Discover the Islands!
Bruce Peninsula Boat Tours provides guided passenger tours in Lake Huron through a series of 70+ islands that extend from Chief’s Point in South Bruce Peninsula to Stokes Bay, in North Bruce Peninsula.
‘The Fishing Islands’ of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation
“The Fishing Islands” of the Bruce Peninsula, formerly called the “Saugeen Peninsula” are in the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. They are named such for their important in the history of the First Nations and for their continued importance in the Lake Huron fishery. They run up the the west coast of the peninsula from Chief’s Point in Sauble Beach in South Bruce Peninsula to Stokes Bay North Bruce Peninsula.
The perspective of the indigenous people of the Lake Huron region was that the fish, along with the other natural aspects of the land, were spiritual providers and that the fish offered themselves to the aboriginal fishermen to sustain life. There was a strong connection between the native people of the region and the fish, that included respect for the fish and the aquatic ecosystem that supported them.
We depart for the islands from from the small community of Oliphant, which is just 13 km north of Sauble Beach and 13 km west of Wiarton. Our tours run within 2-3 km of shore, in fairly sheltered waters.
Perfect Geography: The Secret to Oliphant’s Magic
The locals refer to this little piece of the Bruce Peninsula as possessing “that Oliphant Magic.” It is really a result of the unique geography that shapes this place.
The rock of the Niagara Escarpment that is exposed on the east side of the Bruce Peninsula slopes gently towards Lake Huron on the west, extending out and under under Lake Huron. In contrast to the deep cold waters of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron’s shores are sandy and the water is shallow and warm. The islands and shoals of ‘The Fishing Islands’ protect these shores from high-energy wave action, creating the perfect conditions for the formation of coastal marshes. In addition, calcium loving plants thrive here, as the ground water trickles across the Bruce Peninsula’s dolostone, towards our shoreline fens. Our shores are home to many rare species, such as orchids.
Bruce Peninsula’s History
The Fishing Islands are rich in history that include indigenous people, white settlers and early mariners. They are referred to in historical texts as both the Ghegetto Islands and as the Saugeen Islands.
It was reported that the schools of herring, whitefish and lake trout were so plentiful in the islands in the early 1800’s that shoals of fish could be sighted from a lookout’s perch in a tree as the fish made their way to the natural channels through the islands. Sadly, this early abundance of fish was largely depleted by the 1850’s.
A lot happened in The Fishing Islands in the mid-1800’s. In 1830 indigenous fishermen were making agreements and providing permissions for white fishermen to fish these waters but by end of the 1850’s, these permissions were being granted by the Canadian government. The time in between, was a period of conflict, confusion and broken promises that is still reverberating today on the Bruce Peninsula.
Some of the well-known characters from that time include Captain Alexander McGregor of Goderich, who established a fishing camp in the islands in the 1830’s. The remains of the building he erected on Main Station Island, still exists on private property, today.
One of his four wives was Mary Wahbahdick, the daughter of a hereditary Head Chief of the Saugeen Ojibwa. Their son, William Bruce McGregor went on to become Chief of the Cape Croker Reserve for forty years, one of the longest standing Chiefs of their community.
Alexander Oliphant, whose name the small community Oliphant takes , is the government representative that negotiated the treaties that are presently under scrutiny in present day land claims.
The shipwrecks we visit on our tours, are testament to the activities of the past and the harsh life of early mariners and settlers of the Bruce.
Globally Rare Coastal Wetlands
The waters surrounding the Fishing Islands of the Bruce Peninsula, the coastal marches on their landward side and adjacent shoreline, are significant to the present day indigenous fisheries. Our coastal wetlands are considered a very important fish nursery for Lake Huron, especially whitefish, and our shores are regarded as a globally rare coastal habitat that supports unique wildlife and plants that are loved by mainland and island residents, visitors, and First Nations alike.
Our very beautiful and unique shores are loved and enjoyed by many, including hikers, naturalists, paddlers, kiteboarders, and birders.
A Birder’s and Naturalist’s Paradise: Rare Species and Species at Risk
The islands are on a migratory bird route, have nesting sites for a number of shorebirds a coastal environment that supports a number of rare species and species at risk. These species include Piping Plover (Endangered), Dwarf Lake Iris (Threatened), Tuberous Indian Plantain (Special Concern), Massassauga Rattlesnake (Threatened), Monarch Butterfly (Special Concern) and several species of turtles.
The Bruce Peninsula Visitor’s Pledge
I pledge to be a responsible visitor to the Bruce Peninsula. I will leave the places I discover as I found them, and leave only my footprints and sandcastles on these shores. I will only place my modes of transport on the roads, trails and pathways intended for their use. I will take beautiful pictures without risking the life of the very things I wish to hold in my memory. I will only park where I am supposed to. When I come to sleep under a milky way stretching across the inky black skies of the Bruce, I’ll stay within a campsite. I will be prepared to encounter strong, passionate people and stories, beautiful places, and the soul of the former Saugeen Peninsula in every breath I take.