The North Channel

The North Channel is that unspoiled body of water that lies on the north shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. In the shadows of the La Cloche Mountains, the oldest mountain range in North America, the North Channel is bordered by Killarney on the east, Manitoulin Island to the south, and by the town of Thessalon in the west.

Beginning in Killarney, the turquoise blue waters of this port are a huge change from the darker waters familiar to the rest of the area. Killarney is one of the oldest villages in Ontario dating as far back as 1615 when Champlain and Brule first explored these waters. Once a vibrant fishing village, today the economy is driven almost entirely by tourism, meaning that the townfolk are welcoming and accommodating to all boaters: sailors, cruisers and trailer boaters. The entire town is less than a two block walk from anywhere on the docks with many unique restaurants (including a fish and chip truck right down on the water’s edge) and stores to visit and re-provision at. The historic Sportsman’s Inn has been extensively renovated and is welcoming boaters. Killarney is also home to the spectacular Killarney Provincial Park – 140 square miles of preserved Canadian Shield wilderness.

Heading west, the first popular anchorage is Covered Portage where the profile of an Indian’s Head can be seen on the rock face as you enter. Moving down the Landsdowne Channel you’ll pass by Snug Harbour, MacGregor Bay, the entrance to Baie Fine and the famous “Pool”, and Heywood Island – all of which have countless anchorages to explore. To the north shore lies the magnificent Dreamer’s Rock – where the native peoples use to send their teenage children for a “right of passage” fasting to discover what their calling was.

Keep your charts handy – and up to date – as water levels have changed and bouys repositioned. Don’t trust the GPS coordinates from previous trips as the shoals and rocks are very unforgiving. It’s best to moor in known waters and gunkhole by dinghy and the old trusty “lead line” to find a way into that perfect spot. You’ll often see boats “spidered-in” to some unbelievably gorgeous places with a hook down and two or three lines tied to shore to ensure the boat doesn’t move.

Just west, under the single-lane swing bridge, the town of Little Current is a vibrant community that embraces transient boaters. The town docks, together with the three local marinas, boast a total of over 250 slips for both seasonal and transient boaters. The downtown core is anchored by Canada’s oldest chart dealer and a terrific historic pub plus a host of other unique shops and services. The local grocery stores are a short walk away up the hill past the LCBO and if you ask they’ll give you and your groceries a ride right back to your boat. The August long weekend every year is a busy one with Haweater Weekend and the largest Native Pow-Wow in North America happening in Wikwemikong. Tune into the “Cruisers Net” on VHF 71 every morning for up to date information and reports from the various anchorages.

Heading west, you can choose from two routes. To the south, the water is more exposed but worth the trip to the community of Kagawong. Dock at the marina and take a short walk to Bridal Veil Falls where you can walk under the falls and see “the back side of water”.

Farther west through the Clapperton Channel, the community of Gore Bay offers great protection in the shadows of tree-covered high bluffs, a full service marina, excellent re-provisioning, a neat museum in the old jail, and a sand beach. Gore Bay hosts a Splake derby in May, and a very popular salmon derby every summer.

“This freshwater cruising playground offers the best of both worlds: secluded anchorages and full-service ports…”

Further west, the village of Meldrum Bay is a Canadian Customs reporting station, and offers a sheltered harbour and anchorage if required, and a full service marina.

The North Channel is that unspoiled body of water that lies on the north shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. In the shadows of the La Cloche Mountains, the oldest mountain range in North America, the North Channel is bordered by Killarney on the east, Manitoulin Island to the south, and by the town of Thessalon in the west.

Beginning in Killarney, the turquoise blue waters of this port are a huge change from the darker waters familiar to the rest of the area. Killarney is one of the oldest villages in Ontario dating as far back as 1615 when Champlain and Brule first explored these waters. Once a vibrant fishing village, today the economy is driven almost entirely by tourism, meaning that the townfolk are welcoming and accommodating to all boaters: sailors, cruisers and trailer boaters. The entire town is less than a two block walk from anywhere on the docks with many unique restaurants (including a fish and chip truck right down on the water’s edge) and stores to visit and re-provision at. The historic Sportsman’s Inn has been extensively renovated and is welcoming boaters. Killarney is also home to the spectacular Killarney Provincial Park – 140 square miles of preserved Canadian Shield wilderness.

Back just west of Little Current, the more sheltered route takes you north through the Waubuno Channel, passing north of the anchorages at Bedford Harbour and south of several beautiful anchorages along the north shore before coming across the most popular anchorage gnorthchannel1roup: The Benjamins. These very unique smooth rock islands offer many anchoring options and the swimming is absolutely fantastic. The night stargazing from here is phenomenal as there is little light pollution, so bring your telescope.

Proceeding west through the McBean Channel, you’ll pass by some smaller and more secluded anchorages before passing through the Little Detroit cut enroute to the town of Spanish. Spanish has a great new municipal marina and recreation facility and the view from the gazebo out over the marshlands is simply spectacular. (Sunset photos!) Town is a short walk and features a grocery store, LCBO, bait and tackle shop and a farmers market on Saturdays in the summer. Further up the Spanish River, two marinas offer transient dockage and some repairs. Gas up here because there’s nothing available until Blind River.
Heading west down the Whalesback Channel, you’ll want to visit Coursol Bay, Otter Island, Moiles Harbour, Beardrop Harbour, and John Harbour anchorages, each with their own history and unique geography. Cell phone coverage is dependant on which one you choose. Blueberry picking is recommended in season. Rounding Long Point, you may encounter a freighter enroute to the village of Spragge which has a vibrant yacht club.

Crossing some open water north of the anchorage at Turnbull Island – where you can easily spend a full day exploring by dinghy, fishing or swimming in the shallow warm waters – the town of Blind River is your next port of call. The marina is well protected behind a breakwall and is easily identified by the large wind turbine. It’s a short walk to restaurants and the shops and motels along the Trans-Canada Highway.

“…Keep your charts handy – and up to date – as water levels have changed and bouys repositioned…”

The North Channel is that unspoiled body of water that lies on the north shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. In the shadows of the La Cloche Mountains, the oldest mountain range in North America, the North Channel is bordered by Killarney on the east, Manitoulin Island to the south, and by the town of Thessalon in the west.

Beginning in Killarney, the turquoise blue waters of this port are a huge change from the darker waters familiar to the rest of the area. Killarney is one of the oldest villages in Ontario dating as far back as 1615 when Champlain and Brule first explored these waters. Once a vibrant fishing village, today the economy is driven almost entirely by tourism, meaning that the townfolk are welcoming and accommodating to all boaters: sailors, cruisers and trailer boaters. The entire town is less than a two block walk from anywhere on the docks with many unique restaurants (including a fish and chip truck right down on the water’s edge) and stores to visit and re-provision at. The historic Sportsman’s Inn has been extensively renovated and is welcoming boaters. Killarney is also home to the spectacular Killarney Provincial Park – 140 square miles of preserved Canadian Shield wilderness.

Back just west of Little Current, the more sheltered route takes you north through the Waubuno Channel, passing north of the anchorages at Bedford Harbour and south of several beautiful anchorages along the north shore before coming across the most popular anchorage group: The Benjamins. These very unique smooth rock islands offer many anchoring options and the swimming is absolutely fantastic. The night stargazing from here is phenomenal as there is little light pollution, so bring your telescope.

Proceeding west through the McBean Channel, you’ll pass by some smaller and more secluded anchorages before passing through the Little Detroit cut enroute to the town of Spanish. Spanish has a great new municipal marina and recreation facility and the view from the gazebo out over the marshlands is simply spectacular. (Sunset photos!) Town is a short walk and features a grocery store, LCBO, bait and tackle shop and a farmers market on Saturdays in the summer. Further up the Spanish River, two marinas offer transient dockage and some repairs. Gas up here because there’s nothing available until Blind River.

At the western end of the North Channel proper, is the town of Thessalon, with a deep water marina owned by the town. No repair or service is available. You can borrow courtesy bicycles to take you the short distance into town where restaurants, a bakery, grocery store, banks, a pharmacy and hospital are all available.

But continue your journey onto Hilton Beach as it is another must visit town, on the north east shore of beautiful St Joseph’s Island. The marina is nestled behind a breakwall and serves as a fitting backdrop to several great restaurants and accommodations if you want to get off the boat for a night.

Beyond here, up the St. Joseph Channel is Richard’s Landing with updated facilities including a restaurant and a newly rebuilt ‘Ray of Light’ lighthouse, and Sault Ste. Marie with full-service marina, services and a city bustling with entertainment, restaurants and shopping. This large city plays host to a Rotary Dragon Boat festival, the Summer Festival, the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, and is the depot for the famous Agawa Canyon Train Tour that runs year round.

The North Channel is a much talked about highlight of “loopers” coming from all over North America on the Great Circle. Discover your own backyard, explore this gem in your own boat and we know that you’ll be back again and again like so many other families who have generations of history in these waters.

~ Brad Roberts

 

Details and event information can be found on the following websites:

Algoma Country 

Bruces Mines 

Desbarats 

Manitowaning