First Nations heritage in Manitoulin Island

waterfall on Manitoulin Island

Canadians traditionally have done a poor job investing in tourism infrastructure for our First Nations people. Happily, the current Liberal government is trying to change that having recently announced increased funding toward further developing this important part of our Canadian heritage. One place that is leading the charge on developing their aboriginal tourism product is Manitoulin Island. For people wanting to learn about this fascinating culture, I would highly recommend a visit.


Friendly island life

sunset behind a lighthouse on Manitoulin Island

Located in Northern Ontario, Manitoulin is a two-hour drive from Sudbury or a seven-hour journey from Toronto including a ride aboard the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun ferry. When you arrive, you are aware that something is different here; small towns surrounded by rugged natural beauty, a slower pace to life and a friendly warmth that permeates. It seemed like every bakery, restaurant or gas station is named after its owner, which allows you to make an immediate connection with the person serving you.

Manitoulin’s First Nations

Tipi tent standing in a sunny field

Eight First Nation communities, all part of the larger Anishnaabe nation, inhabit the island and the Sagamok region, which extends onto the mainland to the north. Together they make up the Great Spirit Circle Trail, which is not really a trail but rather a collection of attractions and activities offered to visitors, including a summer-long rotation of Pow Wows. The traditional Pow Wows are a social and ceremonial celebration of life held over two days throughout the summer and are free of charge.


A personal experience

two men row a canoe

I visited a couple of years ago. My Great Spirit experience was a one day tour. It started with a traditional smudging ceremony to bless our day by local Ojibwe guide, Steven Antoine. On a canoe trip on Lake Mindemoya he shared with me the lore of the land, which included the creation of the "grandmother" island in the middle of the lake. We pulled our canoes on shore for a brief snack of berries and cedar tea where Steve shared his belief that his ancestors who inhabit the land and the nature around us feed him their energy.

two men display their traditional drums

After our time on the water, we went on a medicine walk where I learned the healing properties of various plants as well as some practical tips including the fact that white birch bark will remove sticky sap from your skin. Helpful after I leaned my head against a particularly gooey tree! My favourite experience was Steven teaching me how to make my own drum out of deer hide. The drum, I learned, is the one common element among all First Nations people across Canada representing the heart beat of Mother Earth.  I later had the drum painted by a professional aboriginal artist. It's one of my favourite pieces of art I own.


Experience Manitoulin Island for yourself on Canadian Affair’s A Journey Beyond Nature holiday. The overnight stay on the island is a real highlight of this popular fly drive holiday. 

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