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Pelee Island

Pelee, Ontario

 
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Pelee Island.

Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada (play /'p?li?/), is an island in the western half of Lake Erie. Pelee Island is connected to the Canadian and United States mainland by ferry service. At 42 km2, Pelee Island is the largest island in Lake Erie and the southernmost populated point in Canada. An Ontario Historical Plaque was erected by the province to commemorate the development of Pelee Island's role in Ontario's heritage.[1] Nearby Middle Island is the southernmost point of land in Canada.

Pelee Island is part of the Township of Pelee in Essex County, and has its own mayor, deputy mayor, and three Councillors. It is what is called a separated township. The township comprises nine islands, the largest being Pelee Island, and including Middle Island, Middle Sister Island, Hen Island, Big Chicken Island, Little Chicken Island, Chick Island, East Sister Island, and North Harbour Island. The total land area of all islands in the township is 41.84 km2 (16.15 sq mi).

Aerial photo of Pelee Island.

It has a population of 256 permanent residents (2001 census), but the population can swell to over 1,500 during the summer months, with more than three thousand people on long weekends. Due to its southerly location and the moderating effect of Lake Erie, it has a slightly milder climate than inland areas.[2] Its climate, classified as Carolinian, is one of the mildest in the country, and the island has long been used for vineyards and wine making. The wine industry was started here in 1860 and died out in the early twentieth century, but restarted in the 1980s.[3] The island is an agricultural based community which grows about 5,000 acres (20 km2) of soybeans, about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of wheat, 500 acres (2 km2) of grapes, and a few acres of specialty corn.

Seal of the Township of Pelee Island.

Pelee Island is part of an important flyway for migrating birds between Ohio, the Lake Erie islands and Point Pelee. Pelee Island has, for many years, hosted a fall pheasant hunt which attracts hunters from Canada, the United States and many other countries. The pheasant hunt brings tourist dollars to Pelee at a time of year when virtually no other activities are available thus generating important revenue in the 'off' season.

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee Island.

The island is serviced by two ferries, the MV Jiimaan and the MV Pelee Islander (owned by Pelee Island Transportation Company, a subsidiary of the OSTC). The MV Jiimaan is the largest passenger ferry along the Lake Erie route to Pelee Island. At 61 metres in length, the Jiimaan can transport 400 passengers and 40 vehicles. The leisurely cruise to Pelee Island can range from one-and-a-half to just over two hours depending on departure routes. The time of year[clarification needed] determines whether mainland passengers board the ferry at nearby Kingsville, Leamington, or Sandusky, Ohio. The Sandusky ferry[clarification needed] runs only from late spring until early fall, while the Jiimaan runs from the Canadian ports of Leamington and/or Kingsville from early spring until early December. The Jiimaan was built in 1992 at Port Weller Dry Docks in St. Catharines, Ontario. When the ferries are not operating, the only practical way to get to the mainland or to Pelee Island is via airplane. In January 2004, a Cessna 208 Caravan crashed on takeoff from Pelee, killing 9 pheasant hunters and the pilot. The plane crashed into the shallow waters of Lake Erie. It is believed the plane was overloaded and potentially ice-laden according to the aviation authorities of Canada.[4]

Almost abandoned light house at Pelee Island

The older MV Pelee Islander, which continues to operate, carries 196 passengers and 14 vehicles. The MV Upper Canada, which serviced Pelee prior to the Jiimaan, was sent to Lake Huron (the Christian Island natives received her for transport to and from the mainland) when the Jiimaan began service to Pelee. The Pelee Islander was built at Erieau, Ontario in 1960.[5]

In late 2007, the Owen Sound Transportation Company had notified the Province of Ontario that it had to terminate its agreement and contract early and look for a new winter carrier, since Georgian Bay Express (the air carrier) could not fulfill its final year of its two-year contract and sold its planes. This was significant since it was the only air link to the island in winter (the ferries cannot run the lake if there is ice out, due to the risk of sinking). The province agreed, but the people of Pelee island feared they would be stranded, especially if a medical emergency arose. A new company has been found to run airplanes in the winter, but it has not been named yet.[6]

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