Home of the Great Spirit

Manitoulin Celebrates

• Islanders from across Manitoulin visit Gore Bay for the July 1 fireworks display celebrating Canada Day.

• The fourth weekend in July features Harbour Days at Gore Bay. Think live theater, pancake breakfasts and beer gardens.

• A highlight of Wikwemikong Cultural Weekend (August 3-5 this year) is a competitive powwow. Other activities include cultural lessons, arts, crafts and cuisine. wikwemikongheritage.org

• Live First Nations theater in the ruins of the Holy Cross Mission at Wikwemikong takes place all summer. The shows are called “De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig,” meaning “story-telling.” debaj.ca

• Country music takes center stage in Little Current during the Manitoulin Country Fest (this year August 8-10), a music festival that’s hosted talent like Tanya Tucker and has been recognized by the Canada Country Music Awards. manitoulincountryfest.com

• If rock’s more your thing and you haven’t shipped the kids onboard, check out “Rockin’ the Rock,” at the same locale (this year August 16-17), featuring headline acts like Platinum Blonde and Lee Aaron. rockintherock.ca

• Little Current and Gore Bay both offer Saturday morning Farmers Markets all summer. They’re the perfect time and place to provision.

• The beginning of August boasts Little Current’s Haweater Weekend (this year August 2-4). Think vendors along a Main Street pedestrian mall, live music, dances, a beer tent, and activities ranging from wood-carving competitions to yoga on the docks.

A Wonderful Boating Community

When an errant bear climbed onto a boat off Heywood Island, boaters were first warned here. When storms lash the Channel, people hear about it here.

“Here” is the brainchild of local boater Roy Eaton, who produces Cruisers Net every morning of the season from July 1 to August 31. Want to be part of it? Tune in to VHF Channel 71 at 0900 hours.

“We start with emergency contact information in cooperation with the Coast Guard,” Eaton says.

The next segment is the weather, then the news of the day, “[From] baseball scores to world events.”

The final segment — a huge draw — is the boater call-in, where boaters can share information or simply reach out to other boaters.

But Cruisers Net isn’t just this “virtual” water cooler. “If you’re in Little Current on Fridays between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, come and join us for Happy Hours at Anchor Inn Grill,” Eaton says.

Eaton is modest about this service that’s become a boating institution for the past 15 years. “I’ve gained more than I’ve given,” he says. “That’s because up here we’re a wonderful boating community.”

For more information, visit www.cruisersnet.net


Home of the Great Spirit

by Mark Stevens
If your idea of a boater’s paradise includes secret anchorages, spectacular scenery and friendly locals, be sure to add Ontario’s Manitoulin Island and North Channel to your nautical bucket list.
When you cruise the waters of Canada’s North Channel — an Ontario waterway widely considered one of the world’s best freshwater boating destinations — Manitoulin Island is your constant companion.

Guarding this pristine passage from the winds and waves of Lake Huron, Manitoulin boasts rugged limestone cliffs, great stands of primal forest and friendly villages where you can people-watch from dockside patios, sipping local “Swing Bridge” golden ale from Manitoulin Brewing Co. 

Manitoulin is home to the hardy. European settlers who first arrived earned the name of “Haweaters” after a winter of surviving on local Hawberries. That legacy lives on today in the August “Haweater Weekend,” a celebration featuring events from street dances to wood-carving competitions.

Manitoulin is home to substantial tracts of First Nations land, while First Nations residents comprise 40% of her population.

She is the home, according to First Nations traditions, of Gitchi Manitou (that’s how she got her name).

She is the home, in short, of the Great Spirit.

Cruise here — tying up on Manitoulin or dropping the hook in a bay decorated by pink granite and pine — and you’ll be convinced the Great Spirit has pretty good taste in real estate.

A little Manitoulin primer 

While it’s hard to resist waxing poetic when it comes to Manitoulin Island and the North Channel, purple prose doesn’t help with your float plan. You’ll need something like this little Manitoulin primer.

The world’s biggest island in a lake, Manitoulin Island lies at the north end of Lake Huron, stretching from the furthest reaches of the Thirty Thousand Islands (another popular boating destination) to the Michigan border. Rhumbline from Chicago to Mac is roughly 289 nautical miles; from Port Huron to Mac it’s around 220 nautical miles. 

Although Manitoulin Island is 100 miles long, her population is only around 13,000. These factors contribute to the fantastic feeling of solitude you experience here. On the other hand, it’s still possible to experience city life, Manitoulin-style.

Book a berth at Spider Bay Marina then stroll Little Current’s main street. Check out Turner’s of Little Current — old-fashioned general store meets hardware downstairs, combination art gallery/trading post/local museum upstairs. Pull up a patio chair at Anchor Inn Grill for some of the best whitefish on the Great Lakes. Do dessert up the hill at 3 Cows and a Cone, which boasts local Farquhar’s ice cream that’s every bit as delicious as the whitefish.

Stop in at Gore Bay to pick up gifts at Fish Point Studio for those you left behind. Take in a play at the Gore Bay Summer Theatre, or do dinner at the waterfront Rocky Raccoon Café, where Asian and Manitoulin cuisine join in a delicious partnership. Another local favorite is Buoys Eatery on the Gore Bay harbor, offering handcrafted pizza, fresh and locally sourced trout and craft beers. Speaking of craft beer, sample Manitoulin Island’s very own Split Rail Brewing Co. small-batch beers on the brewery’s lakeside patio. 

Brush up on local history at the Marine Centre in the Gore Bay Museum or visit the Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex in Manitowaning, which contains artifacts from the island’s early settlers.

Solitude and anchorages in the wild are the chief allures of this popular cruising ground.

But “people persons” also love Manitoulin.

The well-favored passage 

In her guide to the North Channel, “Well-Favored Passage,” author Marjorie Cahn Brazer describes the waterway as “A flight of the soul to a distant haunt — of peace, of timelessness, of mystery… of aching beauty.”

If you’ve never cruised the North Channel — the main reason boaters come this far north — you’d consider Brazer’s description over-the-top. If you have plied these waters you’d think it an understatement. 

“Cruising here means wilderness boating,” Brazer writes. “No cottagers — almost anywhere — to chase you away.”

This unique boating experience is partly due to the region’s isolated location and partly because Manitoulin herself is sparsely populated. Some of the most popular North Channel islands are even more isolated. Many are Crown land (government-owned, so completely free of any development). Many, owned by First Nations bands, only host transient fish camps. 

The ambiance of the North Channel is also a result of sheer numbers: Roughly 350 islands are scattered across this 70-mile-long passage sandwiched between Manitoulin’s north coast and the northern Ontario mainland.

Add in the spectacular scenery of LaCloche Mountains, the landscape of the Canadian Shield and the sheer cliffs of Manitoulin herself, and you’ve got an irresistible combination of isolation and beauty that once inspired an iconic congregation of Canadian painters known as the Group of Seven. 

Take a hike

If you want to get off the boat and stretch those muscles you’ll find plenty of options here — just take a hike.

Head east from the docks at Kagawong, past Edwards Art Studio in the old mill building, then onto the trailhead. Follow the banks of the Kagawong River until you emerge from the shade into a glade dominated by sun-dappled Bridal Veil Falls. 

Cool off in the pool reclining at the base of this cascade, then follow the road back to your boat, stopping for some well-earned Belgian chocolate at Manitoulin Chocolate Works.

Hug the shores of Gore Bay during your stroll along the boardwalk, or climb the Noble Nature Trail, taking in panoramic views of the Channel.
Gaze over sapphire waters decorated by a lace collar of whitecaps from your perspective atop limestone cliffs 800 feet high; admire the village snugged down across the bay. 

Make for points east, dropping hook in Baie Fine and hiking up the old logging road for magnificent views, then swim in a secret lake nestled in granite, named Topaz for the hues of its water.

Finish your day at the nearby Killarney Mountain Lodge marina (look for the red Adirondack chairs on the docks), going ashore for a feast of Georgian Bay Pickerel in the resort’s rustic dining room. 

Maybe open yourself to the presence of Gitchi Manitou along the eight-mile Bebamikawe Memorial Trail on First Nations land near Wikwemikong back on Manitoulin.
Home of the Great Spirit 

The drum echoes across the expanse of the powwow grounds on the First Nations land known as Wikwemikong on the first day of the annual Cultural Festival, held at the beginning of August.

As the drums beat — symbolic of the heartbeat of the people — voices begin to sing, eerie, haunting, strangely beautiful. As gray smoke rises from the spirit fire that burns through the whole event, different sounds join in: The excited giggling of children and the jingle of bells on costumes as bright as the plumage of birds in mating dances. Welcome to one of North America’s longest-running and biggest competitive powwows. Dancers leap in fancy dress, shuffle in smoke dances. “Debajehmujig,” — or “story-telling” — is a live theater, dance and multimedia presentation highlighting this place and these people who call it home. 

Maybe take a break from the spectacle and explore the nearby grounds. Experience Anishinaabe cuisine, learn the story of the drum or pick up First Nations art.
Even if you don’t make it for this special celebration, Manitoulin boasts a wealth of First Nations activities, attractions and arts.

Welcome to the home of the Great Spirit. 

Far from the madding crowd 

Travel some 15 nautical miles and pass through narrow channels of jade-colored waters between wind-crippled pines and mountains of quartzite that look like snow-capped peaks. Glide past 12 islands, four cottages and five other cruising boats.

Off Croker Island, throttle down when you spot a black bear swimming off your stern. Watch, drifting, mesmerized, until he climbs ashore, shakes himself thoroughly and turns to scowl at you before disappearing into a pristine forest of pine, birch and aspen.

Now in the Benjamin Islands, drop anchor. Dinghy ashore and scramble onto outcroppings of pink granite to watch a perfect sunset paint the waters of the North Channel orange, then red, then purple.

As night steals over this South Benjamin oasis, gaze at distant Manitoulin, guarding the southern horizon like an indigo castle. The stars come out and Aurora Borealis lights up the night sky. A loon calls out — a lonely serenade to the end of one more day of your visit to the home of the Great Spirit.

One more day far from the madding crowd. 

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