From Tobermory we took the Chi-Cheemaun ferry to Manitoulin Island, a calm two-hour crossing in a half-filled boat. For the last two days we have enjoyed the peace and quiet which makes us think of what life was like fifty or more years ago.
The island is large enough to encompass several lakes of its own, and, as we have noted before, at least one of those lakes contains its own island. Farms, with sturdy farmhouses and huge seldom-painted barns, grow hay and support dairy cattle, pigs and goats (we sampled a bite of goat cheese at the local farmer's market and found it tasty). We overheard some folks say that raising beef was not very profitable.
We stayed at the Manitoulin Inn in Mindemoya. There's no continental breakfast, but it's a pleasant walk into town to the two restaurants, three Hay pyramids stores, and (most important) Farquhar's Ice Cream factory. Farquhar's is the only independent creamery serving all of Northern Ontario, and their ice cream is a cut above the Breyers that the stores further south serve.
Manitoulin accommodates travelers and tourists but doesn't make a point of entertaining them. There are twice as many year round residents as summer cottagers. Boats of all kinds and sizes occupy marinas on each of the many bays and inlets. Providence Bay has built a boardwalk for walkers and joggers along the dunes on its sandy shore. Gore Bay features the last steam-powered ferry boat, now permanently moored and open for tours, and several villages have a small historic (late 19th century) museum containing farm tools and clothing and photographs. Gore Bay also has a summer theater, and Farm animals industrious art lovers can track down a dozen studios of artists, weavers and sculptors across the island.
Otherwise, everybody goes about his or her own business. We visited a couple of farmer's markets where the major items were hand-knit sweaters and slippers, soaps and candles, rough wooden baskets and birdhouses, homemade preserves and jams and honey and breads. One Swiss immigrant woman (married to a Finn) sold little paper plates with about five or six organically grown, hand-washed lettuce leaves. The libraries are tiny, ill-supplied with books but staffed with friendly high-school girls who are enormously proud of their responsiblity and happy to read to toddlers or help a resident use the computer, and each library has two or three Internet-capable computers, available to travelers as well as local residents. We were able to read and respond to your emails but not able to send out our bulk email travel reports. Garden's Gate Restaurant
We ate at RESTAURANT -- at least, that was the only identification on the building. It's closest to the corner on Mindemoya. The cook makes excellent soups. As a matter of fact we've had excellent soups four or five lunches in a row. Wish they could teach American chefs that a soup should not be thickened to the point you need a fork to eat it! Our best meal was at Garden's Gate, a charming small cottage-restaurant, located in a country cottage, which we approached along a path thick with flowers of all description.
Another nice thing about Manitoulin Island was that nobody was very pretentious. The summer people built small cabins or houses, usually in a grove of trees near the water, often pretty well hidden from view from the road. There was one spot, on Michael's Bay, that seemed to have dreams of putting up a fashionable golf resort, but they also seemed to have run out of funds! Alvar
The glory of Manitoulin Island is its peaceful nature, and its scenery. There are so few families here that much of the land is still forest. A lot of the land is rocky and unsuitable for farming. Granite ledges called "alvars", where the soil was scraped away by glaciers, show shiny and ridged here and there. Yellow lichen, wildflowers and small juniper-like bushes push up through the cracks.
Leaving the island, our souls nicely collected after three days of quietly exploring Manitoulin, we came to the "famous" swing bridge at Little Current, which connects northward to the mainland, the Trans-Canada Highway, and Sudbury. We thought we had 7 minutes to spare when we pulled up, but it turned out the bridge tender drove up just after us, and our pulse was the last group of cars to cross. We stopped on the mainland side to watch the bridge open and a long line of boats slowly move through to the harbor; a smaller number went out to the lake. The sign on the bridge explained that it would open for boats for "about" fifteen minutes at the start of each hour. And so it did.