Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
How Pancake Bay got its name

Today’s post comes from (you guessed it) Pancake Bay Provincial Park.

Where does the name Pancake Bay come from? The answer changes depending on who you ask.

Ask a local and they will tell you a story. Ask a Pancake Bay staff member and they’ll tell you another one. Ask a child and they will tell you it’s because the beach is flat as a pancake πŸ˜‰

But no matter who you ask, the name is closely linked to travelers.

Pancake Bay Travelers

The Voyageurs were the sons of Quebec farmers. These brave travelers braved the shores of Lake Superior on their journey west to trade furs.

They traveled in brigades of 4 to 20 master’s ship (or Montreal canoes). Each canoe was 10 meters long and made of birch bark and cedar planks, held together with spruce roots and patched with a mixture of spruce gum, ash and animal fat.

TravellersCanoes in the fog, Lake Superior (1869) by Frances Anne Hopkins

Each of these enormous canoes was loaded with three and a half tons of goods to trade with the Indian trappers.

Travelers paddled and transported their large canoes from Montreal to Fort William, the inland headquarters of the North West Company at the western end of Lake Superior.

lake superior map

There they met other travelers who paddled smaller canoes (northern canoe or Northern canoes), which carried commercial goods to the north and west, where furs were abundant. The two groups of travelers exchanged the trade goods for backpacks full of furs, which were rowed back to Montreal.

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Did the bay get its name from its soft beach?

Travelers avoided rocky shores when looking for a place to camp for the night. They greatly appreciated large sandy beaches, such as Pancake Bay, because their large canoes were fragile and could not reach the shore while loaded.

Pancake Bay Beach

The beaches allowed an entire brigade the opportunity to unload and shore up their canoes simultaneously. The travelers jumped into the shallow water, unloaded each 40kg package, barrel and box, and carried it to shore.

The 270kg canoe was carried to the beach by four travelers and deposited upside down on the beach to provide shelter for the crew overnight.

sunset over the lake

From the vastness of Lake Superior, the white sand beach can they seemed flat and smooth like a pancake, or perhaps the water of the sheltered bay was sometimes “flat as a pancake.”

Or was the park named after the travelers’ diet?

The usual meal (day after day) of travelers rowing between Montreal and Fort William would have been a thick soup made of dried peas and lard. They would start the day before dawn, paddling for a few hours before their first meal of the day, heating the pot of cold, heavy soup over a rapidly lighting fire. The high fat content of this meal provided travelers with the calories they needed for long days (up to 16 hours!) of paddling and portaging.

Batchawana/Pancake Bay area mapPancake Bay could often be travelers’ last stop before reaching Sault Ste. Marie. Marie on her way back to Montreal.

Locals tell stories of travelers who mixed their leftover flour and salt to fry delicious pancakes, a kind of fried bread similar to a pancake. Flour was a scarce commodity for travelers, but these stories are complemented by a written account written in the early 19th century by a man traveling to Fort Gary, Manitoba, with a brigade of travelers.

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frying pan on the campfire

The Breton galette It is more like a pancake with a tasty filling. Travelers were looking for gull eggs to complement their usual food and may have added them to the mix.

Come celebrate the history of Pancake Bay!

The main travel route is no longer the shore of Lake Superior, but Pancake Bay remains a stopping point for travelers on the Trans-Canada Highway.


So, in the spirit of travelers, we invite you to celebrate Pancake Bay’s namesake dish the next time you visit the park!