Experiencing Wikwemikong & the True History of Manitoulin

Experiencing Wikwemikong: The Leading Indigenous Tourism Destination in Ontario :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Over the past few years, Canadians and tourists alike have begun to take steps toward learning more about the true history of these lands. One great way to do so is through Indigenous tourism experiences as this allows folks like myself to expand our knowledge in a non-intrusive, welcomed way. In Ontario, there are a number of tourism businesses but Wikwemikong certainly stands out amongst them! Travel with me to the only federally recognized unceded territory in what is now Canada to learn more about how this came to be, the area’s rich history and the experiences you can enjoy during your visit.

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Jack Standing in Front of the Remains of the Residential School in Wikwemikong :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Jack Sharing Important Information on The Unceded Journey Tour

Wikwemikong Tourism Experiences

One of, if not THE best way to learn about Odawa Mnis (Manitoulin Island) is by taking a tour with Wikwemikong Tourism. They have a number of options depending on your interests! They must be booked in advance and you can do so on their website here.

The Unceded Journey

If you’re going to participate in any of the tours on this list, it should be The Unceded Journey. On this tour, participants will learn about the true history of Manitoulin Island dating back centuries. You will learn about how Wikwemikong became the only Unceded Territory to be recognized federally by Canada. There is so much information to absorb as you learn about the arrival of the Jesuits, the impact of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, important treaties such as the Bond Head Treaty of 1836 and the Treaty of 1862, along with other important dates in 1975, 1986 and 2006 – all of which have shaped the area into what you see today.

You will also be taught about the Residential School System and its aftermath. The Unceded Journey tour will focus on the residential schools around the Great Lakes as well as in Northern Ontario, giving you a unique perspective on how much it still affects Indigenous communities to this very day. I was blown away by our guide Jack’s willingness to share about his own journey to overcome these impacts. It truly made the tour incredibly memorable and I think I can speak for everyone on our tour when I say it’s an experience we will never forget.

I’m not going into too specific of details because this really is a tour you need to experience yourself! You will learn so much that isn’t taught in history books in just a few short hours. Whether you are visiting on vacation, a newcomer to Canada, or have been born and raised here, this is a tour everyone should take.

Venison Chili, Bannock and Cedar Tea :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Venison Chili, Bannock and Cedar Tea

Indigenous Culinary Experiences

One of Wikwemikong’s newest experiences, this is the perfect way to reconnect with the land. Visitors will forage for seasonal ingredients found along the forest floor with your guide which will then be used in your culinary experience! Indigenous communities relied on the plants and medicines found in the area for their vitamin and mineral intake and these culinary experiences will give you a glimpse of that.

Afterwards, head to the stunning Outdoor Culinary Space where your meal will be prepared over an open fire. This isn’t a show for you to watch though as you’ll be right in there cooking alongside your Indigenous guide! Who knows, you might just learn a trick or two that you’ll take home and add to your own meals. Wikwemikong currently has three culinary offerings for you to choose from, all of which come with a herbal tea made from foraged ingredients.

Clay Baked Georgian Bay Trout – Guests will enjoy fresh Georgian Bay trout stuffed with sage, mint, sumac and honey which is then wrapped in plantain leaves, covered in clay and baked in hot coals.

Cedar Plank Georgian Bay Trout – Cooked over a cedar plank, fresh Georgian Bay trout is seasoned with sage, mint and sumac, glazed with maple syrup and served with wild rice.

Stoned Cooked Venison – If you’re not one for fish, you will be treated to hearty venison cooked over an open fire on flat rock stone which is then served with wild foraged edibles and mushrooms. 

INSIDER TIP: The culinary experiences can be booked as an add-on for The Unceded Journey. Chances are you’ll work up an appetite as you learn so I highly recommend doing this!

Unfortunately due to a scarily early wildfire season, there was a fire ban in place for Northern Ontario during my visit so I was unable to truly experience this tour. However, my mind, body and spirit were still well-fed thanks to Luke and Vince of Wikwemikong Tourism as they provided an incredible venison chili that came straight from the land! I also enjoyed some blueberry wild rice and enjoyed everything with some delicious cedar tea.

Clan System Display at the Bebamikawe Trailhead :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Clan System Display at the Bebamikawe Trailhead

Bebamikawe: Making Footprints

This experience begins at the Bebamikawe Memorial Trailhead. Named in honour of Onezime Bebamikawe (translating to leaving a path or footprints), he was a veteran of World War II and a prominent figure in Wikwemikong. He, alongside four others, lost their lives due to a tragic accident in 1971 and this trail was created to remember them by. It is also a fantastic way to teach those who explore the trails about Indigenous traditions as there are numerous interpretive signs throughout including a gathering space that shares about clan governance right at the start of the trail.

SOMETHING TO NOTE: You can explore this trail without a guide, however taking a guided tour will elevate your experience to a whole new level.

Stretch your legs and learn how Manitoulin is home to one of the most diverse plant ecosystems in all of North America! Your guide will share about both practical and medicinal uses for a number of plants found along the trail. While the terrain for this hike is easy, there is some elevation so it will get the blood flowing! Make your way to the top where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the traditional Fishing Islands of the Anishinaabe from the Nadweh Lookout. You’ll also spot Point Grondine where you can go camping and enjoy some of their amazing hiking trails. 

Your guide will then share why this area is so special and share some of the oral histories of these lands. Captivating tales of encounters with voyageurs, battles with the Iroquois and the infamous Manitoulin Incident await!

One of the Plaques in Wikwemikong at the Buzwah Lookout :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Views From the Buzwah Lookout Platform in Wikwemikong

More Wikwemikong Indigenous Experiences

While the above tours are the main experiences you can enjoy with Wikwemikong, they have a few other offerings as well. They’re certainly on my radar for a future visit!

Bay of the Beaver – Learn about what lies beneath the brilliant waters of Georgian Bay with the Bay of the Beaver Tour. Participants will hear stories and learn about traditions while paddling ancient canoe routes utilized by the Anishinaabe. Take in the sights and sounds of the historic Wiikwemkoong fishing islands during this half-day tour.

Paddle the Night Sky – Departing from Meeshkodewaang (Prairie Point), enjoy an evening paddle as you explore the shores of Georgian Bay from the water. Your guide will share traditional teachings surrounding aquatic plants and medicines until the magnificent colours of golden hour transform into night. As darkness falls, listen to the stories and legends of the water spirits, the history of the area’s trading routes and the fierce ancient battles with the Iroquois. This tour is only offered a handful of times (August 15 and 22 in 2023!) so if you have your heart set on it, be sure to book ASAP!

James Inside the Mishibinijima Art Gallery :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

James Inside the Mishibinijima Art Gallery

Exploring Wikwemikong

If you’re unable to secure a tour or are looking to stop by Wikwemikong on your own time while exploring Manitoulin Island, there is still plenty to see and do!

Mishibinijima Art Gallery – Visitors will be blown away by the incredible talent of Ojibway artist James Simon Mishibinijima. Located just off Wikwemikong Way at 426 Lakeshore Road, this gallery is bursting with colour. Intricately detailed paintings adorn every wall with each one captivating the viewer. If a picture is worth a thousand words then James’ paintings have even more stories to share! Spend some time admiring his paintings representing specific places like Mackinac Island and ideologies such as the Seven Grandfather Teachings. 

Rainbow Ridge Golf Course – If spending some time on the green is part of a perfect day for you then you’ll want to tackle the 18 holes on the Rainbow Ridge Golf Course! Just outside of the territory, it is owned and operated by Wikwemikong. I’ve heard this course is no cakewalk as golfers will enjoy 6,424 yards of golf from the longest tees with a par of 72. It’s said the first nine holes are the most challenging so once you get through them, it should be smooth sailing!

Inside the Wikwemikong Gift Shop :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

A Few of the Items You Can Find Inside the Wikwemikong Gift Shop

Wikwemikong Gift Shop – No trip to Wikwemikong is complete without stopping at the gift shop! Here you will find 100% authentically Indigenous-made items including artwork, crafts, jewellery and more. The majority of the items are made by local artisans from Odawa Mnis (Manitoulin Island) and by purchasing these items, you’re directly supporting the local community. Take a look at their website for a sample of the incredible talent found on the island!

Experience a Pow Wow – As summer arrives, Pow Wow season begins! There are a number of events across Odawa Mnis, two of which are hosted by Wikwemikong. The first occurs mid-June and is a traditional event that’s hosted by one of the satellite communities. The second occurs during the August long weekend and is a large competitive event where dancers come from across Turtle Island (North America) to compete. To attend is an honour and a privilege – plus you might just see the incredibly talented Rolling Thunder Dance Traditions as they proudly represent Odawa Mnis!

RELATED: If you have never attended a Pow Wow before, I highly recommend reading my first-timer guide to familiarize yourself with the traditions so that you can be a respectful guest.

Main Seating Area of the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Main Seating Area of the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre

Where to Stay When Visiting Wikwemikong

As of right now, Wikwemikong does not have an official option for accommodation. With the popularity of Airbnb and VRBO, you may be able to find some options that way. However, Manitoulin Island does have an Indigenous-owned and operated hotel – it’s just in Little Current!

A short drive away, the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre is a great option for exploring Wikwemikong as well as Manitoulin Island. Step inside and guests will be treated to a stunning foyer inspired by the local landscape and Indigenous traditions. Paintings depicting the Seven Grandfather Teachings adorn the walls and a stunning fireplace is at the centre of a round seating area, enticing all who enter to gather as a community. Outside guests can enjoy a seat on the patio and enjoy beautiful views of Lake Huron’s North Channel and take a dip in the seasonal outdoor pool.

Two Queen Bed Room at the Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Two Queen Bed Room at the Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre

Inside each room, you’ll find a number of great amenities that makes this the perfect spot to call home base while exploring Odawa Mnis. Decorated with brilliant Indigenous artwork, each room has a desk complete with a comfy work chair, a Keurig machine, flatscreen TV and a large cupboard which came in handy when I got rained on during my visit. Plus you have a refrigerator as well as a microwave which I was very thankful for so I could reheat my leftovers! Rooms vary between two queen beds, one king bed as well as a king suite that also has an additional seating area.

While breakfast is not included with your stay, I highly recommend enjoying a meal at the hotel restaurant, North 46. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, guests can enjoy a number of meals utilizing locally sourced ingredients. Both gluten-free and vegan options are available. Their bison steak is very popular though I’m impartial to their Anishinaabe Taco and Manitoulin Whitefish. Take a look at the menu and you’ll certainly find something that tickles your tastebuds!

If the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre is unavailable during your dates, take a look at other hotels on Manitoulin Island via Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia or VRBO.

Jack from Wikwemikong Tourism at the Nadweh Lookout :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Jack from Wikwemikong Tourism at the Nadweh Lookout

Things to Know When Visiting Wikwemikong

Whether you were born in what is now Canada or you’re visiting from another country, it’s important to remember that you are a guest in Wikwemikong. Treat everyone and everything with respect and leave any place you visit better than you left it! If you’re looking to visit Wikwemikong yourself, here are some things to know that will help you plan your visit.

Where is Wikwemikong?

Wikwemikong is located on the eastern side of Manitoulin Island. If you’re coming from the north, you’ll take the Trans Canada Highway to the Espanola turn-off and follow Highway 6 which will take you through the towns of Espanola, Little Current, Sheguiandah and into Manitowaning. In the summer months, visitors can take the MS Chi-Cheemaun from Tobermory to South Baymouth. Again, you’ll follow Highway 6 north towards Manitowaning.

In either direction, Wikwemikong can be accessed by car from Highway 6. Turn onto Meredith Street in Manitowaning and follow Cardwell Street until it turns into Wikwemikong Way as you arrive in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.

What is the Difference between Wikwemikong and Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory?

Wikwemikong is in reference to the First Nation that lives on the land whereas Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory is in reference to the territory itself and reflects the traditional pronunciation and spelling.

When Are The Wikwemikong Tours Available?

Tours can be booked from June to October and exact dates vary each year. It’s best to reach out via their website for exact availability!

Do You Need to Book a Tour in Order to Visit Wikwemikong?

No, you can visit whenever you like! Tours will certainly enhance your experience and understanding while in the territory but you don’t need to book a tour in order to visit.

Since You’re in Wikwemikong…
Why Not Check Out The Top Things to Do on Manitoulin Island?

I was able to visit the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and experience some of Wikwemikong’s tourism offerings thanks to Northern Ontario Tourism as part of the Travel Media Association of Canada Conference. While I enjoyed these experiences in kind, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!

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