Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Immersing ourselves in Aboriginal Culture at Manitoulin Island

We had the most amazing experience of learning and appreciation during our trip to Manitoulin Island. It is the largest freshwater island in the world with countless trails and exploration that is good for the soul.
We drove from Toronto to Little Current, Manitoulin Island and entered through the heritage swing bridge constructed in 1913 for the Algoma Eastern Railway. This 980 tonne bridge is the only land access to the island. In 1945, the bridge was modified to take both rail and vehicle traffic. In 1980 the railway tracks were removed and modified again to serve vehicles only. The bridge swings open for boats to pass under the bridge during the first 15 minutes of each hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in June, July, and August, and in spring and fall for boats in demand; all other times it is kept in the closed position to allow vehicles. 
Once we crossed the bridge, we stopped at the information centre right next to the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre where we stayed. At the information centre, we can pick up a map of the island, where the helpful staff gave us some suggestions on special attractions and events in the island.
Staying at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre was very convenient, as it is close to all the places we wanted to explore. We loved our view from the hotel room, a very artistic and serene scenery of boats passing by, sun sets, mountains and more. The room had everything we needed after the long 5 to 6 hour trip from Toronto – microwave, mini-fridge, iron, bathroom with stand up shower, and all the other basic amenities.
We first stopped at the Bridal Veil Falls, which felt like a beautiful sanctuary. Once we park the vehicle, we can take the steel staircase to go down to the falls. Many people were bathing and walking behind the falls. We found the rocks slippery, and chose not to swim. 
There is a hiking trail that leads us to attractions like the Old Mill Heritage Centre and Post Office Museum, beach area, Chocolate and boutique shops. 
Instead of hiking from Bridal Veil Falls, we can drive to see these attractions. At the Old Mill Museum, there is an opportunity to learn about life during the world wars, history of Billings township, about past political leaders and more.
While at Manitoulin Island, we took the most satisfying and challenging hike we have ever tried, the Cup and Saucer hiking trail. Once we reached to the top of the trail, and saw the panoramic view of the island from the top with its beautiful greenery, lakes and mountains, it was spectacular. To climb up to the 70 metre cliffs and enjoy the breathtaking views took us about 2 hours to the top and back. This hike really gave us a total sense of achievement.
In the evenings during our stay, we visited Low Island Park to enjoy playing in the park which is by the lake. We also went to Lillian’s Crafts and Museum store where they have traditional items by First Nation Artists and bought home memorable items.
We also visited the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, an art gallery in M'Chigeeng First Nation where we learned about Aboriginal crafts and got to have a sense of appreciation to how they used different materials found in nature such as porcupine quills to make a variety of products such as baskets. They also have an artist on site that holds different craft sessions which families can pay and join to make crafts such as medicine bags, bracelets and more. At the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, we read information that taught us about the clan system of Aboriginal peoples, and learned about residential schools.
We were super excited to join the medicine walk tour at the Great Sprit Circle, where we were able to fully appreciate the knowledge of the Aboriginal people and how they depended on the nature that surrounded them. It gave us an opportunity to really learn a whole new way of looking at plants, which we consider to be weed. 
For example, the milk weed is used to treat bug bites, sap of the poplar tree buds for nasal congestions, cedar leaves and mint for tea, birch bark to make canoes and used as fire starters. We learned about many other plants during the nature hike and by touring the Great Sprit Circle garden. Before we started the hike, our guides demonstrated and let us participate in a sacred ceremonial smudge. The guide combined tobacco leaves, sweetgrass, sage and cedar leaves then lit a fire to create smoke, which is known as a smoke smudge used to cleanse our senses to get rid of negative energy.  
After our hike we went back to the longhouse teaching lodge, where we were treated with cedar and mint tea sweetened with maple syrup, and a snack of traditional bannok and berries topped with whipped cream. We loved that our guides were able to answer all our questions about the plants medicinal, practical, edible, and spiritual uses as well as about the Aboriginal culture. It is not only an educational experience, but also gave us a true appreciation of Aboriginal people and their culture. Great Sprit Circle has lots of other tours that families can join such as making drums to get an opportunity to experience Aboriginal culture.
We were able to further our knowledge from our experiences at Parc Omega about the First Nations people and the importance of harmony between man and animals at the Great Spirit Circle. We are glad that this summer we visited the teaching rocks at Petroglyphs Provincial Park that connected what we saw at Manitoulin Island and gave us an in-depth understanding for certain traditions and beliefs. 
During these adventures, we were able to understand more about Aboriginal cultural beliefs that is very close to our own beliefs of the great spirit or God, and how everything in nature is connected and must be protected by us to maintain harmony.
Having this authentic Indigenous experience that reflect the cultural lifestyle and traditions of the Anishnaabek people of the Three Fires Confederacy – Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi is an unforgettable one!

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  1. Looks like a cool place to visit especially the Falls.

  2. Debbie White BeattieSeptember 21, 2017 at 3:14 AM

    Wow it looks like such a beautiful place and the products they make are amazing

  3. How lovely - I'd love to go visit Petroglyphs Provincial Park.

  4. I have not been to Manitoulin but it's definitely on our bucket list of places to visit in Ontario!

  5. Wow looks like a great place to visit , such a beautiful place thanks for sharing :) Treen Goodwin

  6. Looks like there is lots to do, and lots to learn! I'd love to visit someday.

  7. I would really like to visit there one day. Looks like a lot of fun!

  8. We haven't been yet but it's definitely on our list of places we want to visit. Your photos are beautiful and makes me even more determined to get there soon!

  9. Wow what a stunning place full of culture and history

  10. I had relatives living in the area but never had the chance to visit. We should plan a trip there soon. The falls would be great to see and experience.


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