Ontario presents many opportunities to learn about First Nations history and enjoy the unique cultures found throughout the province. Here are a few ideas for engaging more deeply with the first peoples to inhabit this area:
You can’t get further off the beaten path in Ontario than Moose Factory. Only accessible by train (to Moosonee) and water taxi, this remote First Nations community has created Cree Village Ecolodge. A warm retreat in the sub-arctic, the ecolodge celebrates and shares the cultural history of the area. The ecolodge offers modern accommodations and a restaurant in the shaapuhtuwaan (Great Hall). Explore the island with its 17th century Hudson Bay buildings, artefacts, and cemetery as well as the Cree Cultural Centre. Guided or self-guided nature tours and canoe rides are available as well.
Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, the Place of the Long Rapids, is home to the Anishinaabeg of Rainy River First Nations. This National Historic Site was an important burial ground and the centre of North America’s vibrant First Nations trading network. Learn more about the area’s natural and cultural history through interpretive displays, including a sturgeon aquarium. Take a golf cart out to tour the burial mounds or walk/cycle the maintained trails. Don’t miss the restaurant, which features local dishes, including wild rice soup, the walleye shore lunch, and an ‘Indian taco’ (on fry bread).
Crawford Lake Conservation Area, famous for its fifteenth-century Iroquoian village with reconstructed longhouses, takes a different look at the maple harvest with a Sweet Water festival. First Nations peoples used methods similar to those used by pioneers to create their own syrupy goodness, but they called it sweet water. See a sweet water demonstration and taste different types of syrup to find your favourite (you may be surprised to learn that trees other than sugar maples can be tapped to make syrup). Try a stick of snow-made maple taffy as you enjoy the 19 km of hiking trails.
Great Spirit Circle Trail
offers one of Ontario’s most extensive programs of tours and experiences led by First Nations guides. You can paddle your way to the heart of Manitoulin Island, walk the famous Cup and Saucer hiking trail, or take a medicine walk to learn about native plants and how they are used by First Nations for health and wellbeing. They also offer glamping retreats in authentic teepees with king size beds.
There are many pow wows held across the province. Visitors of all backgrounds are encouraged to attend to learn more about First Nations culture, food, dance and dress. This is a great website
with dates of upcoming pow wows as well as advice on pow wow etiquette. One of the largest and longest running pow wows is Wiikwemkoong Pow Wow
, held annually in August (on Manitoulin Island on land that is the only recognized unceded First Nations land in Canada).
Also found in Wiikwemkoong is the Debajehmujig Theatre Group
. The group presents its productions at the the Holy Cross Mission Ruins in Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island - stunning stone ruins with open-air seating for 125. In addition to performing plays and music and dance events at the ruins, the company also puts on shows at the Debajehmujig Creation Centre. Featuring First Nations actors telling First Nations stories through a variety of mediums, visitors are sure to be educated and engaged.
A visit to the Huron Museum
to tour the palisaded village that recreates the Huron way of life a thousand year ago. You’ll see several longhouses, complete with cooking fires, sleeping platforms, hanging pelts, and baskets of smoked fish, dried corn, and tobacco. The village includes a medicine man’s lodge, a wigwam for visiting tribes, a sweat bath, and lookout tower. A variety of implements are displayed, from hide scrapers to moss racks (cradles), and lacrosse sticks to canoes.
The nearby Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons is an accurate reconstruction of the seventeenth-century Jesuit mission that was Ontario’s first European community. There are a variety of special events throughout the year, including for National Aboriginal Day and the First Light Festival in late November in the lead up to Christmas.