A great island in a Great Lake

Batchewana Island, ON (Photo by Gary McGuffin)

Batchewana Island, ON (Photo by Gary McGuffin)

June 2, 2023 | by Conor Mihell

Like so many residents of Sault Ste. Marie, Lake Superior cottagers and travellers on the Trans-Canada Highway, Batchewana Island floats on the horizon of my summertime memories. I remember childhood picnics with my grandparents at Batchawana Bay Provincial Park — sultry days on sunbaked sand and plunges into Lake Superior’s refreshing waters. My grandfather pointed out the big, flat landmass rising like a mirage of green over the silvery water. “I don’t think you can swim all the way out there,” he’d quip.

Sunburnt and waterlogged on the drive home, Grandpa would remind us that the same island dominated the view in Harmony, Old Mill and Havilland bays within Batchawana Bay, silhouetted by the setting sun. I was developing some perspective on Batchewana Island’s size: A great island befitting a great lake.

It took me a few years to actually visit the island. I was starting out as a sea kayak guide, and Batchewana Island was a good destination for day trips. We’d launch near the mouth of the Batchawana River and navigate the nearshore shallows at the narrows. A magnificent beach on the island side felt like the nearest faraway place. Then, we would paddled into a curtain of tall reeds, feeling the soft fronds dappling our skin and marvelling at the patterned sand beneath our boats.

Tranquil waters of Batchewana Island, ON (Photo by Robert Cormier)

Tranquil waters of Batchewana Island, ON (Photo by Robert Cormier)

Arriving by kayak gave me another sense of Batchewana Island’s size. After a kilometre of reedy shallows, we eventually reached the hourglass narrows of the island. A scrim of sand varied in size with changing water levels. This place felt bucolic, set against a verdant hardwood forest illuminated by sunlight filtering through from the other side. A short walk revealed an entirely different view. Bald eagles were always sighted, along with great blue herons flying over from the rookery in the Flowerpots, offshore to the southeast. Songbirds flitted and called at all levels in the trees. Once, thunderous footsteps in the woods materialized as a cow moose and calf, the encounter surprising for all parties.

Like so many other aspects of Lake Superior, Batchewana Island is a delicate balance of opposites. Lush forests and harsh, wave-washed shores. Swaying reeds under a summer sky and persistent currents causing treacherous winter ice. After years of sea kayaking in all parts of the lake, it still astounds me that Batchewana Island contains such a rich array of habitat and life, with a diversity that’s matched by few other places on the Great Lakes.

Locals have always celebrated Batchewana Island as the backdrop of our favourite places. I’m excited by the opportunities for long-term research and monitoring of this treasure.

While Batchewana Island has now been protected, the work to steward the property continues. With your support, the Nature Conservancy of Canada can care for this special place for generations to come.

To learn more and donate, click here >

Photo courtesy of Conor Mihell

About the Author

Conor Mihell is a is National Magazine Award-winning journalist and nature-based creative content project director who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Read more about Conor Mihell.

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