Ours to Discover

Ours to Discover: Manitoulin Island

The spirit of the land, Learn more about Indigenous culture during a visit to Manitoulin Island

By Doug O'Neill Wheels.ca

May 7, 2022 6 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

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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, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”

At 2,766 square kilometres, 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.

In the morning

It will take a few hours to get to Manitoulin Island, so leave Toronto around 7:30 a.m. 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, located on the island. The journey should take around five-and-a-half hours.

In the afternoon
Fill your tummy by enjoying an order of barbecue chicken flatbread or fish tacos from Elliott’s Restaurant. Eat in or nab one of the picnic tables at Low Island Park, located 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-metre-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 teepee-like 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 evening

Visit the nearby Little Current Swing Bridge, which opens every two hours to allow 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 toques and Manitoulin-branded t-shirts, before enjoying a dinner of locally caught trout, white fish or pickerel at the Anchor Inn Grill.

[caption id="attachment_168044" align="alignnone" width="2560"]Discover Manitoulin M'CHIGEENG, ON- NOVEMBER 7 - A display of quill art by Nico Williams of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia is on display in the foyer of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. Anong Beam, is the curator of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation on Manitoulin Island in M'Chigeeng. November 7, 2017. Steve Russell/Toronto Star[/caption]

In the morning

Have 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 K.B. Reynolds Mastin Gallery, located in the Debajehmujig Creation Centre. From there, it’s a short walk to the Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex, which is 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 Cardell Street (which turns into Wikwemikong Way) to Wikwemikong, the island’s largest First Nation community.
In the afternoon
Wikwemikong 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 La Cloche Mountains, the North Channel and the traditional fishing grounds of the Anishnaabek of Wikwemikong. There are three different culinary outings, one of which is the Clay-Baked Georgian Bay Trout and Tea, with 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 Centre to shop for hand-crafted jewellery 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 evening
Head 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.
In the morning

After 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-metre high Bridal Veil Falls, located near the town of Kagawong. Interpretive plaques near its base tell the story of the Legend of Maswein, his experiences 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 crossed 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

  • 7:30 a.m. Leave Toronto

  • 1 pm. Elliott’s Restaurant

  • 1:30 p.m.Low Island Park

  • 2:30 p.m.Cup and Saucer Nature Reserve

  • 5:30 p.m. Manitoulin Inn and Conference Centre

  • 7 p.m. Anchor Inn Grill

Day Two

  • 10 a.m. K.B. Reynolds Mastin Gallery

  • 11 a.m. Assiginack Museum Heritage Complex

  • NoonBebamikawe Memorial Trail Indigenous Experience

  • 5 p.m. Ed’s Family Restaurant

  • 7 p.m. Paddle the Night Sky

Day three

  • 9 a.m. New Grain Kitchen

  • 11 a.m. Misery Bay Provincial Park

  • Noon Bridal Veil Falls

  • 1 p.m. Maggie’s Café

  • 2 p.m. Ojibwe Cultural Foundation




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