Slate Islands are formed of two main islands, five minor islands and numerous islets located in northern Lake Superior, 10 kilometres out of the town of Terrace Bay. The islands were created by a meteorite impact which formed a crater about 32 km wide. In 1985, the Ontario government established the Slate Islands as a natural environment provincial park. The islands are notable for having Ontario's largest herd of boreal woodland caribou.
The islands are home to woodland caribou which have been studied extensively from 1974 to present. We were fortunate to see one Caribou in our 4 days of exploration, however our campsite exhibited fresh tracks. Caribou reached the highest population density in the world on the islands before the 1990s, with the herd estimated at 650 animals. After a food shortage and die-off in 1990, the numbers were reduced to about 100. In 2012 there are about 200 caribou on the Slate Islands. Wolves reached the archipelago in the early 1990s preying heavily on the caribou but for reasons not entirely known they disappeared a few years later. Wolves are again present on the island since winter 2015/16 as evidenced by aerial observation and scat.
The cooling effect of Lake Superior makes the Slate Islands a particularly harsh habitat for its latitude. As a result, islands harbour arctic and alpine plant species such as alpine chickweed (at its most southerly occurrence), Dryas drummondii (not found again for 1600 km north), and alpine bistort, an Inuit delicacy eaten with seal oil. These arctic disjuncts are reminders of ice ages and associated tundra conditions in this area in the past.
A lighthouse was built on Patterson Island, the largest island, in 1903 to help ships locate the harbour at the nearby town of Jackfish, Ontario. The island is named after William Patterson, a former lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan. Later, a fishing station was built on McColl Island.
The original forests on the islands were modified by logging and forest fires. Up until the 1940s, the islands were used to stockpile boomed logs from the mainland Lake Superior north shore for export on lake freighters to pulp mills in the United States.
In 1985, the Slate Islands were protected as an Ontario Natural Environment Provincial Park. There are no facilities and the islands can only be accessed via boat or airplane. The islands remoteness is enforced by 10 km of open, wild, Lake Superior water and its distance from any large communities. It is frequented by naturalists, fishing parties, sailors exploring this Great Lake, and recently by an increasing number of sea kayaking parties.
Highly recommend as a destination for all those that like to explore....
Bluebird Charters which chartered us, gear and canoes from Terrace Bay
Shattercone in McGreevy Harbour
From our campsite....
Evidence of the logging days still is prominent on the Slates
Opening to an abandoned copper mine shaft