Friendly Manitoulin

The members of Satan's Choice revved their engines as the maw of the ferry opened before us. We kindly allowed them to go first.

Then our gang of twenty cyclists peddled our own fully loaded bikes onto the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry at Tobermory, Ontario, bound for Manitoulin Island. Forming the boundary between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Manitoulin is the largest fresh water island in the world, making it the perfect getaway for a long weekend of cycling.

After two hours the ferry disgorged us in South Baymouth in the pouring rain. Donning rain gear ranging from Gore-Tex to plastic garbage bags, we set out.

Once off the main highway, Manitoulin is a joy for cyclists. Its quiet country roads meander through gently rolling farmland. And being relatively flat makes it an ideal destination for the first time bicycle tourist.

We wound our way north, between Lake Mindemoya and Lake Manitou, which, incidentally, is the largest lake on a fresh water island in the world.

There are over eighty lakes on Manitoulin, and plenty of campgrounds to take advantage of this natural beauty. Our first night was spent on the shores of Lake Kagawong, 70 kilometres (43 miles) from South Baymouth.

On the way we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. Other years it has provided welcome relief for hot cyclists, as we climbed behind the falls and splashed in the pools at the bottom. However, the rain seemed to have quelled people's desire to swim this year.

Our goal for the second day was the western-most tip of the island. The day dawned bright and sunny, making the 105 km (65 mile) ride much more pleasant.

Over the four days we passed through quaint towns, such as Kagawong, Gore Bay, and Meldrum Bay. Many feature shops selling the local treat: hawberry jelly. It's claimed that hawberries are only native to Manitoulin Island.

A good rule of thumb for cycle touring is that if two locals, fifty kilometres apart, recommend particular road, it's probably a good bet. Following that advice we left the main road for a tree-lined street that hugged the coast of Silver Lake. A quick dip helped cool off our overheated bodies.

At the end of the island, down a dolomite mine road, is the Mississagi Lighthouse Campground.

Overlooking the treacherous Mississagi Strait, the lighthouse, built in 1873, was the last manned lighthouse on Manitoulin. It has recently been restored, and now serves as a museum. It's also a great spot to watch the sunset.

As we started the 110 km (68 mile) journey to Providence Bay the next day, we could hear distant booms. We hoped it was blasting at the dolomite mine. The sprinkle of rain soon told us otherwise. Soon the wind whipped at our faces. Rain washed over us in sheets. All around lightening crackled.

Thoughts of electrocution raced through our heads, so when we spotted a cabin, we pulled over and took refuge on the porch. The woman who owned the cabin discovered us shivering there, and invited us inside, where she fed us coffee and cake, and provided towels for us to dry off. It was one of many kindnesses we received on the trip.

When the rain finally quit, we made our way into Silver Water, where we were just in time to be in their 103rd Annual Canada Day parade. We rang our bells and waved to the crowd as we followed the Teletubbies float.

One rainstorm later we arrived at the campground in Providence Bay. Across from the campground is a wide, sandy beach, hugging the shore of Lake Huron. A boardwalk follows the beach for the two kilometres into the town itself. Nicknamed Poverty Bay, the town has seen better days.

One of the joys of cycle touring is eating. The specialty of the island is locally caught whitefish, served in a number of succulent manners. Except in Providence Bay, where the food is uniformly bad. And of the two restaurants in town, one has lost its liquor license, and the other closes at 9:00 to "avoid trouble."

A warning to vegetarians: not one restaurant we visited on the island served a vegetarian main course.

A short 35 km (22 mile) ride brought us back to South Baymouth, where we filled up on fudge and ice cream while waiting for the ferry to emerge from the mist to carry us back to Tobermory.

Although the weather was less than ideal, the friendly people made this my most memorable trip to Manitoulin.


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Pictures and Text Copyright 2000 Paul Stockton. All rights reserved.

Last updated: May 12, 2000