Manitoulin Magic: Adventures in Nature

Featured Image: Cup and Saucer Trail, a Manitoulin must-see / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

A Fall Visit Reveals Manitoulin’s Great Spirit

by Carolyn Ray, Publisher

As curious travellers, we always seek the untold story. We want to learn about the unedited history that can only be told by a local. The places that are off the beaten track, evident only when you make a wrong turn. The stories that pull at your heart and cause you to take a deep breath.

I found all of these in Manitoulin, much to my surprise. For years, Manitoulin has been a source of intrigue for me. When I visited Tobermory last summer, I gazed enviously at the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry (which has the inviting phrase ‘Travel in Good Spirits’ as its mantra) departing from Big Tub Harbour. Even then, on a boat tour to see mysterious shipwrecks and the ancient limestone towers of Flowerpot Island I gazed wistfully into the distance, wondering what mysteries Manitoulin held, far out in the distance.

Manitoulin hits all of my nature, culture and history buttons. Its proximity to Tobermory’s turquoise waters, its significance to the Anishnaabe (Ojibway) people as home to the Great Spirit, and its stunning views from Cup and Saucer. The archeologist in me wanted to learn more about Sheguiandah First Nation Reserve, which has archaeological remains believed to date as far back as 9,500 years.

Here, nature and water create energy. It is the largest freshwater island in the world with over 100 lakes that run through the middle of the island. This area also marks the northernmost point of the 400-million year old Niagara Escarpment, which stretches for almost 500 miles across southern Ontario from Niagara Falls, a remnant of the layered sedimentary rocks deposited in ancient seas of the Paleozoic Era.

When the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada offered to organize a tour for me with Wiikemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve, I jumped at the opportunity to learn about the region’s indigenous history, culture and people.

“There are over 700 Indigenous communities in Canada and they each have their own story to tell. Indigenous Peoples have been living on this land for thousands of years, and we’re proud to extend our legendary hospitality to visitors. Indigenous Peoples are currently engaged in a period of cultural reclamation and rejuvenation. There are many examples from across Canada of Indigenous People using tourism as a means to rediscovering and sharing their thriving and vibrant culture with visitors.
 
Indigenous communities face unique challenges and considerations when deciding whether to welcome visitors, including the protection of elders in the community. Some Indigenous tourism operators are welcoming guests with the appropriate health and safety measures and others are remaining closed. We encourage travellers to respect travel bans and support Indigenous tourism local economies.”
Keith Henry

President and CEO,, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada

Day 1:

Tobermory to Providence Bay

I drove in the night before so that I could get on the first ferry in the morning at 8:50 am. It’s advised you line up an hour before departure so that you can go through COVID screening prior to boarding. 

The MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry (Ojibwe for “big canoe”) departs from Tobermory several times a day. It takes about two hours (masks on the entire time). And there is limited cellular service, so you can just breathe deeply and enjoy the view on Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

Chi-Cheemaun ferry Manitoulin

The MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Providence Bay, which faces south across Lake Huron, is about a 20 minute-drive from the ferry. It’s said that its sandy beaches are among the best in Northern Ontario. Providence Bay is one of those places where I can easily imagine me, a beach chair and an awesome book in the summer.

This time of year, the empty boardwalk, a cool breeze, unspoiled sand dunes and lonely seagulls suited me just fine. Sometimes it’s easier to discover the essence of a place when you can hear the stillness. ⠀

Boardwalk on Providence Beach

The boardwalk along Providence Beach / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Carolyn stands before big yellow Muskoka Chair on Providence Beach

Welcome to Providence Bay! / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

I loved the attention to detail in the stunning bear and owl mural on the south side of Mutchmor Galleries, painted by Toronto artists Shalak Attack, Flya Bruxa and Bruno Smoky in 2016.

Mural

An incredible mural by Toronto artists SHalak Attack, Flya Bruza and Bruno Smoky / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

An incredible mural by Toronto artists SHalak Attack, Flya Bruza and Bruno Smoky / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

If You Go

GrandView Hotel in Tobermory has a stunning view of the sunset and is an easy walk to Big Tub Harbour, where most restaurants and shops are.  https://grandview-tobermory.com/

MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry: Departs several times a day, starting at 8:50 am. Cost is $70 for two people and a car, pre-book online here: https://www.ontarioferries.com/ms-chi-cheemaun/book-a-reservation/

Log Cabin Inn in Parry Sound is a perfect half-way point for those driving from Toronto. In addition to the beautiful dining room, it offers six chalets in a quiet area (very little train noise, compared to other places in Parry Sound). – Airbnb Link: https://www.airbnb.ca/associates/112663?s=67&c=.pi115.pk0_9&a4ptk=7573_0_9_112663&af=115

Sugarbush Canadian Coffee House: Best coffee I had in four days! Located in Kagawong near Bridal Veil Falls.

Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre:  Located on the North Channel of Lake Huron with an on-site Wampum Restaurant and walking distance to downtown Little Current. Ask for a room facing the water. https://manitoulinhotel.com/

Hawberry Motel: Large, clean rooms walking distance to Little Current downtown and restaurants. https://hawberrymotel.ca/

Bridal Veil Falls

Just up the road is Bridal Veil Falls in Billings. There are several places to park near the falls, which is short walk (take the river pathway). I’m not one to compare waterfalls but having seen the stunning 620 foot Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite I will admit to slightly higher expectations…but truly, Manitoulin’s 35-foot Bridal Veil Falls are so approachable. What’s better than walking underneath a waterfall?

After a delicious coffee at Sugar Bush Coffee House, it’s a short drive to Lillian’s Indian Crafts in M’Chigeeng. This store features beadwork, carvings and art from native artists such as Leland Bell, Stanley Panamick, Steven John, Duncan Pheasant and B. Gourlx. The museum room is probably the most interesting, as it includes Traditional Regalia Pieces and an enormous collection of porcupine quill baskets, which range from 1 inch to 8 inches in diameter. Made of quills, birch bark and sweetgrass, the baskets can take years to make and can cost thousands of dollars.

Bridal Veil Falls

The Bridal Veil Falls are a sight to behold / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Porcupine quill baskets / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Cup and saucer

The JourneyWoman Pose at Cup and Saucer / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Cup and Saucer Trail (or Michigiwadinong’) 

Less than 30 minutes away is Cup and Saucer Trail, one of Manitoulin’s best known parks. It’s a steep climb, with stairs that you have to go down backwards on the way back. Not for anyone with mobility issues. But the hike is worth it. This is a sight not to be missed.

Even though I had seen photographs, I was unprepared for the majesty of this experience. As I walked slowly towards the white cliff, my breath caught in my throat. I don’t usually have a fear of heights, but standing on the 70-meter high precipice, I felt a ripple of fear and awe run through me as I looked out to Lake Manitou and the North Channel.

For a few brief moments, I wished I was an eagle  able to take off from a cliff, glide effortlessly above the earth and spiral down toward the forest. Part of me wanted to fly high, and the other part of me wanted to escape back into the forest where it was safe.

Known as ‘Michigiwadinong’, ‘the bluff In the shape of a spearhead’, the story of Cup and Saucer involves Nenabozhoo (or Nanabush) a prominent trickster and cultural hero in Ojibwe storytelling. According to the sign near the trail entrance, Nenabozhoo was fleeing from the Mohawks and dropped his giant spearhead and handle and ran off. The lower, smaller bluff is the spearhead and the higher, longer bluff forms the spear handle.

Day 2:

Gore Bay

Quite by accident, the Janet Bay Lighthouse appeared at the end of a long, winding road in Gore Bay. The second oldest standing lighthouse on Manitoulin Island, Janet Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1879 and named by a surveyor after his daughter. As well as guiding boats during the shipping season, the Janet Head Light also directed sleighs carrying the mail along an ice highway that ran from Gore Bay to Spanish (a town in Northern Ontario) between 1910 and 1924. Snowmobiles still follow this historic 35-kilometre route to the North Shore.

The Janet Head lighthouse is an example of the classic Georgian Bay lighthouse in which the keeper’s home is part of the lighthouse. Others of the same design were built at Mississagi Strait at the west end of Manitoulin, and on Strawberry Island near Little Current.

Driving around the other side of the Bay, the panoramic views and gusts from the lake took my breath away. Don’t miss Hindman Park Lookout, the 1.2 km easy and accessible Boardwalk Trail along the waterfront and the 1.1 km Noble Nature Trail. From there, the lighthouse looks like a tiny pillbox!

Little lighthouse, Georgian bay

Day 3:

Sheguiandah

A dig and featured quarry near the Sheguiandah First Nation Reserve have archaeological remains believed to date as far back as 9,500 years ago. This is referred to by archaeologists as the Paleo-Indian period, one of the oldest cultures known in Ontario. It was closed but the red and white buildings of the reconstructed village are charming and picturesque, and include a sawmill, box and barrel works, sash and door factory, flour mill, cheese factory and the Island’s only woollen mill.

Red roof wooden house in Sheguiandah

Little Lighthouse / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

A red roof house in Sheguiandah

Views of Hindman Park / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Wiikemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve

My last day on Manitoulin Island began with a morning tour of Wiikemkoong, on the northeastern tip of the island. Wiikemkoong is Manitoulin Island’s largest First Nation community and Canada’s only officially recognized Unceded Indian Reserve.

Buffeted by a chilly wind, my tour guide, Mitchell, took me on the ‘Unceded Journey’ tour of historic sites, landmarks and monuments. He painted a complex chronology demonstrating how many countries  England, France, the US, and Canada — have profoundly shaped, defined and influenced the history of Manitoulin Island.

Like standing inside the ruins of the residential school of Holy Cross Mission, the oldest Catholic church in Northern Ontario, destroyed by fire in 1954. Or the hard decision to postpone this year’s 60th anniversary of the Annual Cultural Festival, one of the largest, longest-running Pow Wows in North America, started by Rosemary Odjig in 1961. Or the pride in being self-sufficient by developing (and defending) their own trading economies, but also stepping in in times of need to support Canada at war. I’m sure there are thousands of more stories still to be told.

Interior, Holy Mission

The Holy Mission ruins / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Church in town

Jennesseeaux Hall, built in 1868 / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

Located at the end of Beach Rd in Wiikemkoong, the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail is an easy to moderate looped 14km trail with scenic lookouts and vistas. Some sections are muddy, so bring your hiking boots and a walking stick. Due to Covid-19 you must purchase a trail permit online at www.wiikwemkoong.ca/ tours.

View from the top, Bebamikawe Memorial Trail

The view from the top of Bebamikawe Memorial Trail / Photo credit: Carolyn Ray

I went to listen, and left with a deeper understanding about the history, culture and traditions of the Anishnaabek people of the Three Fires Confederacy  Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi. I also have a deeper respect for their ability to adapt to change, strong sense of community and pride in their resilience.

For my next trip

Airbnb and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada have partnered together to showcase exciting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Cultural sites and tourism experiences. Immerse yourself in 15,000 years of Culture, Tradition, food, and history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada — all on your doorstep. You can learn more here: https://www.airbnb.ca/d/indigenouspeopleofcanada

Great Spirit Circle Trail: Offer nature-based and cultural tourism from an Aboriginal perspective on beautiful, majestic Manitoulin Island and the Sagamok region of Northeastern Ontario, Canada. Experiences range from soft adventure to wilderness eco-adventures and educational interpretive tours. More here: https://www.circletrail.com/

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation: The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation was established in 1974 to preserve and revitalize the language, culture, arts, spirituality, and traditions of the Anishinaabe people of Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island) and surrounding areas. It is dedicated to nurturing the expression of Anishinaabe culture in all forms, so art, language, stories, songs, and teachings flourish now and remain strong for future generations. https://ojibweculture.ca/

Debajehmujig Creation Centre: Debajehmujig was the first — and remains the only  professional theatre company located on a Reserve in Canada. The organization was founded by Shirlee Cheechoo, Blake Debassige and a group of like-minded colleagues in the summer of 1984 in West Bay (M’Chigeeng First Nation) Manitoulin Island, Ontario. It creates original work based on an Anishnaabag/Chippewa Nation worldview and builds bridges between cultures, generations, and territories. It also supports the development of Aboriginal artists in remote rural areas as well as cities. http://www.debaj.ca/

Mishibinijima Private Art Gallery: Mishibinijima Private Art Gallery is an Indigenous Art Gallery located in Wikwemikong and displays the Ojibway artist, Michibinijima. Michibinijima is from Wikwemikong First Nation and creates art that communicates peace, respect, and connection. He also acts as a mentor and educator for fellow artists and has his art shown both nationally and internationally. Viewing by appointment only. https://mishmountains.blogspot.com/

Gordon’s Dark Sky Reserve: Gordon’s Park (Latitude N 45.66866, Longitude W 81.97073) is the proud home of a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) designated Dark Sky Preserve. The Preserve is one of the darkest observing sites in the Province of Ontario, with no light pollution or sky glow around the 360 degree observing horizon. You can also stay in cabins, tents or tipis. https://www.gordonspark.com/dark-sky-preserve/

Learning Resources

(From Myseum of Toronto, which recently hosted a webinar with Elder Duke Redbird and the Honourable David Crombie, former Mayor of Toronto) 

Inspired by Chanie’s story and Gord’s call to build a better Canada, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund aims to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Their goal is to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all Canadians.
Learn more at https://downiewenjack.ca/

“Who is a Setter, According to Indigenous and Black Scholars”
https://www.vice.com/en/article/gyajj4/who-is-a-settler-according-to-indigenous-and-black-scholars

Last summer Duke Redbird and Myseum produced Wigwam Chi Chemung: Wigwam Chi-Chemung is an art installation and Indigenous learning centre presented by Myseum in partnership with Elder Duke Redbird. The 40ft pontoon houseboat covered with Indigenous artwork painted by muralist Phil Cote, Duke Redbird, and crew was originally docked at Ontario Place Marina. This Summer, Myseum of Toronto and Elder Duke Redbird are bringing back Wigwam Chi-Chemung, this time to an online format. To learn more visit
https://www.wigwamchichemung.com

If You Go

GrandView Hotel in Tobermory has a stunning view of the sunset and is an easy walk to Big Tub Harbour, where most restaurants and shops are.  https://grandview-tobermory.com/

MS Chi-Cheemaun Ferry: Departs several times a day, starting at 8:50 am. Cost is $70 for two people and a car, pre-book online here: https://www.ontarioferries.com/ms-chi-cheemaun/book-a-reservation/

Log Cabin Inn in Parry Sound is a perfect half-way point for those driving from Toronto. In addition to the beautiful dining room, it offers six chalets in a quiet area (very little train noise, compared to other places in Parry Sound). – Airbnb Link: https://www.airbnb.ca/associates/112663?s=67&c=.pi115.pk0_9&a4ptk=7573_0_9_112663&af=115

Sugarbush Canadian Coffee House: Best coffee I had in four days! Located in Kagawong near Bridal Veil Falls.

Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre:  Located on the North Channel of Lake Huron with an on-site Wampum Restaurant and walking distance to downtown Little Current. Ask for a room facing the water. https://manitoulinhotel.com/

Hawberry Motel: Large, clean rooms walking distance to Little Current downtown and restaurants. https://hawberrymotel.ca/

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Carolyn Ray

Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    You’ve opened up the reality of the other place, where we have yet to go.. my motto, I have places to go and people to see.. age 72 I’m not stopping when friends say they’re through with traveling. They’ll get left behind but not able to pull me down.. cause they can’t go and do, they wish the same for you…
    Thoroughly enjoy knowing this is out there and once gathered a brave and strong people…‼️
    I’ll try and get into these sites. Love purusing.. great newsletter..🌺👭

    Reply

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