Manitoulin’s museums: so much more than an eye-opening collections of rarities

The Net Shed Museum in Meldrum Bay, originally one of many such sheds on the shore of the bay, is now a fascinating museum of local marine lore.

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin’s many distinctive museums, gracing almost every corner of the Island, proffer the joy of intimate encounters with Island heritage and natural history, layering extra depth and meaning to the wonder of an Island experience.

Each museum in the listings below has its area of specialization and is equally approachable. For a small fee or donation, visitors can spend a little or a lot of time absorbed in collections of genealogical records, early photographs, domestic and farm implements, Indigenous regalia and artistry, model boats, ancient  fossils and 10,000 year-old quartzite tools, all locally sourced and displayed in outstanding settings.

Net Shed Museum

In the tiny waterside hamlet of Meldrum Bay at the literal end of the road (Highway 540 ends here, reads the last road sign), the Net Shed Museum stands humbly but gloriously on a pebble beach in this bay of the North Channel.

The Net Shed Museum in Meldrum Bay, originally one of many such sheds on the shore of the bay, is now a fascinating museum of local marine lore.

An hour west of Gore Bay and a world away, the authentic old net shed unveils the history and artifacts of the booming commercial fishing industry that started up here in about 1897, and is the last of many such net sheds remaining in the bay. On a windless day, it’s possible to see the submerged long pier that served as a dock for Millman’s steam tugs; on the bottom of the lake at the far end of the pier lie the charred remains of the ‘Windslow,’ a steam barge that burned and sank in 1910.

1 Water Street, Meldrum Bay. Open Tuesday to Sunday 12 to 4 and 7 to 9 in July and August.

William Purvis Marine Centre

The marine theme continues throughout the William Purvis Marine Centre on the third floor of Gore Bay’s Harbour Centre, the red-roofed, imposing wooden structure on the town’s waterfront that houses airy artists’ studios, shops and galleries.

‘Buck’ Longhurst in the William Purvis Marine Centre that houses his collection of books, papers and many intriguing and rare artifacts of Great Lakes marine history. 
photo by Isobel Harry

Anchored by G.I. ‘Buck’ Longhurst’s extensive collection of important marine memorabilia of the Great Lakes, the marine centre houses “20,000 slides and 12,000 prints in an archive that people can use in their research,” says the historian, author and curator. Also on view are shipping company histories, intricately crafted model boats, lighthouse lenses, paintings, and working parts of boats such as a steam whistle, steering wheel and running lights.

40 Water Street, Gore Bay. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:30-4:30, Sunday 12-4. (July-September). www.

Gore Bay Museum

The Gore Bay Museum in the limestone complex of buildings (1879) that housed the jailer’s home and is still home to the Island’s Courthouse offers a glimpse into the life of the area more than a hundred years ago. The jailer’s former home with attached jail has been preserved intact, complete with cells and refectory table; side rooms house collections of clothing, children’s dolls and an unmatched collection of early photographs by local photographer Joseph Wismer. A somewhat scary-looking ‘Dentist’s Office’ and the nostalgic domestic implements in ‘the Kitchen’ highlight old-time tools and techniques.

The adjacent, modern gallery addition hosts two summer exhibitions (June 23 to September 30): Lynne Gerard: ‘Confluence’ and Donald Moorcroft (1935-2015):’Natural Geometry- Wild Physics.’

12 Dawson Street, Gore Bay, Tel: 705-282-2040. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday from 2 to 4 pm.

Old Mill and Heritage Centre

In Kagawong, the Old Mill, built of local limestone as a pulp mill in 1925, now houses municipal offices, Edwards Studios and Fine Art Gallery and the Heritage Centre. Open every day, this museum enlivens historical exhibits in an atmospheric multi-media environment of interactive audio and video displays, depicting an extensive collection of local contributions to both World Wars, artifacts of early schools and the thriving boat-building and fishing industries of the mid-19th century. Outside the Old Mill is the postage stamp-sized log cabin housing the Post Office Museum for Transportation and Communication and an open-air pavilion hosts the farmers’ market on Wednesdays.

The Old Mill and Heritage Centre, Kagawong, Tel: 705-282-1442. Hours: Open every day from 10 to 4.

M’Chigeeng First Nation is home to two collections of historical and contemporary Indigenous artistry and craft, both sure to instruct and inspire.

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation

The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation began life in 1974 as an educational and cultural resource centre in a tiny wood frame building. The striking, spacious new building opened in 1999, fronted by the late Carl Beam’s sculptural painted gates and containing a circular Healing Lodge, a gallery and gift shop, workshops and Ojibwe-language radio station, CHYF-FM.

The Museum is a beautifully curated space that displays many pieces of great significance and spiritual meaning, including ancient scrolls, porcupine quill boxes, ash and sweetgrass baskets, jingle dress regalia, pottery and antler carvings.

“We have a mandate to represent the culture, and the Museum presents culturally authentic interpretations of Anishininaabek history, cultural practices and beliefs,” says executive director Anong Migwans-Beam.

15 Hwy 551, M’Chigeeng, Tel: 705-377-4902. Summer Hours: Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 4 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.

Lillian’s Museum

Lillian’s Museum is located within Lillian’s Crafts, a shop bursting with beads, jewellery, moccasins, artwork by local artists and souvenirs of all descriptions. In the attached museum, the owner’s private collection of exquisite quill boxes and baskets, her passion since 1959, includes the work of such renowned basket weavers and quill-box artists as Mamie Migwans, Josephine Assiniwe, Bernadette Pangowish, Delia Bebonang and Josette Debassige. Lillian’s also offers day passes to a quiet tree-lined sand beach with picnic tables on West Bay, and camping spots–simply register in the store.

5950 Hwy. 540, M’Chigeeng, Tel: 705-377-4987. Open every day 9:30-6

Central Manitoulin Pioneer Museum

In Mindemoya, the historical displays at the Welcome Centre and Pioneer Museum on Highway 551 are located in a modern building surrounded by log cabins and a covered bridge. Staffed during July and August, summer students escort visitors around the centre’s fossil collection, early photographic portraits and local settler family trees, quilts, dolls and handmade furniture. A tour of the adjacent Pioneer Park reveals historical outbuildings filled with pioneer tools, farm equipment and domestic implements.

2207 Hwy. 551, Mindemoya, Tel: 705-377-4383. Hours: Open 9 am to 5 pm every day in July and August.

For fans of Jack’s Agricultural Museum, also in this Central Manitoulin town, it is now closed but the rare collection of pre-war farm implements and machinery that Jack Seabrook amassed in the 1950s could be moving to another location.

Little Schoolhouse Museum

In Manitoulin’s southeast, steps from the ferry terminal in South Baymouth, is the Little Schoolhouse Museum. Among the photos of early settlers, mills and the fishing industry of yore are displays of farming tools, a hundred-year-old ‘Log Cabin’ quilt, the community’s first telephone switchboard, and artifacts of WWI and WWII donated by local veterans’ families.

The authentic ‘little schoolhouse’ adjacent to the museum was built first as a church in 1891; the classroom is kept pristinely, blackboards cleaned and woodstove ready for a new school day.

Hwy. 6 across from the ferry terminal, South Baymouth, Tel: 705-859-3663. Open daily from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm from May to October.

Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex

A historical marker near the original front door of the former jail that is now the Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex commemorates the treaty signings of 1836 and 1862 in Manitowaning, between the Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatomi inhabitants and the British rulers.

Built of stone in 1878, the ‘lock-up’ was converted to a museum in 1955, the oldest on the Island. Here are extensive displays of 19th and 20th Century porcelain, glassware and pottery, toys, taxidermy and early farm tools; a restored log school, a barn and a blacksmith shop offer authentic period settings.

There’s a market on the grounds on Friday mornings, punctuated by Debajehmujig theatre group’s ‘Seven-Minute Sideshows’ at 11 am.

125 Arthur Street, Manitowaning, Tel: 705-859-3905. Hours (July and August): Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm.

Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah

Among settler implements and working log outbuildings set among towering maples, the museum displays an amazing collection of ancient fossils and is a small but significant repository of artifacts found in the nearby archeological excavations of the quartzite quarry of Sheguiandah Hill, a National Historic Site.

Tools and spearpoints in the Museum that were found at the site have been dated at 10,000 years of age, demonstrating “a series of successive cultural occupations of early inhabitants in what is now Ontario, beginning circa 11,000 B.C.E. with the Paleo-Indian Period during the recession of glacial Lake Algonquin.”  Last year the Museum unveiled an engaging interactive exhibit dedicated to the site, including a sandbox ‘archeological dig’ for kids.

10862 Highway 6, Sheguiandah, Tel: 705-368-2367. Open every day May to October