North Channel

Keen fishermen may find:

  • Perch
  • Muskie
  • Pike
  • Bass
  • Walleye
  • Salmon
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Lake Trout
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 www.thenorthchannel.ca.