Today it’s a national park, the cornerstone of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park. But Beausoleil Island, just west of Honey Harbour, had a history of human activity before it became a park in 1930.
It is unusual in its geography, as its 1,089 hectares span Georgian Bay’s two distinct geographic zones: the rugged, rocky Canadian Shield of the north and the sandy soil and deciduous forests of the south. As a park this land is laced with nature trails and recreation areas. Its inverted J shape creates a large protected bay popular with boaters, anglers and swimmers. To the southeast is the terminus of the Trent Severn Waterway; south is Severn Sound and its small ports; west is Penetanguishene harbour, the open Bay and the shipping channel into Midland; northeast is the start of Georgian Bay’s Inside Passage at Honey Harbour.
Centuries ago the Huron people, who lived on the nearby mainland, are thought to have used Beausoleil as a fishing camp. After the Hurons had been almost wiped out by the Iroquois, their territory and the east shore of the Bay was gradually occupied by the Anishinaabe people, paticularly the Ojibways. They had settled the Coldwater area on the mainland but gradually Europeans taking over the fertile lands around them spoiled it for the natives and they started looking elsewhere.
Around 1838 Chief John Assance and about 200 of his people moved to the big island they called Pemedenagog, meaning “you can see it at a distance”. It was also known as “rocky place floating about the mouth of a river”.
They created two villages facing Beausoleil Bay, one at Cedar Spring and the other at the current site of Camp Kitchikewana. But the soil wasn’t suitable for supporting the number of inhabitants so about 20 years later most moved to Christian Island where their descendants live today.
Those few who stayed survived using traditional methods of living off the land and water. They were gradually joined by other hardy natives, French Canadians, and European immigrants. Several families — Corbieres, Tobeys and Tonches — were still there just before the island became a park in 1930.
Here are some interesting facts about Beausoleil :
- It was named after a Metis homesteader Louis Beausoleil who in 1819 settled on the southernmost tip of the island. (I remember as a boy sitting on the bow deck of the Blackduck as she passed over the shallows off the southern tip of the island, and viewing enormous shapes of what must have been sturgeon swimming along the sandy bottom).
- Long before the Hurons, archaeological finds hint at irregular human occupancy of the island dating from the late Paleo-Indian period. That’s about 9,000 years ago!
- It was a stopping place for travelling Anishinaabe people moving to and from their regions up the shore and further inland. (See videos at thelandbetween.ca )
- Native traditions related to the island involved women “including their use of Beausoleil for gathering berries and other plants, and for traditional ceremonies such as girlhood to womanhood transformation rituals” (Quoted from historicplaces.ca).
- Unmarked burial sites and the Cemetery of the Oak are protected on the island. (Kenneth With told we children in our younger days that he had found what he thought was a single grave mound in the woods on the island).
- From late 19th into early 20th centuries the island’s natural resources were exploited. Timber was cut, and quarries were dug for sand and gravel used in docks and grain elevators on the adjacent mainland.
- Beausoleil Island is designated a National Historic Place of Canada.
Sources: Parks Canada; Canada’s Historic Places website. For a map of Beausoleil Island visit pc.gc.ca https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/georg/visit/directions/beausoleil