Day 54 – On the Big Canoe

Our day started with an early morning ride to South Baymouth. A beautiful place at any time of day, the early morning is when Manitoulin shines with promise. At every turn, a new treasure: The night’s dew still glistening in the deep grass as the sun rolls over the fields; deer picking their way gracefully along the breakfast buffet of the roadside; queen anne’s lace and purple primrose peering out of the gulches; and cows grazing along the weathered logs of pioneer split-rail fences. Big Lake, Lake Manitou and South Bay wink through the trees along the winding country roads.

The ferry line-up in South Baymouth was just starting to grow when we arrived, and after parking the bike at the front of the line — motorcycles on and off first! — we headed into the Pierside Diner right across from the line-up for a quick breakfast before loading. We entertained ourselves with sampling the entire line of Manitoulin Island jams, jellies and spreads that are open on every table. From hazelnut chocolate spread to pecan coconut butter to the Island specialty Hawberry Jam, Hawberry Farms makes it all — right on Manitoulin Island. The adjoining gift shop sells the entire product line if you’re looking for a unique treat to take home. The Chi-cheemaun dock is one of the most highly trafficked areas on the whole island, and there are several comprehensive gift shops lining the road for last-minute purchases while you wait for the boat.

The hour and forty-five minute ferry ride from South Baymouth to Tobermory on the MS Chi-Cheemaun went by in a flash from our sheltered perch starboard aft ensconced in brightly coloured adirondack chairs. Georgian Bay was at its absolute bluest, the sky clear and light with one or two fluffy white clouds. In the distance, the north shore of Lake Huron to the north and the northernmost tip of the Bruce Peninsula to the south are grand and rocky with cedar forest stretching inland, small whitewashed lighthouses with the requisite red roofs guiding the way.

The Owen Sound Transportation Company has operated passenger ferries between Tobermory and South Baymouth since 1931, starting with the small, wooden vessels the MS Normac and SS Kagawong. The diesel powered MS Norgoma and SS Norisle were added to the fleet in 1963, and 1974 saw the maiden voyage of the state-of-the-art MS Chi-Cheemaun, the anglo-phonetic spelling of the Anishinaabemowin word for Big Canoe.

Landing on the Bruce Peninsula, we stopped to explore Tobermory and let the ferry traffic drift south down the two-lane highway 6 ahead of us. A summer-only tourist town, Tobermory is a bustling harbour lined with gift shops, ice cream parlours, fish & chips and adventure outfitters. The gas stations close early, so fill up in Ferndale on the Peninsula or on the Island if you’re heading to or from the ferry after 8pm. If you’ve got time to explore, tours to Flowerpot Island and Fathom Five Marine Park depart several times a day aboard glass-bottomed boats, and the lookout tower of Bruce Peninsula National Park is only a few minutes away.

Half an hour south of Tobermory, we said hello to our hosts Barbara and Dave Wynd of TaylorMade Bed & Breakfast in Lion’s Head and set up the trailer in their RV spot. An afternoon swim at the sheltered sandy beach by the Lion’s Head Marina welcomed us, and Alexe and I spent a lovely afternoon reading books under a tree on the much-widened original breakwater looking out over the cliffs and turquoise waves of Georgian Bay.

We capped off our gorgeous day with an evening ride along the water with Barb & Dave and their Harley-riding guests, and enjoyed a big homemade spaghetti dinner on their well-appointed deck.

Tomorrow — The final ‘work day’ of the trip in lovely Lion’s Head, and fish & chips with Barb & Dave!

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki

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