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The Embrace of Superior’s Slate Islands

Paddling the sheltered clear waters of Northern Ontario’s Slate islands. • Credit: James Smedley


“It must have taken a run at it,” I say as I set the hook into what feels like a heavy fish. My light spinning gear is taxed heavily as the canoe drifts over clear water betraying the deep structure that undulates beneath. We are surrounded by an amalgamation of islands and inlets with shorelines ranging from sheer granite bluffs to beaches of fine brown sand. The scene is complete when Neil Simpson folds a four-pound lake trout into the small wooden landing net. We exchange a knowing glance before the trout is quickly dispatched for dinner.

It’s our annual family canoe trip and as in previous years, Neil and I are alarmed by just how much our gang can eat. This year we’re paddling within Lake Superior’s Slate Islands with our respective families -- Neil’s wife and their three daughters and my wife and our two girls -- and a ready supply of fresh fish is appreciated.

Patterson and Mortimer Islands are joined by 15 or so smaller islands to constitute Slate Islands Provincial Park, located seven miles offshore from the community of Terrace Bay. With calm weather, we could have paddled all the way out here. However, with our group of four adults, five children and three dogs distributed in two large canoes and one double sea kayak we decided to take advantage of the water taxi service out of Terrace Bay.

Once established on the northern tip of Patterson Island we never do switch campsites, preferring day trips within the island-studded stretch of sheltered water more than four miles long and up to two and a half miles wide. At McColl’s Island, there is a small cabin where the girls discover an outdoor cast iron bathtub raised off the ground with rocks. They build a fire under the tub and take turns soaking in the hot water.

lake troutJames Smedley with a nice lake trout from Northern Ontario’s Slate Islands. (Photo credit: James Smedley)

A second-day trip takes us to another cabin at the entrance to Jack’s Bay. It’s known as the Devil’s Roost because the faded green structure is built high atop a ridge with a commanding view of McGreevy Harbour. Down in the bay, there’s a large clearing signifying some sort of past human development, now grazed to the stony ground by some of the islands’ herd of approximately 360 woodland caribou.

ron bathtub and build a fire under it before soaking in the hot waterThe girls discover an iron bathtub and build a fire under it before soaking in the hot water. (Photo credit: James Smedley)

We occasionally see caribou along the shoreline and one of the inquisitive ungulates walks right through our campsite early one morning. The presence of these majestic animals accentuates the other-worldliness of the Slates, but it’s the fishing in sheltered waters that captures my attention. Although well into July the water remains cold and the trout are shallow. No need for wireline or downriggers, just a spinning rod and a handful of lures presented from a drifting or trolling canoe.

Although we can’t be accused of travelling light in the food department, it’s great to be able to bolster our provisions with a few meals of lake trout.

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