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Map of Southern Ontario showing Bruce Peninsula in red.

The Bruce Peninsula is a peninsula in Ontariomarker, Canadamarker that lies between Georgian Baymarker and the main basin of Lake Huronmarker. The peninsula extends roughly northwestwards from the rest of Southern Ontario, pointing towards Manitoulin Islandmarker, with which it forms the widest strait joining Georgian Bay to the rest of Lake Huron. The Bruce Peninsula contains part of the geological formation known as the Niagara Escarpment.

From an administrative standpoint, the Bruce Peninsula is part of Bruce Countymarker, named for James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin (Lord Elgin), Governor General of the Province of Canada. A popular tourist destination for camping, hiking and fishing, the area has two national parks (Bruce Peninsula National Parkmarker and Fathom Five National Marine Parkmarker), more than half a dozen nature reserves, and the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. The Bruce Trail runs through the region to its northern terminus in the town of Tobermory.

The Bruce Peninsula is a key area for both plant and animal wildlife. Part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, the peninsula has the largest remaining area of forest and natural habitat in Southern Ontario and is home to some of the oldest trees in eastern North America. An important flyway for migrating birds, the peninsula is habitat to a variety of animals, including black bear, massasauga rattlesnake, and barred owl.

The Niagara Escarpment in the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Smokey head White Bluffs near Lion's Head, Ontario.


History from 19th century

Up until the mid-19th century, the area known as the Bruce Peninsula was territory controlled by the Saugeen Ojibway Nations. The nations included the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and Saugeen First Nation. Historical and archaeological evidence from the area concludes that at the time of first contact with Europeans, the peninsula was inhabited by the Odawa people, from whom a large number of local native people are descended. Oral history from Saugeen & Nawash suggests their ancestors have been here as early as 7500 years ago. The area of Hope Bay is known to natives as Nochemoweniing, or Place of Healing.

The Saugeen Ojibway signed a treaty with Sir Francis Bond Head in 1836 for lands south of the peninsula in exchange for learning agriculture, proper housing, assistance in becoming “civilized” and for permanent protection of the peninsula. In 1854, the Saugeen Ojibway were pushed into signing another treaty – this time for the peninsula. The Saugeen Ojibway launched a land claim for part of their traditional territory in 1994 – claiming breach of trust by the crown in failing to meet its treaty obligations to protect Aboriginal lands. The claim seeks the return of lands still held by the Crown and financial compensation for other lands. This claim is still active.

European settlement began on the peninsula in the mid 19th century. Despite its poor potential for agricultural development; attracted by the rich fisheries and lush forest, settlers found the land known then as the “Indian or Saugeen Peninsula” to be irresistible. In 1881 – the first sawmill appeared on the peninsula in Tobermory. In less than 20 years most of the valuable timber was gone. Fuelled by the waste left behind by the rapid logging and land clearances – intense fires sprung up around the peninsula. By the mid 1920’s abundant forests of the peninsula were nearly barren. When the lamprey eel was introduced to the Great Lakesmarker in 1932 – the devastation on the fish supply made the peninsula a less attractive place for settlers, and many left when fish stocks were depleted. The peninsula would continue a steady decline in population until the 1970s. The peninsula did start to attract a new kind of settler – the cottager. Today – seasonal residents out-number permanent residents.

Natural History of the Bruce Peninsula & the Niagara Escarpment

Over-look towards the Niagara Escarpment at Dyer's Bay, Bruce Peninsula
In its southern Ontario portion, the Niagara Escarpment is a ridge of rock several hundred metres high in some locations, stretching 725 kilometres (450 miles) from Queenston on the Niagara River, to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. Today, in Ontario, the Escarpment contains more than 100 sites of geological significance including some of the best exposures of rocks and fossils of the Silurian and Ordovician Periods (405 to 500 million years old) to be found anywhere in the world.

The Niagara Escarpment has origins dating back into the Silurian age some 430 to 450 million years ago, a time when the area lay under a shallow warm sea. This sea lay in a depression of the Earth's crust, centred in what is now the lower peninsula of the State of Michigan. Known geologically as the Michigan Basin, the outer rim of this massive saucer-shaped feature governs the location of the Niagara Escarpment. In the shape of a gigantic horseshoe the Escarpment can be traced from near Rochester, New York, south of Lake Ontario to Hamilton, north to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, beneath the waters of Lake Huron to appear again on Manitoulin Island, across northern Michigan and down the west side of Lake Michigan into the State of Wisconsin.

As occurs with present day water bodies such as Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico, rivers flowing into this ancient sea carried sand, silt and clay to be deposited as thick layers of sediment. At the same time lime-rich organic material from the abundant sea life was also accumulating. Over millions of years these materials became compressed into massive layers of sedimentary rocks and ancient reef structures now visible along the Escarpment. Some rock layers now consist of soft shales and sandstones while others are made up of dolostone (a rock similar to limestone which contains magnesium and is more durable).

Today, fossil remains illustrating the various life forms can be found in many of the rocks as they are slowly exposed by the action of wind, water and ice.

Native History

Saugeen First Nation is an Ojibwa First Nation located along the Saugeen River and Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. Organized in the mid 1970s, Saugeen First Nation declares itself the primary political Successor Inherent to the Chippewas of Saugeen Ojibway Territory. However, along with the Saugeen First Nation, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation also claims as political Successor Inherent to the Chippewas of Saugeen Ojibway Territory. The original territory included all of the Saugeen River watershed and all of the Bruce Peninsula. Under the Saugeen Tract Agreement, the portion south of Owen Soundmarker was ceded to the Crown, with reserves later established on the Bruce Peninsula.


There are 2 National Parks, 8 Ontario Parks and 4 Federation of Ontario Naturalists Parks located within the Bruce Peninsula.
The "Grotto" at the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

  • Bruce Peninsula National Parkmarker [64669] - In the heart of a World Biosphere Reserve, the park contains massive, rugged cliffs inhabited by thousand year old cedar trees. The park is composed of an array of habitats from alvars to dense forests and several small lakes. Together these form a greater ecosystem - the largest remaining chunk of natural habitat in southern Ontario.

  • Fathom Five National Marine Parkmarker [64670] - The waters at the mouth of Georgian Bay are home to Fathom Five - Canada's first National Marine Conservation Area. The park preserves 22 shipwrecks and several historic light stations. Fathom Five’s freshwater ecosystem contains some of the most pristine waters of the Great Lakes. The park contains rugged lake bed topography that is popular with scuba divers.

Ontario Parks [64671] - include:

Federation of Ontario Naturalists [64680] - Ontario Nature works to protect and restore the species, spaces and landscapes that represent the full diversity of nature in Ontario.

Lighthouses of the Bruce Peninsula

The Bruce Peninsula's shoreline has several lighthouses, necessary to provide guidance to the many ships that would pass by her shores.

The Cove Island Lighthouse, located near Tobermory is one of the six famous "Imperial" lighthouses built in the 1850s by John Brown which can be found on the mainland and on nearby islands of the northern Bruce Peninsula.
Cove Island Lighthouse in the Bruce Peninsula.

Other lighthouses include:

  • Lion's Head Lighthouse
  • Flowerpot Island
  • Big Tub Lighthouse
  • Knife & Lyal Island Lighthouse
  • Cape Croker Lighthouse
  • Cabot Head Lighthouse


There are many varieties of wildlife on the Bruce Peninsula, such as the northern flying squirrel, black bear, chipmunk, fisher, long-eared bats, red squirrel, fox, massasauga rattlesnake, red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, hermit thrush, black-throated blue warbler, scarlet tanager and yellow-spotted salamander.

The Bruce Peninsula is located on a major northern migration route, so many species of birds, such as the bald eagle, have their wintering grounds here.

The highest concentration of nesting birds can be found in the Bruce in May and June each year. About 20 species of warblers breed on "the Bruce" including the Black-throated Green, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Blackburnian Warblers and the ubiquitous American Redstart. They make their summer homes in the extensive wooded areas along the Peninsula. The annual Huron Fringe Birding Festival in May observes the spring migration. The endangered Piping Plover has made a come-back along the northern shores of Sauble Beach as well, and nest in restricted areas of the beach that are well marked to reduce negative impact on the species.Migrating hawks also follow the Niagara Escarpment. Hawks travel during the day, and can be in the vicinity of Cabot Head in the open areas west of Dyers Bay, and near Tobermory, in April.

Wildflowers & Orchids

Pink Ladies Slipper Orchid in the Bruce Peninsula.

Some of the rarest flowers and ferns in Ontario can be found growing on the Bruce Peninsula. For example:

Lakeside Daisy (hymenoxys acaulis var. glabra), Dwarf Lake Iris (iris lacustris), Northern Holly Fern (polypodium lonchitis)


Globally, there are more than 30,000 orchid species. Canada is home to 77 of these species. Ontario has 61 varieties of orchids, and of these, 44 can be found in the Bruce Peninsula.

A selection of interesting orchids on the Bruce Peninsula:

Yellow Lady's Slipper — Cypripedium parviflorumNodding Ladies' Tresses — Spiranthes cernua

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid — Platanthera leucophaea
Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper — Cypripedium arietinum
European Common Twayblade — Listera ovata
Helleborine — Epipactis helleborine


The Bruce Peninsula is composed of the Municipalities of Northern Bruce Peninsula and South Bruce Peninsula.

The main villages in these regions are as follows:

Sauble Beach, Ontario.

  • Tobermorymarker - Located at the northern end of the Bruce Peninsula, Tobermory [64681] is home to the passenger-car ferry MS Chi-Cheemaun, and nearby Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. This port village has galleries, tourist shops and a historic lighthouse.

  • Lion's Headmarker - Located in the centre of the Bruce Peninsula on Georgian Bay is the port town of Lion's Head [64682]. The village has a public marina and sandy beach.

At the South end of The Bruce, Highway 86 (speed ), ending at Amberley, Ontariomarker generally denotes Huron County (to the South) from Bruce County (to the North) Counties.


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