Like the rest of Canada, the economy has taken its toll on Pelee Island. All the more reason to go there.
I recently read that the island’s population has dropped from 2,000 to 200. Actually, the year-round population is less than that — 171 according to a 2012 headcount. No surprise there. During my three-day visit I saw plenty of empty houses and even an abandoned marina. For sale signs were everywhere and the asking prices were surprisingly low.
There’s a reason for that; living there is costly. And it’s difficult for those used to creature comforts such as grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and electricity. However, there is a winery and a nice little bar on the north end of the island. What more could a person need?
The Canadian Lake Erie Islands are also to be admired for keeping Americans supplied with booze and beer during the Prohibition era. God, I love the Canadians (except for Tar Sands and Molson Brewery selling out to Coors).
Pelee Island boasts an abundance of what I call default nature reserves. These are properties that owners let revert to nature — possibly out of the goodness of their hearts, but probably to cut their losses. Some actually have trails and signs.
The best one is Fish Point Nature Reserve on the south end of the island. It features woodland and wetland habitats and a great beach for strolling and annoying the gulls.
I didn’t know what to expect when I set out for the island from mainland Canada. I stocked up on provisions in Kingsville, ready-to-eat foods and a four-liter jug of water. In recent years Lake Erie’s West Basin has been plagued with blue-green algae that tends to get worse as the summer wears on, so I wasn’t taking chances.
I had no idea where I’d sleep. I’d imagined that, if there were campgrounds, they would be pricey.
That wasn’t the case. After getting off the ferry, I headed straight for East Park Campground on the other side of the island. It cost only $20 a night Canadian. I gave the woman at the camp office an American $50 bill for two nights and she gave me about $700 Canadian in change — such was the exchange rate.
I pitched my tent, dove in and took a nap just to see whether I was dreaming.
When I awakened and discovered I hadn’t been dreaming, I took a walk around and surveyed my surroundings. A short walk from my tent was a public beach. The shower house was a short walk in the other direction.
It turned out that I didn’t need my provisions. On the north end of the island was a tavern with great fish dinners, a good selection of beers and a welcoming atmosphere. The food and drink were reasonably priced.
For breakfast, there was a little restaurant inside a Canadian Legion hall — their equivalent of our VFW or American Legion halls. It also had decent food, nonstop coffee, attentive friendly help and a pleasant atmosphere. Among the breakfast patrons was a Canadian customs agent. He kind of reminded me of Mr. Rogers — a stark contrast to America’s border guards. They tend to look more like skinhead versions of Rambo.
With three days to kill and recharged camera batteries, I was able to take a lot of photos on Pelee Island. Here are but a few: