Look to the Skies on Manitoulin Island

Since the dawn of recorded time, stars have inspired epic art and poetry,
been worshipped as gods and been studied as objects of unreachable beauty.
And stars, as the hundreds of people who descend on Manitoulin Island every
year will tell you, are also pretty cool.

This August marks the eighth anniversary of the Great Manitou Star Party on the Ontario island, an event that draws amateur and professional astronomers from across the continent for some of the finest stargazing available anywhere. What initially began as an informal gathering of friends to view meteor showers in the early 1990s has evolved into an organized, week-long event that now draws about 400 people.

Star parties are largely informal events where astronomy buffs gather to hear
informative lectures and learn a little about the universe, and how to observe
stars, planets and meteors properly. No telescope? No problem. Most celestial celebrants are only too happy to share their equipment and expertise with you. But even if you’re hesitant or shy about asking others to share their viewing gear, a pair of binoculars will do just fine.

Without question, the highlight of this year’s event will be the Perseid Meteor
Shower, during which an observer can expect to see up to 60 shooting stars per
hour. Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through a cloud of dust left by a
comet. Each time a speck of dust slams into Earth’s atmosphere, a meteor is
born. Most meteoroids – the bits of dust floating in space – are generally smaller than a pea, but when they vaporize, the results can be spectacular.

Star parties are a special kind of event requiring a certain and distinct social etiquette for full enjoyment, so a few guidelines are in order. First and foremost, white light is public enemy number one, as it takes the human eye half an hour to adapt to darkness. Even a tiny glimpse of white light will undo the process. Guests are asked to arrive before sunset and, once parked, remain that way unless it’s an emergency. Flashlights and interior lights of cars must be filtered, if they are to be used at all. And remember, silence is considered a critical factor of a successful star party, so turn off the boom box, quiet the kids down and control the pets.

This year’s event is hosted by the Ojibways of Aundeck Omni Kaning (known as “AOK” to locals, and formerly known as Sucker Creek Reserve), who run a campground on the North Channel, about a kilometre off Highway 540, near the town of Little Current. The campground offers numerous facilities, including a sand beach, a children’s playground, a boat launch, newly refurbished showers and washrooms, a dozen trailer sites that include power and water (but no toilet facilities), and covered picnic shelters. The band is also planning several
activities during the week, including a mini trade fair, a community dinner, a
car wash and a number of eco-tourism opportunities, such as boat tours.

Cathy Babamash, the band’s economic development officer, emphasizes that the
site is quite accessible, including the community centre and band office. She says all planned activities and facilities are also wheelchair accessible, including showers. There’s plenty of staff on the premises willing to offer help, if needed. (For information, contact her at (705) 368-2228.)

Of course, Manitoulin itself is well worth the visit, star party or none. A three-hour ferry ride from the town of Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, the world’s largest freshwater island is a nature lover’s dream. Manitoulin boasts a plethora of outdoor activities, including fishing –
perch, whitefish, bass and northern pike are plentiful – and wildlife observation (24,000 white-tail deer reside here, compared to their 13,000 human counterparts).

The island is home to well-known artists, a native theatre and Wikwemikong First Nations, the only reserve in Canada whose land title was never surrendered. Road access to the mainland is through Little Current, the island’s commercial centre, featuring a single-lane swing bridge that opens hourly to allow boats passage through the channel.

The night sky is a universal experience for all, and provides common ground for campers of all degrees of expertise and ability. Star parties can be an integral component of a natural experience, and a summer memory that will remain long after the event has finished.

This year, The Great Manitou Star Party runs on Manitoulin Island from August
10-14. Cost is $10 per person or $25 per family. For more information, contact
Mark Oldfield at (705) 897-4518 or the Manitoulin Dark Sky Association during
business hours at 1-800-540-0179. Check out the website and register online at

(Carter Hammett is a Toronto writer and trainer who can be reached at


The famous Chicheemaun ferry departs Tobermory at least twice daily between May
and October, and reservations are highly recommended. Although the website suggests arriving an hour before ferry departure, cars start lining up early, so it is wise to show up anywhere from two to four hours in advance. The vessel has several accessible features, including ramps, accessible washrooms and accessible parking.

Phone: (519) 376-6601
Toll-free: 1-800-265-3163

The Manitoulin Inn in Mindemoya has two accessible guest rooms. Washroom facilities are equipped with grab bars.
Toll-free: 1-877-270-0551

The Osprey Nest in Spring Bay is a bed and breakfast with all rooms on ground level. It includes vegetarian options in its menu package. Other meals by prior arrangement. Solar heating, beaver dam, cedar pond, bird watching. Owner Bernie Piche is a friendly, animated well of information!
Phone: (705) 691-0915

Abby’s Dining Lounge and Dinner Theatre in M’chigeen is accessible dining at its finest. Try bison and Yorkshire pudding, and take in a live show while you’re at it. Phone: (705) 377-4028

Gordon’s Park: Private campground with interpretive centre, recreational activities, star parties and a host of other activities, many of which are accessible.

Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah: Accessible museum, trails, village tours.
Phone: (705) 368-2367

M’chigeeng Cultural Centre in M’chigeeng features exhibits, gift shop and The Great Spirit Circle Trail.
Phone: (705) 377-4902

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in Wikwemikong hosts an annual powwow every
August, offers tipi camping and is home to the original First Nations theatre group in Canada.
Phone: (705) 859-2913



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