Warm weather, beaches and wine...
Pelee Island is one of Ontario's premier tourist destinations where visitors can enjoy pristine sandy beaches, warm, sunny weather, wildlife and wine.
Enjoy a Mediterranean climate in Ontario
Located in the western part of Lake Erie directly across from Point Pelee on the mainland, from which the Pelee Passage separates it, it is the largest island in Lake Erie and also contains Canada's most southerly populated area.
Approximately 14.5 kilometres (9 miles) long and 5.5 kilomtres (3.4 miles) wide the island itself is part of an archipelago of 9 islands in the western half of Lake Erie with one, nearby Middle Island, being Canada's most southernmost point and all together they form Pelee Township. Pelee Island is by far the largest but the nine islands are:
- Pelee Island
- Middle Island
- Big Chicken Island
- Little Chicken Island
- Chick Island
- Middle Sister Island
- Hen Island
- East Sister Island
- North Harbour Island
Long inhabited by aboriginal peoples, humans were naturally drawn to the area due to its moderate climate that is a result of its southern location and the effects that Lake Erie has on its weather patterns. It is so far south that few people realize that at its most southern point on Middle Island a portion of 27 American states do in fact lie further north including parts on northern California.
It has a Mediterranean climate that is one of the country's mildest
and you can in fact find the prickly pear cactus growing here, the only place in Canada where this occurs. Today there are less than 200 permanent inhabitants living on the island but during the busy tourism season this can easily swell up to over 3000 people. Pelee Island is the only inhabited parcel of land in the archipelago.
Due to its extended growing season as a result of its moderate climate for most of its history the mainstay of the economy was agriculture and while this is still of prime importance today it is definitely tourism that drives the island's economy.
In 1860 grapes were planted on the island and ever since vineyards and winemaking have been an important economic factor both for their agricultural output and the tourism affects this has had with the droves of people that come to the estate winery.
Pelee Island is also an important stopping point for migratory birds as they fly between Point Pelee and the American mainland in Ohio and each spring and fall thousands of people from around the world make the trek to the island to watch this annual phenomenon.
Location of Pelee Island
Getting to Pelee Island:
As this is an island it is impossible to drive directly to Pelee Island but you can however bring your car onto the island by taking the car ferry from Leamington or Sandusky, Ohio. See below for more information.
By public transport:
This is how most people arrive on the island and two ferries, the MV Pelee Islander and the MV Jiimaan, service it. The trip can take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours depending on the departure route and point. The vessels dock at Scudder, the main "town" on the island or, if traveling on the Sandusky bound ferry, at a wharf on the island's western shore.
The Jiimaan is the larger vessel and operates from early spring until December and leaves from either Leamington or nearby Kingsville. It can carry up to 400 passengers and 40 vehicles.
The Pelee Islander operates between Leamington, Pelee Island and Sandusky, Ohio and runs between early spring and late fall. It can transport 196 passengers and 14 vehicles.
For more information as to departure points and time and rates visit: www.ontarioferries.com
Please note that depending on the time of year the ferries may arrive and depart from the Town of Kingsville (18 kilometres or 8 miles west of Leamington). Please check the above website to confirm the departure and arrival point.
Obviously it costs more money to transport your vehicle to the island so it is recommended for day-trippers to leave their cars at the ferry departure point parking lot and simply walk on-board. There are transportation options once you get to the island as listed below.
Many people also arrive at the island by private boat and there are many launch facilities along the northern and southern shorelines of Lake Erie. Once on the island itself there are docking facilities at the Scudder Marina that can handle boats up to 65 feet in length with a draft between 7 and 9 feet.
The island is serviced by air year-round but during the winter months the island is only accessible by air and the Ontario government guarantees this service. Approximately 5500 passengers utilize air transport annually with most flying in from Windsor but a few people do in fact come in from Sandusky, Ohio. Flights are on small (max. 15 passenger) propeller driven planes.
For more information visit:
Public bus service to the island is not an option.
Public rail service to the island is not an option.
Pelee Island Attractions and Activities
Bird watching is one of the main reasons people come to the island and surrounding region as it is at the center of one of the world's largest migratory routes and hundreds of species can be found here. A good portion of the island has been set aside as Provincial Nature Reserves.
Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve
Located in the southwest corner of the island Fish Point is a 110-hectare (272 acre) reserve that juts far into Lake Erie. Encompassing Fox Lagoon it is the island's best bird watching location and is home to a field station of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory.
Birds are plentiful and species to be found here include: Black-crowned night Herons and Giant Egrets.
It is comprised of virgin deciduous forest and rare plants and roughly 17% of all plants found in Ontario are located within its boundaries. This is one of the only locations in Canada of the Prickly Pear Cactus. Its shoreline is comprised of large sand dunes and its extreme southern tip is a long sandspit that extends far into Lake Erie. Rare animals to be found here include:
- Eastern Fox Snake. This is Ontario's second largest snake and can grow to length of 1.6 metres (5 feet). Don't worry though as it is non-venomous.
- Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
- Lake Erie Water Snake
The waters off the sandy beaches are excellent for swimming and easy to get to as there is a 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) long walking trail that leads past the lookout over the marsh right to the surf.
Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve
Established in 1984 this natural reserve full of birds is named for the now non-working lighthouse that helped guide ships through the treacherous Pelee Passage. Originally constructed in 1833 the lighthouse operated until 1909 and was restored in 2000 but is presently closed to visitors. Encircling Lake Henry (which is not really a lake at all) it makes for an excellent location to observe many aquatic birds in its marshy wetlands including:
- Bald eagles (a rarity)
The interior of the reserve is a deciduous forest and savanna that has many rare species including:
- Blue Racer Snake
- Smallmouth Salamander
- Eastern Spiny-Soft-shelled Turtle
There is a beach along the eastern shore of the reserve and hiking trails allow visitors to get up close to the wildlife species and allows for easy access to the beach.
Stone Road Alvar Nature Reserve
Located on the southeastern portion of the island many consider this to be the most significant natural area in the region. Thus 42-hectare (104 acre) property is comprised of rare savannahs and prairies and is one of the few remaining alvar ecosystems in the province and for that matter the world. It contains a number of rare trees and plants some of which are threatened globally and over 50 rare plant species have been identified. It also houses some threatened wildlife species including:
- Blue Racer Snake
- Lake Erie Water Snake
- Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
- Acadian Hairstreak Butterfly
- Hackberry Butterfly
- Tawny Emperor Butterfly
- Sachem Skipper Butterfly
- Yellow-breasted Chat
- Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
This area is extremely sensitive and visitors are expected to show the utmost respect to the natural eco-system.
The small Grey Fox can also be found on the island although it is getting extremely rare. It lives in the forests and usually dens in hollow logs and under rocks. Sighting usually happen in the winter as the snow makes their tracks more visible and their color offsets the white landscape.
Pelee Island Winery
The Mediterranean like climate of the island lends itself perfectly for grape growing and Canada's first estate winery was established on the island in 1866. The industry expanded and grew for many decades but prohibition in the early 20th century threatened its existence and it eventually died out. In 1979 grapes were re-planted and the Pelee Island Estate Winery was established.
The new business flourished and today it is the largest estate winery in the country and includes over 600 acres of the sweet crop. The grapes are grown on the island and then transported to the company's facilities on the mainland for processing. In 1992 the Wine Pavilion was opened and offers tours, wine tasting ands entertainment. It is one of the island's most popular destinations. For more information visit: www.peleeisland.com
For those interested there are three historic 19th century churches worth visiting.
Pelee Island Heritage Center
- St Mary's Church - Located on East West Road it is the oldest church on the island and there are records of a baptism occurring in 1863.
- Our Lady of the Sea Church - Constructed in 1887 it is also located on East West Road and is not far from St. Mary's Church.
- Calvary Anglican Church - Originally a Methodist Church it was erected in 1898 and is located on North Shore Road.
Located just north of the ferry docks this is one of the first places a visitor can see when landing on the island. The small museum has a small collection of artifacts and exhibits that highlight the islands heritage and natural history. For more information visit: www.peleeislandmuseum.ca
Battle of Pelee Island Commemorative Plaque
In 1837 and 1838 many people in the British Colonies in North American were disillusioned with continuous British Rule and were inspired by the American revolution of 1776. Under the leadership of rebel William Lyon Mackenzie they began what is called in Canada the "Upper Canada Rebellion" and in the United States the "Patriot War", where small groups of men on each side of the border attempted to form an independent Canada.
On February 26, 1838, 300 armed men left from Sandusky, Ohio and invaded and "captured" Pelee Island. Upon learning of this the British immediately sent a force to recapture the island. On March 3 the well-trained British fighting force of 126 men met the occupiers on the ice just offshore its southwestern point and sharply trounced them.
Today, a historical plaque commemorates this battle.
The Kite Museum
This rather unique and small museum was established in 2008 and is the only kite museum in the country. Over 100 kites from 30 countries are exhibited and the story of the kite in history is told. For more information visit: http://www.thekitemuseum.com/
This small park contains an ancient aboriginal grinding stone where you can actually seen the millennia old indentations that have resulted from continuous use in grinding grains etc.
This landmark can be seen from the ferry on a clear day and is named for the legend of a young Indian women that leapt to her death from it as she grieved for a lover that had promised to return but never did.
Another of the islands premier attractions are the multitude of secluded beaches that are highlighted even more by the sunny warm weather to be enjoyed. Most are sandy but others are pebble, stone or shale based.
Beaches are to be found at:
- Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve
- Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve
- Sunset Beach (north of the ferry docks on West Shore Road)
- East Park Beach (located on East Shore Road)
Please note that strong currents are to be found around the tips of the island and care should always be undertaken.
As with Leamington on the mainland the sport of Scuba Diving has increased in popularity in recent years as divers have discovered the multitude of shipwrecks that are easily accessible in the Pelee Passage.
Many participants undertake the journey themselves but there is a thriving local industry catering to the sport and rentals and tours are available.
Located near East Park Beach is East Park Campground that can accommodate tents or tent trailers. There are 25 sites available which cannot be reserved but are on a first come first serve basis. Facilities are basic (no electricity) but there are washrooms and showers available on site. It is a family campground and no alcohol is permitted and a noise curfew is in effect. Campfires are permitted in designated pits only and all firewood must be purchased on-site as firewood cannot be brought to the island.
Family camping is also available at the Anchor and Wheel Inn which has limited camping facilities. Located on the island's north shore it can accommodate tents and tent trailers and has outlets for electricity hook-ups, washroom and shower facilities and spots can be reserved. For more information visit: Anchor and Wheel Family Campground
Most visitors to the island are day-trippers who leave their vehicles on the mainland. Once on the island the easiest way to get around is by bicycle and rentals are readily available. Trails on the island include:
- 34 kilometres (20.5 miles) of on-road bike trails
- 10 kilometres (6 miles) of multi-use trail that are ecological in nature
- 5 kilometres (3 miles) of strictly walking trails
The network of trails is constantly expanding and is open year round. Most people can bike non-stop around the entire perimeter of the island in about 4 hours. Expect to take much longer if you stop and do quite a bit of sightseeing.
For more information about bike rentals visit: www.peleebikerental.com
As this is an island and many people arrive on their own pleasure craft, boating in and around Pelee Island is huge. There are marina facilities available but these do get very busy in the summer months and reservations are recommended. Visit: http://www.pelee.org/
for more information.
The nutrient rich waters of Lake Erie off Pelee Island have long been a favored fishing ground and at one time even supported a large commercial fishery where the catch was exported internationally and provided for much of the local diet. While not as plentiful today the waters still do provide one of the best fisheries on the Great Lakes. Whether from the shoreline or in a boat offshore anglers will have a great experience fishing off Pelee Island.
Pelee Island Pheasant Hunt
For over 75 years Pelee Island has hosted Canada's most famous Pheasant hunt. It was originally started in 1933 in an attempt to cull the huge population of the bird whose numbers had been estimated at over 50,000.
The hunts now occur over 3 weeks at the end of October and the beginning of November and have drawn thousands of participants from across the world. Over 25,000 pheasants are released and hunters are allowed to hunt for 2-day periods with a maximum of 700 hunters hunting at any one time.
There is also a winter hunt in January and February where hunters can hunt for 1 day only and bag a maximum of 5 birds. Reservations must be made as the spots fill up quickly. The hotline for booking a hunt is only open from November 15 to December 1, call (519) 724-2115 for more information.
Visitors will find that the local inhabitants are very welcoming of the hunters and will open their homes to them as the hunt provides a significant cash infusion into the local economy at a time when most of the other tourist opportunities are finished.
While not currently open to visitors this is Canada's most southern point
and the entire island is actually a part of Point
Pelee National Park
Currently uninhabited except for the thousands of birds that call it home it has at times been the site of human habitation. There are signs of aboriginal inhabitation that date back thousands of years. A lighthouse was built on the island in 1872 and operated until 1918 and its foundations are still visible.
It was also utilized as a mid point for slaves escaping from the United States and by prisoners of war and army deserters seeking to flee the USA during the American Civil War.
In the late 1800's as grapes were introduced to nearby Pelee Island they were also planted on some parts on Middle Island. The island was privately owned and changed hands many times. During prohibition it was a way station for the bootleggers and a famous gangster built a small hotel with a casino that was very popular in its day. A small airstrip was also constructed. Today Middle Island, like all others in the Pelee Archipelago, is mainly used by birds on their migratory paths and can be viewed by passengers on the ferry from Leamington to Sandusky as it passes by.
The Pelee Island Tour
An organized tour is available for those that do not wish to go it alone. It lasts about 2.5 hours and covers most of the island's interesting sites. The tour begins at the ferry dock where you will be met by the "Big Blue Bus". The tour also includes a hiking portion to the lighthouse in Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve and a stop at the Pelee Island Wine Pavilion. For more information visit: http://www.peleeislandtour.com
The bus is also available to be booked for private transportation around the island outside of regular tour times. Visit the above listed website for more information.
Pelee Island Accommodations:
Tourism is a huge part of the island's economy and there are a variety of accommodation options available.
Bed and Breakfast
See above camping section.
Westview Motel & Cottages: http://westviewmotel.bravehost.com
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