According to survey notes of the Township of Burpee and F. W. Major’s Manitoulin, land of the Ottawas (1934), the area around Misery Bay was seasonally inhabited by Indigenous Peoples and certainly used by them for fishing and hunting and trading with European settlers. Exchanges took place at the area known as “The Landing,” on the West Side of Misery Bay. The surrounding lands were burnt over in the 1700’s and again in the late 1800’s.
The James D. Ainslie family used the bay area for “beaver” or marsh hay and pasturing, as well as for hunting and fishing. Ned Saunders, the first European settler to live in what is now the park, established a turkey farm on the east side of the bay and built a cabin near the structure now know as The Shelter at Saunder’s Cove.
In 1959, Cal and Eunice Sifferd purchased from the Ainslie family the first of several Misery Bay properties which were later turned over to the Nature Conservancy of Canada; this would eventually become the core of the Park. The Sifferds built a cottage on the west side of the bay which is now being renovated by Ontario Parks to be used as a research station.
Starting in 1972, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (predecessor to today’s Ontario Nature) began looking for natural areas worthy of protection on Manitoulin Island. The Sifferd property was brought to the attention of John Harvey, chair of FON’s Nature Reserve CommiLee. After a series of complex negotiations involving FON, Nature Conservancy of Canada, the McLean Foundation, the MNR, the Sifferds and the Robinson family (who owned the bog and black spruce area to the north of the bay), the Sifferds signed a purchase/gifting agreement with the NCC in 1978. The following year, the NCC formally turned over the title to the Misery Bay land to the Province of Ontario, to be managed as a nature reserve park. In 1989 Misery Bay was regulated for protection under Ontario’s Provincial Parks Act.
Citizen involvement has been vital to the development of the park. A steering committee organized by Judith Jones established the Friends of Misery Bay (FOMB) in 1995. Along with Judith, the founding members were Doreen Bailey, Bonnie Bailey, Gaynor Orford, Heather Baines, Steve Hall and Roy Campbell. Numerous volunteers have served on the FOMB board over the years and have been involved in creating and maintaining hiking trails, the fen boardwalk, Our Friends’ Shelter on Misery Bay and The Shelter at Saunder’s Cove.
In 2002, the Misery Bay Park Road and parking lot were completed. That year also saw the grand opening of the Visitors Centre. In 2017 a new interactive display developed in conjunction with Science North was opened in the Visitors Centre.