The Fishing Islands extend from Chief’s Point to Stokes Bay up the west coast of the Bruce Peninsula. They are easily accessed from the small community of Oliphant.
The small community of Oliphant is in the heart of the Fishing Islands in South Bruce Peninsula. It is:
- 15 km north of Sauble Beach
- 30 km north of Southampton
- 13 km west of Wiarton
- 42 km northwest of Owen Sound
The Fishing Islands are rich in history and local folklore that include aboriginal people, white settlers and early mariners.
The islands are referred to in historical texts as both the Ghegetto Islands (meaning ‘plenty of fish’) and as the Saugeen Islands. They are in the original territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. Most of them are now privately owned.
It was reported that the schools of herring, whitefish and lake trout were so thick in the islands in the early 1800’s that shoals of fish could be sighted from a lookout’s perch in a tree as the fish made their way to the natural channels through the islands. This early abundance of fish was largely depleted by the 1850’s.
The community of Oliphant was named after Alexander Oliphant who negotiated Treaty No. 72 in 1854. This treaty gave the crown control of most of the Saugeen Peninsula, now called the Bruce Peninsula. The islands’ fishing rights were not included in this, or any other treaty.
Treaty No. 72 is the subject of legal proceedings which began in 1994. in which Saugeen Ojibway Nation is making claim to aboriginal title to portions of the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay waterbeds. This land claim is about compensation and fishing rights, it is not about the return of lands presently in private hands.
Captain Alexander MacGregor made Main Station Island the base of his fishing operation in 1834. He secured a contract with a Detroit fishing company for 3000 barrels or more of fish per year. The remains of the stone buildings built by McGregor remain on what is now on private property, that is not accessible to the public.
The rocky shores and reefs along the Fishing Islands were well known as treacherous to mariners. The remains of vessels lost still dot the region and are visible.
Long grooves in rock left by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago can be seen on Lake Huron’s bottom. Our local aboriginal people carry oral history that recalls travel of their people across a land bridge between present day Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula that now lays deep beneath Georgian Bay.
The rock pavements of the islands and Bruce Peninsula shoreline appear pitted, the product of chemical weathering of the dolostone bedrock.