In a number of significant ways, Manitoulin Island is a truly unique place on Earth. It is located on Lake Huron, in Northern Ontario, and holds the record for being the largest lake island in the world. It is so large that the island itself has 108 inland lakes, many of which have their own islands with themselves having their own inland lakes. This recursion of freshwater lakes and islands is one aspect of Manitoulin that imbibes it with a vibrant ecosystem and fascinating history.
The indigenous Ojibwe and Odawa people who inhabit the island tell of ancient legends regarding a great spirit, called Gitchi Manitou, who is/was based on the island. Supposedly Manitou used a secret underwater cave that linked the far ends of the island to travel from South Bay and Manitowaning Bay. It is from this legend that the original name of the island, Manitowaning, was derived, which translates to “spirit island” or “cave of the spirit” in Ojibwe.
This particular cave system is a mystery, and there have not been any serious expeditions to find it. As far as legends go, the underwater cave may very well lie somewhere in the cold depths, waiting to be rediscovered. Who knows what ancient secrets it holds that inspired the legends?
Why Is Manitoulin Island An Island Of 'Firsts?'
They call it the island of firsts because it was the site of the first European settlement in Canada. The border between the US and Canada passes through Lake Huron, which indicates that settlers traveled to the island from Wisconsin or Michigan.
- Thunder Bay is the nearest mainland city to Manitoulin, anchoring it to the rest of the continent
The island is also home to six indigenous reserves, among them, Wikwemikong is the only unceded reserve in Canada, which means that it has not relinquished authority or subjugation to the Canadian government. In that sense, it is closer to a permanent autonomous zone or micronation than it is to a native reserve. The indigenous people are refreshingly welcoming and eager to share their traditions and knowledge with respectful outsiders.
Over the years, one of the primary draws of Manitoulin is the prospect of dining with the locals and going on guided nature tours and hikes. On such hikes, the indigenous tour guide gives visitors an insider perspective on the land and its history. Hikers will learn about the various endemic plants, insects, animals, and geographical features that the tribes have relied on for centuries. Some medicinal plants on Manitoulin, for example, rival allopathic pharmaceuticals in their effectiveness and safety. There is so much to learn from the indigenous people of this spiritual island.
Dating back further than it is possible to conceive, there is archeological evidence to suggest that Paleo-Indian cultures had settled on Manitoulin from as far back as 10,000 BC to 2000BC. Paleo-Indians were the first settlers to have reached North America, long before Europeans. These ancient pioneers supposedly crossed the Bering Strait from far east Russia into Alaska before moving further into the rest of the continent. Several thousands of years ago, there was a narrow land bridge, now submerged, that the migrants traveled along to get from Asia to North America.
Was it adverse conditions that propelled them, or was it a burning curiosity to explore the horizon? The closest thing to an answer can be found in the indigenous legends and stories that have been orally passed down for generations.
Where To Stay And Eat In Manitoulin
Despite being relatively sparsely populated, the island offers a sizable selection of resorts and hotels to stay in. Manitoulin is the kind of place where one cannot go wrong in choosing a place to stay. Visitors can reliably expect to be the only ones on the beach or hiking trail, and virtually every hotel is in close proximity to pristine nature.
The Twin Peaks Bed and Breakfast is a great option. Like its namesake, the hotel blends tranquility and mystery with classic stylings. The hotel, which is the embodiment of elegant Victorian architecture, sits on twelve acres of forests and lakes.
- Hotel: Twin Peaks B&B
- Address: Box 395, 1862 Hwy 551, Mindemoya, ON P0P 1S0
- Room: Field of Dreams (1 Queen Bed)
- Price per night: Peak Rates 2022: $164 Single/$189 Double room
It is always better to patron a local business over an international chain. 3 Cows and a Cone is a homegrown Manitoulin restaurant that serves a wide array of desserts and local cuisine. It's worth visiting for the location alone, as the restaurant is right next to the historical Swing Bridge.
- Food served: Ice cream, fish and chips, poutine
- Address: 64 Meredith St E, Little Current - P0P 1K0
When To Visit Manitoulin
For common vacation activities such as fishing, hiking, water activities, and beach-going, the best time to visit Manitoulin is the summer - this would be around June and July.
The fall, starting in August until October, is one of the most beautiful times of the year. The autumn colors are in full display, and it is when some of the most culturally significant festivals occur. Hawberries are harvested, and on the first weekend of August, the locals throw parades, street parties, competitions, and burst firecrackers in commemoration of the harvest.
Hawberries are a big deal in Manitoulin, so much so that natives of the island are called Haweaters.
As if the rest of the year was not amazing enough, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, light up the skies of Manitoulin in the winter.
What To Do In Manitoulin
There are two primary attractions in Manitoulin. The first is nature, which involves everything from mainstream activities like hiking and swimming to heroic callings like exploring underwater caves and discovering islands.
Bridal Veil Falls is a popular destination near Kagawong. The falls are easily accessible and, in the summer, they provide great opportunities for swimming and cliff diving. In October, visitors can watch salmon spawning.
For hiking, the Cup and Saucer Trail is one of the most famous. Without being too challenging, the hike crescendos into breathtaking views of the stunning scenery. Sunrises and sunsets on Manitoulin are the best in the world.
Providence bay beach, on the south shore, is one of the biggest beaches on the island, where visitors can fish, swim, and picnic on the fine sand.
The second way to make the most of Manitoulin is to get to know the indigenous people. The Anishinabek are the most outward-facing tribe on the island. They are notably warm and welcoming to outsiders and are eager to share their culture and traditions.
As mentioned, Manitoulin has 108 freshwater lakes. The largest lakes are Manitou, Kagawong, and Mindemoya, all of which have their own islands.
Treasure Island, on Lake Mindemoya, is known for being the world's largest natural island in a lake on island in a lake. It is a whopping 82 acres and aptly named.
With so many mysteries and amazing phenomena, there's no shortage of substantial and memorable things to do in Manitoulin.