by Isobel Harry
Not only is Manitoulin Island surrounded by the big waters of Lake Huron, it is also rich in inland lakes: there are 108 of them scattered all over the Island map. The largest of these, lakes Manitou, Kagawong and Mindemoya, and many smaller lakes, have seen campers and cottagers set up summer outposts on their shores since the late 1800s.
In Central Manitoulin, Lake Mindemoya’s long history as a vacation destination may be appreciated on a tour around the lake, a drive or bicycle ride on the little roads that contour the water on the east and west sides.
Lined on the eastern shore with old-time rental operations, a golf course, cottages and homes fronted by docks with deckchairs, this side of the lake has the quiet air of a well-loved, long established community.
There are several spots along here to swim, launch a boat and have a picnic. Driving or biking south on Hwy 551 toward the town of Mindemoya, turn right on Hill Road, down to the evocatively-named Ketchankookem Trail at the waterfront. Here’s a quintessential Lake Mindemoya scene, with the lakeshore cove on the right hosting the guests of the always popular Idyll Glen RV Park and the park and beach on the left that is open to the public.
Pleasant grassy park areas back the beaches around the lake, strips of fine sand that serve as personal welcome mats into the nice-and-warm shallow waters ahead. Young and old picnic at tables and on blankets, launch a boat, take a dip or just hang out, gazing across the water to Treasure Island, the storied isle of legends.
Treasure Island, or Mindemoya Island, is seen from almost anywhere around the lake; the shape resembles a prostrate human form with arms resting outstretched over the water. An old Anishinaabe legend tells of Nanabush, the infamous Trickster, who stumbled while carrying his grandmother over his shoulder, causing her to fly through the air to the middle of the lake where she landed on her hands and knees. Mindemoya (Mndimooyenh), the old woman of the lake, remains here ever since.
In 1883, the McPhersons of Toronto bought the island for $60. They sold it in 1928 to Joe and Jean Hodgson who ran the tourist camp called Treasure Island, renowned far and wide until 1994. Their daughter, the late Marion Seabrook, wrote a memoir of the Hodgson saga: ‘One Man’s Journey: George Hodgson 1849-1924,’ that can be found at the Welcome Centre and Pioneer Park in downtown Mindemoya, along with memorabilia from the heydays of the resort.
There are several accommodation options along Ketchankookem, including Island Spring and Cedar Grove rental cottages; between Pirate’s Cove’s cottages at the golf course and Mindemoya Court’s cottages is the Mindemoya Public Beach, at Will-O-Wisp Way. This area is known as Old Spring Bay, and this beach is on Spring Bay, a lovely example of a ‘classic’ Lake Mindemoya beach: groomed and treed lush green lawn above and sand below with yards of sandy lake bottom to wade into, the wide public boat launch sees a steady stream of personal craft and there’s a swimming dock at the end.
Still on Ketchankookem Trail, the road will join up with Lakeshore Road, another lovely lane to wander, and Highways 542/551; follow 551 along the south shore of the lake, stopping at still another small, quiet picnic area then proceeding west until the turn on the right to Monument Road.
At the turn, diagonally across the road, is the Manitoulin District Cenotaph, honouring those many Manitouliners who gave their lives in service of this country during the two world wars.
Monument Road is a bike route—as are all the roads around the lake—and a little piece of rural heaven: split rail fences sprout among flat limestone pavements, a few homes and cottages peep through the forest cover, cyclists and walkers, children and dogs meander as the road winds gently around the west side of Lake Mindemoya. The Stanley Park Campground comes into view, a sprawling, meticulously kept RV park with a convenience store carrying summer essentials such as ice cream (etc); a little farther along is a long public beach, or longed-for oasis, with picnic tables on a strip of lawn, benches, parking and portable toilets. A few hundred yards up the beach is a new boat launch.
On this hazy morning, two kayakers approach the shore, Treasure Island shrouded behind them as in fog—Tanya Giles, of Spring Bay, and Maureen Pearce of Providence Bay slide up the sand bar in their orange one-person craft. The friends meet at this beach to go out in their kayaks, rounding the islands, in and out of coves “for half an hour, an hour,” then pack up their cars to head home. The usually tranquil water and peace of the morning draw them back here “as often as possible, early, before it gets crowded.”
Monument Road carries on northward, past Learmont Road on the left leading to Mac’s Camp’s cottages and tent and trailer sites, and past the wrought iron gates and beautiful grounds of Rockgarden Terrace Resort. Oakes Cottages and Trailer Park is situated in dense forest cover as we glimpse the lake through tall maples on the right. The road opens to farms and fields and big old barns and ends at Cross Hill Road; a drive through this residential section of M’Chigeeng First Nation takes you back to Highway 551 (M’Chigeeng will be visited in a later edition of the Summer Pages).
Southward to Mindemoya via yet another leafy picnic spot on the highway, with parking right beside your individual picnic table, water lapping at your feet, there to ponder the wonder of the lake.
The town of Mindemoya is never far from the lake, serving as a central hub for all holiday survival needs. Go there for restaurants and accommodations for all styles and budgets, veterinary services, a hospital, laundromats, car wash, pet supply store, the Island’s largest grocery store, car dealership, health food store, Williamson’s 100-year-old hardware and kitchenware store and hunting and fishing outfitter, a furniture and appliances store, gas, clothing stores and of course a take-out window for Farquhar’s ice cream. There are trails at Wagg’s Wood, a fantastic Pioneer Park and museum in the Welcome Centre, churches, a public school and a big community park and playground by the historic Old School.
The Cycling Routes and Road Map by the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA), including the Mindemoya Lake Loop, is available for $2 from manitoulincycling.com.