Philip Edward Island
The Philip Edward Island Canoe Guide
Doing a canoe or kayak trip of a loop around Philip Edward Island is not only the nicest Georgian Bay trip, but it is also the best way to get a true sense of the east coast of the Bay. The beautifully sculpted islands along the west shore of the Island are the obvious draw, but the back side of the island reveals a totally different landscape, and the abundance and diversity of the wildlife is often remarkable.
Philip Edward Island is a place still unknown to many despite the fact that it is one of the best canoeing destinations anywhere. Classic Georgian Bay aqua-clear water, windswept pines and beautifully coloured smooth sculpted rocks with the ancient white mountains of the La Cloche range to the east make it one of the prettiest canoe destinations in the country. It isn’t the most remote place in the country, but it has surprisingly few visitors considering its accessible location five or six hours from Toronto and Ottawa.
Georgian Bay is big water and the paddling can be challenging, but there are no portages and you can often receive cell coverage. It isn’t a Park, so campsites don’t need to be booked and you don’t need to stick to a planned itinerary which allows you to switch sites as the mood suites you. On the downside, it isn’t a Park, so you can’t guarantee you will get any particular site, and there are a distinct lack of facilities. Bring a shovel.
Despite the striking beauty of the place, my most vivid memories are of the wildlife. I can’t think of anywhere in Ontario where I have seen such an abundance of interesting wildlife. Massasauga Rattlenakes are not uncommon here, despite being virtually absent anywhere else in Ontario away from Georgian Bay. There is abundant bird life, and Philip Edward Island is the only place I have gone to sleep to the not so subtle calls of whip-poor-wills. Perhaps my favourite memory of Philip Edward Island is spending the evening from our campsite watching a mother bear with her two one year old cubs, climbing around the tops of thirty foot tall poplar trees eating the buds.
If you are a canoeist or kayaker, Philip Edward Island needs to be on your list of places to paddle. So download our canoe guide and start planning your trip.
The Philip Edward Island Canoe Guide
A Brief History of Philip Edward Island
Georgian Bay is an approximately 15,000 square kilometre bay of Lake Huron. More than three quarters of the size of Lake Ontario, it is not a small bay. Henry Wolsey Bayfield, the British surveyor and later admiral, surveyed Lake Huron after the war of 1812 and named Georgian Bay after King George IV in 1822. It was Henry Wolsey Bayfield who also named Philip Edward Island and Collins inlet after his assistant, Philip Edward Collins.
Georgian Bay sits on the Precambrian Shield, created when great cracks spewing molten lava and rock opened in the Earth's crust about 4.5 billion years ago. Over time this shield underwent three mountain building periods. The result of this movement of continental plates created folds, cracks and faults. One of these faults created the canoe route you will be taking. It is called the Grenville Front, a major fault located at Collins Inlet, the inlet that separates Philip Edward Island from the mainland,. This fault can be traced all the way to Greenland. More recently, between 4 million and 12 thousand years ago, the region was covered many times with sheets of ice, which scoured away the soil and rocks. Glacial melting then carved incredible shapes into the bedrock, creating the thousands of beautiful small islands, rocks, bays, inlets, and coves.
Hunters and gatherers began to roam the shores of the Bay as early as 9000 BC. There is evidence in Killarney that semi-nomadic Plano people set up camp around that time. Woodland Peoples moved into the area around 225 BC. Thousands of years later , in the 17th century when the Europeans were first arriving, the natives in the region were divided into to two groups: Anishinaabeg First Nations peoples to the north and Huron-Petun (Wyandot) to the south. These First Peoples already had established communities and extensive trading networks around the coasts of the Bay. In an effort to enhance trade, the Huron’s decided to do an exchange with the early French explorers and in 1610 Champlain, Governor of New France, sent Etienne Brulé to exchange places with a young Huron named Savignon. Brulé became the first white man to visit the Bay, arriving via the French River. Subsequently, the French River and northern shores of Georgian Bay became the standard route of the fur trade, and most explorers and voyageurs passed by this way on numerous occasions.
Over time, the colonizers took over the area, and the lumber town of Collins Inlet was established at the mouth of the Mahzenazing River in 1868. The mill prospered and at it height the population exceeded 200 inhabitants with a hotel, school, post office, store and blacksmith shop. Plenty of schooners and steamers visited the town and log booms were a common site. Fire destroyed the mill in 1918, causing Collins Inlet’s decline. Other companies still worked out of the mill for a few more years, rafting gigantic booms of logs through to the inlet, but eventually everyone left, and most of the remaining buildings were engulfed by the forest. A former company boarding house was transformed into a guest house that still continues to operate. Known as the Mahzenazing River Lodge, it is accessible only by boat. The few buildings that are still standing are now part of the lodge. Other than that, Philip Edward Island is much as it was when First Nations and the early European explorers paddled this way.
You Can Help
If our efforts at Hodnett Canoe Guides have produced something that you find useful, or perhaps just enjoyable, it would be great if you could help us out. I believe that the most pleasurable way to do this is by purchasing a signed copy of my book, Paddling with a Naturalist, for just $16.50. I think you will enjoy it. If you don’t like nature, canoes or reading, or if you already have too many copies of Paddling with a Naturalist, you can also make a small donation.