The Pastel Pink End of the World: Canoeing Phillip Edward Island
Updated: May 27
Welcome to the nexus of the universe, or at least what may seem that way, where the rocks are pink, the glassy water blends into the sky, and where the weather can turn from euphorically beautiful to treacherous in minutes. Here are some musings on the most magical place in Ontario.
Art History Lesson
For anyone who has ever been to Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario, you'll know what I mean when I say that this place is magic. The variation of landscape in and around the area combined with the tempestuous weather and diverse wildlife makes it the most sensorily interesting destination in the province: the crown jewel of the Ontario parks.
Of course, this is the park that inspired the Group of Seven to paint many of their most notable en plain air works that would become the seminal and quintessential representations of "Canadian" landscape. Despite the controversy regarding the problematic sense of nationalism associated with their ubiquitous empty landscapes as representative of Canada- as in a landscape devoid of people and ripe for the settling - the criticism is of those connotations through a contemporary lens, not of the works or the artists themselves. It is, from an environmentalist point of view, an especially interesting turn of events that led to the park's establishment, beginning with A. Y. Jackson petitioning the Ontario government in 1932 to protect Trout Lake (now O.S.A. Lake) and its surrounding area from being torn apart by a logging company.
Perhaps taking a cue from John Muir and his efforts to convince the government that wilderness spaces needed protection from commercialization, the Group of Seven can be given some credit for the popularization of environmental stewardship, and in the case of Killarney, the quantifiable expansion of Canadian wilderness protection.
Phillip Edward Island
Okay, I'll save the rest of the art history lesson for the classroom. Onto the island...
Located just south of Killarney Provincial Park, looking down onto the whole of Georgian Bay, the island is accessible through the Western Entrance by way of canoeing through the Chikanishing creek towards the open waters. After about 650 meters you should be rounding the South Point and then be on your way to the most beautiful little clusters of islands all along the south coast of the island.
The spiky dead tree-tops all along the winding Chikanishing made it feel like we were entering through a guarded portal.
And then the Bay opens up. South Point straight ahead.
There was something about the eerily quiet and expansive waterscape of Georgian Bay to the south, and the ethereally beautiful terrain of the island that kept me thinking about Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There may have been a part of me that expected a dragon to emerge out of the trees once we landed in this little inlet and decided to explore the interior for a bit.
One of the major draws for me to this island was the geological features, formed around 20,000 - 10,000 years ago, a relatively recent occurrence, when the Arctic glacier moved over what is now Canada and some of the northern United States. Extreme pressures carved out (in theory) the sheer cracks, waves, bowls, and basins of these rocks, and created the tens of thousands of islands for which the area is famous. As the ice sheet moved over the land, it scoured the bedrock, revealing orthogneiss, an igneous rock with its pink and red hues, and the pink and grey banded sedimentary rock called paragneiss. These polished, sculptural, almost confectionary islands give Georgian Bay its unique and otherworldly appearance.
These islands really are everything you could hope for as a nature lover and wonderstruck environmentalist. I'll be sure to include a more detailed and practical trip report next time I go, which will be for a longer circumnavigation of the island. But until next time, I'll be dreaming of this dreamland, and counting the days until next season.