Ours to Discover: Learn more about Indigenous culture during a visit to Manitoulin Island

About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”

At 2,766 square kilometers, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the largest freshwater island in the world — and features no fewer than 100 inland lakes. It is also the ancestral home to six Anishinaabe First Nations, with its name meaning “spirit island” in Ojibway. A three-day visit offers the chance to explore ancient hiking trails, a legend-steeped waterfall, First Nations heritage sites and hands-on Indigenous cultural experiences.

day one

in the morningIt will take a few hours to get to Manitoulin Island, so leave Toronto around 7:30 am so you can maximize your time there once you arrive. Head north on Highway 400, which will turn into Highway 69, and follow it until you reach Highway 17 near Sudbury. Follow the roadway west and then take Highway 6 to Little Current on the island. The journey should take around five and a half hours.

in the afternoonFill your tummy by enjoying an order of barbecue chicken flatbread or fish tacos from Elliott’s Restaurant in Little Current. Eat in or nab one of the picnic tables at Low Island Park on the waterfront. From there, drive west on Highway 540 to the start of the Cup and Saucer hiking trail. This five-kilometre loop trail includes a stretch along a 70-meter-high cliff that offers great views of Lake Huron.

Drive back to Little Current and check in at the Manitoulin Inn and Conference Centre, which is First Nations-owned and operated. The room decor and teepeelike lobby reflect local Indigenous traditions, as does the food served at the North 46 Restaurant, where the menu includes bison chili and Anishinaabe tacos with fried bread.

in the eveningVisit the nearby Little Current Swing Bridge, which opens every two hours to let boats through the North Channel. It’s one of the only swing bridges still operating in Canada. After, stop at the Outpost General Store for souvenirs you’ll use, such as custom-knit touches and Manitoulin-branded T-shirts, before enjoying a dinner of locally caught trout, whitefish or pickerel at the Anchor Inn Grill.

day two

in the morningHave breakfast at the inn before getting in your car for the 45-minute drive along Highway 6 to Manitowaning, where you can peruse the Indigenous art exhibits at KB Reynolds Mastin Gallery, in the Debajehmujig Creation Centre. From there, it’s a short walk to the Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex, dedicated to the history of the island.

Across the road from the museum is Loco Beanz, where you can grab a Hot Smoothie or North Channel Chai for the drive along Cardwell Street (which turns into Wikwemikong Way) to Wikwemikong, the island’s largest First Nation community.

in the afternoonWikwemikong Tourism offers a two-hour culinary excursion starting daily at noon that involves foraging and storytelling along the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail. It includes stops to admire the views of the La Cloche Mountains, the North Channel and the traditional fishing grounds of the Anishnaabek of Wikwemikong. There are three different culinary outings, eg. Clay-Baked Georgian Bay Trout and Tea, each hosted by Indigenous guides and ending with a full meal that you help prepare.

Following lunch, you can head to the gift shop at the Wikwemikong Tourist Information Center to shop for handcrafted jewelry or moccasins, rent a bike to explore the community, or head to King’s Bay Beach on the sandy shoreline of Lake Huron for a swim.

in the eveningHead for an early dinner at Ed’s Family Restaurant in Wikwemikong, where you can enjoy piles of homemade bread along with burgers, fish and chips or hot sandwiches. After dinner, visit the Meeshkodewaang boat ramp for Paddle the Night Sky. This canoe excursion is led by Indigenous guides who share stories and legends of water spirits, tales of battles with the Iroquois, and teachings about the constellations. The outing ends with fireside tea.

Drive back to Little Current and end your day with a Bridal Veil Pale Ale or Cup and Saucer English Ale at Manitoulin Brewing, which hosts evening entertainment during summer months.

day three

in the morningAfter breakfast, drive west for 80 minutes on Highway 540 to Misery Bay Provincial Park. You can break up the ride with a stop at New Grain Kitchen in Gore Bay to purchase maple-and-oat sourdough along with some Thunder Oak Smoked Gouda as a snack. At the park, follow the hiking trails that take you past huge chunks of dolomite ground flat by glaciers along with bird-viewing platforms.

Hop back in the car and drive east on the 540 to the 10-meter high Bridal Veil Falls, near the town of Kagawong. Interpretive plaques near its base tell the story of the Legend of Maswein, his experiences of him at the waterfall and his encounter with the Great Spirit Manitou.

Head to the community of M’Chigeeng for lunch at Maggie’s Café — its cobb salad is worth a try — and to spend time at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation to learn more about the island’s various First Nation clans as well as traditional artwork, including porcupine quill boxes, ash and sweetgrass baskets and antler carvings.

in the afternoon

Head east on Highway 542 and then Highway 6 to South Baymouth to catch the two-hour car ferry that crosses Lake Huron to Tobermory. From there you can continue your journey back to Toronto.

for the drive

The “Island of Great Spirit — the Legacy of Manitoulin” podcast features short chapters that cover various aspects of the history and culture of Manitoulin Island, from the original Odawa peoples to today’s inhabitants. It is available through Apple Podcasts.

COVID-19 need to know

Manitoulin Island follows Ontario’s provincial COVID-19 guidelines. Contact individual businesses in advance to determine their preferred protocols.

drive guide

day one

  • 2:30 pmCup and Saucer Nature Reserve
  • 5:30 pmManitoulin Inn and Conference Center

day two

  • 10 a.m.KB Reynolds Mastin Gallery
  • eleven A.MAssiginack Museum Heritage Complex
  • NoonBebamikawe Memorial Trail Indigenous Experience
  • 5 pmEd’s Family Restaurant
  • 7 p.m.Paddle the Night Sky

day three

  • eleven A.MMisery Bay Provincial Park

  • 2 p.m.Ojibwe Cultural Foundation

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