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pictures-r-956 PLoughboy off lonely island Georgian Bay Armstrong William 1912 TPL

Armstrong, William, 1912. Ploughboy off Lonely Island, Georgian Bay. Toronto Public Library

Following last week’s Great Lakes inspiration (Lake Superior), I thought I’d continue the theme, also because Georgian Bay is equal to Lake Superior in my memory and esteem. Georgian Bay is the large body of water that joins Lake Huron, sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake, and completely within Canadian territory. On its own it resembles an inland sea, despite not being anywhere near as large as Lake Superior, at 190 km in length and 80 km in width, with a maximum depth of 165 m.

HJ Browne Georgian Bay and vicinity

Browne, H.J., The Georgian Bay & Vicinity, Province of Ontario, Canada, Pub: James Bath and Sons, Toronto. Found via Project Gutenberg, Hamilton, James Cleland, 1893

At the time of European contact, the eastern, northern and western shorelines of the bay were occupied by the Anishinaabeg peoples, with the Huron peoples to the south. The bay is sheltered to the west by the Bruce Peninsula, separating it from Lake Huron, and Manitoulin Island to the north.

Print | Champlain on Georgian Bay | M993.154.314

Kelly, John David, 1895-1900. Champlain on Georgian Bay. Notman Archives, McCord Museum, Montreal, Qc.

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain reached the south-eastern shoreline of the Bay in 1615, following visits by the French interpreter to the Algonquian First Nations, Étienne Brûlé, and possibly one other. Brûlé travelled to the area with an Ottawan Algonquian people, who overwintered with the Huron at the south end of Georgian Bay. Jesuit missionaries followed, with Jean de Brébeuf and Jérôme Lalemant establishing a mission at what is today Midland.

As a school girl I visited the historic site of the Huronia mission known as Ste. Marie among the Hurons, which is still operated by the provincial government as a historic site. The story of its burning and the martyrdom of the various Jesuit priests made a huge impression on me as a child. Brébeuf and several others were tortured and killed in raids by the Iroquois, a rival nation to the Huron, at another mission, in 1649, although he is buried at Midland. He was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church in 1930, for his stoicism during his torture.

During the European missions to Huronia some Huron were converted to Christianity, but many more died of the diseases the Europeans carried with them, such as smallpox, as they lacked natural immunity. Following intensification of the Huron-Iroquois strife, a Huron group resettled at Lorette, Quebec around 1650.

Photograph | Huron-Wendat group from Wendake (Lorette) at Spencerwood, Quebec City, QC, 1880 | MP-0000.223

Huron-Wendat group from Wendake (Lorette) at Spencerwood, Quebec City, QC, 1880. Notman photo archives, McCord Museum, Montreal, Qc.

Photograph | Huron-Wendat group, Wendake (Lorette), QC, about 1875 | M12833

Parks, James, George. Huron-Wendat group, Wendake (Lorette), Qc, about 1875. Notman photo archives, McCord Museum, Montreal, Qc.

Following the English conquest of New France in 1760 and the establishment and growth of burgeoning English settlements in what is now Ontario, the first Lieutenant Governor of what was then known as Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, developed Penetanguishene on the southern end of the bay as a naval base in the late 18th century. In fact, one battle of the War of 1812 with the Americans was fought on Georgian Bay waters, near Wasaga Beach on the southern end of the bay.

Georgian Bay was technically named Georgian Bay in 1822 after King George IV, by Henry Wolsey Bayfield (Royal Navy), who mapped it comprehensively, although I prefer perhaps to think of it as it was described by Samuel Champlain: “la mer douce” (the calm sea, or the freshwater sea).

pictures-r-850 sketch of penetanguishine barracks Gilmour Mary Hallen 1855 TPL

Gilmour, Mary Hallen, Sketch of Penetanguishene barracks, 1855. Photo source: Toronto Public Library

pictures-r-481 Georgian bay near meaford TPL White, George Harlow 1874

White, George Harlow, 1874. Georgian bay near Meaford. Photo source: Toronto Public Library.

The Niagara Escarpment,  which is essentially a rugged limestone ridge, runs up the Bruce Peninsula on the western side of the bay to Tobermory. The Georgian Bay shoreline just south of Tobermory is a lovely area for camping, with surprising features such as grottos that resemble those found in warmer areas of the world.

pcr-1617Flower pots near Tobermory Bruce Peninsula Ont 1910 TPL

Flower Pots near Tobermory, Ontario, 1910. Valentine and Sons Publishing Co. Photo Source: Toronto Public Library

The eastern shoreline of Georgian Bay is still noted for its cottaging, although its shipping function is also noted. Parry Sound, which I mentioned in a recent post, is the deepest freshwater port in the world. There still are a few resorts of the type in the following photo in the region to the east of Georgian Bay, Muskoka, although their heyday was generally in the first half of the twentieth century, when city dwellers were able to reach these holiday locations by train from Toronto.

pcr-2108 The Belvidere Parry Sound Canada 1910 Valentine and Sons pub co TPL

The Belvedere, Parry Sound, 1910. Valentine and Sons Publishing Co. Photo Source: Toronto Public Library

“Belvidere” on the photo above is a typo. Belvedere is derived from Latin. In Italian (and likewise in French) belvedere or belvédère signifies a beautiful view (vedere is the Italian verb “to see”).) The hotel was torn down in 1961 but a park exists in its place.

Leisure travel was also possible by Great Lakes steamer, from Georgian Bay, across Lake Huron to the beginning of Lake Superior:
Photograph, glass lantern slide | Great Lakes steamer

Great Lakes Steamer “Assiniboia”, Canadian Pacific Line, ON, about 1923. Notman photo archives, Montreal, Qc. In two days one could travel from Parry Sound through the North Channel to Sault Ste. Marie.

It’s the wild places that inspire, as well as the lands to the north. Manitoulin Island is the very large island at the top end of Georgian Bay, separated from the north shore by the North Channel shipping route. It is traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and its inhabitants remain at least in part aboriginal to this day. Those who know something of their mythology will recognize the name’s origin from Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit. The island is reachable by ferry from the Bruce Peninisula.

Downloadable from Project Gutenberg Canada (one of my favourite projects in the whole world, making books in the public domain available for free) is this interesting work by James Cleland Hamilton, dating to 1893. The title, “The Georgian Bay. An account of its position, inhabitants, mineral interests, fish, timber and other resources” (Papers read before the Canadian Institute) is typical of papers of scientific inquiry of the time. The work contains some wonderful illustrations by Anna Brownell Jameson as well.

Most fascinating to me is the table of First Nations populations included in the document, derived from the Census. My understanding is that Ontario still has the greatest diversity of First Nations of any province in Canada and they are more geographically dispersed, though I can’t immediately find a reference to support this assertion.

ONTARIO. 1867 1891
Chippewas and Munceys of the Thames 588 637
Moravians of the Thames 254 309
Chippewas, Pottawatomies and Ottawas of Walpole Island 748 852
Wyandots of Anderdon 71 98
Chippewas of Snake Island 130 127
Chippewas of Rama 265 226
Chippewas of Christian Island 186 357
Missisaugas of Rice, Mud, and Scugog Lakes 282 283
Mohawks of the Bay of Quinté 664 1,120
Missisaugas of Alnwick 212 243
Ojibways of Sandy Island 174
Chippewas of Saugeen 280 579
Chippewas of Cape Croker 352 396
Christian Island Band on Manitoulin Island 71
Six Nations of Grand River 2,779 3,474
Missisaugas of the Credit 204 253
Chippewas of Lake Superior 1,263 2,051
Chippewas of Lake Huron 1,748 3,177
Manitoulin Island Indians 1,498 1,915
Golden Lake Indians 164 367
Chippewas of Sarnia 479
Pottawatomies of Sarnia 34
Oneidas of the Thames 726

Summarizing their voyage of scientific inquiry, Hamilton writes this elegiac passage:

However interesting such themes may be, it is on other topics that our memories will most kindly dwell as we recall the happy days and nights spent on the “White Squall.” We will remember the majesty of forests and granite shores. We will hear the scream of gulls and see the flash of great fish struggling in the nets. We will see in fancy the jolly fishermen steering merrily among the rocks. We will hear their songs and stories, as each sat, with brown, weather-beaten, friendly face, on a pile of nets or on a box in our camp. There still rises to our ears the gay laugh of the Indian boys about the wigwams. We will not forget the beauty displayed in winding, glassy coves among the islands, in flowers and verdure in sunny nooks, the Aurora* dancing each clear night in the north, the kindly courtesy of our little company, the chaff of the camp fires and the songs we sung, of which the following is one, composed ‘mong the Isles of the Georgian Bay


Some sing old Ocean’s praise
Where wild winds the billows raise,
And the whale and the porpoise play,
Some vaunt famed Biscay’s Bay;
And the fair for the South wind sigh.
But give to me that shore,
Where the North star shines most clear,
And our devious course we steer
‘Mong the Isles of the Georgian Bay.
Oh give to me, etc.
Of the Genöese Captain**, in quest
Of new lands in the far sunny West,
Of De. Champlain, with fleur-de-lis spread;
Of the brave Arctic hero***, who sped
O’er these waters, pray tell us great Pines,
Ye whose heads the clouds piercing, arise;
Ye too, surely remember the cries
Of the Mohawk and Huron at strife
‘Mong the Isles of the Georgian Bay.
Oh give to me, etc.
At eve, with sun-set beams,
La Cloche’s gray rock gleams,
With bright spirits from Algic skies,
See, the swift Aurora flies.
O’er the pines the pale moon smiles.
All enwrapped in the beauty of night,
We look on, by the camp-fire’s light;
Great Manito seeming near,
‘Mong the Isles of the Georgian Bay.
Oh give to me, etc.


*refers to the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

** refers to Columbus

***refers to Franklin