A Fastinating Tour of the Islands on Lake Superior

One of the best boats rides of my life on an overnight stay in the village of Rossport.

We’re out on a tour of the gorgeous Lake Superior islands near the pretty village of Rossport (east of Thunder Bay) when guide Paul Turpin of Discovery Charters  points out a small rock sticking up out of the placid water. Rossport is about a two-hour drive east of Thunder Bay

“That’s called Jim’s Rock,” he tells me, straight-faced.

I turn on my camera to snap a photo and Turpin lets out a laugh.

“It’s also called Mark’s Rock or Paul’s Rock,” he adds. “It’s pretty much named after whoever I have on board.”

Turpin tells me he took a small boy and his family out on the lake a while back and told the lad the rock was named Mark, just like him.

“You should’ve seen his face. He took pictures from all over the place and we were there for a half-hour.”


On the day I was out with him, this occasionally fierce lake was as gentle as a sleeping puppy. The water in the bays was like a mirror of smooth glass, and even out on the main part of the lake there was hardly a ripple.

Still, it’s not always this smooth, and Turpin likes to tell the story about an 85-year-old woman who came out last November and wanted to ride the surf.

“We had 14-foot waves but I was riding the troughs and it was fine. She was up there hollering “Yee haw” with each wave. I wanted to go inside the intracoastal and she asked if we could stay ‘outside’ the barrier islands and be in the waves. She loved it.” He also points out they didn’t get wet because the Zodiac is so calm in rough weather.


I had a fabulous time on the Zodiac, listening to Turpin tell stories of storms and shipwrecks and showing off eagles nests and explaining Indian rites. Apparently, natives had a coming of age ceremony for young men and made them lie in a pit that was covered with leaves and had a piece of fresh fish on top. When an eagle would come to snatch the fish, the youth’s job was to grab a tail feather from the eagle. 

It’s a great story, and Turpin can show you where to find the pits, as well as a million other fascinating bits about the islands near the village of Rossport that he patrols on a regular basis with Discovery Charters.

We checked out the strange, piled rock formations on Cat Island and toured a small, exceptionally quiet bay with a tiny, rundown, one-room cottage on it. Turpin explained it’s a safe house for folks who might get caught in a storm. It’s located on Harry’s Island and is lovingly (or not) referred to as “Harry’s Hilton.”


I suspect they don’t have a loyalty program for frequent guests, but Turpin said it’s usually a safe spot to bed down and that you might find a can of beans inside that you could heat up on the wood stove. Naturally there’s also an out house, which he refers to as a “thunder box.”

Back on dry land, I thank Dawn, my hostess at the Willows B and B, for strongly suggesting/insisting I take the boat ride, one of the best of my life. 

I also take in dinner a few metres down the road (barely) at the Serendipity Gardens Café, where I’m greeted with a small plate of tremendous, spicy olives as a small snack prior to a fine grilled chicken dinner with plenty of veggies and rice. It’s a cute spot with fun jazz and blues tunes on the radio and local art on the walls if you get tired of the view. Outside are fine and pretty gardens, although the owner apologizes to me for being busy and letting the garden get “a little blouzy.”

The next morning I have a great, filling breakfast at The Willows and stroll about the village. My eye is captured by a small sign on the front door of a cute gift shop with an arrow pointing around the back and the words “husband’s waiting bench with scenic view.”

I love it.

About Jim Byers

Jim Byers recently retired from the Toronto Star after 32 years (and a day) at the paper. He served as travel editor during the last five years at the Star. Prior to that he covered municipal politics and was twice the paper's City Hall Bureau Chief. He also covered the Blue Jays in the glory years and was the paper's Olympics Editor for years, leading the Star's team at six Olympic Games.


Jim now works as  a freelancer and writes for The Star every two weeks. You also can find him occasionally in the metro papers and at www.jimbyerstravel.com

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