CA, Ontario: Manitoulin Island by Chi-Cheemaun; Wikwemikong – Manitowaning

Around Huron Lake in 8 days: Manitoulin Island by Chi-Cheemaun; Wikwemikong – Manitowaning

Chi-Cheemaun is not only a ferry. It is the Big Canoe (as it means in Obijwe language) that connects Tobermory in Bruce Peninsula with South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, but also connects people, stories and spirits.

Tobermory shore and Big Tub Harbour
Tobermory shore and Big Tub Harbour, as seen from the ferry, before departing.

Guided by the Great Spirit (Manitou – the Great Spirit of the Native Aboriginal Canadians), my adventure to the Spirit Island (translation of Manitoulin in Ojibwe language) actually started when we decided to have a road trip around Huron Lake. I’ve heard about Great Lakes since I was little, when I was fascinated by the historical fiction books I read about Indians, who were depicted as brave warriors, always in fight with someone, or being busy by themselves with hunting, traveling, or various native ceremonies.

Eaten by the ferry
“Eaten” by the ferry – while on the boarding line
Chi-Cheemaun top
Beautiful painting of the Chi-Cheemaun top

Never truly hearing details about these places, I started learning while waiting on the long line to board the ferry. The attendant checking the reservations confirmed that if you don’t have a reservation online, you have very little chance to get a spot on the ferry in the summer time, even though the ferry runs 4 times daily and has a capacity of 143 vehicles.

Chi-Cheemaun model in the ferry visitor center

Ferry facts from first days of sailing

The 2 hour cruise is not only for the ones traveling by car, but also for the ones who enjoy the outdoors, dinners, sunsets, or stargazing. Reclining on one of the outside chairs, one can daydream while enjoying the fresh air or the bright colours of the skies and waters.

Cove Island Light
Cove Island Lighthouse can be seen only from the ferry, as the island is located about 8 km away from Tobermory

Manitoulin Island is the world largest freshwater island, with more than a hundred inland lakes. It is considered by natives The Heart and Spirit of the Great Lakes of Canada.

Horseback riding
Pristine lands, clean air, high spirits, great people = awesome vacation. This was my first horseback riding J

Home to three distinct cultures – First Nations, Francophone and Anglophone – the region has a diverse culture and a rich history. The island itself is considered sacred by the Native Anishinaabe people, who identify as the “People of the Three Fires” (OjibweOdawa and Potawatomi tribes).

Prairie Point - legacy of 19 century or abandoned houses
Prairie Point of Wikwemikong Reserve – not sure if this was a legacy of the 19th century or just abandoned houses

From 1836 to 1862, a considerable portion of Manitoulin Island was set aside as the “Manitoulin Island Indian Reserve”. When more reserves were intended to be created in 1862 and the ‘Manitoulin Treaty’ was signed by all, the natives of Wikwemikong did not sign the treaty, leaving Wikwemikong the only unceded Indian Reserve in Canada, which means that it has not “relinquished title to its land to the government by any treaty or otherwise.”

Wikwemikong plaque
Wikwemikong plaque about 1836 Treaty
SS Norisle allen into a state of disrepair Assiginack Museum Complex
For many years Manitowaning was a major shipping port on Manitoulin Island. The S.S. Norisle, a 200 foot vessel on display at Heritage Park, was a former cargo and passenger ferry in service from 1946-1974, currently refurbished.
Manitoulin Roller Mills and Burns Wharehouse
Manitoulin Roller Mills and Burn’s Wharf were built in 1883 and contain some of the original agricultural machinery. Adjacent to the mill is its warehouse now used as a summer theater and for pictorial display of the area’s history.
Manitowaning Lighthouse
In 1883, the Federal Department of Marine and Fisheries working through the Department of Indian Affairs purchased a 50 square foot portion of land from the Anglican Church Mission for placement of a lighthouse.  Although construction was delayed, the Manitowaning Lighthouse was established in 1886.
St. Paul_s Anglican Church (the oldest Anglican church in Northern Ontario
St. Paul’s Anglican Church was started in 1845 and is the oldest Anglican Church in Northern Ontario. Behind the church is the Manitowaning Lighthouse.
Assiginack Museum
Assiginack Museum – Located in the original town lock-up and jailer’s home built between 1878-1883

Holy Cross Mission in Wikwemikong is the oldest Catholic Church in Northern Ontario, the first European Jesuit Fr Joseph Poncet came in 1648. Construction of the Mission began in 1849 and were officially dedicated on July 25th, 1852. All the mason work during construction was done by Anishinaabe labour.

Historic Holly Cross Mission 1844
In 1954 the Church, Hall and residence were destroyed by a fire, only the stone walls remained. The building between the church and residence were demolished and removed. The remains of the old church are still standing on their original site, beside the new church.
Holly Cross on the left
The actual Holly Cross church on the left

Driving toward North on Hwy 6, we passed through Little Current. Little Current Swing Bridge is the only road to link Manitoulin Island from mid-October to early May when the ferry MS Chi-Cheemaun is not in operation to carry passengers from the Bruce Peninsula. The bridge stays in the closed position most of the time, so that road vehicles can use it except for the first fifteen minutes of each daylight hour during the spring, summer and fall when it opens to permit marine traffic to pass. The bridge has been designated an Ontario Heritage site.

Little Current Swing Bridge
Little Current Swing Bridge has a single vehicle lane and traffic signs at each end of the bridge.

A paradise for lighthouse lovers, Manitoulin Island as well as all the northern lands offer a multitude of lighthouses I couldn’t imagine. I’m sure that at one point I will plan myself a lighthouse tour to see all of these historical lighthouses, in the meantime I will only show you the few that were along our way to our next stop Sault Ste Marie.

South Baymouth lighthuses
South Baymouth lighthouses were established in 1898, and are actually a pair of range lights, which are smaller than lighthouses, but exactly same style and detail to offer safe passage to all navigators.


Strawberry Island Lighthouse - Little Current
The Strawberry Island Lighthouse and Dwelling was built in 1881 to guard the approach to a narrow section of the North Channel.

6 thoughts on “CA, Ontario: Manitoulin Island by Chi-Cheemaun; Wikwemikong – Manitowaning

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