By Katherine Stone
In the heart of the Huronia wilderness, the Jesuits established the first French outpost outside of the area we now know as Quebec. It was called Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in 1639. Wendake, “the land apart”, was the ancestral homeland of the Huron nation. The Wendat were a matrilineal society of skilled traders and farmers. They introduced the ‘three sisters’ (corn, beans and squash) to the French and taught them how to grow these crops in mounds. Sadly, the mission was to last only 10 years. With the Huron decimated by disease and rising tension of more frequent Iroquois attacks, the Jesuits burned the mission to the ground and moved all inhabitants to nearby Christian Island.
Today, the mission has been reconstructed on the Wye River, on the same site as a living museum depicting missionary life in the 17th century. Ask any Ontario resident what they remember best about field trips in their middle school years and you can be assured that Sainte-Marie will be top on their list. Skilled and experienced interpreters don authentic garments and teach students through “hands-on” activities to perform traditional chores of fire starting, grinding corn, tanning hides, iron smelting, or construction without nails.
By the 1840s more settlers arrived to an area known as Mundy’s Bay, Harley’s Landing and Aberdare. When the area was selected as the western terminus of the Midland Railway from Port Hope via Beaverton, the town site was renamed Midland City. Incorporated as a town in 1872, they dropped the “city”. The town developed harbour facilities to accommodate shipping lumber and then grain elevators soon followed. It only seemed natural then, for shipbuilding to evolve as Midland served as the “waterway” to the popular Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay.
The Midland Bay Sailing Club (MBSC) is located in an inlet at the southern end of beautiful Georgian Bay. The club enjoys immediate access to some of the best freshwater sailing in the world, about 145 km by road north from Toronto. As a non-profit, sailing co-operative it provides the opportunity to enjoy spectacular cruising and racing in a very friendly community. From the beginning, the club leased a portion of the west end of Midland Bay waterfront from the Town of Midland and then started to develop the swampy land.
Officially becoming the Midland Bay Sailing Club in 1967, the members (who are required to complete 20 work hours/year) built the breakwall, dredged the lagoons to accommodate larger boats, built docks to move away from mooring balls, and installed a mast/small boat crane. The harbour is small, so the club limits the size of boats to 40’ which allows them to accommodate more than 140+ boats. The original clubhouse, which belonged to the Midland Rowing Club was pulled apart and relocated to the club property. The club now boasts a newly renovated clubhouse with a dining room that has seating for 110, a beautiful kitchen, gas fireplace, media centre and screened-in porch.
With both dinghies and keelboats, there is something for everyone. If you don’t know the ropes yet, the sailing school, established in the 1960s offers CAN Sail 1,2,3 and 4, as well as a Chutes and Wires course for those who want to improve their skills with racing starts, right of way rules, mark roundings and learning how to tack with wind shifts. Integrated into the regular sailing school are the AbleSail youth and adult programs, which offer programs for those with mental and physical handicaps. With a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, MBSC was able to upgrade their facilities to include wheelchair accessible pathways, ramps and a hoyer lift to transport persons with disabilities into the world of freedom on the water in their two access dinghies and an Independence 20 keelboat.
A big promoter of dinghy racing, members are encouraged to enjoy these key “benefits”:
-The nicest competitors you’ll ever meet, it’s delightful, you might even win a trophy
-Three starts each Monday night with three close races, but no intimidatingly huge/fast boats
-No additional costs (as they use the sailing school boats) and refreshments
-No experience necessary (friends of the sailing school will be happy to instruct you)
-You’ll never start younger!
The keelboat sailors are also a keen, passionate, dedicated group of racers with Wednesday night, weekend, single-handed, spring and frost bite races, along with Shark regattas. MBSC is also often seen manning the start or finish of the Georgian Bay Regatta every year.
During the summer months the social calendar is packed with racing, weather and safety seminars, open mic nights, guest speakers, wine and cheese tastings and pub nights. The Friday night Pub Nights started out as modest affairs 25 years ago hosting some 30 people. Members would volunteer to bring their house specialty, which has become so popular that you now see close to 100 hungry participants. Although the club “officially” closes at the end of October, the social calendar certainly does not with curling bonspiels, theater/movie/restaurant nights and potlucks.
Past Club Historian, Lynn Lortie, was generous with her time recounting many events, dates and good stories. One of her most memorable occurred during the Annual Pig Roast which takes place the first Saturday in September on Beausoleil Island. Prior to the dinner there is a family friendly Hog Sailboat Race. “A couple of years ago, the host of the race anchored out in the bay as one end of the start line. For a lot of members this is the only race they do. One boat came so close to the bow of the anchored boat that he actually got his rudder tangled up in the anchor line, causing the race to be delayed with much fussing about. Turned out it was the Club Commodore who was the skipper of the fouled boat. At the Commodore’s Ball he received an old prop fouled with a piece of rope mounted on a board so that he would never forget!”
She also sheepishly recalled the one time she and her husband raced this event. Running late, due to picking up supplies for dinner, they rushed to the boat and headed out the lagoon with husband, Pat, putting up the main and the headsail. “It wasn’t until he went to attach the sheets that he realized that he had the headsail on upside down!”
Carrying on with this great tradition of “blunders” the members have initiated the “ROCK” award given to the person who admits that they have run aground that year. “Sadly, it is not handed out that often because the poor sod who ran aground won’t mention it,” Lynn laughs. “However, it is often their friends who tell the tale with embellishments which allows the trophy to be awarded to the delight of guffaws and laughter at the presentation night.”
Members are hugely involved with local charities. During Sailpast, members will take the Mayor of Midland, the local MP and MPP for a sail. The Big Brother/Big Sister charity sail for children and their caregivers is an annual event and members will volunteer to take the children sailing for an afternoon, then treat them to a BBQ. SAIL FOR HOPE is a day set aside for capitalizing on donations to the Canadian Cancer Society, taking non-sailors out on the water for the day and then back to the club for a dinner cooked by the Cancer Society volunteers. This event is now entering its 26th year. All these events and many more will help members, reconnoiter memories with good friends as they celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2017. With 163 active members, Norm Marshall, the club social director puts it simply, “It’s a great place to park your boat and your life!”
Midland Bay Sailing Club; 159 Marina Park Ave; Midland, ON L4R 1A1 www.midlandbaysailingclub.com
Photo 1 – Sunrise in the Fall of 2014. Credit: Lynn Lortie
Photo 2 – MBSC Clubhouse at sunset on that perfect summer night. Credit: Lynn Lortie
Photo 3 – Moon rise over the lagoon. Credit: Don James
Photo 4 – Sailing school docks. Credit: Lynn Lortie
Photo 5 – Summer sailing school. Credit: Lynn Lortie