National Gallery of Canada
Georgian Bay is about 320 kilometres long by 80 kilometres wide. It covers over 15,000 square kilometres, making it almost as large as Lake Ontario. Georgian Bay is part of the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, a geological formation carved out by the retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,000 years ago. The granite rock formations and windswept Eastern White Pine are characteristic of the islands and much of the shoreline of the bay. The beauty of the area has inspired landscapes by artists of the Group of Seven (an example, of which is the painting by Frederick Varley shown here).
Archeological records reveal an Aboriginal presence in the southern regions of the Canadian Shield dating from 9000 BCE. Evidence of later paleo-Aboriginal settlements have been found on Manitoulin Island and near Killarney, Ontario. At the time of contact the Ojibwe and Ottawa First Nations, both of whom call themselves Anishinabe (plural: Anishinabek), lived along the north and eastern shores of Georgian Bay. The Huron (or Wendat) and Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) inhabited the lands to the south. Names of islands such as "Manitoulin” (from Gitchi-Manitou, the Great Spirit) and “Giant’s Tomb” are indicative of the richness of the cultural history of the area. Aboriginal communities continue to live on their territories and practice their cultural traditions. Their claim to the land is based on thousands of years of oral tradition that connects history to contemporary life.
Georgian Bay was first charted in 1822 and was named after King George IV, although it was first visited by in the 17th century by the French explorers Samuel de Champlain and Étienne Brűlé. There are tens of thousands of islands in Georgian Bay, collectively known as the "Thirty Thousand Islands," including the larger Parry Island and Christian Island. Manitoulin Island, in the north end of the bay is the largest freshwater island in the world. Manitoulin is separated from the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario by the Main Channel, which connects Georgian Bay with the rest of Lake Huron; Manitoulin is separated from the rest of Northern Ontario by the North Channel.
The Trent-Severn Waterway connects Georgian Bay directly to Lake Ontario, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Further north, Lake Nipissing drains into it through the French River. The town of Midland, Ontario, at the southern end of the bay, is a popular site for summer cottages. The reconstructed Jesuit mission, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, is now an historic site near Midland. Also nearby is the Martyrs' Shrine, a church dedicated to the Canadian Martyrs, Jesuits who were killed around Georgian Bay in the 17th century.
Penetanguishene, also located at the southern tip of the bay, was created as a naval base in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe. Collingwood, Owen Sound, and Wiarton, are located on the Bruce Peninsula along the southern and southwestern shore of the bay, while Tobermory is located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula on the Main Channel. A ferry travels from Tobermory, across the Main Channel to Manitoulin Island. Parry Sound, the world's deepest freshwater port, is located on the western shore of the bay.