A Manitoulin Island road trip served with a side of local appreciation

One of the things I have come to love most about Sudbury is the diversity of landscapes that come with northern Ontario. Yes, there is no doubt we have lots of rocks and trees and lakes, but how beautiful they can be. The way highways have been blasted out of what was once a beast of Canadian Shield. The way you can drive half an hour into Greater Sudbury’s Valley region and encounter rolling fields of farms, potato warehouses and U-Pick berry stops.

This diversity of regions is particularly highlighted when driving to Manitoulin Island, a trip that has quickly become one of my favourites.

Such was my Saturday spent with Jen, Ian and Steve.

Our day started at the Sudbury Farmer’s Market, where I sampled no less than six types of sausage, both to decide on which one would grace our island sandwiches and to make up for the fact that I had slept in and not eaten breakfast. Jen bought two different kinds of cheese (more sampling ensued, obviously) and I paid $1 for two cucumbers that the farmer offered me for free. You may question my decision to pay, but hey, farmers aren’t doing so hot this summer and every shiny loonie helps.

Now, let me talk about the drive.

The magic really begins when you get past Espanola, the town where the smell of the pulp and paper mill is matched only by the raw strength of that plant’s straight lines – tubes and towers crossing one another creating what can only be described as a playground of industrial ingenuity. From here, the roads open into a twisting maze (the turns are so sharp I almost poked my eye out while trying to remove my contacts on the way home), with walls of limestone rock and a view of Georgian Bay that sits as a faded layer of blue just above the tree line.

The discovery that the cassette (weird, I don’t think I’ve ever typed the word “cassette” before) deck in Steve’s van still worked was a game changer. Our trip was filled with cassette tape tunes from a former life. Does anyone else remember how good those Classical Kids cassettes were? We listened to Tchaikovsky Discovers America and snickered whenever the composer and the two bratty American kids outran the journalists. Nothing has changed, and I still find myself wanting to conduct Swan Lake whenever it plays. Other musical relief came in the form of Gordon Lightfoot (a true cross-Ontario listening experience) and a slightly-disturbingly titled mixtape that used to belong to my dad called “Songs to Watch Girls By.” Related: I can’t believe I lost my Backstreet Boys cassettes.

Once in Little Current we completed our first of two Farquhar’s Ice Cream stops, strolled along the harbour and tried to discover what all the Haweater Festival fuss was about.

Little Current has nice signs

We picnicked in the grass with simple sandwiches (or a “smörgås” – open faced sandwich, for me) topped with our local produce and bread that Ian made.

Dessert was chocolate cheesecake (another Ian creation) which he refuses to believe I actually like, despite repeated declarations of deliciousness. Ian: let it be known that I am taking my oath upon this great institution that is the Internet: I enjoyed your cheesecake, and would like to be continuously invited to your apartment for evenings of more cake and Catan.

The highlight of the day was our trip to Bridal Falls – a beautiful area with walking trails filled with the most lovely of sights.

We pretended the frogs leaping into the tiny, path-side streams were using them as water slides and imagined (or at least I did) that a local power generating building was haunted by a thousand killer bats. Looking up, down and around, the trail was an enchanting mix of textures and light transparencies.

The slate-of-stone benches found every hundred metres or so looked like alters to Mother Nature, and I offered my hiking shoes and backpack as a sacrificial lamb.

We encountered the tiny hamlet of Kagawong and spent a blissful hour exploring Edwards Studios in the old mill building (built in 1925) and appreciating the whole pile (the correct and grown-up way to describe a lot of any one thing) of stained glass, paintings, prints and pottery that had been made by the gallery owner, his wife and son. We weren’t supposed to take any pictures inside (a rule that I complied with for probably the first time in my life – see this Athens Museum post to read otherwise) but let me tell you that the art was unbelievable and the view from the old mill windows were enough to make me swoon. The view: a bright blue strip of Georgian Bay and a sky that when contrasted with the old grey brick of the building and the white window frame created the most dreamy of colour palettes. I liked to imagine the mill building was sitting high on a cliff and that the bay beyond was the edge of the world.

The four of us then took that view and transformed it into a location of splashing and swimming fun. I fell backwards off a dock like I was in a Nestea commercial and found a rock that looked like mainland British Columbia. It was reinvigorating.

We returned to Bridal Falls to find that it was far less busy than before. Advantage: silly photography.

Our best “battle to the death” faces (THANKS self-timer!)

And some not-as-silly photos:

Jen and Ian, the most absurdly (and adorably) in-love pair that I know

Our drive back across the island to Little Current was undertaken at the most amazing time of day – a sweetspot where the evening light cast a golden glean off the top of leaves and broken barns were illuminated in soft, slitted spotlights of sun.

I took out my contacts and dozed off for most of the ride home, my eyes not able to take the blind bokehs of passing car lights and highway signage.

I don’t think my description has done this trip justice. So just know that it was a really great day filled with good friends and an expanded appreciation for my home region. I’m happy.

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5 thoughts on “A Manitoulin Island road trip served with a side of local appreciation

  1. Sounds like a wonderful day, even though you had to listen to music on a cassette player. I love the pictures of the falls and the surrounding woods. Being a dessert dweller, we don’t get to see all that green. Thanks for the little refreshing break in my day.

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