With its incomparable natural beauty, its rich history, its vibrant artistic community, Manitoulin, or Spirit Island in the Ojibwe language, is a world apart.
The largest freshwater island in the world, it is situated in Lake Huron some 363 kms north of Toronto and boasts more than 100 lakes and 4 major rivers where nature lovers can enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities.
It has a rich history dating to at least to 10,000 BC and possibly to 30,000 years ago according to archeological artifacts of the Paleo-Indian and Archaic periods discovered at Sheguiandah, a site which Ontario has protected through legislation. Much later, French colonial voyageurs and coureurs des bois used its North Channel to reach Lake Superior. The first known European to settle on the island was Father Joseph Poncet, a French Jesuit, who set up a mission in 1648 near Wikwemikong, now an unceded Indian reserve under Ontario law, meaning that it has never “relinquished title to its land to the government by treaty or otherwise”.
The island is sacred to its Native population, the Anishinaabe people, who identify as the “People of the Three Fires” made up of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes. This is reflected everywhere but no more than in its vibrant artistic community. Daphne Odjig, James Simon Mishibinijima, Leland Bell, Randy Trudeau, Shirley Cheechoo, Blake Deabassige are among the finest in Canada in the rich Woodlands tradition of Norval Morisseau. Carl Beam, a mixed media artist, made Canadian art history as the first artist of Native Ancestry, to have his work purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as Contemporary Art. His wife, Anne Beam, herself an artist, maintains an art gallery and museum on the island, one of many, some owned by the artists themselves, to explore for the art lovers.
Accomodations on the island range from camping to elegant resorts. The cuisine is fresh and genuine: who can argue with freshly caught salmon and trout, naturally raised beef and the freshest of vegetables?
There are golf courses, hiking trails, nature reserves, prehistoric sites, beautiful towns and natural wonders to explore everywhere. And the warmth and the sincerity of its inhabitants is without compare.
There are two ways to get to Manitoulin Island: by car, or by boat. The swing bridge at the capital of the island, Little Current, at the northeastern tip of the island, connects Manitoulin to Ontario’s highway network.
But by far the best way to get there is by ferry. From mid-May to mid-October, a ferry called the MS Chi-Cheemaun (yes it takes cars) travels from Tobermory, at the top of the Bruce Peninsula to the village of South Baymouth, at the southeastern tip of the island. It will feel like you are sailing to another world, and you will be.