At the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula, close to the marvelous village of Tobermory, the core of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, there are two amazing national parks: the Fathom Five National Marine Park and the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Visitor Centre in Tobermory
The Visitor Centre in Tobermory is one of the busiest on Bruce Peninsula, being a gateway to thousands of visitors from throughout the world. In 2006, it opened its doors to serve Fathom Five National Marine Park and the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Designed by Andrew Frontini, the $7.82 million centre, approached by a boardwalk, features an information centre; reception area; exhibit hall with everything from a full-size lighthouse, flowerpot and cliff to black bear, rattlesnake and shipwreck exhibits; the high-definition theatre, for a virtual adventure to the best spots in the park; and a gift shop.
A 20m tower with 112 stairs was built for bird’s-eye panoramic views of the Bruce and Georgian Bay. The centre was designed with environmental sustainability in mind, receiving $224,000 from the Federal House in Order initiative for implementation of innovative greenhouse gas reduction technology.
The Centre is operated by the Tobermory & District Chamber of Commerce. You can get comprehensive information on activities in the area, hiking, diving, how to go to Flowerpot Island, Bruce Peninsula National Park, travel on the Chi Cheemaun ferry and much more. You can register to dive in Fathom Five or to camp on Flowerpot Island and buy admission tickets there. There are a lot of different pamphlets and booklets for visitors. Anything and everything that is related to the Bruce Peninsula is handled to visitors through this location.
In summer time the Centre opens daily from 8:00am to 8:00pm and until 9:00pm on Friday.
Fathom Five National Marine Park
To visit the Fathom Five National Marine Park you have to take a boat (by the way, there is “all day free parking” at the community centre and also at the municipal lot on Legion Street). The Blue Heron Cruises company delivers tours to the park from the Little Tub Harbour docks and has different types of vessels including Canada’s largest glass bottom boat of 24m that can carry 125 passengers. We took the Blue Heron V (it also has a glass bottom and can accommodate up to 96 people) to Flowerpot Island. You can visit www.blueheronco.com in advance and check the season schedule by clicking on the date you are interested to view a list of cruises available that day and also to enquire about the rates and routes.
Fresh breeze, bright sunshine, crystal clear blue water and a spirit of adventure accompanied us throughout our new experience.
Fathom Five became Canada’s first National Marine Park in 1987. 112km2 of park’s area contains 22 islands where rare ferns and orchids can be found, as well as some of the oldest forests in eastern Canada. There are 22 historic shipwrecks rests on the bottom of the Georgian Bay, being the silent witnesses of heavy shipping traffic of another time and making the park a world-renowned scuba-diving and snorkeling site. Every year approximately 4000 divers visit Fathom Five to see an exciting underwater world. But all visitors wishing to dive within its boundaries must register at the Visitor Centre in Tobermory.
The Fathom Five name is taken from The Tempest, a play written by Shakespeare:“Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong. Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell”
In Act I, Scene II of The Tempest, the “airy Spirit” Ariel is ordered by Prospero to lead the shipwrecked Ferdinand to him. The song gives one the true melancholy of the sailor, taken by the sea, and a sense of wonder about death. But peace is there. Peace forever. No reason to grieve.
The shipwreck in Act I, Scene 1, in a 1797 engraving based on a painting by George Romney
Our Blue Heron V passed by some interesting sights: the dock for the car ferry Chi-Cheemaun; Big Tub Lighthouse, built in 1885; and two nineteenth century shipwrecks at the head of Big Tub Harbour – the schooner Sweepstakes (1885) and the steamer City of Grand Rapids (1907), both are shallow enough to be visible from the sides of the boat as well as through the glass bottom without having to get wet.
No doubts, Flowerpot Island is among Canada’s most recognized and most popular natural attractions. Its unique geological features, showing flowerpot-shaped rock pillars that gave the island its name, pull tourists from around the world as a magnet. The Island is about 1.6km wide and covers 200ha, with well marked hiking trails covering most of the Island.
A half-day was enough for us to explore the famous sights. When we were buying our tickets we arranged times of returning with the same vessel, so we kept an eye on our watch not to miss it. We carried some cash because there was a day use fee collected upon arrival at the island. We didn’t forget to bring drinking water and wear sturdy running shoes.
Flowerpot Island has something different for everyone to offer, from the very young to the elderly; whether you visit the museum in the Lightkeeper’s home, hike the trails, explore the cave, climb to the observation deck, have a picnic, and swim in the cool, clear waters of Georgian Bay. There are no words to describe our feelings. It was mighty, emotional, impressive and most unusual. Although, one thing will remain with us for our lifetime: sweet memories!