Get ready to be transported back in time to a different era when you take a trip to Spirit Island in Manitoulin, Canada. The largest freshwater island on the planet, it sits in the midst of Lake Huron and is connected to the Ontario mainland by a one-lane swinging bridge.
Spend a few days exploring this wild and remote wilderness with a Great Spirit Circle Trail tour. In addition, the company runs several Aboriginal-led guided tours that are natural and cultural in the genre.
“The Great Spirit Trail represents the seven First Nations in and around Manitoulin Island. The soft adventure, ecotourism guided tours we offer, they’re all culturally inclined or also known as Aboriginal experiences. So you learn a little bit about first nations culture, spirituality, how we lived hundreds of years ago, how we live in today’s modern day society and how we hold on to some of those traditional teachings and values for the future of our younger ones,” says Great Spirit Trail lead tour guide and cultural coordinator Falcon.
The tour I embarked on with Falcon took place over two days, but the highlight was definitely the Medicine Walk. On this experience, I learned all about the natural medicines found on this special island.
“There’s a huge variety of flora and fauna. So we use it for a variety of different instances. Sometimes for practical uses sometimes for medicinal purposes, spiritual or physical and edible as well,” Falcon says. “So when we’re out in the wilderness we showed you one of the trees that fall under all four of the headings, which is the cedar, which is very important to our indigenous people around here.”
As we walk, Falcon tells me more about cedar, which his people use for spiritual purification and in a medicinal tea. Then he continues to use the inside of a milkweed pod to start fires. I am fascinated hearing these stories that portray a life so different from how I grew up.
Make and take experiences
Another popular Great Spirit Circle Trail adventure is called Make and Take Experiences. On these, you are taught actual skills like how to make fire without matches or lighters or how to make a drum, which is what I chose to experience. After you learn to make the hand drum, you take a lesson in native song and drum and then get to watch a professional drumming performance.
Other experiences offered include the Canoe Heritage Tour, which takes you across Lake Mindemoya at sunset to a picnic spot where Falcon served me fresh smoked trout with bannock and berries. We then paddled back under the light of a million stars, which was quite magical.
Speaking of bannock and berries, you can also learn to make this small, flat loaf of bread cooked in a skillet over an open grate fire, on a different experience. The recipe uses just five ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and a mix of milk and water. After mixing, you knead the mixture into a dough-like consistency and put it into a cast-iron skillet with another one placed on top to create a dutch oven. Like with other experiences, during this one, you’ll hear about the historical backstory for what you are doing.
Overall, if you’re looking for a unique back-in-time experience in Ontario, check out the Great Spirit Trail for an authentic adventure on an island in the midst of Lake Huron.
Where to Stay: The Manitoulin Hotel is convenient to the Great Spirit Trail with a location just about a 20-minute drive away in Little Current, which has a quaint downtown on the lake. The rooms feature modern decor and are comfy and tidy. I recommend dining at the onsite restaurant that makes a filling breakfast.