makes for fine pottery.

Shards of pottery have been found on Treasure Island.

The lodge is now owned by an American company, and privately rented. Many of the original cabins still stand. The lodge retains its impressive stone front but has also been given a considerable facelift and modernized.

People from West Bay, now called by its Ojibwe name M’Chigeeng, also ply the waters of Mindemoya. They still fish the waters, catching whitefish as well as “freshwater herring, as we call it,” says a M’Chigeeng elder.

The island is no longer theirs, nor are the caves on the west shore of the lake where skeletons of their ancestors (perhaps killed by the Iroquois) were found in 1888. This location is now part of Rockgarden Terrace Resort.

Nearby places to stay, eat and play

Whether you explore Lake Mindemoya by car or boat or bicycle, with its numerous beaches, boat launches and picnic spots, the lake invites all manners of experience. It is worth keeping in mind the history and origin of this lake. It is worth a complete orbit, with an eye on the centre.

The village of Mindemoya calls itself the hub of Manitoulin Island. That may be so, in a certain respect, but the proper hub of the area is the steep, striking island from which the village and lake drew its name.

There are two public boat launches on Lake Mindemoya: one at the Government dock on Ketchankookem Trail on the lake’s southern side and other, on the lake’s west side, on Monument Road between Rock Garden Terrace Resort and Stanly Park Tent and Trailer Park.

The public beach at the Ketchankookem boat launch area is a delightful sand affair and there is a nearby pier suitable for jumping in or sunbathing.

A tidy municipal picnic park is just across the road from the beach.