Hiking, cycling and culture plentiful on near-north island
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According to local legend, Manitoulin Island was the Great Spirit’s final project when creating the world.
The Creator needed a place to rest after breathing life into North America, explains Alan Corbiere, who manages the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation on the island.
“It is said he took the most sparkling water, the nicest trees and the cleanest air, and this is Manitoulin,” he said, recounting a tale that has been passed down through generations.
That might account for why the world’s largest freshwater island — covering about 2,700 sq. km at the northern end of Lake Huron — is a gem of a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
The island, home to 13,000 residents and seven aboriginal reserves, offers a range of vacation experiences, whether it’s watching the swing bridge (one of the few such bridges in Canada) let nautical visitors pass through at Little Current, or dropping into the restaurant located inside the lighthouse at Meldrum Bay (try the apple pie) or kayaking on one of the more than 100 interior lakes.
A visit to the island isn’t complete without a morning or afternoon on the Cup and Saucer Trail, a 12 km course that takes hikers along some of the highest points of the Niagara Escarpment, to where rock formations are suggestive of a tea cup and saucer.
Steep climbs will require hikers to get their hands dirty, but the payoff — a view of Georgian Bay’s North Channel from atop 70-m bluffs — is well worth the effort. Different sections of the trail have varying difficulty levels, including a separate two-km extreme adventure course.
A shorter walk is found at Bridal Veil Falls in the quaint village of Kagawong. Visitors can swim at the base of the falls and even pass behind them.
The island’s lakes and three main rivers offer kayakers opportunities for up-close-and-personal encounters with ducks, muskrats and other water life. And a newly opened off-road cycling trail at McLean’s Park offers thrill seekers several circuits inside the 40-hectare forest.
Another island treat is the aboriginal cultural experience, which begins with the Great Spirit Circle Trail. A collective of First Nations organizations, the Circle Trail offers visitors a look at traditions and lifestyle born on the island.
Circle Trail tour packages include half-day walks led by native guides, workshops on graphic printing and overnight stays in a teepee.
The trail has become a hit with European tourists, especially Germans, said Circle Trail manager Kevin Eshkawkogan.
“Our way of life interests them,” he said. “They want a travel experience where they’ve learned something.” Nine summer powwows held annually on the island showcase the pageantry of First Nations peoples.
An afternoon at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation at M’Chigeeng would include hearing storytellers. Tales would include ones of Nanibush, a young man who carried his grandmother on his back from southern Ontario through the Bruce Peninsula and across the water to Manitoulin to avoid an angry mob. “There are all kinds of legends (about the island),” said Eshkawkogan.
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