North Channel Cruise Line’s Benjamin Islands channel excursion a dream anniversary trip for Island couple

Le Grand Heron cruises offer a unique tourist experience.

NORTH CHANNEL – On Sunday, Tammie and Tim Molenaar had a 39th wedding anniversary excursion they won’t ever forget and which already has the couple planning their 40th next summer, on the water. The Molenaars took a tour to the famed Benjamin Islands aboard North Channel Cruise Line’s Le Grand Heron, their Manitoulin Staycation wish.

In June, this newspaper called on Islanders to submit their hopes for fulfilling a Manitoulin experience that they have never had. In return, The Expositor would do their best to make that dream a reality.

The Molenaars read with great interest The Expositor’s proposal and said they would love to have a tour of the Benjamin Islands courtesy of North Channel Cruise Lines. As a child, Ms. Molenaar grew up in Billings and Gore Bay, and like many children of that region, had toured the Benjamins before, but husband Tim had never been. Neither Tim nor Tammie had been aboard Le Grand Heron and both were eager to do so.

When contacted, North Channel Cruise Line owner/operator Chris Blodgett was more than agreeable to help this couple out, also on the occasion of their 39th wedding anniversary. “Let’s do it!” he responded enthusiastically.

On Sunday morning, an eager group of people, Molenaars included, waited out the thunderstorm on the horizon at dock in Little Current. Soon they headed out into the North Channel, often called the ‘finest cruising waters in the Great Lakes,’ with a complimentary coffee and muffin.

The Benjamin Islands tour takes passengers north on the Waubuno Channel and heads west, passing windswept rock, granite cliffs and gentle sloping rocks. The cruise ship passes numerous islands, including Fox Island and, before being fed lunch, passengers eventually land on South Benjamin Island where guests can depart, head for a hike, a swim in the cobalt-blue waters or simply take in the beauty of the pink granite. During the cruise, crew members regale passengers with the history and lore of Benjamin Islands and LaCloche.

“Manitoulin has always been home,” Ms. Molenaar said when contacted by The Expositor following her staycation. “I moved away as a teenager, but always planned on coming back. Over the next few decades, life handed me several changes; marriage and kids were the big ones. But I faithfully came back to the Island to visit, to teach my kids about my home, and to find peace. Finally, I moved back home.”

A beautiful view of the harbour at South Benjamin Island.

“I had been to the Benjamin Islands as a kid, but I had forgotten the raw natural beauty of the islands—the pink granite against the blue water,” she continued. “My husband had only seen photos and was overwhelmed with the actual destination. We loved the opportunity to explore the island and take a quick dip in the water. We laughed and drank in the creation around us.”

Ms. Molenaar said she was amazed at the amount of wildlife they encountered too, especially birds. “We saw a golden eagle, bald eagle, a red-bellied woodpecker and a blue jay.”

“We enjoyed it very, very much,” Ms. Molenaar added. “My husband was amazed at the beauty.” 

“The boat ride was fantastic,” she continued. “As well as the interesting history and facts that the crew shared with us, the food and drink was part of a perfect day. We finished our staycation by enjoying a Manitoulin brew from Split Rail or Manitoulin Brewing Company.”

“We want to thank North Channel tours for making our 39th wedding anniversary so very memorable,” Ms. Molenaar shared. The couple has already decided that they will take North Channel Cruise Line’s Baie Fine Fjord cruise for their 40th anniversary next summer.

Other spectacular North Channel Cruise Line offerings include Voyage to Killarney, a day trip featuring a tour of Killarney (and yes, there will be fish and chips); a Sunset Dinner Cruise featuring fresh brick-oven pizzas with alternating east and west North Channel routes; and the Baie Fine Fjord cruise, which includes a hike in Killarney Provincial Park and a swim in Lake Topaz.

“A big thank you to The Expositor as well,” Ms. Molenaar concluded. “And tell your readers to remember to take the time to explore this great Island that we are proud to call home.”

To book your North Channel Cruise Line, visit northchanneltours.com or call 1-800-268-8222. Due to the pandemic, sailing capacity has been reduced to 30 percent. Masks must be worn when moving about on the vessel.

Tim and Tammie Molenaar share an anniversary toast aboard Le Grand Heron on their way from the Benjamin Islands.