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Ontario, Canada - A clash of cultures on Manitoulin Island: Family travel review

Writer Lynn Houghton discovers the delcious food, fun activities and historical delights of a family holiday in Ontario

Posted: 29 September 2015
by Catherine Hudson

Tepee and Totems, Manitoulin Island

Did you know that the first European outpost appeared in Ontario in the mid-17th century and was named Saint-Marie?  Run by French Jesuits, it only survived for ten years before being abandoned and then burnt to the ground.  And that the entrance to the afterlife, according to the Petun First Nation tribe, is via a rock formation near Collingwood known as Ekarenniondi? Or, on a rather lighter note, that there are over 7,000 restaurants in Toronto for its two million residents and foodies?

The clash of First Nation, French, English, Asian and now many other newcomers has created a province like no other with a people that are open and friendly. Throw in the vibrancy of Toronto, plus the old world charm of Ottawa for good measure, and you can virtually guarantee a unique family holiday in Ontario.

The mighty Niagara Falls

As far as tourist attractions are concerned, Ontario, Canada is perhaps best known for the thundering Niagara Falls. In fact, most of Ontario is situated on enormous lakes: Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, the Georgian Bay, Lake Erie and Lake Superior, as well as the Hudson Bay. These bodies of water all play an incredibly important part in defining the character of Ontario. Anyone coming here will, undoubtedly, want to indulge in the vast array of water sports, as we did; but there is much more on offer and much more to explore. We chose to visit Manitoulin Island.

West Bay, Manitoulin Island

I loved visiting Manitoulin Island, the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world, which is nestled between Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay. Local First Nation Expert and Guide, Steve Antoine of the Great Spirit Circle, gave me a taste of the authentic experiences available on the M’Chigeeng Reserve. But, first I had to get to Manitoulin Island via the mainland. We drove along the Georgian Bay to Tobermory to catch the Chi-Cheemaun ferry (about a six to seven hour journey north, if coming directly from Toronto). We then had a two-hour sailing through the still blue waters of Lake Huron and past scores of islands to Manitoulin. Though we stayed two nights at the north east tip of the island in a lovely town named Little Current, we spent most of our time on the M’Chigeeng Reserve.

Canoeing on Manitoulin Island
Canoeing on Manitoulin Island

Our first evening on the reserve, we had a relaxing paddle out into West Bay in a trusty red canoe. There were three of us in the canoe, one paddling at the front and one at the back while the person in the middle took photos. The calmness and stillness was relaxing and there were tremendous views of the Cup and Saucer hike on the mainland just beyond the beaches. But it was hearing the call of the Loon that was both soothing and mystical. Our guide had a wooden bird device that could imitate the Loon’s call so man and bird could communicate with each other. Then an enormous trout jumped out of the water in front of us in pursuit of a tasty bug. It was all happening out on the water on that evening!

Family glamping in a teepee

The next morning, it was off into the forest to explore all the medicinal qualities of the local plant-life including balsam (mentholatum for colds), cedar and birch. Next, was a real purification ceremony which took place at the Ojibwe Cultural Centre. As in days of old, we asked for the Great Spirit’s blessing by using the smoke of sweetgrass (the sweetgrass is braided into three strands representing mind, body and spirit) cedar, tobacco and sage.  It is a beautiful and moving ceremony and I found out that kids really engage with its meaning.

This night, we stayed in a teepee in a campground behind the Great Spirit Circle office. The facilities were excellent with wood pits, picnic tables, restrooms and a shower all on site. An authentic wood BBQ dinner was fun to cook and we enjoyed the warming fire before finally retreating into our cosy tepee for a good night’s sleep. The best part was seeing the stars through the top of the tepee; the not so good part was that there was road noise right up until about 11pm. Families can either snuggle into one large teepee or split between two. There are comfy beds and cots to sleep on. 

The M’Chigeeng Pow-Wow

Our last day on Manitoulin Island, we went to the M’Chigeeng Pow-Wow…an inspiring event held at a local grassy sports complex surrounded by forest.  I felt immediately welcomed by all the warm, friendly participants.  Before being seating we had a look at the kiosks all around the event’s perimetre with food and trinkets to purchase.  But I was transfixed when seeing all the authentic regalia. Furs, feathers, woven materials, shawls, moccasins - there even was a shaman with an animal’s skeleton on his head – it truly was spectacular.  And I have never seen young ones having such a great time.  One youngster had a pair of bison’s horns covering his head and had on an incredible costume of fur, also adorned with feathers…he really looked the part and danced with great fervour.  All spectators were invited to join in the dancing as the afternoon went on, accompanied by the traditional singing and drumming.  Thank goodness the steps were simple... 

Tee Pee Glamping at the Great Spirit Circle Office on Manitoulin Island, Sagamok Region, 5905 Hwy 540, P.O. Box 469, M’Chigeeng, Ontario is $155.00 per night double occupancy and is $10.00 per additional person.  For a family of four - 4 Twin beds is a rate of $175.00 per night.  T: (705) 377-4404

Alternatively, you might like to stay here:

Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre, 66 Meredith E, Little Current. T: (705) 368-9966 or visit:


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