by Isobel Harry
Are you pining to take in one last Island beach before your ferry farewell? Or are you disembarking from the Chi-Cheemaun in South Baymouth and counting the minutes until your toes touch warm sand and your tired body flops into cool, clean, refreshing water?
The Township of Tehkummah, always with an eye toward the enjoyment of their lovely south-coastal surroundings by residents and visitors, has thought of that. Mere minutes from the ferry dock is a slice of sand beach…well, you’ll see.
The lively ferry port of South Baymouth, on the southeast coast of Manitoulin Island, has been a fishing destination from the earliest days, ever since Anishinaabek called this place Zaagdawaang, or ‘the Outlet,’ in the 1840s and set up an encampment here.
By 1878, two fishing families, the Ritchies and the Wilmans, settled here and formed the foundation of a booming fishing industry, when the village became known as ‘The Mouth.’
In 1891, there were six fishing families and they built the first school where it still stands today, near the ferry dock. Part of the Little Schoolhouse and Museum complex, the bright red wood structure, trimmed in white, is evocative to view, even as it is closed during the pandemic, as is the adjacent museum.
South Baymouth became the official entrance by water to the Island in 1932, when the Owen Sound Transportation Company inaugurated seasonal ferry service between Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula and this port on Manitoulin with the 14-car Normac. In 1947, the Norisle, with a 50-car capacity, began her run, joined by the Norgoma in 1964 (the Norisle is berthed in Manitowaning’s Heritage Park); the Chi-Cheemaun took over in 1974, carrying 638 passengers and crew and close to 150 vehicles.
All around South Baymouth are longtime cottages, lodges and camps, campsites, trailer parks, tipis, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts. Carl’s Trading Post fits the bill for groceries, gas, sandwiches, books and magazines and of course, worms. For fishing. There are gift shops to browse and restaurants to try; all the favourite snacks and meals are here from breakfast to fish and chips and ice cream cones.
Venture out beyond the ferry terminal building, over to the west side of the waterfront to find an idyllic setting in which to while away some hours or a few relaxing minutes. A welcoming little building with a banner proclaiming “Tourism” is Destination Manitoulin Island’s headquarters for info, books and maps, which you can peruse on a bench outside while sipping one of their iced coffees. There’s a small but busy marina, a playground and a wonderful wooden boardwalk for stretching the legs along the shoreline, around picturesque little inlets bordered by cedars with postcard-perfect views of the Chi-Cheemaun sailing in or out of port. The strikingly beautiful rocky landscape of the bay looks its age—the dramatic rock formations are 425 million years old and full of fossils.
Go north on Hwy 6 for three or four minutes to Duck’s Bay Road, turn right down here and in another minute you’re standing on the sand at Tehkummah Public Beach on the eastern shoreline of South Bay. The view to the west over the expanse of water is of the southwestern tip of the peninsula of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, stretching along the whole east side of Manitoulin Island from South Baymouth to Little Current. At the north end of South Bay, a narrow band of land joins the Island to Wiikwemkoong, forming Manitowaning Bay to the north.
In a small cedar grove enclosed by a rail fence, the sand beach sweeps ever so gently into the shallow waters ahead; filling in the tranquil scene are a gazebo, picnic tables and a swing set for the kid in all of us. A couple of people set up folding chairs at the shoreline; a family lays out lunch in the shade of the gazebo as children troop in from their swim.
This beach feels like a neighbourhood spot, familiar, relaxed, where locals and visitors come to take off their shoes, take in some sun, take a dip. Whether it’s your first or last of the season or one of many swims, Tehkummah Beach in South Baymouth is a place to keep in your back pocket.