Tehkummah Township: Combing the concessions on Manitoulin’s east end for a taste of the terroir

Island veterinarian and beekeeper Janice Mitchell sells her HumbleBeez new-crop honey, salves and beeswax candles from a push cart in her front yard. photos by Isobel Harry

by Isobel Harry

TEHKUMMAH – Taking a break from a touch of cabin fever (which is not actual fever, mind you), we decamp and head east on Government Road, that tranquil rural stretch that parallels the south coast from Providence Bay to Tehkummah. It’s pretty much forests and farms along here, all laid out in scenic, gentle hills and curves. Cedar rail fences over a hundred years old range over the pleasantly undulating terrain as we remain alert (yet relaxed) to what pops up at random on our route. This is a bike route too and can be found in part on the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates’ online Cycling Routes Map in the printable ‘South Baymouth to Meldrum Bay’ route; the pocket-size map can also be bought online for $2. (ManitoulinCycling.com/maps/south-baymouth-to-meldrum-bay/)

East of the turnoff to Mindemoya (Yonge Street), we enter the Township of Tehkummah; side roads leading to Carter Bay and Michael’s Bay offer water views to the south. Michael’s Bay was the first boomtown in the Island’s lumbering heyday: water-powered lumber milling started here in 1868 on the Manitou River. The now-overgrown 200-acre town plot had a school, church, post office, general store, hotels, taverns, boarding houses and homes for the 400 people who lived and worked here. The story of the town and its complete annihilation by fire in 1914 can be found at the Little Schoolhouse and Museum in South Baymouth (closed during the pandemic), along with artifacts and original survey maps of the townsite. 

We reach the 20th Concession, where a vertical row of signs proclaims: ‘Locally Raised Pork, Preserves, Firewood, Maple Syrup, Farm-fresh Eggs, Summer Sausage.’ Up the concession road a kilometre and a half at the 2nd Concession is the farm of Earl Albrecht and family, beautifully situated with the Manitou River running through it. There are sheep, pigs and chickens; seasonal products and produce are for sale in a small shed, including their Mennonite summer sausage. 

There are countless concession and side roads in Tehkummah township, a dizzying array to a wandering visitor; some are narrow gravel roads and they all look inviting. The 20th Concession carries on past the Albrecht farm to end at a beautiful old red brick homestead that is enjoying a new lease on life; the view of the Manitou River here at the back of the farm is picture-perfect. 

Back on Government Road, many are the temptations to nip off up or down these many little rural routes as signs pop up – the 4th, the 6th, the 15th, seemingly in no particular order. We carry on, turning left at the 10th Sideroad into the hamlet of Tehkummah, presided over by Ward’s General Store, the iconic family business since 1922. While customers cannot enter the store these days because of pandemic regulations, you can phone in and pick up your order or knock on the closed front door for service.

The Streicher family farm sells various products at their farm gate on Smeltzer Road.

We turn onto the 2nd Concession, and then eastward on Hwy 542A  and here, at 284 Hwy 542A, is the home of HumbleBeez, the bee hives and honey operation of Island veterinarian Janice Mitchell. Her new-crop unpasteurized honey, salves and candles are displayed in an old pull-cart roofed in red standing in her front yard. Passionate about bees since 2010, she keeps her stall open “24/7,” she says; bring change, help yourself and leave money in the tin.

A hundred yards from here, on Smeltzer Road, is where the Streicher family makes its popular Manitoulin Kettle Corn for sale at markets and fairs; it’s quiet today, but summer sausage and eggs can be had here, says a sign in the yard.

Where 542A meets Hwy 542 is where you’ll find ‘Almost Heaven’ Organic Gardens and home of Joan and Robert Beard at 39 Townline Road. The seasoned farm gardeners sell their produce, preserves and crafts ‘by chance’ all summer; a sign on the door will tell you if they’re home: ‘We’re Home,’ it declares, ‘Blow Horn.’ Strawberries are done, the glads will be next  and on Fridays, Joan says, her granddaughters sell their baking; café tables and chairs are set appropriately distanced for a slice of something and a cup of tea.

Just north of here we cross into the municipality of Central Manitoulin and arrive in Sandfield, at the source of the Manitou River, a tiny hamlet with some homes and cottages built of beautiful river rock and an expansive view of the southern portion of Lake Manitou. In 1880, Sandfield was bustling with grist, saw, shingle, carding and woolen mills and several lime kilns in the area. Since 1886, successive generations of Watsons operated their General Store here. Today, the front of the wide storefront is lined with the colourful stalls, canopies and umbrellas of about a dozen vendors in what’s become the Sandfield Market, open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays this summer. 

“The glads are coming next!” says Joan Beard as she shows off the very first stem to bloom at Almost Heaven Organic Gardens in Tehkummah.

Charlene Fretz-Hyytiainen bought the store a while back and ran it as the Country Kitchen. Now she bustles around the outdoor market she has organized, chatting with vendors and selling cold drinks from a fridge on The Porch; vintage clothes are hung on a clothesline and all around are produce, snack and crafts options to consider. “We can take more vendors,” says Ms. Fretz-Hyytiainen, “there’s lots of room and we’re getting really popular!” 

There’s much more to explore in and around Tehkummah – go your own way, you can’t go wrong.

In memory of Pat Hall, poet, community mainstay and longtime Expositor correspondent from Tehkummah.