Manitoulin Island is nestled along the north shore of Lake Huron in Ontario, and is one of the most diverse rural spots you’ll find anywhere. It’s a place of forest, farmland, clean inland lakes and ocean-like shore along the Lake Huron coastline. More than one person has described Manitoulin as “forever on the fringe”, and for folks who’ve had enough of life at the centre of the urban universe, this authentically-rural place is a God-send. Although residents here consider themselves northerners, the landscape and climate is more like southern Ontario. Even though Manitoulin borders the granite rock and white pines of the Canadian Shield, it’s a limestone island, forested with a mix of cedar, poplar, spruce, hard maple and beech. Cultivated and wild apples grow easily here, offering reasonable, worm-free autumn harvests without spray.
Manitoulin’s century-old agricultural heritage does a lot to lend a character of settlement to the land. Three-generation family beef farms are common enough to be ordinary. Several full-service towns show what rural life can be like when the nearest Walmart is three hours drive away. Where else but in Gore Bay, Manitoulin’s seat of government, could you find a town of 900 people that boasts two pharmacies, a new car dealership, a modern grocery store, the district courthouse, an elementary school, nursing home, doctor/dentist’s clinic, an outstanding health food store (Island Pantry), a modern ambulance base, a complete library, summer theatre, a hair salon, curling and skating rinks, a golf course, and the head office of Manitoulin Transport, one of the ten largest highway carriers in North America. A vibrant commercial fishery also means that stores everywhere sell fresh-caught and smoked local fish. The wild salmon that run up Island rivers in October make you think you’re in BC.
Below is a sample of the type of experience that can be enjoyed on the Island. Simply embracing what nature has to offer.
(This video was made available by Ryan Mariotti ryanmariotti.com)
Is Manitoulin paradise? Not in every way. If you’re addicted to name-brand hamburger experiences, big-screen movies, and instant access to ego-boosting clothes, then living on Manitoulin will seem like you’ve fallen into a Little House on the Prairie time warp. But if you’re serious about living an authentically rural life, love to see Bald Eagles, are self-motivated, and have at least a small entrepreneurial streak, then living on Manitoulin Island is the closest thing to paradise you’ll find this side of eternity. Whatever you do, if you come here to live or enjoy a cottage, please don’t change anything.
Manitoulin Island: Facts at a Glance
First European Settlement: 1830’s
Population: about 12,000 year-round; 40,000 during summer
Size: 135 km long; 46 km at widest
Urban Escapes: Sudbury 125 km to 250 km drive, depending where you start.
How to Get There: Single-lane swing bridge at Little Current; seasonal ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth
Climate: A little cooler than southern Ontario, but not much.
Garden Zone: Officially 4B to 5A. Walnut, apple and chestnut trees grow fine
Geology: northern extent of Niagara Peninsula; limestone bedrock pokes through soil in some areas
Health Services: hospitals in Mindemoya and Little Current; doctor’s clinics in Little Current and Gore Bay.
Business Directory: a mall-free, fast-food franchise-free zone. Small businesses and restaurants in all towns. Check out manitoulinchamber.com for a complete list.
Claims to Fame:
*Largest freshwater island in the world
*Manitoulin contains over 100 inland lakes
*East end is home to Canada’s only unceded Native reserve
*massive population of white-tail deer
Last Word: complete freedom from cultural whiff of any big city; unique combination of authentic small towns, agricultural communities and clean, acid rain-proof lakes.
New Businesses Likely to Succeed: high-end eco-tourism; value-added agricultural; digital communication entrepreneurs.