As the world slowly opens up for travel, Canadians are looking closer to home when making their vacation plans. But there’s only so much excitement a cottage rental can offer, and true travellers still want to do something different and inspiring, even if it’s only a short trip away. The booming Indigenous tourism industry is the perfect way to take your Ontario getaway up a notch while supporting the First Nations communities that make them possible. Here are a few of our favourites.
Star gazing and storytelling, Point Grondine Park —There are over 18,000 acres of natural wilderness to explore in this epic green space, which includes soaring old–growth pine forests and six interior lakes. Canoe on pretty water trails along the coast of Georgian Bay or hike and sea kayak along the traditional routes of the Anishnaabek people, then pitch a tent at one of 26 campsites. Serious history and nature buffs should consider signing up for one of the in–house Authentic Indigenous Experiences like Heartbeat of the Drum, an intimate workshop about Anishnaabek songs and drum teachings, or the two–night Paddle into the Wild, a guided water and backcountry tour where you retrace the Anishnaabek canoe routes, eat traditional meals of wild game and fish and settle in under the stars for a night of Indigenous storytelling.
Ride the water, Wasse–Giizhik Tours and Accomodations —Experience Manitoulin Island from the water with this boat–charter company that’s stacked to the gills with knowledgeable local guides who have fished these waters for generations. Wasse’s choose–your–own adventure format for both fishing and scenic tours means there’s something for everyone, from the avid anglers who flock to the area for the famous spring rainbow–trout run to families who just want to learn about the canoe routes of the Anishnaabek people and go for a leisurely afternoon swim. Coming in the winter? They do fully guided ice–fishing trips via snowmobile and ATV, too.
Drink local, Manitoulin Brewing Company —This hip craft–beer brand was founded in 2014 by three proud locals. While you can now pick up MBC’s tasty libations in their graphic cans at select LCBOs, visit their brew house to take your fandom to the next level. Come for the deeply stocked retail shop, stay for the outdoor patio and on–site food truck. Be sure to try the fresh and smooth Swing Bridge Blonde, named after the Little Current Swing Bridge, an iconic Manitoulin landmark and the gateway to island life.
Festival circuit, Wikwemikong Tourism —Located on the eastern peninsula, Wiikwemkoong is home to the people of Three Fires Confederacy: an alliance of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations. It’s Manitoulin’s largest First Nations community and Canada’s only officially Unceded Indigenous Territory. While there’s no shortage of outdoorsy activities in the region, Wiikwemkoong also celebrates its strong community spirit with a slew of popular events, like the annual Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival, a fall fair, an ice–fishing derby, traditional powwow performances and live theatre by the Debajehmujig theatre company.
Get cultured, Ojibwe Cultural Foundation —Located in M’Chigeeng First Nation, this 11,000–square–foot cultural hub is dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the arts, language and traditions of the Anishinaabe people of Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island). Learn about their history at the on–site museum—don’t miss the striking collection of heritage art that includes ash and sweetgrass baskets, antler carvings and porcupine–quill boxes—and be the first to see work from rising Indigenous art stars at the gallery, or check out what’s playing that night at the performance amphitheatre. Don’t leave without picking up some handmade beaded jewellery, buttery soft leather satchels or original prints at the gift shop.
Dance, eat, watch, Indigenous Experiences —From May to October, this company offers an enticing range of group experiences on the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History right on the shores of the Ottawa River. Choose from activities ranging from the Feel the Heartbeat workshop, where visitors get to play horn rattles and hide drums and learn a traditional dance, to Traditional Tea and Bannock with an Elder where, after a guided museum tour, visitors watch a powwow followed by a snack of tea and bannock, all topped off with a smudge ceremony. There’s even a voyageur option, where you can trace the late 1700s route of these famous French Canadians in a traditional canoe with a costumed interpreter sharing stories about their gruelling yet adventurous lives.
Sweet sleep, The Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre —Beautiful Manitoulin Island near Sudbury has long been a favourite destination for nature lovers and travellers interested in Indigenous history, and now there’s a full–service waterfront hotel to host them – no camping gear required! The Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre, located on the North Channel of Lake Huron, leans into the area’s heritage with decor inspired by the area’s First Nations communities, including a teepee–structure lobby with a blazing fire, and lots of wood, stone and Indigenous art throughout the property. Graze on a bison burger at on–site restaurant North46 while taking in a gorgeous view of the La Cloche Mountains.
Plan your Indigenous travel itinerary at Destination Indigenous.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada encourages travellers to respect community travel bans. Visit Destination Canada for current travel restrictions and Destination Indigenous for information on restrictions for Indigenous tourism businesses.