Get Lost! Take a (de)tour to Island lakes for a refreshing dip in summer’s glory

Potter Lynda James welcomes visitors to last weekend’s Studio Tour around Big Lake. photos by Isobel Harry

by Isobel Harry

MANITOULIN – With all our usual celebrations and gatherings cancelled this year, we may become more adept at finding joy in what is already here, perhaps taking some time we might not normally have to appreciate our exquisite, all-too-brief Island summer. Sure, we miss the festivals, powwows, concerts, fairs, homecoming weekends and every other curtailed activity, yet quieter pleasures are here to be enjoyed, more intimately, certainly. The summer spectacular is still on, everywhere we look.

Sometimes the motivation can be a yard sale in the next township, with tables spaced out in a field and shoppers wearing masks and staying safely distanced—as all yard-salers know, these are hit or miss affairs but there are some (muffled) people there and stuff to see. This can count as socializing these days. Bonus points if you find something you “need.”

There are markets in Little Current (Saturday) and Kagawong (Wednesday) plus a new one on Saturdays at Sugar Bush Coffee in Kagawong, and in Sandfield (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). All kinds of Manitouliners have set up farm gate stands and it’s fun (and rewarding) to stop and survey the veggies, honey or crafts on offer. 

Or the prospect of browsing (masked) the work of artists and artisans (masked) displayed outdoors at their home studios can be the lure out of the usual confines. As was demonstrated this past weekend in the Big Lake Studio Tour, a feast for the senses in three locations around the lake, off Hwy 542. 

But going to this part of the Island also lends itself to a little wander around—since Lake Mindemoya is on the way, well, why not take a look at the old lakeside roads? Many old-time cottages and resorts, built to accommodate the increase in tourism by automobile of the 1930s and ‘40s, still stand today, enjoyed by succeeding generations. A drive around the lake on the west side can go up Monument Road at Monument Corner on Hwy 542 for a glimpse into the lush campgrounds and rental cottages that seem to distill the essence of times past. We take two roads around the lake on the east side, off Hwy 551, turning onto Lakeshore Road. Large, newer homes line the road as the lake is glimpsed through cedars on the left, then fields with cows, barns and properties established here in the late 1800s. Early, small cottages and homes pop up, with newer builds, each with dock, lawnchairs, firepit; swimmers, a speedboat, some kayaks and a giant unicorn water toy dot the lake. Drivers are asked, via road signs, to “Please slow down or go around”—there are bicyclists and strollers and children to consider in this quiet outpost of the busy town of Mindemoya. 

Ketchankookem Trail meets Lakeshore Road and is equally enticing with views of a vintage concrete silo, some large farms, the Mindemoya Cemetery. Interspersed with cedar rail fences, and lanes shaded by huge maples, this is prime old-fashioned style sided with the Mindemoya Court Cottages and Campground, a wide circle of traditional log cabins around a lakeside playground, and Cedar Grove Cottages and Resort. Brookwood Brae, known as ‘Manitoulin’s Old Golf Course,’ still rents its Pirate’s Cove Cottages that come with a personal golf cart. The public beach here offers a great view of Treasure Island and a long dock for boat launching. Idyll Glen RV Park fills with happy campers, as it has for many years.

Backtracking south on Hwy 551, down to Hwy 542, we head east toward the Big Lake Studio Tour. 

On the south shore of Big Lake, the pottery of Lynda James, which she creates “for fun and function” is laid out on tables spread widely apart in the cottage-y garden of her studio, where her kiln is. Striking platters, plates and bowls in all sizes are boldly swished with colour in thematic series; the air is sweet with the scent of hydrangeas and the lake glistens. Further along the highway, in a woodsy setting on the lake’s west shore, Linda Williamson and Ellen Lewis show their fine art oil and acrylic paintings in a bright and airy loft studio surrounded by pines, each artist reflecting the landscapes and flora of their Island surroundings. A little further on, on the east shore, Glenna Treasure has displayed her pottery bowls, mugs and fused glass pieces on shelves and tables outside her studio and kiln; among the hostas, her whimsical garden sculptures peek out in a riot of shapes and colours. On the porch of a cabin in the garden, artisan Vic Laberge has exhibited his hand-tooled take on woodcraft. In the absence of the annual Manitoulin Art Tour, the Big Lake Studio Tour is a welcome creative innovation, reflected in the robust attendance and brisk sales.

Big Lake potter and glass artist Glenna Treasure holds a clay ‘Nut Bird’ she makes especially to dispense.

Big Lake is separated from Lake Manitou by a thin half-kilometre of land, begging the question: ‘why not sneak a peek at some of the lakeside roads on Manitoulin’s largest lake?’ To get there, we turn back a few kilometres east and north onto Gibraltar Road, a long, cedar-lined country road that ends at Rockville Road, an even longer road on the eastern shores of Lake Manitou. The Rockville Memorial Hall was erected as a United Church in 1929; converted into the present community hall in the 1960s, it continues to serve for events and as a historical reminder of this farming community’s origins.

Rockville Road covers the whole upper east side of Lake Manitou and is also a bike route. This area was settled in 1895 and quickly became a magnet for tourists seeking the fishing and boating pleasures of the massive lake. Rockville dock and boat launch on Newby’s Bay offers access to the lake. The Rockville Road ends at the Bidwell Road—take it going east then south to Hwy 6 and Manitowaning, almost completing a circuit of the lake. Take it going west, stopping just before the highway to visit the Bidwell Bog, a five kilometre signed trail; at Hwy 540, head to M’Chigeeng or to Aundeck Omni Kaning and Little Current.

Some meanders are more meandering than others—there are more picnic spots, beaches and boat launches than food options on this one. Take sustenance and hydration and there you have it, your mini getaway right here at home.