At last, Manitoulin Island’s summer arts schedule is rebounding

Martin Foley and his painting 'Killarney Shoreline' at the 2019 LaCloche Art Show.

MANITOULIN—The arts were heavily impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with gallery attendance limited, all indoor theatrical performances cancelled outright for two years, music festivals and other events either cancelled or forced into highly limited or virtual formats, but with the recent stabilization of case numbers and hospitalizations leading to the lifting of provincial gathering restriction mandates being lifted, Island arts, music and arts organizers are cautiously dipping their toes back in to public events.

Just about first off the hop is the popular Café in the Woods roots music venue in Honora Bay. “We have booked Boreal for May 27,” confirmed Café artistic director Kerrene Tilson. Boreal is a “magical musical collaboration of Tannis Slimmon, Katherine Wheatley and Angie Nussey.” If those names sound familiar, they should. These three hard working singer-songwriters, each with their own longstanding, award winning careers, simply love playing music together and individually or with other artists have become familiar sights and sounds at the Café in the Woods shows. “We are all so looking forward to this,” said Ms. Tilson. “We will be limiting the number of audience members out of caution, of course, but hopefully this is a sign that things will be getting back to something closer to normal for all of us. This pandemic has really hit musicians especially hard.

Also heading onto the drawing board is the La Cloche Art Show in Willisville. “The board will be meeting in the next couple of weeks to finalize the details,” said La Cloche Art Show Chair Suzanne Miron. “We are in the preparatory stage, so there is no submission date set yet, but we are sitting down next week to work things out.”

Although it is anticipated that the traditional outdoor wine and cheese artists’ reception and workshop will take place before the show opening, there are some changes this year.

“We will have two featured artists, Sharon A. Preen of Garson and Penny Blais of Espanola,” said Ms. Miron. She noted that Ms. Preen was slated to be the featured artist for the cancelled 2021 show. The two artists will take on the workshop role.

Ms. Miron pointed out that the hiatus has been very challenging for the show, particularly in the area of fundraising, so any donors who wish to step up to help will be even more welcome than usual. Challenges aside, Ms. Miron said that everyone, volunteers and artists, are extremely excited to see the return of the venerable art show.

Also making a comeback this year is the Manitoulin Art Tour, with a call out for registrations for the July 15-17 event advertised in last week’s Expositor. Deadline for submissions is April 29 and forms can be found online at or by contacting volunteer coordinator Judy Boyd at or by phone at 705-368-2779.

Theatre offerings are also ramping up, with Gore Bay Summer Theatre preparing another season of repertoire theatre. The two scripts in play are still being held close by the theatre group, but details will follow.

Debajehmujig Storytellers is still under strict lockdown, due in part to their affiliation with Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, but the seeds of optimism are beginning to find fertile ground there in regard to a summer mainstage production.

“We are looking at bringing back ‘In the Name of Humanity’,” said artistic director Bruce Noakwegijig, referring to the third part of the documentary collaboration ‘Epic Borders’ trilogy that involved works by Irish and Spanish groups as well as Debaj. “That show deserved a bigger audience than we could give it during the pandemic,” he said. “Hopefully COVID will have subsided by this summer. We haven’t worked out the dates just yet, stay tuned.”

Plans are also underway to have Manitoulin Country Fest return to the Flat Rock Entertainment grounds in Little Current this summer, with a number of groups already in the pipe, according to host Kelly Timmermans. So mark your calendars for August 11, 12 and 13, because it is going to be a really great show. It’s early days yet, but Rockin’ the Rock is also heating up for the August 5 and 6 weekend.

Bluegrass in the Country, the Island’s seminal celebration of all things bluegrass that fundraises for Manitoulin Special Olympics is also roaring back with a vengeance, featuring seven time International Bluegrass Award winner Claire Lynch. The festival is set for Providence Bay June 9 to 12. Check out for the lineup and ticket information. Tickets from 2020 or 2021 will be honoured.

Pent up demand will likely see all of these events come roaring back with a vengeance, but promoters, volunteers and hosts are remaining cautious. “We’ve had our hopes up before,” said Ms. Tilson, “but you have to hold onto the dream.”