According to local lore, the earliest settlers—lacking hay—came to the foot of the bay to cut marsh grass for their livestock.

One warm June day in the early 1880’s, a pioneer was cutting marsh grass there when two men approached in a small boat. The boaters shouted, “What is this place called?” Hot, tired, and swatting black flies, the farmer called back, “Misery!”

What the farmer did not realize was that the boaters were government surveyors, mapping the island. The surveyors wrote that name down, and it stuck. So this beautiful spot with its clear water, unique rocks, bountiful wildlife, and lovely wildflowers continues to be known as Misery Bay—a misnomer puzzling to today’s visitors.


Misery Bay is located on Manitoulin Island, said to be the world's largest freshwater island. A great wedge of land that separates the waters of Lake Huron from the North Channel, the island, lying off the north shore of Lake Huron, is a familiar part of the Great Lake topography. Misery Bay Nature Reserve (MBNR) is located along remote stretches of Lake Huron shoreline at Misery Bay. It lies 35 kilometers west of the Town of Gore Bay.

MBNR is part of the townships of Burpee and Mills and Robinson where flora, fauna and glacial features are among the rarest of their kind in the province. This reserve spans Manitoulin Island at its "Narrows" where East and West Manitoulin are united by a slim natural land bridge no wider than a mile across in places. This natural causeway is unmatched for special geological features such as wide expanses of spreading flat rock with its exposed fossil records. The proximity of two great bodies of water, and the deposits of sand, silt and sediment that over the ages gradually converted a reef between two land masses into a rich land bridge have all contributed to produce a wonderful growth environment for special flora and fauna. They thrive here at The Narrows among its wealth of sandy bays, open farmlands, island-spanning wooded green corridors, and generous wetlands. Misery Bay shares that richness of features in The Narrows.

"As a park, nature reserve class, MBNR is managed for the protection of representative natural features while affording opportunities for the appreciation of its natural heritage, today and for future generations." To this end, the Friends of Misery Bay (FOMB) in cooperation with Ontario Parks, are in the process of developing viewing opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast. An exciting system of carefully selected hiking trails and a boardwalk wind through less fragile areas of this unique natural environment. For winter enjoyment these same trails become a snowy wonderland.

A park Centre building, constructed by the Friends of Misery Bay with the assistance of the membership and volunteers and support of Ontario Parks, enhances the nature reserve. Funded by both governments and numerous individuals, the unique "green concept" building is open during the summer months.

Misery Bay Nature Reserve ( MBNR) is located on an ancient flat rock sea bottom. This unique feature, known as an alvar, presents unusual geological viewing opportunities for the visitors' enjoyment. It is this feature that makes the Misery Bay Nature Reserve a world class park. The Great Lakes Basin has the only alvars found in North America, and most of the alvars found in the world. Manitoulin Island is located on the northern rim of this large land feature. "The Manitoulin cluster of alvars are the most significant alvars found anywhere in the world."

Of special interest to some will be the relict remains of inland beaches left on the rocks at Misery Bay Park by the retreat of three different great prehistoric lakes. The park Centre building is constructed on the most ancient of these relict shorelines. The habitat here also produces its own unique flora that early records tell us attracted visitors to the area even during pioneer days.

Manitoulin is noted for its many migrant and resident birds, and Misery Bay lives up to that reputation. At MBNR birders will find a variety of birding environments and staging areas during migration. Butterflies are numerous in the park, as are turtles. Visitors might be fortunate enough to glimpse a variety of such other wild creatures as otter, fishers, fox, coyote, and other mammals. Friends of Misery Bay have produced a trio of checklists to enhance the visitors enjoyment of the nature reserve. Checklists of the flora, the birds and the butterflies of the bay area have been compiled after a number of years of careful study and research by several dedicated FOMB naturalists. The lists are on sale at the gift shop in the park Centre for a nominal fee.


by Doreen Bailey


Best, P. 2005. History of Mills Township. Privately published typed, illustrated manuscript, 131 pp.
Best, P. 2006. History of Burpee Township. Privately published typed, illustrated manuscript, 219 pp.
Burden, H.N. 1995. Manitouolin; or Five years of Church Work among Ojibway Indians and Lumbermen, resident upon that Island or in its Vicinity.[Project Canterbury] London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. 161pp., illus. (
Dennis, J. Stoughton (Prov. Land Surveyor, In Charge of Manitoulin Explorations). 1862. Manitoulin Report of 1862. Surveyors’ Reports of the Island on order of the Commander of the Crown Lands. Manitoulin District Explorations. [retyped by C.S. Sifferd]
Edmonds, Arthur. Date Unknown. History of Robinson Township. [retyped by C.S. Sifferd]
Fitzgerald, J.W. (Provincial Land Surveyor, Peterborough). 1879 (4 May). Report and Field Notes of the Survey lf Robinson [Twp.] on the Manitoulin island. (from Field Book No. 314, Canada Land Survey Records). [retyped by C. S. Sifferd]
Goodwin, Rebecca, and April Ionson. December, 1984. Land use history of Misery Bay as related by local residents. Course requirement of 87-311, Department of Land Resource Science, Univ. of Guelph, ON. 7 pp. [unpublished]
Harvey, John L. [former head of the FON Nature Reserves Committee; summer cottqge owner, Manitoulin Island]. 2002. Some thoughts on nature reserves. A talk presented to the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Misery Bay. [unpublished]
Hill, Julia. 1944. Elizabeth Bay History (from the Gore Bay Recorder, unknown dadte). [retyped by C.S. Sifferd)
Hills, G. A. [Canadian Committee for the International Biological Programme]. July 17, 1975. Memo – Some Obervations of the Misery Bay – I.B.P. Area [unpublished].
Hilts, Stewart G. [retired, Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario, London, and later Department of Land Resource Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON; former summer cottage owner, Manitoulin Island; Guelph, ON, 519-836-7657. [email protected], (2007)]. 1975. Misery Bay: An Ecological Description, Report to FON & Nature Conservancy of Canada. [unpublished]
Hilts, Stewart G. December, 1975. Natural areas on Manitoulin Island. Phase I: 1975 Investigations. (Nature Reserves Committee, Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Department of Geography, Univ. Of Western Ontario, London. 24 pp. + Appendices A-D. [confidential unpublished report]
Hoffman, D.W., R.E. Wicklund, and N.R. Richards. 1959. Soil Survey of Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Report No. 26 of the Ontario Soil Survey. Toronto: Department of Agriculture. [unpublished]
Jeglam, J.K., et al. Dec., 1974. Toward a wetland classification for Ontario. Great Lakes Forest Research Centre, Sault Sainte Marie, ON.
Macdonald, Ian D. (NE Region – Parks). 15 March, 1979. Preliminary draft, Misery Bay Life Science Inventory Check Sheet, OMNR – Parks. [unpublished].
Macdonald, Ian D. 1980. Misery Bay Provincial Nature Reserve Life Science Features. Environmental Planning Series (Miscellaneous Report), OMNR – Parks – NE Region. 44 pp. [unpublished]
Macdonald, Ian D., and David J. White. 1974. International Biological Programme Check Sheet Numbered L. 1-6E3, Manitoulin District – MA. 6; entitled Misery Bay.
Major,F.W.(compiler). [1934.] Manitoulin, The Isle of the Ottawas: a Handbook of Historical and other Information on the Grand Manitoulin Island. Gore Bay, ON, Recorder Press, 84 pp.
Ministry of Natural Resources. 1996. Misery Bay Provincial Nature Reserve Management Plan. Queen’s Printer for Ontario. 13 pp. [available at Misery Bay Park Centre, Manitoulin Island, ON]
Myers, Frank A. (19200N.Park Blvd., Cleveland, OH; Honorary President of the Manitoulin Historical Society, Western Chapter). 1959 (Dec. 30). (Manitoulin Island Historical Notes, Indian Settlements, Game Trails & Indian Trails, Early Fires). [letter to Mr. G.A. Hamilton, District Forester, Ontario Dept. of Lands and Forests, Sudbury, ON; retyped by C.S.Sifferd]
Nicholson, John C. 1972. The birds of Manitoulin Island—a species accounts summary. Sudbury, ON. 204 pp.
Ontario Nature. 2005. Great Lakes Alvars. MPH Graphics Inc., 31 pp. [; copies available at Misery Bay Park Centre, Manitoulin Is., ON]
Putnam, D.F. 1947 (Dec.). Manitoulin Island. The Geographical Review, xxxvii:649-662
Scarr, G. 1973. Recreation and tourism on Manitoulin Island. B.A. Thesis, Dept. of Geography, Laurentian Univ., Sudbury, ON. [unpublished]
Sifferd, C.S. & E.E. 1979. Elizabeth Bay Letter Book, 1879-1979. Privately published, mimeographed typed manuscript, 76 pp.
Sifferd, C.S. ca. 1984. Silver Water United Church History (1879-1984). [typed manuscript, unpublished in this form]
Sloss, S. 1973. The agricultural economy of the Manitouliln Island. B.A. Thesis, Department of Geography, Laurentian Univ., Sudbury, ON. [unpublished]
Soper, John H. [Manitoulin Island summer cottager]. 1955. Asplenium cryptolepis on Manitopulin Island. Amer. Fern. Jour., 45:97-104.
Soper, John H. 1963. Ferns of Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Amer. Fern. Jour., 53:28-41.
Wightman, W. R. 1976? On the history and settlement of Manitoulin Island. (book, published?)


Alvars, Great Lakes:
Alvar, Misery Bay:
Alvars, Rare Species:
Early Canadian History:
Lakeside Daisy/Manitoulin Gold:
Misery Bay Provincial Nature Reserve:
Saunders, Edwin “Ned,” Hermit of Misery Bay:
Weather, Misery Bay Area: