Shatter Cones, Caribou, and Butter Tarts
By Michelle McChristie
Photos by Darren McChristie
Terrace Bay has always been one of my favourite towns on the north shore of Lake Superior. Its quaint network of streets follows old shorelines (terraces) that overlook the lake, the residents are friendly, and the bakery in the plaza offers some of the best butter tarts I’ve ever tasted. The focal point of the downtown is a lighthouse, inspired by the one on the Slate Islands, that affords an unmatched view of the area. Just south of Highway 17, a curvy road leads to a large sandy beach, our launching point for a daytrip to the Slate Islands.
On a sunny day in August, our group headed down to the beach to meet our guide, Captain Paul Turpin of Discovery Charters. We boarded Discovery Two, a 24-foot Zodiac Bombard that can accommodate a maximum of 18 passengers. With only six of us, we had plenty of room to spread out on this slick boat. Cutting easily through the choppy waves thanks to two 90-horsepower motors, the zodiac made short work of the 13-kilometre crossing to the Slates.
The Slate Islands are an almost-circular archipelago of more than 20 islands that was was formed billions of years ago when a meteorite struck the earth.
Over the years, the islands have been logged and mined, but they have been protected as a provincial natural environment park since 1985. The park does not have any facilities, but there are a couple of cabins (the comfortable “Come-and-Rest” and the rundown “Devil’s Roost”) that are used by paddlers and boaters. In the three years he’s been taking people to the Slates, Turpin has observed a growing number of visitors to the park. “I believe the history, the remoteness, the wildlife, and the outstanding amazement of Battle Island Lighthouse are the biggest attractions,” he says.
The Slates are home to one of the most southerly and most studied herds of woodland caribou in Canada. Although we saw fresh tracks on shore, the caribou eluded us. Any disappointment was overshadowed by the excitement of seeing a bald eagle fly past a shatter cone (a geological structure created by the immense shock waves of the meteorite impact—the one on the Slates is the world’s largest).
Just in time for lunch, Turpin docked the boat at the lighthouse complex. After scarfing down our sandwiches (we had picked up delicious boxed lunches from Drifters restaurant), we hiked up the trail to the lighthouse. Finding the lighthouse door open, we climbed the steps and soaked in the panoramic view of the lake. With turquoise water and rugged terrain, our friends were in awe. As we contemplated the similarities between the scenery around the Slates and the Caribbean, a cold wind blew-in some ominous-looking clouds. We boarded the zodiac and Turpin high-tailed it back to Terrace Bay, just as the rain began to fall. Luckily, comfort in the form of a cup of coffee and a butter tart was only about a kilometre away!