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December 13, 2003
The Bruce peninsula, with its unique world class biosphere, remains one of the most beautiful and pristine areas in Ontario. While the waters of Lake Huron lap sandy, wooded western shores, waves from Georgian Bay caress the ancient limestone spine that arches across the landscape on its eastern reaches.
As camping is popular on the Bruce, there are a number of facilities. But none equals the type of camping experience that Wilmer Nadgiwon, Janet Cuffee and friends offer. From May through mid-September people can immerse themselves in Native culture at.“Cha Mao Zah”. The name, Ojibwa for “A Long Time Ago”, is appropriate for the unique campgrounds near Tobermory. Only at Cha Mao Zah can you sleep in a tee pee while learning first-hand about native ways.
Campers can participate in Full Moon and New Moon celebrations. They can enjoy workshops on wood carving, make a medicinal pouch and a drum; learn about the Seven Teachings of Grandfather and take a medicinal plant walk. Visitors are invited to find their spirit guide and to experience the medicine wheel. These timely workshops are presented by knowledgeable people who have always immersed themselves in the traditional native way of living close to, and in harmony with, nature and the land. Most workshops do require a minimum of six people and have a fee for supplies. You should book in advance. Non-campers can take advantage of the workshops too as long as there’s room. Drum circles are held most Saturday evenings. If this interests you, and it should as it gives an authenticity to your camping experience, check to make sure that a drum circle is planned during your visit.
Sleeping in a tee pee has to be the best thing about staying at Cha Mao Zah. Tee pees, decorated with native symbols, sleep two-to-ten people and are given the names of First Nations tribes. Foam mattresses and sleeping bags can be rented if you don’t have camping supplies of your own. As this form of camping is popular, especially with European visitors, if interested in sleeping in a tee pee, you really should reserve well in advance of your visit.
For those who enjoy the outdoors and the opportunity to learn native culture, but who find ground-camping difficult, Cha Mao Zah offers comfortable beds in rustic cabins. Each cabin is done up with decorative touches appropriate for Cha Mao Zah’s focus. Please don’t expect that these cabins are full housekeeping units. They are not. You do have the benefit of sleeping in a comfortable bed but your working “kitchen” is outside - rustic clothes rack, a fire pit, picnic table and benches, and work area, just like those provided at each tee pee - all in keeping visually with the camp’s theme. Tee pees and cabins are tucked among mature cedar trees and are clustered around the Gathering Place where most special events and presentations take place. A screened Gazebo acts as a meeting place where you can play games, eat, relax with a book, chat with fellow campers. Coffee is served at the Gazebo around 8:00 a.m. in the morning on a first-come, first-serve basis.
What makes camping at Cha Mao Zah even more special is the large number of species of wild birds - cedar wax wings work at removing horse hair from tee pee decorations, cardinals and blue jays call from nearby trees. A pileated woodpecker hammers on a dead tree trunk. Cheeky Chickadees scold from cedars. Wild finches feed off thistle seed. Humming birds frequent strategically placed feeders. Wild geese fly overhead.
Wilmer Nadjiwon can usually be found at Cha Mao Zah, surrounded by his award-winning work - carved wooden totems, eagles, braves & ancient folk and unique one-of-a-kind dream catchers. Wilmer’s original work is a far cry from the “churn ‘em out”, mass produced off-shore so-called “Indian crafts” found in some gift shops and flea markets. Each of Wilmer’s creations carries a documentation tag and is a highly collectible work of Indian art. Speaking of gift shops, Cha Mao Zah’s is chock-a-block full of interesting items - clothing made of soft deer and buffalo hide, suede and moose hide moccasins, books, carvings, porcupine quill boxes, woven baskets, Indian dolls, beaded jewellery, all in keeping with Wilmer’s native heritage.
Priscilla Yellowhead is an important assess at Cha Mao Zah. Priscilla who dresses in traditional buckskin garments, and accompanies herself on a drum, sings traditions songs and tells wonderful stories. She loves visiting individual campfires and is always part of the workshops at the Gathering Place. As Priscilla appears out of the dusk at your camp fire, you can almost believe that you have stepped back into a time-long-ago.
Be sure to book your campsite over a weekend. The highlight of a camping experience at Cha Mao Zah has to be the traditional native feast which is served at a very reasonable price every Saturday night. Typical fare might include buffalo or venison, lake trout or white fish, corn, wild rice, fry bread or bannock, berry pies. Fish for the feast comes from the on-site store where both fresh and smoked fish can be purchased. This outlet is handy as the nearest grocery store is in Tobermory.
If you’d like to take a break from your own camp cooking, and wash-up, slip across the road to the Stone Orchid for a meal. Joanne, the owner, was born in Indonesia and enjoys introducing people to the pleasures of Indonesian food. If you’ve never tasted this type of cuisine, take the opportunity to enjoy Joanne’s fare. Not sure what to order, leave it up to the chef! Also take time to browse through Joanne’s adjoining antique shop which has a good selection of vintage clothing and unusual items.
“Cha Mao Zah” is centrally located to a number of attractions and amenities. Tobermory, a bustling, compact, charming community on the tip of the Bruce, two miles from the campground, offers restaurants, accommodations and specialty shops. The town is the southern terminal for the Chi-Cheemaun - Ojibwa for “Big Canoe” - Tobermory to Manitoulin Island ferry service. It is also the terminus for the 465 mile long Bruce Trail that begins in Niagara Falls. A plaque, on the heights overlooking the harbour, marks the trail’s end - or beginning, depending on which way you’re hiking. The harbour area which is used by both working and pleasure boats, is always busy in high tourist season.
Follow signs for Big Tub Harbour where a lighthouse sits on a rocky point, surrounded by ancient rocks that are typical of the Bruce Peninsula. Amazing wave action has piled huge boulders, one on top of the other, and ended-on-end, to reveal interesting and unusual marine fossils. This particular area of the lake is the watery graveyard for a number of nineteenth and early twentieth century ships that either lost their battle with Huron or were intentionally sunk in sheltered bays. You can see the skeleton of one ship - the “John & Alex” in the outer harbour but to fully appreciate the significance of the area to shipping, the Great Lakes and storms, take a glass-bottomed boat ride out of Tobermory harbour. As lake water is crystal clear you can see the wrecks quite well. Tobermory is also well known for it’s off-shore Flower Pot Island, Fathom Five National Marine Park and its great scuba-diving opportunities.
Take some time to explore back roads lined with tiger and twelfth-of-July lilies, Bouncing Bet, Monk’s Hood and wild roses. Bi-ways lead to beautiful sand beaches and spectacular sunsets in the west; rugged limestone bluffs and magnificent sunrises to the east. Bruce Peninsula National Park which includes Cypress Lake Provincial Park and the Bruce Trail are within a half hour’s drive of Cha Mao Zah. The Bruce has more than five hundred miles of shoreline just waiting to be explored. Villages are refreshingly devoid of the usual twentieth century strip & mall desecration. Forest trails lead to spectacular views from soaring headlands. Rare wild flowers, including more than forty species of the elusive orchid species, known as lady slippers huddle in mosey glens. This is one of the places where the rare pitcher plant grows wild. This is Ontario’s magnificent Bruce Peninsula. “Cha Mao Zah” is an integral part of what is truly unique and spectacular about the area. Experience it soon!
IF YOU GO:
Tobermory, Ontario N0H 2R0
Tobermory, Ontario N0H 2R0
Wiarton, Ontario N0H 2T0
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