The hike to Fish Point, at the southern tip of Pelee Island, is suitably dramatic.

Pelee is Canada’s southernmost inhabited place, a flat, 42-square-kilometre island in the middle of Lake Erie with close to 300 permanent residents and some of the country’s rarest flora and fauna.

To get to Fish Point you follow a winding forest trail for one and half kilometres until it reaches a pebbly beach — and that’s where the real excitement begins.

You turn left and head down a bare peninsula that extends more than a kilometre out into Erie’s green waters. For much of that distance, this finger of sand is less than a dozen metres wide.

On a windy day in late August, waves crashed on the west side of the peninsula, while the east side was weirdly calm. The only signs of life were a pair of hikers and the flock of seagulls occupying the tip. The birds were all facing the same direction, lined up like vigilant soldiers defending Canada from invasion.

It is a glorious spot on an island otherwise known for offering not much to do. And for many tourists, that’s a good thing.

They rent cottages by the week or book B&Bs for short stays. Available activities include gazing at the sunset, hunting for “Pelee glass” (bits of old glassware washed up on the beach) or cycling the quiet roads that circle the island and cross the interior through fields of soybeans.

Lucky visitors might come across a prickly pear cactus (a plant more commonly seen in Mexico) or a smallmouth salamander (a species found nowhere else in Canada, according to a plaque on the island).

As the largest of several islands in Lake Erie’s western basin, Pelee (pronounced PEE-lee) also serves as an important stopover site for migrating birds. Uninhabited Middle Island nearby is Canada’s most southern point.

“Pelee is laid-back,” says Judy Munro of Tecumseh, Ont., stepping out of Conorlee’s bakery, at the northwest corner of the island, with a round loaf of sunflower bread under her arm.

“For a lot of people, this would drive them crazy, but Pelee is my kind of place,” adds 63-year-old Munro, who’s on her second visit here. “It’s good for somebody who wants to get back to their own inner self, to restore their energies.”

Pelee was incorporated as a township in the 1860s and became a prosperous farming community after marshland was drained. The long growing season — Pelee is at the same latitude as northern California — favours grape cultivation, and the first winery opened in 1868 (said to be the oldest in Canada). Several other wineries followed, and by 1900 there were almost 800 residents.

The winemaking tradition continues, with over 200 hectares of vineyards producing fruit for Pelee Island Winery. The company runs tours at its modern facility and offers an unusual dining option: visitors choose from among items such as steaks, pork chops and shish kebabs and cook the food themselves on gas barbecues set up near picnic tables. Of course, anyone so inclined can wash it all down with a bottle of Pelee Island wine.

Pelee has one celebrity resident — author Margaret Atwood, who maintains a secluded home on the island. But locals guard her privacy. Ask anyone where she resides and you're liable to hear the stock, tongue-in-cheek reply: “Margaret who?”

Getting to Pelee requires some effort. It’s a one and half hour ride on a slow ferry from Kingsville, Ont. There are only a few crossings each day, and you need to reserve in advance if you’re bringing a car.

If you go ...
• Bicycles are available for rent across from the ferry dock. Some B&Bs offer complimentary use of bikes.

• For a fish dinner, try the perch or pickerel at the Anchor and Wheel Inn. For pastries, head to Conorlee’s bakery and sample the apple streusel cobbler, peach crumble tart or strawberry almond rhubarb cake.

• For information on B&Bs and cottage rentals, go to www.pelee.org. Ferry schedules are at www.ontarioferries.com/jii/english.