Exploring Manitoulin Island with Great Spirit Circle Trail

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Manitoulin Island

Get ready to be transported back in time to a different era when you take a trip to Manitoulin Island in northeastern Ontario, Canada. One of the largest freshwater islands on the planet, Manitoulin Island sits in the middle 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. The company runs a number of Aboriginal led guided tours that are natural and cultural in genre.

The author learns more about First Nations culture during the Great Spirit Circle Trail with Falcon, a tour guide and cultural coordinator. Photo courtesy Carri Wilbanks
The author learns about First Nations culture while exploring the Great Spirit Circle Trail with Falcon, a tour guide and cultural coordinator. Photo courtesy Carri Wilbanks

Great Spirit Circle Trail

“The Great Spirit Trail represents the seven First Nations in and around Manitoulin Island,” says Great Spirit Circle Trail lead tour guide and cultural coordinator Falcon. “The soft adventure, ecotourism guided tours we offer are culturally inclined or also known as Aboriginal experiences. 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.”

Medicine Walk

The tour I embarked on with Great Spirit Circle Trail took place over two days, but the highlight was the Medicine Walk. On this experience, I learned all about the natural medicines found on this special island.

Many herbs have medicinal, as well as spiritual and edible uses. Photo by Carri Wilbanks
Many herbs have medicinal, as well as spiritual and edible uses. Photo by Carri Wilbanks

“There’s a huge variety of flora and fauna,” Falcon says. We use it for a variety of different instances. Sometimes for practical uses sometimes for medicinal purposes, spiritual or physical and edible as well. So when we’re out in the wilderness, we show you one of the trees that fall under all four of the headings, which is the cedar. It’s very important to our indigenous people around here.”

As we walk, Falcon tells me more about cedar, which is used by his people for spiritual purification and also in a medicinal tea. Then he continues on to using 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

Other experiences offered include the Canoe Heritage Tour, which took me 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 magical.

Speaking of bannock and berries, you can also learn to make this small, flat loaf of bred 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, 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 Great Spirit Trail for authentic adventure on Manitoulin Island.

Manitoulin Hotels

Where to Stay: The Manitoulin Hotel is convenient to the Great Spirit Trail and is just a 20-minute drive from 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 offers a filling breakfast before you set out for the day.

Author Bio: Living across Europe and South America unlocked Carri’s passion for traveling. Never shying away from a new adventure whether swimming with the pigs in the Bahamas, bird watching in the Galapagos or Heli-Hiking in British Columbia, you never know where you will catch Carri next. She resides in Colorado between freelance trips with her husband and son where they enjoy hiking, mountain biking and skiing.