There’s something about connecting with nature on a hiking trail that always fills me with a sense of peace. As I followed an Indigenous guide along the Kagawong Trail on Manitoulin Island, I felt that sense of peace and wonder stronger than ever.
As we walked along pathways that his ancestors had trod for thousands of years, Steven Fox-Radulovich shared legends and age-old knowledge about the plants that grow in this biodiverse landscape. His connection to the land is rooted in thousands of years of history and it allowed me to feel connected too.
“Whenever visitors come to Manitoulin, we are always hoping to expose them to the beauty of the land, first and foremost, and then through our stories, hopefully help them connect to that land.” explained Kevin Eshkawkogan, Chief Executive Officer at Indigenous Tourism Ontario.
There are close to two dozen recognized trails on Manitoulin Island and experiencing them with an Indigenous guide is one of the best ways to immerse oneself in the culture, history, and natural beauty of the island.
Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation is a great place to start your journey into the culture and history of Manitoulin Island.
“The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation was created to preserve and restore the culture, language, history, arts, and traditions of my people,” Fox-Radulovich explained. “There was a lot of knowledge out there and a lot of that knowledge was disappearing.”
Steven is the son of Mary Lou Fox-Radulovich, one of the original 1974 founders of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. Today, the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation is a place to connect and share the Anishinaabe culture through a variety of experiences. We toured the art exhibit displaying beautiful creations by local Anishinaabe artists and learned the important history of residential schools on Manitoulin Island by reading the stories of survivors in the museum. If you plan ahead, you can also participate in one of the workshops offered at the centre that include authentic experiences like bracelet making, Ojibwe language classes, snowshoe making, ribbon skirt making, and much more.
Get Outside and Explore the Trails
One of the best ways to connect with Indigenous culture on Manitoulin Island is to spend time in nature. Anishinaabe People have a deep spiritual connection with the land and learning about the stories, legends, and beliefs surrounding different landmarks and areas is an interesting and impactful way to view the island. The stories shared by Fox-Radulovich gave me a greater appreciation for the island because I learned more about the cultural significance of the landscape and sites.
Bridal Veil Falls is located just outside the village of Kagawong. The name “Kagawong” is an Ojibwe word meaning, “where the mists rise from the falling waters.”
Fox-Radulovich explained that the creator picked the most beautiful pieces of the world when creating Manitoulin Island and as I walked down the staircase to view the 11-metre-tall waterfall in front of me, I understood perfectly what he meant. A short trail where we walked followed the river and Fox-Radulovich shared more about his home with us. There are a wide variety of different ecosystems on Manitoulin Island. It’s one of the most biodiverse regions in Canada which is colourfully represented in a one kilometre trail. We began in a lush green river valley and continued through into an old growth forest filled with large coniferous trees.
Scientists have long recognized Manitoulin island for its incredible biodiversity. In 2021, the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe ecoregion was identified as one of southern Canada’s nine most significant and threatened places for biodiversity conservation. The study was conducted by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and published in the journal, Biodiversity and Conservation. Though the island is small in terms of total land mass, the land and waters that surround it provide important habitat for many species at risk.
The group I travelled with experienced a guided hike and enjoyed exploring other trails on our own. A very well-known hike, the Cup and Saucer Trail is popular for a reason. It provides some of the best views of Manitoulin. Now a popular tourist destination, the Cup and Saucer trail has held significance to Indigenous people for thousands of years. Named “Michigiwadinong,” which means, “bluff in the shape of a spearhead” in Ojibwe, the trail has been trekked by Indigenous people long before European settlers arrived. Ojibwe storytellers share the legend of Nenabozhoo, an Ojibwe cultural hero also known to be a trickster. Interpretive signs along the trail told the interesting Indigenous history and explained that Cup and Saucer trail is “the place where Nenabozhoo lay down his spearhead while fleeing Iroquois warriors he had been tormenting for countless generations.” In 2018, these informational signs were unveiled allowing all who hike this trail to learn the cultural legends and stories of this special area.
Bebamikawe Memorial Hiking Trail provides amazing views along the Niagara Escarpment. Though we didn’t have time to hike the trail, we stopped at the North Channel Lookout, a beautiful viewpoint at a historically significant location. The North Channel served as a main point of transportation for the Anishinaabe People for thousands of years. There are several informational signs detailing the historical significance of this trail.
Manitoulin Island beckons with its captivating blend of Indigenous culture and pristine outdoors. Here, you can immerse yourself in stunning landscapes and indulge in outdoor adventures while also learning about the rich heritage and traditions of the Anishinaabe People. From hiking trails to cultural experiences, Manitoulin Island offers a unique experience that combines the beauty of nature with a deep appreciation for Indigenous culture.
MORE ABOUT MANITOULIN ISLAND
Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory Website: wiikwemkoong.ca
North Eastern Ontario Website: northeasternontario.com
Destination Ontario Website: destinationontario.com
Where to stay: The Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre is an excellent hotel located in Little Current. The modern hotel’s decor is inspired by Indigenous culture with a contemporary feel. Enjoy your morning coffee by the large indoor fireplace while you gaze at the gorgeous views of Lake Huron.
Where to dine: Sample some local brews at Manitoulin Brewing Company. The large outdoor patio is the perfect place to rest after a day of exploring the island. For a unique dining experience head to Purvis Fish & Chips located in a lighthouse overlooking Gore Bay. Elliot’s Restaurant offers delicious cuisine in a cozy setting, while 3 Cows & a Cone is perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth with their delectable home made ice cream treats.
Getting there: From Sudbury take Highway East until you reach the town of Espanola. In Espanola, take the exit onto Highway 6 South towards Little Current/Manitoulin Island. Follow Highway 6 for about 80 km until you reach the Little Current Swing Bridge that will allow you to drive across to Little Current.
Kelsey Olsen is a Métis writer and author. Follow her adventures at www.wanderwoman.ca.