Who Doesn't Like to Island Hop?
Whitefish Island is a place that’s preserved and protected by the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways, who hold a historical past with it and the surrounding area that dates back thousands of years. Today, this National Historic Site boasts a world-class recreational sports fishing paradise and provides an island-hopping nature getaway within the city of Sault Ste. Marie.
In 1982, Whitefish Island was named a National Historic Site after the Ministry of Culture completed an archaeological study, which found more than 100,000 artefacts, unique flora and fauna and evidence of continuous habitation by the Anishinaabe people.
This area is a gift, and the Anishnaabe who lived here prior to 1905 cherished its value and the natural wealth it provided. The St. Marys River teemed with whitefish and other wildlife, trade was conducted, settlements established, and the river was an access route between Lakes Huron and Superior. This was a gathering place.
The skilled fishermen, who braved the rapids here at the historic Whitefish Island fishing station, could catch up to 500 pounds of fish in a matter of a few hours, right out of a birch bark canoe with a dip net. The Atikameg (Whitefish), meaning “Caribou of the Water,” was a year-round food source that was smoked and dried for winter months, as well as traded. The fishery thrived here until industrial development adversely affected life on Whitefish Island, and the surrounding waterways.
In 1906, the government expropriated Whitefish Island for railway companies that were subsidiaries of the Lake Superior Power Company. Time and industrialization, including construction of the American and Canadian Locks, and the International Bridge has had a lasting effect on the Islands and waterways between them. Development has reduced the quality of fish habitat and spawning areas, thus the shallow waters that run between South St. Marys Island and Whitefish Island have been designated a Provincial Fish Sanctuary. Whitefish Island was returned to the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways in 1998. They are the custodians of this land, protecting it for future generations.
Today, there are walking trails and a natural environment surrounding the area for all to enjoy. Beginning at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site, you can access Whitefish Island by crossing over the bridge from North St. Marys Island atop the Sault Canal gates. The first exploratory hop brings you to South St. Marys Island’s 2.2-km Attikamek Trail. It’s an easy 45-minute round-trip walk from the main parking lot, and there’s one lookout with a view to the Southeast.
The second hop lands you on Whitefish Island. Beginning at the bridge from South St. Marys Island, start your stroll on the Whitefish Island’s 1.5-km trail. You’ll find two lookouts on the south side of the island with views of the marshy area between the islands where the ducks, beavers, and other birds live. The other overlooks the waterfront boardwalk and Roberta Bondar Pavilion. There are three more lookouts with direct views of the St. Marys River Rapids. Take note of the placards along the trail to learn about the history of Whitefish Island and the people who lived there.
A once-teeming river of Atikameg (Whitefish) now feeds our primal craving for what man has been doing since the beginning of time—fishing. Only now, after a worthy battle and stories to tell, we admire our trophies of Atlantic Salmon, Coho (Silver Salmon), Chinook (King/Quinnat/ Tyee Salmon) and Steelhead Trout with photos, videos, and smiles, letting the big ones go to reproduce so we and they can return.
The walkways, scenic lookouts, and fishing platforms serve as a way for us all to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife that surrounds without disturbing the mallards that swim and feed, the beavers that continuously build their condos, the fish sanctuary, and the cranes that fly overhead that stop here for a rest.
Whitefish Island continues to be a gathering place, an access to a world-class salmon fishery, and an opportunity for all to learn about the area’s past and appreciate what the present holds. Elevate your senses by connecting with nature in this city centre getaway at Whitefish Island National Historic Site.