From Manitoba to Quebec, from the Great Lakes and the Minnesota border, north to James and Hudson Bays, Ontario is immense, diverse and exciting, waiting to be discovered. We could spend a lifetime exploring this province and still there would be more to experience.
WIARTON WILLIE STANDING WATCH
NEAR COLPOY'S BAY
Wiarton is an exhilarating town located north of Owen Sound. The challenging Bruce Trail passes by Wiarton, exposing the trekker to one of the few remaining World Biosphere Reserves along its walkway. It's Canada's oldest and longest footpath. The 750 kilometer trail begins at the Niagara River and extends along the three hundred and fifty million year old Niagara Escarpment before reaching Tobermory at the tip of Bruce Peninsula on the shore of Lake Huron.
In Wiarton, there is an impressive statue of Wiarton Willie positioned proudly on the emerald shores of Colpoy's Bay. Willie is probably the most famous weather forecaster in the country. Every February, around Groundhog Day, this woodchuck wakens from hibernation and ventures into the cold chill of winter. All eyes anxiously turn to Wiarton as we wait by our radios and televisions hoping Willie signals early spring. "Did he see his shadow?" is the question on everyone's lips.
Spirit Rock is a short walk from Willie's statue further along Bayview Street. Legend tells of a young woman who took her life by jumping from the gigantic cliff called Sprit Rock Lookout after her tribe disowned her because she fell in love with a chief from an enemy tribe. There was a plaque at the base of the cliff recording the tragedy, but it was removed. Hopefully, it will be remounted. A square cement slab marks the location.
The inscription on the plaque reads:
"FOR HOURS SHE STOOD UPON THAT ROCKY HEIGHT,
TILL NIGHT'S DARK CURTAIN HAD SHUT OUT THE LIGHT
AND HID THE CRUEL ROCKS FROM SIGHT.
THEN WITH A CRY, LIKE A LOST SOUL IN WOE,
SHE SPRANG TO HER DEATH AND HER GRAVE BELOW,
WHILE MOANING WINDS, MURMURED A FUNERAL STRAIN,
AND SIGHING WAVES ECHOED A SAD REFRAIN.
THIS IS THE TALE OLD TRADITIONS TELL,
AND THIS IS THE SECRET OF THE MYSTIC SPELL".
Incredible as it may seem, the images of the woman and her lover are imprinted in the wall of the cliff below from which she leaped to her death. If you climb up the slope approximately 30 meters from Bayview Street you'll see their impressions embedded in the rock. Only the hearty should attempt the difficult ascent of because of loose stones and steep incline.
To get to the top of Spirit Rock Lookout take a steep footpath located 100 meters further north along the shoreline from where the plaque was mounted. Or, alternatively, walk north along The Bruce Trail for about 1000 meters following the shores of Colpoy's Bay.
Watch for an iron spiral stairway leading up to the peaks of the escarpment. From the top of the cliff the view overlooking Georgian Bay is breath-taking. If you look inland, you will see the ruins of McNeill's Mansion.
Alexander McNeill and his wife Hester came to Canada from Ireland in 1872. In 1881, he was elected to Canada's Federal Parliament as reprehensive of the North Bruce Constituency. He constructed a seventeen room mansion which he named the Corran for himself and Hester. Alexander McNeill died in 1932. After his death, this beautiful structure knew several owners until the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority purchased it in 1976. The mansion was destroyed by fire shortly after leaving only stone ruins to testify to its past splendor.
Climbing up the spiral stairway to the mansion is worth the effort. You can also get to the Corran by automobile. On Highway 6, a winding dirt road less than two kilometers north of Wiarton will lead you to the ruins. Look for the sign directing the way to Spirit Rock. Take a picnic lunch and spend
an unforgettable day in this impressive corner of Ontario.
A short distance north of Wiarton is the inland seaport Tobermory the Jewel of Bruce County (as it is often called). Tobermory has charisma. Pause in this delightful one-of-a-kind community extending out into Lake Huron. Afterward, take the less than two-hour ferry trip across emerald waters to Manitoulin Island, the birthplace of Gitche Manitou. Manitoulin Island is unrivalled for its primordial natural beauty. The hospitality of those who are fortunate to call the island home is wonderful.
The view from the top of the cliff at Spirit Rock overlooking Georgian Bay is breath taking