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A Weekend of Slow Travel on Pelee Island, Ontario

A weekend or more on Pelee Island, the southernmost inhabited spot in Canada, is a great place to try out the concept known as slow travel. And that’s just what my husband and I, along with my mother in law, did last weekend. This is a place where time stands still. Cellphones don’t always work. And forget looking for wireless for your computer. But there are things to do if that’s what you want or you can very easily and quite happily do nothing. Pelee Island is not a place to come looking for nightlife and excitement. Instead think birds and beaches, vineyards, quiet forest trails and friendly locals. And the three R’s – reading, relaxation, recharging.

But first you have to get there.

"Baltimore Oriole feasting on an orange"

Baltimore Oriole feasting on an orange

Where is Pelee Island?

Pelee Island sits just above the Canada – United States border – a whopping 800 kilometers south of Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada’s version of the Deep South. It’s a 90 minute ferry ride away from Leamington – Canada’s Tomato Capital in case you didn’t know. Only a few ferries run every day so be sure to make a reservation – which costs nothing – ahead of time. You need to phone to make the reservation. Happily you deal with a live person almost immediately – and a helpful one at that. (Ph: 1-800-661-2220 or 1 -519-724-2115). Interestingly, on our return the ferry captain made an announcement that we would travel to Kingsville, not Leamington, about 14 kilometres further west. I’m not sure how often that happens. You can also take a seasonal ferry to the island via Sandusky, Ohio, a town roughly half way between Cleveland and Toledo. Call the same number noted above to make the reservation. That ferry ride is ¾ hours long.

"A young crowd on the ferry to Pelee Island"

A young crowd on the ferry to Pelee Island

Then what do you do on Pelee Island?

On a warm May weekend there seemed to be as many cyclists and walkers as there were cars getting off the ferry. Young people headed for the beach with coolers full of beer. Cyclists headed off  to explore the island. We began with lunch.

Conorlee’s Bakery and Delicatessen was stop number one. We figured that any restaurant with the world bakery in it, was worth checking out. And this one did not disappoint. We arrived at the bakery via a short drive from the ferry past the Stoneman, a testament to island perseverance, and the shoe tree, a testament to we don’t know what. The bakery was great. Picnic tables set up under shady trees, allowed you to eat while watching the numerous Baltimore orioles feeding on oranges set out in the tree. Offerings of freshly made soup, made to order sandwiches, deli items, salads and baked goods ensured we were well fed and ready to continue exploring.

"Stoneman - A Stone Testament to Island Perseverance"

Stoneman – A Stone Testament to Island Perseverance

"The Shoe Tree"

The Shoe Tree

Our next stop was Sheridan Point, under a mile away. We quickly checked out the views from the shore…and the snake. Snakes LOVE Pelee Island. It’s even been called a Herper (snake lovers) mecca. It’s lucky my mother in law didn’t know that about the island before we got there. It has a huge density of snakes including the elusive Blue Racer. We saw two live snakes in total and several dead ones on the road. If you’re a swimmer, look out for the Lake Erie Water snake. Fortunately they’re not too common.

"One of many snakes we saw on Pelee Island"

One of two snakes we saw on Pelee Island

Pelee Island Winery was next. But first we had to retrace our steps, and head back towards the pier. Along that road these three Mennonite kids, who were incredibly polite and lovely, offered their mom’s freshly baked donuts – at a price of .75 each – at a roadside stand. My husband proclaimed them delicious.

"Mennonite kids selling their Mom's donuts"

Mennonite kids selling their Mom’s donuts

The winery is a major destination for island visitors. Not only do they offer wine tastings and tours, but you can choose a cut of meat and they’ll grill it for you – for lunch or for dinner. Pick up a bottle of wine and you have a perfect meal.

"Bikes pulled in for a pit stop at Pelee Island Winery"

Bikes pulled in for a pit stop at Pelee Island Winery

Fortified by our three tastings, we continued on to the Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve. And what a delight it was. Nearly one sixth of Ontario’s plant species are found here – including Prickly Pear Cactus, Hop Trees and Swamp Rose Mallow. I was thrilled to catch the tail end of the trilliums blossoming. Masses of them carpeted the forest floor, turning from white to pink as they aged.

"Trilliums galore in Fish Point Provincial nature Reserve"

Trilliums galore in Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve

"Trillium - just past its prime"

Trillium – just past its prime

"Bark with interesting texture on tree near Fish Point"

Bark with interesting texture on tree near Fish Point

It’s a mile – on foot or by bike – out to Fish Point and if it’s a hot day I’d recommend a bathing suit so you can enjoy the beautiful beaches.

"Fish Point - The southernmost point in Canada - that's inhabited"

Fish Point – just a few miles from the southernmost point in CanadaÂ

The rest of the day was spent napping and reading – just what you’d expect to do on an island like this. We stayed at the very lovely Wavecrest B&B. It’s run by Thom and Barry, a couple who fell in love with the island twenty years ago. They built and decorated this B&B so that it offers Lake Erie and/or pond views from every bedroom. Located on a sandy beach and just minutes from the trails to Lighthouse Point, you couldn’t find a nicer spot on the island. Add in a 6 pm happy hour with the local wines featured, a delicious breakfast and friendly hosts, and you have a real winner.

"Wavecrest B&B"

Wavecrest B&B

The following day got off to a leisurely start with breakfast served at 9am. We didn’t even leave the table until 11 – a sign of great conversation and no immediate agenda.

We seemed to move on to island time with ease – though there were still a few things we really wanted to do. One was to check out the old limestone lighthouse at Lighthouse Point. It was built in 1833 and was put on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of endangered lighthouses. Fortunately, enough concerned individuals banded together and with the help of some government funding raised funds so a full restoration could take place. The restoration was completed in 2000 and now there’s one very handsome lighthouse standing with a view to the Canadian mainland.

"The Old Lighthouse on Pelee Island"

The Old Lighthouse on Pelee Island

The trail to get to the lighthouse is noteworthy – at least during the spring migration. The air was filled with birdsong – to an extent I’ve never experienced before. It was like listening to a CD that never stopped – and was absolutely wonderful. There were more warblers in the trees – at noon – that I ever would have thought possible. In the space of minutes we had seen the Blackburnian, chestnut sided and magnolia warblers – a real thrill if you’re a birder. Along the way to the lighthouse we passed swampy sections with turtles galore basking in the sun. And all of this was only a ten minute walk from the B&B.

"Midland Painted Turtle"

Midland Painted Turtle

It was a tossup on how to spend the rest of the day – sleep and read or cycle the island. My husband and I decided some exercise was in order so we rented bikes for a few hours from Comfortech – a bike shop located across from the ferry pier. With map in hand, though one could never really get lost, we set off to ride the circumference of the island. It’s a flat 31 kilometer ride on a combination of paved and dirt roads but super easy and very doable in about two hours. Along the way we saw numerous purple martin houses and many people mowing vast expanses of lawn. I’d heard good things about the Gathering Place B&B so we stopped in to check it out and ending up chatting for some time with Liz, the friendly co-owner of the beautifully restored 1893 limestone house. This B&B would also be an excellent choice.

"Purple martin houses are everywhere"

Purple martin houses are everywhere

"The Gathering Place B&B"

The Gathering Place B&B

"East cycling on Pelee Island"

Easy cycling on Pelee Island

And that was our weekend. I think many of us could use more island time but at least we got a taste of it.

Before You Come to Pelee Island

  • Fill up your car. I didn’t see any gas stations.
  • Bring as much cash as you think you’ll need. There is an ATM but it can be empty by the end of a weekend. You can also get cash back with a liquor purchase – but the store needs to be open.
  • Bring prescriptions.
  • Check the Toledo, Ohio weather forecast. Locals say it’s more accurate than the Windsor, Ontario one.
  • Leamington is a four hour drive west of Toronto and about an hour from Windsor.
  • The Anchor and Wheel is your best bet for a meal if the winery isn’t open.
  • We ran out of time but a visit to the Pelee Island Heritage Center was recommended.
  • If you need to stay the night in Leamington – for an early ferry or if you plan to visit Point Pelee National Park, I recommend a stay at Island View B&B and Guest House.
  • A guided bike tour is available on Pelee Island with Explore Pelee.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Jade says:

    Okay- turtles, bike rides and a shoe tree?! Sign me up- sounds like an awesome trip!

  • Wil says:

    Having worked at the Winery Pavilion for two summers, it was time well spent and every Ontarian, if not Canadian, should make Pelee a visit once in their life… though after having been there once, it may become a yearly or likely more thing to do.

    Pelee isn’t just about the getaway or the Winery or the beaches and scenery, it’s the community. Everyone will wave at you and say hello, resident or fellow tourist alike. If you get a flat tire (car or bike), someone will lend a hand. If you need a ride back from the bar or beach, someone’s passing by your place anyways, so cram on in the back.

    Don’t forget to bring a baseball glove as there usually is a pickup game on Mondays (well, it was on Monday)… but if not, just mention baseball and word will spread and people will show up. Don’t have a glove? You can borrow someone’s when you change sides.

    And there is gas at the CO-OP… but it is rather costly, and like most things, you have to get there during the hours of operation… whenever those are. So plan ahead.

    The Heritage Center is a must visit to truly appreciate the history of the Island. Everything from the Ice Age to what’s happening tomorrow can be found in that space. And a kite museum!

    A weekend there isn’t enough. To truly experience the Island, you have to go throughout the season, during the Spring and Fall lulls, and during the crazy holiday weekends, and especially Pelee Fest in August, a great multi-day party.

    Decent fishing too! Ask for “Bob’s Hole.”

    And lastly, the most beautiful thing about the Island are the summer nights. With virtually no light pollution, you can spend hours around a bonfire mesmerized by the stars. And if it’s raining, the thunderstorms are nice to watch too.

    So if you are thinking of going, don’t think, just go. If all this isn’t enough information, talk to the Winery Pavilion, they double as the “tourist info bureau.”

    Cheers!

  • Rashel says:

    I think the “interesting tree bark” is a Hackberry, common in Southern Ontario and an important food source for Hackberry Emperor butterflies and other creatures who feast on the berries :)

  • Cam says:

    This post brings back so many fond memories of my childhood!
    We had a log cabin (near one of the ferry piers) and an acre of land on Pelee Isle and spent many summers there.
    Your picks gave me flashbacks! ;-)

    • Not many people can claim to have spent summers on Pelee Island. What a laid back place but with a nice vibe.
      Did you go around catching snakes as a kid?? Couldn’t get over the island’s reputation for snakes.

  • Dina Sulistio says:

    Thank you very much for this info. I’m planning to go there in May and plan to walk the island instead of biking. You mentioned about the high density of snakes on this island. Is it safe? How’s the sunrise there? Is it better to stay of the west or the east coast of the island? Thanks a lot!

  • Sunsoft Infoway says:

    very beautiful designation for travelers
    photographs are so good
    Thank you

  • Oleksandra Budna says:

    Just came across this post. Sounds like you had a lovely weekend! We are planning to go camping at Wheatley Provincial Park in May and since it’s nearby, we thought we’d make a day trip to Pelee Island. We can bring our own bikes on a ferry with us, right? Is there a seperate charge for it? Can’t seem to find the information anywhere.

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