Toronto – Tobermory – Chi-Cheemaun Ferry – Manitoulin Island – French River Provincial Park – Toronto

Tobermory - Chi-Cheemaun Ferry - Manitoulin Island - French River Provincial Park
Allontario ads

Early Saturday morning we left for the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula, the marvelous village of Tobermory, the core of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. Our weekend trip was planned as follow:


  • drive to Tobermory
  • embark on the “Chi-Cheemaun”, a passenger and car ferry, which traverses Lake Huron between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island
  • stay a night on Manitoulin Island


  • explore Manitoulin Island
  • go back to Toronto taking Hwy 17 and then Hwy 400 with a short stopover at the French River Provincial Park.

The Journey

We started our excursion taking Hwy 400, then Hwy 89 West to Hwy 10 North. The picturesque pastoral landscapes of rural Ontario were passing by pleasing our eyes at an 80km/hour speed. Close to Owen Sound we merged on Hwy 6 that became our only road for a long while.

After 2.5 hours driving we wanted to stand up, stretch our legs and arms, and drink some coffee, so we took a brief break at Wiarton – a beautiful small town that is the gateway to all natural wonders of the Bruce Peninsula. 40 minutes later, we arrived to our destination point – Tobermory.

Chi-Cheemaun Ferry

We were going to continue our trip on Hwy 6, although this time not by car but on the ship board while our Toyota was resting in its hold. Putting our car inside the liner belly was very unusual experience and we were excited like kids.

Time on Chi-Cheemaun board flied fast. The first thing everyone seemed to do was having a snack. Simple scrambled eggs with home fries, bread, butter, and jam tasted very good. Clear blue waters of Lake Huron were far below and we felt the huge power of the liner. We explored the ferry decks, halls, and all exhibits on its walls telling us the ship history.

Stretching 365 feet (111m) in length at a weight of nearly 7,000 tons, a passenger and car ferry, the Chi-Cheemaun is the largest ship of its kind on the Great Lakes. At the time of its launch it cost $12 million and was powered by two Ruston 3500 horsepower (2.6MW) diesel engines and an 800 horsepower (600kW) bow thruster engine which improved the handling of the vessel at slow speeds. In operation since 1974, the Chi-Cheemaun, meaning ‘Big Canoe’ in Ojibwe, after adding of two mezzanine decks in 1982 increased its vehicle carrying capacity to 240 cars (including buses and transport trucks) and 638 passengers between Tobermory and South Baymouth. After modernizations during the 2006-07 winter, the ship layover period, Chi-Cheemaun received four new Caterpillar V8 diesels. The ferry makes the 25-mile (40km) trip in less than two hours at an average speed of 18 miles (29km) per hour.

A little bit of history. In 1921, a group of Owen Sound residents led by Capitan Norman McKay organized the shipping company and purchased the first steamer vessels, SS Manasoo and SS Manitoulin. Then in 1932, as timely travel became more vital, the company bought another steamer, rebuilt it as a diesel and named “Normac” after Capitan McKay. The closest Chi-Cheemaun’s predecessor’s ships on Lake Huron were the MS Norgoma and the SS Norisle. The Norisle offered twice the capacity of its predecessors, the SS Normac and the SS Caribou, with room for 200 passengers and about 50 automobiles.

For almost 90 years, the Owen Sound Transportation Company has operated a regular ferry service connecting Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula since 1921 and transporting passengers, vehicles and cargo along the northern Ontario waterways of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

The ferry connects the two geographically separate portions of Hwy 6 and runs seasonally from mid-May to mid-October. There were 4 departures from Tobermory in high summer season (June 25 – September 6): 7:00 am, 11:20am; 3:40pm and 8:00pm. One-way trip fare for an adult was $15.95, low vehicle (8.5ft, or 2.59m, high) rate was $34.70 (tax included). Reservations are available by phone: 1-800-265-3163, fax: 519-371-2354 or online:  Limited Priority Passage reservations were available from June 25 – September 6 on middle sailing times: $20 additional fee per unit (vehicle and trailer considered 2 units) non-refundable charge. You must arrive at the dock check-in at least 1 hour in advance; otherwise reservation is void. Cancellations can be made at least 24 hours prior to sailing time, or full vehicle fare will be charged, at either ferry terminal or by calling 1-800-265-3163. Pets are allowed in the vehicle and in designated areas of the outside deck of the ship. For detail information about fares, schedule departures/arrivals from/to Tobermory or South Baymouth you can visit .

We didn’t notice that we were already approaching South Baymouth until we heard the radio announcement calling for us to take our seats in our cars to disembark.

Manitoulin Island

Beautiful Manitoulin Island greeted us with light breeze and bright sunshine. Each year South Baymouth welcomes thousands of visitors. The name of the village identifies the precise location at the very mouth of south Bay, and the name of the island in Ojibwe language means “Spirit Island” because the Native People considered the lands sacred.

Just across from the ferry dock there is Wigwam Motel & Gift Shop, the largest on the island, where we bought some souvenirs to take home and stayed a night. If you decide to spend some time on Manitoulin you may book a room there by phone: 705-859-3646. Modern units are also available at Huron Motor Lodge (phone 705-859-3131 or 1-800-387-2756 – toll free in Ontario) and Buck Horn Motel (phone 705-859-3635).

We would like to mention some interesting facts about Manitoulin Island that we gathered from different sources. First of all, the island has an area of 2,766km² being the largest island in the world in a freshwater lake. Manitoulin Island itself has 108 freshwater lakes, some of which have their own islands; in turn several of these “islands within islands” have their own ponds. Lake Manitou (about 104km²) is the largest lake in a freshwater island in the world. Treasure Island in Lake Mindemoya is the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake in the world. It’s amazing, isn’t it?

The island also has 4 major rivers: the Kagawong, Manitou River, Blue Jay Creek in Michaels Bay and Mindemoya Rivers, which provide spawning grounds for salmon and trout.

The soils on the island are alkaline, that precludes the growth of common northern Ontario flora such as blueberries and wild strawberries. It is true! We were enjoying picking up and eating wild strawberries. But the island’s trademark is hawberries. These berries are so distinctive that people born on the island are referred to as “Haweaters”. Each year on the August long weekend, the island hosts the Haweater Festival with parades, fireworks, craft shows, and rural competitions, such as horse pulls.

There are 12,600 permanent residents on the island: 62.4% white and 38.0% aboriginal, but during the summer time the population becomes significantly higher because of the tourists.

“Wikipedia” says that in 1952 archeologist Thomas E. Lee discovered Sheguiandah on the island, a prehistoric site with artifacts of the Paleo-Indian and Archaic periods, dating at least to 10,000 BC and possibly from 30,000 years ago.

The first known European to settle on the island was Father Joseph Poncet, a French Jesuit, who set up a mission there in 1648. The Jesuits called the island “Isle de Ste. Marie”. Eurasian infectious diseases introduced by the visitors had a devastating effect on the Natives due to the fact that  they had no natural immunity to the new diseases.

In addition, the Five Nations of the Iroquois began raiding the island and area to try to control the fur trade with the French. As part of what was called the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois drove the Anishinaabe people from the island by 1650. According to Anishinaabe oral tradition, to purify the island from disease, the people burned their settlements as they left. The island was mostly uninhabited for nearly 150 years. Native People began to return to the island following the War of 1812. The island town of Manitowaning was the first European settlement, whilst Wikwemikong remains the only unceded Indian Reserve in Canada.

Little Schoolhouse & Museum in South Baymouth

In 1891, fishing families built their first public building, a union church, which became a school. On 1 January 1898, school was opened with 11 pupils. The settlers paid the tuition fees privately and at first the teacher boarded around in private homes. The schoolhouse was considerably enlarged in 1909. The “Little Schoolhouse” is Manitoulin’s first designated Heritage building, and still stands on its original site. Inside, the Schoolhouse helps you relive bygone school days. The nearby museum displays artifacts from the community’s early days as a fishing port. The complex, also houses a display depicting activities at the former lake Huron Fisheries’ Research Station.

For over 60 years, the children received their education in this one-room school, grades one to eight inclusive. In June 1962 the classroom closed, a victim of a new era of Central Schools. During the following years the building has served as a library and museum.

With great interest we spent some time in the museum feeling the atmosphere of long gone years and “touching history”. A few pictures were taken but because their quality was not that good we borrowed photos from

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls appeared to be one of the more popular attractions on the Manitoulin Island. The waterfall is easy to find, and easy to visit. It is in a small park just off of Hwy 540 in Kagawong. There is a nice steel stairway that leads down into the gorge and also provides scenic views of the falls.

Regretfully, we left Manitoulin Island starting our way back home to Toronto.

French River Provincial Park

There is a very nice visitor information centre at the junction of the French River and Hwy 400, about 65km south of Sudbury, with an amazing display of the fascinating history and geological features of the river, lots of booklets and maps, and the souvenir shop. We have known that the French River flows about 110km from Lake Nipissing west to Georgian Bay. It is considered the dividing line between Northern and Southern Ontario.

For thousands of years before Europeans arrived, Aboriginal people used the river as a place to meet and exchange trade goods. In the early 1600s, in the days of the fur trade, before Canada became a country, Voyageurs were paddling French River waters. Together with the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, French River formed part of the waterway from Montreal to Lake Superior. Its name came from the association with French explorers of the 17th century, including Samuel de Champlain and Pierre-Esprit Radisson, and missionaries. The River remained a major canoe route until about 1820.

In 1986, because of its historic significance, the French River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River. In 1989 most of the river’s shores, except for the land occupied by the Dokis First Nation between the Upper and Lower French River, have been protected and French River Waterway Provincial Park was established. Since then French River attracts visitors by the clear water, rocky shores and pine growth forests. There are 230 undeveloped campsites available along the river, which offer a variety of water-based recreational activities in an outstanding natural setting.

From the bridge at the visitor centre we enjoyed a spectacular view of the French River gorge and then took the trail to the scenic and historic Recollet Falls (4km return).

Last but not least: visitor numbers peak in July and August and everything fills to capacity that is why a few days before our weekend journey we made two reservations: the Chi-Cheemaun ferry and the Motel. We recommend you to do the same.

About 10pm Sunday night, tired but full of unforgettable memories we came back to Toronto, our Home sweet home. The whole trip was about 750km covered by our beloved Toyota.



(Visited 2,454 times, 2 visits today)