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Walking the historic side at Fort St. Joseph (22 photos)

With all it has to offer, Fort St. Joseph and its surrounding area is an easy way to spend a summer day

For those who like nature, the outdoors and are looking for family-oriented activities this season, why not make the short trip to Fort St. Joseph?

Whether you choose to make a day of it or a few hours, you won't be disappointed.

"Visitors to the grounds of Fort St. Joseph have the opportunity to explore the ruins of the original military fort and its surrounding fur trade community. All of the military buildings inside the palisade of the fort have been excavated by archaeologists, as well as a selection of civilian and fur trade buildings outside the fort walls," said Stéphane Comeault, spokesperson for Parks Canada, in a recent interview. "The view from the fort overlooks the beautiful St. Marys River and North Channel of Lake Huron, the major shipping route during the fur trade and continuing into the modern-day. Freighters often pass by on their way to and from Lake Superior, just as the voyageurs did during the era of Fort St. Joseph." 

As you walk the grounds you see beautiful views of the water, wildflowers, birds, and insect life. The area is dotted with wild Bergamot (Bee Balm) and asperigus – evidence of times past.

In addition to the ruins area and its accompanying visitor center, the parcel of land houses four great nature and hiking trails through the forest that surrounds Fort St. Joseph. They vary in length and you can do them in your own time.

Each of the trails is ideal for visitors, hikers, and cyclists and offers an opportunity to enjoy stunning lake views and serene wilderness.

"The Rains Point Trail is 0.5 km and is wheelchair accessible. The trail winds through the forest, eventually connecting to an old road leading to the site of an 1837 settlement founded by Major Rains. The buildings are gone but the lilac bushes, rose bushes, and grapevines planted by their owners are still there, near a limestone beach on the shore of Lake Huron.

"The Cemetery Trail leads past a burial ground containing graves from 1796 to 1812, and on through a small hardwood forest," Comeault added.

"The 1.4 km LaPointe Point Trail passes the site of the temporary fort, built to house soldiers working on Fort St. Joseph.

"Finally, a short loop trail leads from the fort ruins through a cedar forest to a cobble beach," said Comeault.

The four trails belong to and are maintained by Parks Canada site staff. A purchase of a pass, either daily or seasonal, entitles you to their use during the operating hours of the site.

Hours of operation at Fort St. Joseph are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until Labour Day.

Following Labour Day, the hours of operation will become 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, until the site closes for the winter on Sept. 30.

"Most afternoons, costumed interpreters present heritage demonstrations on the grounds of Fort St. Joseph. Visitors will have an opportunity to see traditional fire lighting techniques using flint and steel, and other demonstrations, weather, and staff permitting," Comeault said.

"Young visitors to Fort St. Joseph can participate in the Parks Canada Xplorers program, a site-specific activity booklet geared towards children aged 7-12, which contains interactive activities highlighting several different aspects of life at the fort. For children under age 7, the Parka program is available. Both activities are free and include a souvenir for participating.

"Fort St. Joseph is also a designated migratory bird sanctuary. With the fall bird migration season about to begin, birders may enjoy a visit to watch for the nearly 200 bird species that have been identified so far at the site. The bird sanctuary encompasses a wide variety of habitat, including marshes, shorelines, hardwood forests, and the open grounds of the fort itself.

"Currently, visitors to Fort St. Joseph have access to the visitor center, including the museum and gift shop, the site’s nature trails, grounds, picnic areas, public washroom, and some interpretive programs. To help us provide a safe and enjoyable visit for all our visitors, we ask that everyone entering the building wear a non-medical face mask, practice physical distancing, and follow the posted directional signage at all times. Furthermore, visitor center capacity and indoor etiquette guidelines have been posted outside the building’s entrance.

"Next year will be Fort St. Joseph’s 225th anniversary. Planning for special celebratory events for next summer is underway, and details will be made public once they have been finalized," said Comeault.

Please remember to practice responsible stewardship while accessing this Heritage Site. There is no hunting allowed on the grounds – wildlife and birds are protected. Leave no trace and remove nothing from the grounds. Ask questions, take photos, and make memories.

St. Joseph Island hosts many beautiful sights and wildlife. You might choose to pack a lunch and make a day of your trip with your drive on the island to the southernmost tip. Adjacent to the entrance of Fort St. Joseph in Jocelyn Township is a day park that also has a picnic and play area as well as a small beach.