Andrew Armitage’s Bruce Peninsula Explorer (The Ginger Press) is structured around eight daytrips, onto which details of historical, natural and contemporary interest are layered.

Each daytrip has been expanded and enhanced in this self-guided tour. This is the Bruce Peninsula Explorer online experience! Welcome. In this tour, you’ll find Andrew’s original daytrip route and historic stories to give the sights and sounds of the Bruce greater context throughout your travels. You’ll find insider travel tips on where to stay, play and dine, and how to make the most of each visit. Each piece is an addition to the content from the print book, designed to enrich your experience. You’ll also find activity recommendations, sports and games rental listings, and important logistics information like where to find gas stations and grocery stores. Choose your own adventure!

GPS coordinates throughout the tour will help you get back on track after enjoying optional adventures. The Stones of Sarawak and Keppel moves inland, away from the shores of Owen Sound Bay. Today’s route leads through the townships of Sarawak and Keppel, mostly over paved roads with just a few gravelled concessions. Sixty kilometres in length, this tour follows a loop rich with scenic lookouts and choice picnic spots. A full exploration of this route will easily take a day, so pack a picnic lunch and don’t forget your camera. A wide angle and a telephoto lens will both come in handy.

This self-guided tour is published by The Ginger Press and sponsored in part by Bruce County and MOSAIC magazine. Please submit any feedback or suggestions about this self-guided tour online here.

Ready to Get Started?

Make your way to your departure point, Johnsons Harbour Road and Highway 6, turning onto Johnsons Harbour Road.

Before you go:

  • Get gas in Tobermory or Ferndale, as there are no other gas stations en route.
  • There are public washrooms or porta-potties available at Black Creek Provincial Park, and at businesses along the way (typically for customers only).
  • Pack a picnic to enjoy lunch at Sandy Beach, in Black Creek Provincial Park.
  • Ensure that you have your fishing license, rod and tackle if you plan to fish along this route. Those over 18 require a valid Ontario fishing license, and all who fish must carry valid government-issued identification. Spirit Rock Outpost and Lodge can get you outfitted for your fishing adventure. Call (519) 534-5168 with inquiries.
  • Bring a swimsuit and towel if you’re up for a dip in the lake.
  • Bring mats or lawnchairs if you’d like to spend some time sitting at the Black Creek Provincial Park beach.
  • Double-check your smartphone and camera batteries and memory cards; there are a number of scenic lookouts on this route.

Planning on spending the night (or more)? Ideally, you’ll have booked accommodations ahead but if not, try:

Red Bay Lodge (lodge rooms and cabins): (519) 534-1010

Red Bay Tent & Trailer Park: (519) 534-2098

Crystal Springs Place Motel & Campground, Mar area: (519) 793-6292

Heron Point Camping & Cottages, Stokes Bay: (519) 592-5871

Summer House Park, Miller Lake: 1-800-265-5557

Gale’s Haven Bed & Breakfast (couples only), Johnston’s Harbour: (519) 270-9476

Starting Point: Highway 6 and Johnson’s Harbour Road

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The two sides of the Bruce Peninsula could not be more different. Along its eastern limits stand the ramparts of the Niagara Escarpment, looming over the blue waters of Georgian Bay. On the western shores are the Huron shallows – a massive, dolostone pavement that slopes gently into Lake Huron. Relentlessly scoured by wave and ice, the west coast of the Bruce Peninsula may seem to be a barren place, but take a closer look at the richness of nature which is everywhere.

We will tour that coast today, beginning at Johnston’s Harbour in St Edmunds Township and descending to Albemarle Township’s Red Bay before turning inland for home. Along the way we will visit the 19th century logging and fishing villages of Stokes Bay and Pike Bay, take a walk through the Petrel Point fen, enjoy a picnic at Sandy Beach and tour the old cottage community at Howdenvale.

Begin by driving up Highway 6, the peninsula’s centre road. Drive past Lindsay Township’s northern limits (where Dyer’s Bay Road turns off to the east) and continue about 5km to the next concession to the left which leads out to Johnston’s Harbour. This road twists and turns through a dense cedar bush for ten kilometres. Don’t be surprised to find rabbits, snakes and coyotes along the way or even a rarely-seen black bear.


Historic Johnston’s Harbour

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After crossing the Crane River, the road leads to the Lake Huron cottage community of Johnston’s Harbour. Back in 1881, Peter McVicar built a sawmill here. A year before, McVicar and his brother William had built, according to a report in the Wiarton Echo, “the largest and most comfortable house north of Lion’s Head” at their mill on Crane River.

The settlement at Johnston’s Harbour had a sawmill, a boarding house with room for 20 men, stables, a blacksmith shop, a barn, a school, an icehouse and a scattering of log cabins. A long dock with a depth of ten feet alongside was used by lumber-transporting schooners. The Bert Barnes and the Davis made weekly trips here from Goderich. On Saturday evenings the deck of the Davis was used for square dances.

By the 1920s, the district’s timber was gone and the settlement at Johnston’s Harbour was abandoned. A forest fire swept through in 1929, leaving only the charred remains of foundations and a few stone cribs. Cottagers have now replaced this lumber village. In the winter, Johnston’s Harbour was noted for its deer yard where white-tails gathered to browse in the cedar bush but the herd is much diminished now.

Johnston Harbour & Pine Tree Point

If you get out to stretch your legs, you’re encouraged to tread lightly. This area boasts extensive jack pine forest that provides great cover for white tail deer in winter. These woods are classified a Nature Reserve within the boundaries of the Bruce Peninsula National Park and are considered a non-operational park in the Ontario Parks system. Keep your camera handy and watch for birds and wildlife–both large and small!

A Drive Down Memory Lane, to Pine Tree Harbour

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Leave Johnston’s Harbour the way you came, turn right onto Highway 6 and drive south to the next road to the west. Turn right onto Lindsay Road 30 which eventually merges with Pine Tree Harbour Road where the former community of Pine Tree was located.

A thriving community grew up here at the end of the 19th century. In December, 1894, the Wiarton Echo reported that the settlement, “with logging camps in every corner” had an active Masonic Lodge, softball and soccer teams and a supply warehouse operated by the Tackaberrys of Lion’s Head. Pine Tree took its name from a large, lone pine that once stood here. The Echo noted the tree’s demise in 1900: “The historical pine tree near Miller Lake, which gives the name to the Pine Tree locality, was cut down last week. Regrets are expressed on every hand and the feller of the tree may be looked on as an iconoclast.”

Tragedy struck Pine Tree Harbour in June, 1893, when a dozen loggers crowded onto a boat loaded down with logging chains for a short trip across the harbour, a distance easily walked on shore. The vessel went down in shallow water but four men caught their feet in the chain and were drowned.

By 1907, Pine Tree Harbour’s logging days were nearly over when a bush fire bore down on the community. Residents could hear it crackling through the cedar bush as they loaded their belongings onto barges to make a getaway. At the last minute, the wind changed direction and the fire missed Pine Tree Harbour.

The Old Mill at Tamarac Island

To continue your descent of the Huron Shore, drive back out to Highway 6 and turn right. Less than a kilometre south of Bruce County Road 20 (which leads out to Little Pine Tree Harbour) turn right onto Ira Lake Road. Before Highway 6 – the rib road up the centre of the Bruce Peninsula – was opened, this was the main route along the peninsula’s west shore. Ira Lake will appear on the left. Now designated as the Ira Lake Provincial Nature Reserve, this shallow lake is surrounded by deciduous swamp forest. In the northeast corner there is a semi-floating sedge mat.

You will see the location of Colonel Clarke’s Tavern at Clarke’s Corners, now a private residence. The original building on this site was built after the Second World War by Edward Hamilton, a retired American army colonel for a business he called the Handicraft House. Hamilton sold souvenirs to summer tourists here and a major attraction was a pair of black bears which were kept in cages. The building was purchased in the mid-1960s by Frank Clarke of Strathroy and, after a liquor referendum in 1965, he opened a restaurant, Colonel Clarke’s Tavern. The tavern was not named after Colonel Hamilton but for the Clarke family dog, Colonel.

The road now enters the village of Stokes Bay. Located halfway up the Bruce Peninsula, this old logging and fishing village is cut in half by the Stokes River, once a much larger stream known as the Big River. Originally an Ojibway fishing camp, the land around Stokes Bay was surveyed for a town plot to be known as Hardwick. A log hotel was the first building here and it housed the crews brought in by the government to build the road up the west shore of the Bruce.

John Shute started the first post office and, when it came time to name the growing community, a meeting was held. The group decided to honour the first man to sail into the village, whose name was Captain John Storke. But due to a government error and the omission of a single letter, the tiny port became Stokes Bay. Timbering was the first industry and, in its early years, Stokes Bay was a booming village with three stores, two sawmills, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, a dance hall and two hotels.

The peninsula’s virgin forest of white pine, white cedar and hemlock was cut and piled high along the banks of the Stokes River. Timber was shipped out in sailing vessels or formed into great rafts. One 1892 raft contained nearly 100,000 logs and was towed by three tugs across Lake Huron to Tawas, Michigan. Four thousand cords of hemlock tan bark were shipped to market every summer for a decade.

One of the major mills on Stokes Bay was built sometime around 1885 on Tamarac Island. Just before the bridge over the Stokes River, turn right onto Tamarac Road which leads out to this tear-drop-shaped island. A century ago the Bible and Chisholm Company built a pine log bridge across to Tamarac and put up a steam-powered sawmill.

A tramway for the shipment of logs was built from the island to nearby Clarke’s Corners and wooden rails were laid. Alas, the engine used to draw the logs was too heavy and the wooden rails sank into the ground, derailing the train. So ended the Bruce Peninsula’s one and only railroad.

In 1899, the Tamarac mill was bought by the Knechtel Furniture Company of Hanover. When the nearby available timber was depleted, the mill site with its large frame boarding house was sold to the Tamarac Island Fishing and Shooting Club. Today, the old stone walls just past the causeway are all that remain from the original mill.

Enjoy the History of This Stretch of Cottage Country

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Retrace your steps into Stokes Bay. Commercial fishing followed lumbering as the community’s main industry. By the 1920s, Nathan Doran was setting pound nets in Stokes Bay and so many fish were caught that a cooperage was built. The fish were packed in barrels, salted and sent south to market. Harvey Golden fished aboard his boat Pearl and George McLay, who later became a fishing guide, built a steel fishing tug here. Just as the fish stocks began to run low, Stokes Bay was discovered by summer tourists. The first cottage went up during World War I and today many beautiful cottages surround the shoreline. Stokes Bay hosts concentrations of migrating waterfowl in the spring and the fall.

Summer residents around Stokes Bay are probably familiar with one of the natural phenomena encountered along the Huron shore. Every so often, the waters of Lake Huron, like the tides in the Bay of Fundy, rush in toward land, sometimes rising four feet in less than a minute. The effect is properly called a seiche, a word that was first used to describe the unusual tidelike action of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. These strange, see-saw fluctuations in freshwater lakes are nowhere better known than on the west coast of the Bruce Peninsula. The gradual slope of the land going back from the water, combined with the shallowness of the water, amplifies the seiche effect along this shore.

One of the greatest seiches on record took place on May 5, 1952. It was a hot, humid spring day with a mist out over Stokes Bay. The village’s fishermen were just getting ready for a day’s work as the first of the summer cottagers took down their shutters. George McLay had his boat drawn up on the shore for repairs and Seymour Knight’s brand new fishing vessel was tied to the Government Dock.

At 6:00am, Annie McLay glanced through the window of her home. Calling to her husband, she announced, “The garden is all covered with water.” The initial wave of the seiche was followed a half-hour later by a stronger one. And then, around noon, the “Big Seiche” rolled in. Stokes Bay Postmistress Annie McLay reported: “There was no wind at all but a distant rumble of thunder. When the water started coming in under the door I picked up the mailbags, the cash box and money, and went upstairs. On looking out the upstairs window we saw a terrible sight. Boats had broken loose all over and were coming up the river.”

George McLay’s fishing boat came up the river faster than a motor could have driven it. It might have smashed to bits against the Stokes River Bridge but the bridge had vanished, carried upstream by the powerful current. The fishing boat came to rest, high and dry, on one of the bridge’s pilings. Seymour Knight’s fishing boat broke away from the Government Dock and, when last seen, was sailing serenely out through the buoys of the channel into Lake Huron. It was found, undamaged, several days later. A tourist at the nearby Lookabout Isle Lodge got up out of bed and reached down for his shoes, only to find them floating toward the door. Hundreds of cords of stacked firewood drifted away, cottages were knocked off their foundations and thousands of perch were picked from Garny Hawke’s and Norm McDonald’s yards.

There hasn’t been another seiche like it for 65 years but around Stokes Bay, they are still waiting for the next great oscillation of Lake Huron’s waters. It may come anytime.

Optional: Stop for a Swim at Black Creek Provincial Park

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We now leave Stokes Bay. Head north out of the village and turn right on Stokes Bay Road. Drive one kilometre and turn right at the remarkable row of birdhouses. Then turn right again on Myles Bay Road and follow it to the shore road. Turn right and drive across the bridge over Old Woman’s River. Supposedly, the name is derived from the Ojibway phrase for “old woman, she died here.”

Just after the bridge, turn left onto a cottage road and follow it until reaching the yellow gates of Black Creek Provincial Park. The sun-drenched expanse of beach between the gates and Black Creek is known locally as Sandy Beach. Over the years that I have known this secluded beach, it has never been crowded on a summer’s day. There are outhouses, picnic tables and sometimes a chip stand out by the gates which serves home-cut french fries. My wife told me this is one of the best beaches in Ontario. The water off Sandy Beach is shallow, allowing some of the earliest swimming on the Bruce Peninsula. This is also a great place to learn to windsurf or to launch a canoe or sea kayak for a paddle out to Lyal Island.

Lyal is the large island directly in front of you, two kilometres out in Myles Bay. Privately owned and once known as Big Island, it used to have a lighthouse and keeper’s quarters on its outer (western) side. The lighthouse has been replaced by a steel tower.

Black Creek Provincial Park – Watersports & Nature Trail

There is no fee for entry to Sandy Beach. Please park only in the designated lot, and use only the outhouses as washroom facilities.

You can arrange canoe, kayak, bicycle and other rentals through Thorncrest Outfitters in Tobermory and Southampton. Call (519) 596-8908 from May to September for information or visit them online at https://www.thorncrestoutfitters.com/.  You’re well advised to book in advance, as these are popular services on the Bruce Peninsula!

Recross the bridge and walk to the back of Sandy Beach where a path leads into the woods. Watch for poison ivy. Always a plague on the Bruce Peninsula, it is particularly abundant here. Eventually, you will find an old cottage road. In the spring and early summer, a stroll along this path provides some of the best birding along the west coast of the peninsula. This is warbler and vireo country so have your binoculars at hand. The trail through the woods cuts through prime breeding areas for nesting warblers including Parula, Magnolia, Canada, black-throated green and Blackburnian, as well as northern breeders such as the olive-sided flycatcher. Listen for its distinctive call, “quick, three beers.” This is the best warbler area on the peninsula in breeding season.

Spry & Pike Bay

It is time to leave Old Woman’s River. Retrace your route, following the road until it turns right (south) onto Stokes Bay Road. You will come to an inland crossroads community with a few old farmhouses. This is Spry.

Tucked into the gently rolling landscape, Spry was one of the earliest settlements in Eastnor Township. Here, the Bury Road skirted the Eastnor Swamp. There was a bit of farmable land in the area and, by 1885, the settlement had a log schoolhouse, a store, a church and a lodge hall.

Mrs Richard Hatt once lived in Spry, raising a family of seven boys and two girls. Born an English gentlewoman, she eloped with the butler before making her way to the outback of the Bruce Peninsula. Her butler-husband’s health was frail, leaving Mrs Hatt to raise the family on her own. Often, she would carry her butter and eggs ten kilometres to a small store in Pike Bay where they were bartered for groceries. A faded photograph shows her elegance and beauty.

South of Spry, cottage roads lead off to Golden Island, Little Pike Bay, Purgatory Point and Whiskey Harbour. Instead of venturing onto them, stay straight on through Spry, taking the third right (Sutter Road) into the old logging and fishing village of Pike Bay.

Captain John Spence, a retired Hudson’s Bay factor and co-founder of Southampton, once had a store at Pike Bay. Among his many children was Alex, who was nicknamed “Cappy.” Raised by his sea-going father, Cappy took over his father’s schooner, the Wanderer and in 1895, brought her down Lake Huron with a load of cedar paving blocks destined for Detroit. Old Captain Spence decided to hitch a ride with his son since a daughter lived in Detroit. Fifty kilometres off Harbour Beach, Michigan, a bit of a blow came up and Cappy went forward to reef the mainsail. He fell, hitting his head, and was washed away. Captain Spence died in 1904, some say of a broken heart.

Pike Bay, with its rental cottages, camping and general store, serves as the centre of a large cottage complex that began to develop as early as 1880. By the turn of the last century, sportsmen were lured here in great numbers by the prospect of healthy catches of huge perch and pike. In the fall, they would arrive in Wiarton by train and take the stagecoach north, where they would board with the locals, and hunt the woods and wetlands for ducks, geese and deer.

Extend Your Trip – By the Bay

By the Bay General Store and Campground in Pike Bay offers a little of everything to help you extend your stay on this part of the Bruce Peninsula.

Their accommodations range from cottage rentals to campsites for tents and RVs, and even motel room rentals. You’ll find a restaurant with all-day breakfast onsite, as well as a small marina with a 200-foot dock. Try your hand at fishing for pike, bass or perch off the dock, and enjoy an ice cream cone afterwards. Call (519) 793-3317 or visit them online at http://www.bythebay.on.ca/ for more information.

St Jean Point Nature Reserve

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Although the area is heavily developed by summer people, there is a small fen along the relict shore which has remained untouched. Follow the shoreline road south of Pike Bay as it twists and turns for the next six kilometres.

On the right, just before entering the resort community of Howdenvale, there is a sign for the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority’s St Jean Point Nature Reserve. Park by the gates to the reserve and take a walk to the point. Among the many blooming plants found here in the summer are rose pogonia, cardinal flower, and showy lady’s slipper. Downy rattlesnake plantain and the provincially rare tuberous Indian plantain also grow here.

Visit the Government Dock at Howdenvale

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Leaving St Jean Point, drive on into the pioneer village of Howdenvale. Originally known as Golden Valley, this was a lively place back in the early 1880s. A timber town, Howden Vale, as it was once called, attracted a crowd of young single loggers. In 1888, with Ontario’s growing temperance movement on the lookout, Robert Golden was fined $20.00 and costs for having liquor in his hotel without a licence.

On Christmas Day, 1893, the Wiarton Echo described a shooting match that took place at the American Hotel in Golden Valley: “The match was largely attended by a respectable crowd, the rowdies being conspicuous by their absence.” But, by 1894, the timber had run out and Robert Golden closed his hotel and moved it to Stokes Bay.

A general store was opened on Bartley’s Point near the old wooden docks. By 1906, the first summer tourists had begun to arrive, either in two-seater buggies rented from the livery in Wiarton or aboard pleasure craft, steaming north from Goderich and Southampton. Sydney Johnston Nawash Glazier and his wife Edna built an early resort at Howdenvale which they named Nawash. On its large screened verandah, 30 or more summer guests would be served dinner by lamplight. Soon, dozens and then hundred of cottages lined the roads around Howdenvale.

There are many tales to be told of the adventures of sailors up and down both sides of the Bruce. Early in the last century, for example, a schooner, the Sarah, was sailing from Goderich to winter at Howdenvale, with Captain Robert Reid of Read Bay and two crew – George Hardman and Frank Eyre – on board. The schooner became trapped in ice off the east side of Burke Island, south of Howdenvale, and the men had to abandon ship. They were able to escape in their yawl boat, but spent several hours working their way to the mainland. The schooner, however, succumbed to the pressure of the ice, which opened her seams, and she finally settled on the lake bottom, where she now rests.

Coming Soon: Howdenvale Waterfront Park

The Municipality of South Bruce Peninsula is in the process of converting a stretch of Howdenvale shoreline into a waterfront park for the public’s enjoyment. The former site of Howdenvale Bay Cottages was purchased by the municipality largely through a $300,000 donation by the Johnson family, for whom the park will be named. Work may begin on the site in 2018.

Hike the Fen at Petrel Point

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Take a right on Huron Road and drive one kilometre to the next road leading to the right. Here, you will find a small sign marking a trail into the fen at Petrel Point. Park and take a walk in the fen. Fens, unlike bogs, are characterized by alkaline water percolating across the surface of the ground. As a result, the habitat is very rich, supporting not only a community of grasses, sedges and shrubs but also a colony of more unusual, carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants, linear and round-leaved sundews and several species of bladderwort. This is also a great place to see several species of orchids.

A short distance inside Petrel Point, the track turns abruptly left and right, following what appears to be an old roadbed. Actually, this is the bed of an old logging tramway, dating from the 19th century. At the east end of this trail, Ontario Nature has constructed a boardwalk leading across some of the wetter parts of the fen. Stay on the boardwalk! But look carefully at the plants and you might see an insect slip on the tiny downward-pointing hairs of the pitcher plant, falling to its death in this herbaceous carnivore.

Fens such as this one are very unusual in Ontario and Petrel Point is perhaps one of the best examples left. Nature photography buffs can often be spotted here with their macro lenses and tripods. The fen is alive with songbirds in spring and summer.

Petrel Point: A Garden of Wildflowers

Nature Ontario calls the 33-hectare Petrel Point ‘a garden of wildflowers.’

This rare Great Lakes Coastal Meadow Marsh boasts many rare plants, including carnivores such as horned bladderworts, sundews and pitcher plants.

If it’s orchids you’re after, Petrel Point is the place to be. Watch out for showy lady’s slippers, rose pogonia, grass-pink, small purple-fringed orchids and broad-leaved twayblade.

An Ode to Historic Red Bay

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Leave Petrel Point and drive back to Huron Road. Turn right and drive a kilometre into the cottage community of Red Bay. According to Florence Ellen Carter’s Place Names of Ontario, Red Bay is a shortened form of Red Stone Bay, a translation from the Ojibway. The name came from a large red boulder which used to stand on a sandy stretch of the shore. Legends maintain that the Ojibway fought a major battle here, turning the waters of the bay red with the blood of the defeated Iroquois. Red Bay was settled by the Reids, the Adises and the Hardmans who attempted to make a living from its sandy soil. A little lumbering and some fishing saw them through the decades. Take a walk through the Red Bay Cemetery and you will find them, along with the Knights, the Schells and the Schlemers. Walk to the southeast corner of the graveyard where a sunken grave contains the bodies of two unidentified sailors, found on the beach in the early 1900s.

Tourists began arriving at Red Bay soon after the turn of the last century. By the Second World War, several well-maintained resorts had been established including the Wildwood Lodge, the Evergreen Resort and the Red Bay Lodge, with its fifteen cottages often booked by groups of naturalists.

Red Bay is slowly turning into a four-seasons resort community with year-round homes. Easily accessible from southern Ontario, it has its fans, including A M Ferguson who immortalized it with a poem:

Red Bay

Oh, Red Bay’s just a tiny spot

Where Huron breezes blow,

A crescent beach of silvery white-tails

Where silver birches grow.

The islands in the offing,

An azure sky above,

And there all day to fish or play,

And live and laugh and love;

And then around a driftwood blaze

To watch the shadows play,

In north or south, in east or west

There’s only one Red Bay.

Hike the Reid Point Bog

Just south of the cemetery there is a road which turns to the right (west) toward Lake Huron. It leads to the Reid Point Bog and the Red Bay Conservation Area, a wetland managed by the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and purchased with donations from Ontario Nature.

Known as a raised bog, this wetland is a good contrast with the fen at Petrel Point. (Bogs are acid; fens are alkaline.) While fens are shrubby and open with a thin layer of marl-based soil, the Reid Point Bog is densely wooded and lies atop a thick layer of peat. This is a particularly good place to find showy and yellow lady’s slippers, leatherleaf, labrador tea and many species of sphaghnums and lichens.

Optional: Visit the Touring Gardens at Earthbound Gardens, Red Bay

Horticulturalists John, Judy and Brenda espouse a lifestyle integrated with the earth, as is evident in their gardens, greenhouses and gift shop. From May to September, they’re open from 9am-5pm seven days a week and invite you to tour their butterfly gardens and ponds.

From May to Thanksgiving you can shop their giftshop and grab a bite in The Front Porch Bistro, too.

Call  (519) 534-2483 or see their website for more information, or stop by 14 Hea Road on your visit to Red Bay.

Scenic Stop at Sky Lake & Isaac Lake

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Drive back out and turn right at Red Bay Road, which cuts through the Red Bay dunes, a product of shoreline processes and winds on the Nipissing Great Lakes about 5,000 years ago. This road leads east past Sky and Isaac lakes to the Highway 6 village of Mar.

When the glaciers finally retreated over 10,000 years ago, deposits of sand along the Lake Huron shore were blown inland and trapped by grasses. Slowly, sand dunes grew in size, creeping ever eastward. As the dunes matured, they developed soils and became hosts to forest plants and animals. The Mar/Red Bay road passes through a drumlin field with associated terraces and deposits related to Nipissing. The dunes are restricted to the Huron side – the west side – of these features.

As you descend the hill to where Sky and Isaac lakes are joined by a culvert under the road, pull over to the right and park. Take a close look at the rock face next to your car. This soft limestone, topped by the Guelph formation of dolostone, is filled with fossils of ancient coral, remnants of the reefs that lived in the tropical seas here over 400,000,000 years ago. You can probably smell the low-grade petroleum that is locked within its sedimentary structure.

The hill that you just came down is actually a secondary escarpment that has impounded a series of shallow lakes, marshes and other wetlands that must drain south for many kilometres through Boat Lake until reaching Lake Huron via the Rankin and Sauble rivers. This chain of lakes and waterways is a paddler’s delight. As well, it offers some of the best pan fishing on the peninsula.

Canoeists and kayakers can put their boats in on either side of the road. To the north, the marshy stretches of Sky Lake are an excellent place to spot painted turtles, bullfrogs and northern water snakes. The shallow waters teem with northern pike, bass and pickerel. This is habitat for osprey, pied-billed grebe and great blue herons. American and least bitterns can also be found. As well, there are marsh wrens, green- and blue-winged teal, wood duck, the provincially uncommon black tern and three kinds of rail – sora, Virginia and king. Yellow rails have also been heard. In migration, they sound like two stones clicking together. Clearly visible from your boat are dragonflies and damselflies.

Launch from the right (south) side of the road and you are at the beginning of the Rankin River route which eventually will bring canoeists and kayakers to the shores of Lake Huron. This trip is described in the next tour.

Return to Mar on Highway 6

Back in your car for the last leg of this tour, drive east from Sky Lake and watch as the topography changes dramatically. Rising out of the valley of wetlands, the road climbs to a ridge that gives way to a drumlin field below. These 25-metre drumlins (the word is Gaelic for “little hill”) were once covered with forest. Today, they are part of farmers’ fields, offering habitat for eastern and western meadowlarks, bobolinks and red-tailed hawks.

At Mar, you will encounter Highway 6 and you can decide whether to turn north to Tobermory or south to Wiarton, for Tour #7 is now over.

Welcome back!

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