Canoe Reflections on The Bay

Skid Crease shares a few beautiful memories of canoeing on Georgian Bay…

“The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind,” begins a tribute by Sigürd Olsen to the watercraft that first plied the waterways of North America. From the mouth of the Mississippi to the mouth of the Mackenzie, from the St. Lawrence to the Fraser, from the highland headwaters of the Nipissing, to the escarpment cliffs of Niagara Falls, the canoe ruled the waterways. For thousands of years, First Nations peoples paddled a diverse variety of canoes as they navigated this continent’s rivers, lakes and Great Lakes.

Tucked off the northeastern edge of Great Lake Huron, lies Georgian Bay, the mythos of Turtle Island, and some of the most beautiful canoeing country in Canada.

My first introduction to Georgian Bay was in a canoe. My Dad had finally taken me on one of the “men’s” fishing trips to Inverlochy Lodge just north of Nobel. I remember canoeing down a long channel and coming into The Bay at sunrise. I thought it was an ocean. We floated there surrounded by fire on the water. The canoe, The Bay and I became one.

Then came the sixties and hiking trips to the Bruce Trail near Tobermory to experience The Grotto. I can still remember walking out of the brushy trail and seeing the white cliffs of the Escarpment, with sunbathers everywhere on the rocks, and swimmers diving, and the blue turquoise waters of The Bay – I thought I was in a tropical paradise. It was wilder then – you had to work to get to the Grotto.

That was the same year I discovered Wasaga Beach – the sand was still clean and hard packed then for as far out as you could walk and the crowds were small and respectful. Times change. There is only one Park in Ontario where you can find a beach that rivals Wasaga of old … and I’m not telling.

Years later, after many canoe trips from my summer camp and too many certification courses to count in canoeing and boat rescue, I found myself leading students on trips into the Bay. Our favourite was the Gibson-MacDonald route that we paddled from Six Mile Lake out to Portage Island on the Bay. Once on the winds of the Bay we would lash two canoes together like a catamaran, raise a spinnaker off the bows and sail on the Bay winds past Beausoleil Island all the way back to Honey Harbour, then up the channel to the marine railroad lift at Big Chute and home. My students said they were the best adventures ever!

The other trips were personal – paddling solo through the Massassauga before it became a Provincial Park and portaging out of Spider Lake into the beautiful islands of the South Channel. The last fishing trip with my Dad was in 1989 from a friend’s cottage on the Bay in that same area. He portaged in with me to Spider Lake. Best fishing trip ever. He died that Christmas.

From Lion’s Head to Wasaga to Massassauga to Kilbear to Manitoulin, there was a time on those fair waters of The Bay when the only craft was the canoe. You could drink out of those waters, the gift of the glacial age, from anywhere along the route.

As Bill Mason reflected in his brilliant Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes, it only took us a few centuries of colonial agricultural and industrial development to change those pure waters and shorelines. Now, at every stop along the way, canoeists have to purify their water supplies.

Change is the only constant, but my memories of The Bay are etched in permanence.

The waters are pure, the sunset is like a shimmering campfire, and all the people I meet along my canoe route respect the land.

The way I remember it.

Skid Crease

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