Monday, September 3, 2007

North Shore Series #2: Dead Island Channel

The end of day 1 of the north shore paddling expedition landed us in Dead Island Channel, bordered on one side by the mainland and on the other by Dead Island, a rather forlorn place with a unique, and sad, story to tell.

Dead Island was the home of an ancient Ojibwa burial site (hence the name) -- until 1893, that is. For countless decades before, a local Ojibwa tribe brought their dead over to the island by canoe. Once there, the gathered mourners would place the bodies in cairns and even on platforms high up in the trees. This was done to protect the remains of their loved ones from scavenging wildlife.

But 1893 changed all that. Hungry for an attention-grabbing attraction for the World's Fair, which was opening that year in Chicago, a group of businessmen from the city decided to venture to Dead Island to investigate the stories they had heard about ancient Native burial sites that were said to be there. Predictably, once they landed on Dead Island's shores, nothing was safe; bones, relics, pretty much anything they deemed to be of interest to fairgoers was rounded up and carted away. None of it ever found its way back to Dead Island. The incident remains one of the most horrific incidents of grave robbing in Canadian history.

Nothing much remains of Dead Island's role as a burial ground today, but it is still technically a cemetery, so if you find yourself in this neighbourhood, you should keep your distance. Besides, there is no shortage of great camping here, either on the mainland or on one of the surrounding islands. We found ourselves camped on a beautiful little inlet just north of the channel.

After spending our first night out here, we were pretty pumped. Dead Island and the surrounding wilds were interesting enough, but we were about to press ahead to the Outer Fox Islands, a place reputed to be so far removed from society that bears, wolves, mink, and even the odd moose could possibly be lurking just around the next corner. From the Outer Foxes, the mouth of the French River, the old canoe highway to the west, beckoned.

It was also here that we realized that we had forgotten our frying pan, which made our planned scrambled-egg breakfast something of a challenge. In the end, water was boiled, and poaching was attempted, with moderate success. Our bellies full, we loaded up the boats and turned our bows to the west.

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