in Odawa-Ojibway it means “welcome”
Manitoulin, the Spirit Island, sits in the middle of a cluster of Great Lakes, not far from the international border with Michigan, USA. The island can be found at the top of Lake Huron, separating it from the North Channel and the pristine waters of Georgian Bay to the east.
This area was part of a fur-trade route used by the Coureur des bois and Voyageurs to reach Lake Superior and the deep interior of Canada. The first known European settlement on the island was in 1648, but native peoples have lived here for thousands of years.
Today there are six reserves on the island – Zhiibaahaasing and Sheshegwaning First Nations in the west, the M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning and Sheguiandah First Nations on the more populated eastern end of the island, and Wikwemikong, Canada’s only officially recognized Unceded Indian Reserve and one of the ten largest First Nation communities in the country, takes up the entire eastern end of Manitoulin Island.
Native culture pervades Manitoulin Island and no description of this place is complete without mentioning it. Symbols and signage, like bilingual ‘turtle crossing’ road signs and the ubiquitous primary colours of the medicine wheel, are a gentle reminder of the different peoples we are among here. As well as an abundance of local native crafts, there are also cross-cultural anomalies like the M’Chigeeng Immaculate Conception Church.
For those interested in soaking up some of the local native culture, we suggest the Great Spirit Circle Trail. Also check out the Pow Wow schedule (between June and September) while staying at the new First Nations-inspired Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre.
Manitoulin Island should be experienced as a laid-back, pastoral land of bucolic farms, gentle forests of maple and spruce filled with frolicking white-tail deer and leisurely drives to sandy beaches and clean lakes. The hiking trails are exceptional and the local food is very tasty (try the fritters at Mum’s Bakery in Mindemoya and never pass up a fresh fish dinner anywhere).
The Chi-Cheemaun ferry can take you and your car return between Tobermory and South Baymouth four times each day during peak season (it takes about one hour and 45 minutes). The ferry was grounded due to low water levels when we went, so we took the land route, approaching from the north through Sudbury, Espanola and Little Current.