Georgian Bay is a large bay of Lake Huron, located entirely within Ontario, Canada. The main body of the bay lies east of the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island.Georgian Bay is surrounded by (listed clockwise) the districts of Manitoulin, Sudbury, Parry Sound and Muskoka, as well as the more populous counties of Simcoe, Grey and Bruce. The Main Channel separates the Bruce Peninsula from Manitoulin Island and connects Georgian Bay to the rest of Lake Huron. The North Channel, located between Manitoulin Island and the Sudbury District, west of Killarney, was once a popular route for steamships and is now used by a variety of pleasure craft to travel to and from Georgian Bay.
The shores and waterways of the Georgian Bay are the traditional domain of the Anishinaabeg First Nations peoples to the North and Huron-Petun (Wyandot) to the south. The bay was thus a major Algonquian-Huron trade route. Samuel de Champlain, the first European to explore and map the area in 1615–1616, called it "La Mer douce" (the calm sea), also a reference to the bay's freshwater. It was named "Georgian Bay" (after King George IV) by Lieutenant Henry Wolsey Bayfield of the Royal Navy in 1822.
Georgian Bay is about 190 kilometres (120 mi) long by 80 kilometres (50 mi) wide. It covers approximately 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi), making it almost as large as Lake Ontario. Eastern Georgian Bay is part of the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, granite bedrock exposed by the glaciers at the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. The granite rock formations and windswept Eastern White Pine are characteristic of the islands and much of the shoreline of the bay.
The rugged beauty of the area inspired landscapes by artists of the Group of Seven. The western part of the bay, from Collingwood north, and including Manitoulin Island, Drummond, Cockburn and St. Josephs Island, borders the Niagara Escarpment. Due to its size and narrowness of the straits joining it with the rest of Lake Huron, which is analogous to if not as extreme as the separation of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, Georgian Bay is sometimes called the "sixth Great Lake".
There are tens of thousands of islands in Georgian Bay. Most of these islands are along the east side of the bay and are collectively known as the "Thirty Thousand Islands," including the larger Parry Island. Manitoulin Island, lying along the northern side of the bay, is the World's largest island in a freshwater lake. The Trent-Severn Waterway connects Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario, running from Port Severn in the southeastern corner of Georgian Bay through Lake Simcoe into Lake Ontario near Trenton. Further north, Lake Nipissing drains into it through the French River. In October 2004, the Georgian Bay Littoral was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Archeological records reveal an Aboriginal presence in the southern regions of the Canadian Shield dating from 11,000 years ago. Evidence of later paleo-Aboriginal settlements have been found on Manitoulin Island and near Killarney, Ontario. At the time of European contact, the Ojibwe and Ottawa First Nations, both of whom call themselves Anishinaabe (plural: Anishinaabeg), lived along the northern, eastern and western shores of Georgian Bay. The Huron (or Wendat) and Tionontati inhabited the lands along the southern coast, having migrated from the northern shores of Lake Ontario. Names of islands such as Manitoulin (from Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit) and "Giant's Tomb" are indicative of the richness of the cultural history of the area. Aboriginal communities continue to live on their territories and practise their cultural traditions.
Owen Sound is the largest city on the bay, long having served as a shipping and rail depot for the Upper Great Lakes. The towns of Midland, Penetanguishene, Port Severn and Honey Harbour are at the south-eastern end of the bay, and are popular sites for summer cottages, as are the many bays and islands on the eastern coast. Collingwood, Meaford and Wasaga Beach are located at the southern end of the bay, around Nottawasaga Bay.
Owen Sound and Wiarton are located on the Bruce Peninsula along the southern and south-western shores of the bay, while Tobermory is located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula on the Main Channel. The passenger ferry MS Chi-Cheemaun travels from Tobermory, across the Main Channel to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. Parry Sound, the world's deepest freshwater port, is located on the eastern shore of the bay.There are communities of summer cottages on the north and east shore and on the adjacent 30,000 Islands. These include areas such as Cognashene, Wah Wah Taysee, Sans Souci, Pointe au Baril and Byng Inlet. Most of these cottages are accessible only by water.