Skinny Dipping at Shrigley Bay on Manitoulin Island

by | Feb 24, 2016 | Big Blog, Nature and Outdoors | 0 comments

In Northeastern Ontario, summers are short and skinny dipping season is shorter still.

It was Labour Day weekend—the cusp of what is and is not appropriate skinny dipping weather. My sights were set on one last bout of summer nudity in a Northern Ontario lake, and I had the perfect place in mind.

My friend had spilled the beans on a Manitoulin Island destination earlier in the summer. “Check out a little spot called Shrigley Bay,” he mused, before spinning a yarn that involved him standing motionless alongside dozens of fish in the clear waters of Lake Huron. He painted a picture of Great Lakes isolation—a private stretch of shore along which to ditch your skivvies and go for a dip.

Shrigley Bay_2

Myself and fellow weekend road-trippers, Jen and Ian, were sold.

Now the task was to get there.

I scribbled driving instructions onto the back of a receipt: take Highway 551 until it becomes Highway 542. Wait until the latter intersects Union Road. Go left on Union Road and left on Poplar Road. Follow until the end of the Earth.

Shrigley Bay_5That last bit was underlined, just for good measure.

We pulled out of Sudbury on the Friday night of the long weekend, three passengers and three bikes driving into the eye of a very threatening rainstorm. That last bit wasn’t particularly ideal since we were planning to camp that night.
I drove sitting at the edge of my seat, the outline of Lake Mindemoya fuzzy out the passenger window. Local music is what kept spirits high in that moment, and
The Almighty Rhombus blared reassuringly through my speakers. It was almost loud enough to not hear the rain.

Miraculously, a patch of blue sky developed in the distance. Jen described it as a break in the heavens streaming down onto sodden fields of hay. Maybe our prediction of a dry camping trip would come true after all.

Optimism renewed, we reached Poplar Road by the time the sky had cleared to a peachy purple dusk. Bound south towards Lake Huron, our route became a narrow corridor through the bush. My car tires bumped over uneven alvars, the unique limestone ecosystem that characterizes Misery Bay Provincial Park and this southern bit of Manitoulin Island. The rain had created swampy puddles that reached the undercarriage of my car. They got bigger the further we went down the road, and we decided to pull over for fear of getting stuck. Darkness was falling fast.  

Shrigley Bay_4

We set up camp next to a quarry on a mossy swath of limestone. Continuing to Shrigley Bay would have to wait until morning. We sat under our tarp and shone headlamps towards what we were certain was the sound of bears.

In the morning we unhitched our bikes from the back of my car. A couple hundred metres down, the road turned from alvar to sand, and before we knew it we were staring into the choppy waters of Shrigley Bay.

The sky was thick with misty rain and fog, blurring the beach and our visibility of the lake. What it didn’t hide, though, was the line of camps dotting the shoreline.

It didn’t look warm, and it sure wasn’t abandoned.

A toe dipped in the lake quickly demonstrated that our skinny dip may be a little more refreshing than initially intended. Jen and I stripped down and Ian geared up…in a wetsuit. We meekly waded into the chilly waters, and Jen promptly slipped. Her wipe out was perhaps the only time one of us was truly submerged.

Shivering, we abandoned our skinny dipping plan and bundled up on the alvars overlooking the bay. Luckily we had reinforcements, and we cracked open a chocolate bar and made tea using Ian’s camp stove. Reflecting on our failed skinny dip and the very public place in which we had chosen to do so, we couldn’t help but laugh.

Shrigley Bay_3

We spent the rest of the morning gathering driftwood along the rocky shore, precariously balancing the pieces on our bike handlebars as we returned to my car. Lunch and other Island explorations beckoned.

Shrigley Bay_7

Our weekend ended as all trips to Manitoulin must: a cone topped high with Farquhar’s Ice Cream. The sun had re-emerged at this point, just in time for a stroll along the boardwalk in Providence Bay. I stared down the southeast coast towards the point where the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry would soon be making its final fall journeys across Lake Huron to Tobermory. Despite the sun, there was already a nip of autumn in the air.

That Shrigley Bay weekend remains one of my favourite all-time trips to the Island – a true illustration of what it means to be a Northerner. After all, what is Northern Ontario if not a mixture of perpetual optimism, resilience, and a sense of adventure?

About Hilary Duff

Hilary is a writer, cyclist, explorer and local enthusiast. She enjoys cooking, travelling to new places, and a variety of outdoor activities (including, but not limited to: hiking, kayaking, and winter jogging). After graduating from Carleton University’s bachelor of journalism program in 2012, she re-traced my roots to northern Ontario, where she worked as a journalist with CBC Radio in Sudbury for two years.