Many people use the Bruce
Peninsula’s Hwy 6 as a fast track to northern Ontario via the Chi-Cheemaun
ferry to Manitoulin Island but for the intrepid explorer there is much to be
discovered just a short distance off the highway
(published July 2010 in Forever Young magazine)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
From early May until just after
Thanksgiving, a steady stream of traffic travels up Hwy 6 from Wiarton to
Tobermory, heading for the ferry docks and the “Big Canoe” –the MS Chi-Cheemaun – largest passenger/car
vessel on the Great Lakes, taking vacationers across Georgian Bay to Manitoulin
Island, a shortcut to northern Ontario.
As the cars traverse that highway,
running up a finger of land that cuts through the eastern edge of Lake Huron,
creating Georgian Bay, they pass mile upon mile of farmland, grazing cattle and
the occasional cluster of houses and convenience stores masquerading as
old-time general stores that signal a community.
It’s a deceptive road.
What many of its travellers fail to realize is that a short drive to the
east or west would reveal some spectacular vistas – expansive Lake Huron sand
beaches or the steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings that make up the Georgian
In fact, nature is the Number One attraction, says Bruce County Tourism
manager Chris Hughes. “The Peninsula is the largest remaining forested track of
‘wilderness’ in southern Ontario.”
On a recent May weekend, Hughes encountered a group from Michigan, on
the Bruce Trail near Lion’s Head. Asked them what brought them to the Bruce,
given that Michigan has remarkable tourist draws, they replied “it’s untouched,
it’s undiscovered, it’s not paved everywhere, you can get access to the
Within this scenic paradise, nestled
between the highway and the shores, lie a host of charming villages, quaint
towns and destination treasures from artisan studios to historic sites and
natural marvels, all just waiting to be explored.
Three years of vacationing in
Tobermory has allowed my family to explore the back roads, each year revealing
more fascinating destinations.
Tobermory itself is a picturesque
town, surrounded by two natural harbours – Big and Little Tub – where a visitor
can sit harbourside and watch boats of all sizes, from fishing outboards to
king-size yachts, come and go.
There’s a variety of attractions– glass-bottom boat tours of shipwrecks, Flowerpot Island hikes, scuba
diving at Fathom Five National (underwater) Park – plus intriguing shops. A
favourite is The Mermaid’s Secret, built into a hillside, where you can buy
funky clothes and jewelry, some hanging from tree branches around a back upper
patio, or sit on the front porch and enjoy lunch, dinner or a snack and drink,
including homemade desserts, ice cream smoothies or a glass of organic wine.
Eateries are plentiful and range from upscale gourmet at the Grandview
Motel with it’s deck overlooking Little Tub Harbour, to the informal
Bootlegger’s Cove Pub at Big Tub Harbour Resort. Then there’s Craigie’s Fish
and Chips, a fixture at harbourside in downtown Tobermory for decades and
renowned for its whitefish and chips. It also has great breakfasts, filling and
Venturing out of Tobermory, along Hwy 6, just about any side road – or
driveway – will take you someplace interesting.
A rustic looking sign just north of Ferndale – the largest community on
the highway about halfway to Tobermory –announcing Harvest Moon Bakery, attracted our attention. Driving up a
long and winding lane, we arrived a cluster of buildings, arbours and gardens,
reminiscent of a hippie commune out of the sixties.
This is Harvest Moon Organic Bakery and Sculpture Gardens, founded in
1996 by Graham Thomas and Christine Chladny after they relocated from Hay River
in the Northwest Territories. They originally operated as a bed and breakfast,
organic market and bakery but as business picked up decided to focus on just
one. They chose the baking and offer up delectable pies, breads and pastries.
On the 25-acre property, Graham and Christine (who use last names only
when absolutely necessary) grow their own herbs, veggies, apples and pumpkins.
In addition to their produce they use locally and Canadian grown fruits, Grey
County honey, Canadian-grown organic flours, grains and seeds as well as
organic chocolate, sugar and coffee. For special diets, they offer wheat-free,
gluten-free, low-sugar and vegetarian specialties.
“Our mission is to stimulate all the senses,” says Graham. So they have
the aromatic smells of the herb garden, sights of the tactile garden art,
homemade sculptures of everything from dragons to dragonflies to totem art. And
they encourage people to wander and explore. This year, they will be featuring
two sculpture trails.
Across the highway from Ferndale, County Road 9 leads to the town of
Lion’s Head, on the shores of Isthmus Bay, surrounded by limestone cliffs
which, when viewed from the bay, resemble the head of a lion. The largest
community north of Wiarton, with a hospital, full service marina and a hardware
store where you can find just about anything you need, Lion’s Head also has one
of the few sandy Georgian Bay beaches.
From there you can give the highway a pass and follow a coastal road to
Dyer’s Bay, a cottage community and the gateway to Cabot Head Lighthouse, one
only a few Canadian Great Lakes Lighthouses rated four-stars on the basis of
accessibility and visitor facilities. Renovated in the mid-nineties, the
lighthouse now serves as an observation tower with panoramic Georgian views.
In fact, lighthouses are plentiful on the Bruce and one could spend a
week or more visiting them. From Point Clark on Lake Huron to Tobermory and
south along Georgian Bay to Cape Croker, there are 14 lighthouses and marine
heritage sites. All have stories.
Just off the Hwy 6 between Lion’s Head and Dyer’s Bay is Miller Lake and
it’s renowned Candle Shop with a labrynth of seven intertwined aromatic
showrooms, displaying some 2,000 individually-designed candles, all made on the
The Candle Shop got its start in 1969, when Buddy Albro, hippie and
draft dodger with a candle-making hobby moved to Summer House Lake campground.
Since there was no electricity at the campground in those days, his candles
were in-demand items.Out of that he
opened his shop, with partner Curt Corbetta. Current co-owner Leslea Smith came
onboard that same year. Her daughter, Shannon, is now a second-generation
“(We) take pride in pouring, dipping and painting each and every
candle,” says Smith. “This means each has a one-of-a-kind design.”
Visitors are welcome to watch the candle-making in progress.
Smith says her inspirations come from “the beauty of the Bruce, right
outside our doorstep.” But she will also create a custom design, matched to a
fabric, colour scheme or candle holder, at no extra cost.
Travelling further north, highway signs point to Pottery By Ben. It’s a
long and circuitous route to the studio but every few miles, a marker and arrow
indicate that you’re on the right track.
“Ben” is actually Brenda Bard, who’s been a potter from age 12. She
moved to the Bruce from Guelph to be closer to her parents. She says the Bruce
environment “inspires tranquility” that lets her design unique pieces.
These are just a few of the fascinating sites to be discovered on the
Bruce. Tourism manager Chris Hughes notes that prime time for baby boomers and
older adults not tied to the school system is the shoulder seasons, spring and,
particularly fall, when they have the area to themselves.