Part 1: Travelling The Bruce Peninsula

Like a finger pointing north the Bruce Peninsula stretches 76 km from Wiarton to Tobermory and through parts of the Georgian Bay from its “Mother Lake” Huron.

Steep picturesque cliffs dominate the entire east coast along the Georgian Bay. On its west coast, however, wide white sand beaches lose themselves gently in the waves of Lake Huron. Sauble Beach, at the foot of the peninsula, is known as one of the most beautiful and safest beaches in Canada’s interior, because of its shallow descent into Lake Huron.

Between these two so absolutely different shores lies a landscape of rare natural beauty. No other landscape in Ontario is so lavishly endowed with scenic and natural historic beauty. The best way to appreciate the full beauty of the west coast of the Georgian Bay is to explore the Bruce Peninsula’s Bruce Trail. Because the Peninsula is part of the Niagara Escarpment, there is a system of trails which follows its entire length from upper New York State and the Niagara River to Tobermory, and beyond that, partially underwater, across Manitoulin Island to Lake Michigan and then down a large part of that State’s western shore.

The Escarpment formed over millions of years through the erosion of rocks of different hardness. The soft rocks weathered away or were eroded by the action of streams. The gradual erosion of the soft rocks undercut the erosion-resistant caprock, leaving a cliff or escarpment. The Flowerpots on Flowerpot Island were formed in this fashion, with the harder “cap rock” remaining in their tops. This process is visible all along the east coast of the Bruce Peninsula and forms some rather impressive landscape features.

The Bruce can be compared with a huge rock garden. Huge fields of colourful flowers cover parts of the peninsula at various times of the year. In May the light violet butterfly-flowers of the dwarf iris shimmer through the light woods. In June the scarlet-coloured Indian Paintbrush glows brilliantly between the fields of grasses and weeds. The anti-Indian-Name-Activists recently forced its renaming to “Common Red Paintbrush”, although in other parts of the country it was already called “Prairie Fire”, “Painted Lady” and “Butterfly Weed”.

The peninsula is well endowed with wildlife species. Meeting deer and bears along the quiet trails is not rare, as I found out when I once met a brown bear on the Singing Sands woodland trail. We took one look at each other and turned around, each of us running in opposite directions.

If you want to visit the swampy areas or the woods of the Bruce, you would do well to wear high leather boots. This is the home of the infamous Massasauga Rattlesnake, and they are common. I once had dreams of making some money by catching them and bringing them to a snake farm near Wiarton, which paid $ 5 per snake for them and used them to produce an anti-venom serum (which I always carried with me). But I slept in my Volkswagen, and the dozen or so rattlers in my trunk were a major sleep disturbance, so I released them and gave up my dreams of becoming “Rattlesnake Pete”!

But you do not necessarily have to be a natural history fan to appreciate the Bruce. There is lots of it to explore as an angler, camper or boater. Anglers will want to try fishing for bass or pike at Oliphant, Red Bay, Stokes Bay, Pine Tree Harbour, Dorcas Bay or Hay Bay on the west shore, or for rainbow trout or salmon, which prefer the cold clear water of Colpoy’s Bay, Hope Bay, Barrow Bay and Dyer Bay. Ague Lake, Miller Lake, Cameron Lake and other inland lakes offer bass, pike and walleyes. Some of the small creeks are also good speckled trout waters.

Boaters will find both coasts worthwhile exploring, but never ever without detailed maps. The rocky outcrops along the west coast are especially dangerous. The “Fishing Islands” near Red Bay and Pike Bay offer unique wild “Islandscapes” for boating and camping. Many are however private property.

Camping is easier at private and government campsites at Wiarton, Sauble Falls Provincial Park, Lions Head, or in the National Park at the tip of the peninsula. Our favourite camping spot for very many years was the Cape Croker Indian Reserve, even before it became an official campsite. The First Nation Ojibwa residents, after January 21, 1992 do not like to have it referred to as “Indian Reserve” but as “Neyaashiinigmiing”. Nor do they want to be referred to as “Ojibwa”, but insist on “Anishnaabe”. My family spent many weekends and holidays there, getting to know some of the locals, camping in various private locations (with permissions, of course) and exploring the 2428 hectares large Cape Croker peninsula. The street around McGregor Bay to its end at Harbour Point has probably the most beautiful view on the entire Bruce Peninsula.


Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Written by

Peter Iden is a resident of Wasaga Beach and a Naturalist and Photographer who has a broad range of knowledge of the natural world. Peter is also a volunteer Warden for the Piping Plover Recovery Programme with the Friends of Nancy Island.