Manitoulin’s markets: Deliciousness and diversity on display by Island producers

Sophie Ciardullo, left, a Manitoulin summer resident and art teacher from Oakville, sets up a free kids’ crafts table every Saturday at the Mindemoya market. Myles Schafer, 6, and mom Melanie take a break from shopping to get creative. photos by Isobel Harry

by Isobel Harry

MANITOULIN—Got a hankering for homemade? Whether it’s jams, relishes or hot sauces, cookies or cupcakes, Island markets have them all. Looking for fresh seasonal produce? Look no further than our local farmers’ stands of carrots, zucchinis and tomatoes. How about a cozy hand-knitted afghan, baby blanket or one-of-a-kind winter socks, scarves, hats and mitts? Need a bench or set of salt and pepper shakers of carved wood? Just leave enough time to choose from among the handmade wares of many skilled cross-Island crafters.

Each of Manitoulin’s markets is a distinct experience, offering a different weekly adventure in food and locally-made products, art and crafts. From May to October (though some last just the summer), each location moves to the rhythm of the seasons, with delicate salad greens, rhubarb and maple syrup giving way to crisp radishes, peppers, beans and finally to comforting squashes, pumpkins and root vegetables.

Visitors come from far and wide, from on- and off-Island. Vendors are all locally-based purveyors of the homegrown and homemade, ambassadors of local talent, ingenuity and resilience.

Decidedly, markets are fun. Go early, grab a coffee and something yummy, stroll around, chat about technique with the vendor of the big carved bears and the home knitters. Check out what’s fresh from the fields this week at a farmer’s table and stock up on preserves as gifts to yourself and others. There is a buzz of relaxed conversations accompanied sometimes by a market musician mellowly singing and playing in the background.

The coordinator of the Mindemoya market, Jan McQuay, wears many hats. Market-goers can try their hand at her pottery wheel, pick up the 2017 edition of her popular ‘Scenic Manitoulin’ calendar, and her beautifully photographed book of the same name. Here, Jan raises awareness and encourages everyone to visit nearby Wagg’s Wood.
The coordinator of the Mindemoya market, Jan McQuay, wears many hats. Market-goers can try their hand at her pottery wheel, pick up the 2017 edition of her popular ‘Scenic Manitoulin’ calendar, and her beautifully photographed book of the same name. Here, Jan raises awareness and encourages everyone to visit nearby Wagg’s Wood.

This week, we visited Mindemoya’s large Saturday morning market, held inside and outside the town’s W.H Burt Arena. It’s typical of Manitoulin’s markets that present a diversity of shopping options in lively settings, but also unique, as they all are in their own ways.

Gore Bay’s market on the waterfront has mostly farm tables of produce and baking, with a sprinkling of interesting crafts, frequented by avid locals and visiting boaters. Held on Friday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm, it features the Purvis Fish truck onsite, a cafe in the Red Roof Pavilion with home baking by a rotating group of churches, and live music. Benches facing the bay on the boardwalk are great for munching while boat-watching; then stroll the water’s edge to the marina, microbrewery, waterside restaurant and the shops, galleries and marine museum of the Harbour Centre before heading into downtown.

In the tiny hamlet of Tehkummah, there’s a new entry this year on the markets list. The Tehkummah Seniors’ Indoor/Outdoor Market takes place on Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm, highlighting that township’s flair for growing, baking, preserving, sewing and crafting. A drive through the vast tracts of farmland and tranquil landscapes leads down glorious country roads.

The popular Kagawong Market is on Wednesdays from 10 am to 3 pm in the open-air covered pavilion by the Old Mill Heritage Centre. Cheerful and friendly, vendors offer everything from hand-painted glassware to house plants, cucumbers to cheese scones. Kagawong’s beach, museum, several shops and food stands, not to mention Bridal Veil Falls, present many additional options to market-goers.

The NEMI Farmers’ Market in Little Current is located downtown within sight of the Swing Bridge. On Saturday mornings from 9 to noon, vendors proffer all manner of produce, bread, pies, preserves and crafts just off the sidewalk on Water Street. Touring the town’s scenic boardwalk, exploring dining choices and shops is a pleasant walk in any direction.

Perhaps most unique is the theatre component that is a part of the Community Heritage Market at the Assiginack Museum in Manitowaning. Every Friday in summer from 10 am until 1 pm, seasonal produce and crafts are for sale and at 11 am “sharp,” the Debajehmujig theatre folks open their garage door for their always changing, free ‘7 Minute Side Show’ in the Creation Centre around the corner, where “you never know what you’ll experience. You may laugh or you may cry,” according to the group’s website. The Museum’s grounds display a pioneer home, blacksmith shop, school house and a barn, while the elegant limestone building houses a must-see collection of glass, porcelain and pottery of early settlers.

Uncle B’s Foodcart is a long dreamed-of venture for Brian Perry of Sandfield, whose relishes, jellies, hot sauces, hummus and salsa are now augmented by grilled sausages, burgers, vegetarian tacos and weekly specials.
Uncle B’s Foodcart is a long dreamed-of venture for Brian Perry of Sandfield, whose relishes, jellies, hot sauces, hummus and salsa are now augmented by grilled sausages, burgers, vegetarian tacos and weekly specials.

Vendors agree that “market attendance is way up” this year, despite the persistent drought curbing much fruit and vegetable production. Some vendors sell at several of the Island’s markets and further afield. Brian Perry of Sandfield’s ‘Uncle B’s’ line of sauces, preserves and now food cart greets old and new friends at the Mindemoya, Gore Bay and Kagawong markets; Ted Smith of Gypsy Family Farm in Evansville, coordinator of the Gore Bay market, brings his produce there and to the Mindemoya market. Laurette Tsun of Manitoulin Botanicals in Meldrum Bay comes to the markets in Gore Bay, Kagawong and Mindemoya and displays her line of wildcrafted remedies, soaps and beauty creams at the Island Jar, Susan’s and Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair. Mark Seabrook, painter of striking “affordable, original, authentic art,” has visited Ottawa, Toronto and the Mariposa Music Festival with his work this summer; he sells also at Huron Island Time in Providence Bay. The Striker family of Tehkummah is at almost every market with their old-time corn-popping machine and giant caramel-coating swirling bowl; just follow your nose.

Don’t delay, visit a Manitoulin market today–there’s food to eat, people to meet and arts and crafts to discover, with a generous side of musical and theatrical surprises.