Points of Interest
Manitoulin Island, while the largest island in the world in fresh water, is also roughly triangular in shape. Its base, the big double peninsula that is Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, is lapped by the waters of Georgian Bay.
Most of the North Channel is the waterfront for the side of the Island on which Little Current, Kagawong, Gore Bay, yes, Meldrum Bay face and the third side of the imaginary Manitoulin triangle fronts mighty Lake Huron and the part communities there are South Baymouth, Providence Bay and the Purvis Fisheries station at Burnt Island.
Every triangle must have its tip, and, in this case, that is one of Meldrum Bay’s recommendations. It’s not quite at the end (that’s where the Mississaugi Lighthouse Park is located) but Meldrum Bay is only a handful of kilometres away.
Meldrum Bay began as a North Channel fishery station and a sawmill town.
The big feature on the main street is the historic Meldrum Bay Inn and its delightful inside and deck side restaurant. This fine old building is in the capable hands of a couple who have restored it to its 1880s glory.
Across the street, there is a small public campground by the Dawson Citizens Improvement Association (Dawson Township is the most westerly municipality on Manitoulin) and, below hat and on the waterfront, there are fine new docks, marine gas sales, pump out services for recreational boaters and an elegant newly built two-story building designed as an on-shore refuge for pleasure boaters to meet, relax (and do laundry as requires.)
Being at the end of a road has a real mystique for many people.
There is a museum too, open in the summer months. It’s called the Net Shed Museum because it’s located in a historic building that was designed for commercial fishermen to make and repair the nets they used to earn their living.
In the Meldrum Bay area:
A substantial First Nations community had built up around Georg Abotossaway’s business endeavours and present-day Little Current (in Ojibwe it’s Waibejung: ‘where the waters flow back and forth’) was well on its way to becoming an Indigenous community.
Following the treaty, the Abotossaway family and their friends convinced to abandon Waibejung and move slightly westward to present day AOK. The present-day Little Current was re-named ‘the Town Plot of Shaftesbury’ and surveyed for settlement by new settlers moving north.
This change in approach is interesting in light of on historic site plaques situated in the courtyard space of the Manitoulin Expositor Office in downtown Little Current.
It notes that, on this site, the Husdons Bay Company built a new trading post in the early 1850s in order to take advantage of the growing commercial traffic.
The historic plaque explains that the building (which burned in the 1940s) was never opened for its original purpose by the Hudsons Bay Company because clergy and government dissuaded them from competing with a burgeoning Aboriginal business: that of George Abotossaway. What a difference a treaty makes.
The Aundek Omni Kaning pow wow is always the very first one each year among the Manitoulin communities and is held on the first weekend in June at the community’s beautiful park, beach and pow wow grounds. The road to this park is off Highway 540, directly across from the band administration offices.
There is a store again in the town’s old store building beside the Meldrum Bay Inn, but it’s only open seasonally which is great for summer visitors.
But Meldrum Bay, however delightful, is not an easy place in which to live.
It’s a long drive to Gore Bay to the closest grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, auto repair shop and son on. But there are people who wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, who move heaven and earth to make sure their harbour is first rate for tourist visitors, who support the church, volunteer at the community hall.
There is more to this western most tip of the Island triangle, although the village of Meldrum Bay is its heart.
Drive south through the town and you’ll pass by excellent farm land that’s being put to good use.
There are good jobs at Meldrum Bay, thanks to the large dolomite quarry operation Lafarge Canada has established around just the right kind of limestone to be found going west from the village.
Besides Manitoulin Transport’s head office in Gore Bay, Lafarge Canada’s quarry is Western Manitoulin largest employer and one of the largest on Manitoulin Island.
The road past the quarry entrance (it’s not open to the public, by the way) carries on to the deemed tip of the Island.
That is the location of the Mississagi Lighthouse, the first lighthouse to be built on Manitoulin in the mid 1870s.
It’s still a beacon to mariners, warning them about the hazards not only of this end of Manitoulin Island but also about the often-treacherous waters of the Mississagi Straits, between Manitoulin and Cockburn Islands.
The attached lightkeeper’s house is still set up as if the last lightkeeper had just left so a visitor can get an idea of a family living in an area as remote as this, tending the light for sailors.
There is a campground here with some sites serviced with power and water and showerhouse for campers.
For a small fee, you can go to sleep at the end of the Island and imagine you’re the keeper of the light.