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Manitoulin Island: Ontario’s Best-Kept Secret

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

If you’re not from Northern Ontario, then you probably aren’t familiar with Manitoulin Island. For Cortney Gilchrist though, this is the place she cannot wait to spend her spring and summers every year. Here are some highlights of exploring this beautiful island.

Wiikwemekoong Annual Cultural Festival

If you’re not from Northern Ontario, then you probably aren’t familiar with Manitoulin Island. To me though, this is the place I cannot wait to spend my spring and summers every year.

As a child, we would always spend our summer vacations visiting Manitoulin Island, as both of my dad’s parents were born there. Between camping out in the back of my great-uncle’s property or staying at my great-grandmother’s farmhouse in Spring Bay (where she would make us toast every morning, always having a burnt impression saying ‘Have a Great Day’ on the bread’s surface), it wasn’t hard for me to decide three years ago, where I should book my summer vacation with my son.

For those of us who live in the Greater Toronto Area, it can be hard to imagine the two-lane highways and slower pace of life. Despite this, Manitoulin Island is one of the most relaxing and adventurous places in all of Ontario. Not to mention that it’s only a ‘short’ five-hour drive away!

Kayaking along the river

Let me start off by explaining that there are only two ways to get onto “The Island”, as it’s known. One is by driving through Espanola on Highway 6 and then across the Little Current iron swing bridge (which spans across the North Channel). The swing bridge narrows down to only one lane of traffic, allowing you to drive into Little Current and enter Manitoulin Island from that point. Here, a street light and traffic arm alternate holding off traffic on either side of the bridge. Every hour on the hour between spring and autumn, for fifteen minutes, the bridge swings open to allow boats to travel through the North Channel. It is always a race to get to the bridge before it swings open and you’re left to wait for the process to complete.

Just recently, we arrived at the bridge with five minutes to spare. My son and I let out a cheer as we saw sail boats waiting for the bridge to swing open, so that they could continue on through the North Channel. Nevertheless, watching the bridge swing is a site to see in itself.

The second way to travel to the Island is via a ferry called the Chi-Cheeaun, which travels between Tobermory from the Bruce Peninsula, across to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. The journey takes about two hours to make. This is a fantastic way to travel if you want to get up and walk around while being out on the water and enjoying the water.

Once you are on the Island, life slows down and everyone likes to say that they get on “Island Time”. Summer months are high tourist season, which nearly doubles the population of Manitoulin Island – but this also means that there are plenty of great events and places to see.

Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong Ontario

One of my very favourite places to visit in Manitoulin is Bridal Veil Falls. This waterfall is located in Kagawong and is such a great local attraction. Not only do you have the beauty of the waterfall (which you can wade into, as well as climb behind the waterfall itself), but there are also great hiking trails that run parallel to the Kagawong River and rapids. Once you have hiked and climbed the waterfall, make your way down Highway 540 to Manitoulin Island Chocolate Works. Their decadent handcrafted chocolates are a place that you must stop at during your visit. Some of the individual chocolates I can’t go without buying are the Brazils (Brazil nut), Buttercrunch, Amaretto Meltaway, and Mint Meltaway. These are just my all-time favourites, but if I’m being completely honest, there isn’t a bad choice of chocolate in the entire place; this means that I always leave with a bag full of confections!

August has some amazing events on Manitoulin Island, as well. The first weekend in August brings with it the Wiikwemekoong Annual Cultural Festival, also referred to as the Wiki Pow Wow. This annual festival showcases Indigenous arts, crafts, music, and dancing. The beautiful regalia are paraded through the arena with various traditional dancing exhibiting the vibrant Indigenous culture.

The August long weekend also has an annual event referred to as ‘Haweater Weekend’ in Little Current; a ‘Haweater’ is also referred to as someone who was born on Manitoulin Island, as the Hawberry is a berry predominately found on the island. Haweater Weekend closes the main street for three days in Little Current for the purpose of hosting concerts, races, soapbox derbies, street sales with local vendors, salmon fishing derbies, barbeques, and beer gardens. For 2018, special guests include the Carver Kings from the HGTV television show! On the last night of the event, there is a spectacular fireworks display, where the fireworks are set off right on the water of the North Channel. This show is always a highlight of my summer and I look forward to seeing each year how the display outdoes the last.

I cannot forget to mention the amazing campgrounds and cottage rentals that are located throughout the entirety of Manitoulin Island. Three years ago, I booked a week in the Log Point Cottage at Manitoulin Resort, located off Bidwell Road in Manitowaning. After one week of renting the cottage, it wasn’t hard to see how amazing this campground was. Not long after, with my parents and son, we purchased our very first trailer.

Summers at Manitoulin Resort are full of fun annual events, including Hallowe’en in July. This is an event full of costumes, trick-or-treating, and decorating your campsite in hopes of winning first prize (and the bragging rights that go along with it). Hallowe’en is a favourite of all the residents and guests, as costuming in the month of July doesn’t have to be large enough to fit a snowsuit under, as you would for a chilly Northern Ontario autumn. The resort is located on Lake Manitou and campers can be found in the water swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or lounging on the shores of the beaches. Weekly wagon rides around the park are just as exciting as the water fights between both the young and old. It’s fun to splash kids with water balloons or by using various sized water guns to soak your neighbour.

Manitoulin Resort Water Fight

Living in the Greater Toronto Area, the thought of letting your kids play freely with little to no adult supervision at the park or in the soccer fields can seem impossible, but our tightknit community and super safe, and the campground allows kids to be kids. If a child starts crying, twenty parents will come running over to help. I’m sure if you ask the kids how they know when it’s time to come home, they will tell you that it is when the sun sets.

Even after all of this, I haven’t touched on a quarter of the things you can do on Manitoulin Island. Rest assured though, once you visit, you will never want to leave.


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