Discover Ontario: Driving Hwy 6 — Day 2

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to travel planning, I have the bad habit of trying to cram in too much into a day’s itinerary. This rang true once again on our second day on Hwy 6. We were scheduled to take the MS Chi-Cheemaun to Manitoulin Island, and for some reason I booked us on the very first passage of the day. So, for the second day in a row, we were up before the sun.

The Owen Sound Transportation Company, which manages the passenger-vehicle ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin, offers four sailings per day throughout the summer. What I didn’t take into account is the company’s request that passengers with vehicles arrive one hour before departure (and seeing how busy it gets in the summer, I can totally understand why this procedure is in place!). We were scheduled to leave at 7am, therefore our check-in had to be 6am.

Just a reminder about our previous day’s accommodations: we were camping. Never before had we decamped so quickly! We woke at 5:30am and had our sleeping bags rolled, our air mattresses deflated, our camping chairs stowed away, and our tent packed up in thirty minutes. Here’s a huge, virtual high-five to my boyfriend for being so efficient!

With the Ford C-MAX loaded for another day on the road, we left our campsite and continued along Hwy 6 to the ferry terminal on Little Tub Harbour.

 

Despite the early wake-up call, I was thankful to be on the harbour to witness the sunrise. Seeing it come up over the treeline was awesome, and this picture doesn’t do it justice at all.

 

What I do regret was getting a shot of the ferry as we drove onto it! The MS Chi-Cheemaun is massive, and to see its backend swing up to allow cars on is very impressive indeed.

Once aboard we walked around to get a feel for the ship. The Chi-Cheemaun (which translates to “big canoe” in Ojibwe) has been in service since 1974. The ferry received a bit of a colourful facelift this year, and its smokestack and bow are now wrapped in brightly-coloured imagery, reminiscent of Aboriginal Canadian art. I especially like the representation of the turtle, who plays a significant role in the creation story of the Objiwe and Anishinaabe peoples.

 

It was a bit too chilly to stay on the exterior deck, which is a shame seeing how the crew had set up a rainbow of Muskoka chairs so passengers could take in the view.

 

We headed indoors for some breakfast, to check out an onboard craft show, and to take in a nature talk about the area from Parks Canada. We learned about the geological history of Georgian Bay, and were told stories about its flora and fauna. For example, did you know that 10,000 years ago giant beavers roamed the earth?

 

The ferry crossing was under two hours in length, and by the time we reached our destination of South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, we were greeted by a substantial line up of cars and passengers, waiting for the return trip to Tobermory.

 

South Baymouth is full of souvenir shops and little restaurants, most of which appear to have changed very little since their opening.

 

We browsed around a bit, but were eager to get back on the road. The last time I had visited to Manitoulin Island, I was around seven years old and my family had rented a cottage. My only two memories from that trip are my terror in nearly stepping on a snake on the shoreline, and my dog, Mookie, chewing through his leash and experiencing temporary freedom (that dog was something else — he’d escape from our backyard and walk himself around the block on the same route my mother would take him on).

Needless to say, I didn’t remember enough of Manitoulin to be able to create a list of sites I wanted to see. On top of that, we didn’t have much time for exploring as we had a five hour drive to get home, so I wanted to focus on Hwy 6 and its nearby attractions. Manitoulin deserves much more time than what I could offer, so if you’ve visiting the island, allow yourself a few days.

Hwy 6 runs north-south along the island’s eastern end, and according to a map, we’d be passing through the towns of Manitowaning (with nearby Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve), Sheguiandah, and Little Current. I was curious to see what these towns had to offer.

The first thing I noticed about Manitoulin’s portion of Hwy 6 was that it was quite rural. There were plenty of farmer’s fields and grazing cows. I think I expected more “wilderness”, like a landscape similar to that which you’d see along Hwy 60 through Algonquin Park. This was not the case, however, I would be willing to bet that the western end of the island is probably different.

I think my favourite moment on Manitoulin was when we accidentally discovered the resting place of the MS Chi-Cheemaun‘s predecessor, the SS Norisle.

 

We had gotten off the highway at Manitowaning to drive along the town’s main road. At one point we took a right turn towards the water, and accidentally (but pleasantly) ended up at its Heritage Park and Museum. There, like a forgotten Titantic, sits the Norisle.

Dating from 1946, it was the first passenger steamship to be built in Canada after World War II. It’s engines were actually designed and built for a Canadian naval vessel, but with the end of the war the Norisle received them instead.

Sadly, the ship’s future seems uncertain. When we visited no one was around and it looked like the ship isn’t equipped to accommodate tourists or other visitors. I later learned that it has fallen into a state of disrepair, and apparently plans were in place to sink the vessel in order to create a dive site. This was halted by the efforts of a group of people (known as Friends of the Norisle), who wanted to see the ship restored and its historical importance preserved.

I don’t blame them! Standing on the dock in front of this beautiful ship, you can almost feel the history radiating off of it. I was sad to leave it behind, but we had to get back on the road.

Farther on we passed through Sheguiandah. We chose not to stop and to continue on to Little Current, however this town is actually quite historic with a story of its own. I’m beginning to feel like a need to revisit this island is presenting a case for itself…

About an hour after we left South Baymouth, our journey across Manitoulin Island ended in Little Current. The swing bridge located in town is utilized by vehicles on Hwy 6 to get back to the mainland, however it was originally constructed for railway access to the island in 1913. In the 1980s rail service to Manitoulin ended, and it’s been a dedicated vehicular bridge ever since.

 

Shortly thereafter we arrived in Espanola, a town I first heard about thanks to a university course I took on Canadian Native literature. We read Tomsom Highway’s play, The Rez Sisterswhich is based in a fictional reserve on Manitoulin. Espanola is frequently mentioned through the work, thanks to its bingo hall and its popularity amongst the play’s characters. Alas, I didn’t play bingo while I was there, but my boyfriend and I picked up a second breakfast at McD’s and refueled on some much needed caffeine.

As you leave Espanola you approach the end of Hwy 6. From here your only options are to either go east or west along Hwy 17, which is also known as the Trans-Canada Highway. Our plan was to return home via Sudbury and Hwy 400, so we turned right and headed east.

 

I decided to throw in some additional sightseeing for the return trip. I had never been to Sudbury before, and as some of you may know, the city is home to the Big Nickel — a giant replica of a 1951 Canadian 5-cent coin. I wanted to see this thing in person, so we detoured through Sudbury to obtain my obligatory shot of the coin.

 

It’s actually quite impressive, and last year it celebrated its 50th anniversary. I’m glad I was finally able to knock this site off the list of things to see in Ontario!

Before we left Sudbury my boyfriend and I switched roles and I became the passenger. I fell asleep so quickly it was almost comedic. When I awoke, we were about 20 kilometres outside of Barrie and the traffic was brutal. The pastoral scenes we’d been driving through along Hwy 6 were replaced by stop and go traffic on a three-lane super highway. Talk about juxtaposition!

During his time as driver, my boyfriend fiddled around with the car features and discovered a handy tool. On the dashboard there is a small touchscreen where you can change the radio station, use GPS navigation, or explore the car’s efficiency and its hybrid capacity.

Although it was terrible, driving through that traffic provided us with a great opportunity to show how the C-MAX’s hybrid engine works. I took a video to try share with you all how awesome this car really is (but please ignore the portrait-orientation…).

 

We arrived home around 7pm that night, completing a tour of Ontario that equalled close to 1,100 kilometers. After this trip I am officially dubbing the Ford C-MAX Hybrid the ultimate road trip vehicle because I only spent about $75.00 on gas! To offer a comparison, doing the same trip in my boyfriend’s pick-up truck would have cost us about twice that amount. Driving a hybrid definitely has its perks! On top of that, I was able to fit in everything we needed for a weekend on the road.

Driving Hwy 6 was definitely a fun experience. I think it’s important for us to know the history of the land we inhabit, and what better way to explore it than through a series of routes that date back to the settlement of our country? If you guys enjoy road tripping, do yourselves a favour and research the back roads and smaller highways of Ontario. This province offers such a variety of scenic routes that you’ll not only remain completely amazed by the landscape, you’ll never get bored with the journey.

This wraps up this edition of “Discover Ontario”. My next trip will be a road trip to Newfoundland. I might need to adopt ol’ Willie’s classic as my new theme song 😉

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