I have lived in Ontario, Canada all of my 50 years and have traveled throughout the province but one place I never made it to was the Bruce Peninsula. Don’t ask me why because I couldn’t tell you, it was only a couple of hours drive from my current home in Kitchener and I’ve driven much further. Well, the wife and I made the decision to do a quick mid-week getaway and I said, “Let’s give the Bruce a try, the pictures look beautiful.” I was right!
The drive up was quick and scenic but due to the holiday we left on, there wasn’t much open to see (or eat…and we were getting hungry!). We passed through many small towns that we promised to stop in on the way back when things were open. We finally stopped to eat at one of the only open establishments we saw, just south of Owen Sound where Highway 10 meets Highway 6, Kettles.
This country kitchen was doing a brisk business and seemed to be a traditional stop for many cottagers as it is located conveniently at the base of the peninsula. The menu was typical country but the servings were generous, affordable and delicious. The piece de resistance however was the fresh-baked takeout options, both meat and fruit pies, cookies, tarts and squares (my date square at $1.99 was one of the best I’ve had and was a small meal in itself).
We had booked a bed and breakfast (our preferred stay when we travel locally) and although the price was right ($85.00 per night including breakfast!), we were initally wary about the digs. As we pulled up to Maitribe Gallery and B’n’B however, we were hooked. Nestled on Big Bay with a view of the pier…
…the single large room had a kitchen, 2 beds and newly renovated European bath,along with amenities like a small library, DVD collection and patio overlooking the bay, which is where we took our breakfast the next morning.
While not luxury, it offers a homey quality, accentuated by owners Maija et Maurice Léonard’s friendliness. Maurice is a wonderfully loquacious jack of all trades who generally looks after the B’n’B portion and draws upon one of his erstwhile careers as a chef to whip up delicious breakfast options (we had a divine Eggs Benedict)…
while Maija is an artist with her gallery above the room where she displays her many works (early works are stone-based and her later work is lotus-based and heavily influenced by her winter travels to India and the Far East).
Steps outside your patio overlooking Big Bay is the ‘beach’ piled with hundreds of thousands of ‘skipping stones’, perfectly shaped for pitching over the usually calm waters and giving the beach the title of ‘stone skipping capital of Canada”. At the top of beach road is the Big Bay General Store offering local art and crafts…and mouth-watering homemade ice cream!
We did a couple of hikes in our short time there, at the Bruce’s Caves Conservation Area minutes from Wiarton and the breathtaking escarpment hike to Lion’s Head lookout 30 minutes north.
Bruce Caves was a short and relatively easy 10 minute jaunt (although there are hours of trails around if you so choose…as there is throughout the peninsula). The caves are not deep but the story behind them is a great part of their fascination.
Bruce’s Caves was named after a man named Robert Bruce who emigrated from Orkney Islands, Scotland during the outbreak of the Crimean War. A quiet man who never married, when Bruce first arrived in Canada he settled in the woods near the caves and in the early years worked at railway construction in the summer. During the winter months, he would pay board to stay at the local jail. He would sew multiple flannel blankets together to form his winter clothing. In later years, Bruce built a home and lived in it during the winter instead of the jail. Robert Bruce died January 24, 1908 at the age of 84 years old and in Robert’s shanty was found a trunk with a fine blue broadcloth suit made by a Glasgow tailor over fifty years before. Robert was buried in this suit at the Oxenden Cemetery.
The town of Lion’s Head is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of village highlighted by the beautiful vistas from the marina and beach. It gets its name from the distant bluffs which some say looks well, like a lion’s head (I didn’t see it).
A short 5 minute drive through the village of Lion’s Head you can find the Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve with many kilometres of trails that take you on the Niagara Escarpment to several breathtaking lookouts (and these were the highlight of my time here). Warning: the trails are well-traveled but require some dexterity.
The town of Wiarton is most famous as Canada’s answer to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, that is, home to winter rodent weather prognostication (Groundhog Day). Every February 2, thousands gather to see whether Wiarton Willie III (or IV or V, no one really knows) will emerge from his burrow to see his shadow which denotes an early spring (better idea: just look up and see if it’s cloudy that day).
Wiarton (thank goodness) is more than this odd event, it is a pretty, friendly lakeside resort town offering small shops and dining establishments away from the hustle and bustle of the city (and this gorgeous post office!).
We only got to one corner of the peninsula and fell in love but I look forward to further explorations of Tobermory, Saugeen Shores, Sauble Beach and the rest of this beautiful part of Canada.