Spring is near; COVID-19 might wind down eventually and the government of Ontario is doling out a rebate for vacationing in Ontario.
In a bid to bolster the Ontario tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, the temporary Ontario staycation tax credit will allow Ontario residents to claim a portion of eligible 2022 accommodation expenses. According to Ontario.ca, the credit will provide an estimated $270 million in support to about 1.85 million Ontario families.
Take that windfall and add the 2020 initiative from Indigenous Tourism Ontario — Indigenous Experience Ontario, designed to shine the spotlight on Indigenous culture, businesses and attractions — and it’s a recipe for a fantastic road trip.
Indigenous Experience Ontario currently showcases more than 400 Indigenous-owned and operated businesses in Ontario, from golf courses to museums, restaurants, hunting guides and more. The website breaks the tourism areas into four regions: northeastern, southeastern, northwestern and southwestern Ontario, with listings for accommodations, dining, fishing and hunting, cultural experiences, pow wows, camping and more.
Brian Still, a marketing specialist with Indigenous Tourism Ontario who also runs a fishing tour operation on Manitoulin Island, is gearing up, or possibly bracing for, this summer’s influx of tourists.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Still said of last summer. “Before the pandemic most of the tourists here were Americans, now they’re mostly from the Toronto area.”
Torontonians have been vacationing at home, exploring their own city and other Ontario towns, since the first lockdown in March 2020. And while great escapes from the city can be found as near as an hour away, this tax credit covers hotel stays, encouraging folks to head farther afield and stay away a little longer.
Manitoulin is a popular destination for fishing salmon, trout, pike, muskie, walleye, bass and perch, and for just being in nature, as the island isn’t yet overdeveloped or overfished. This natural wonder is still wild enough to be home to a Royal Astronomical Society Designated Dark-Sky Preserve.
“Right now, the fish stocks can handle it and for the businesses it’s manageable,” said Still, “but last summer, you couldn’t find a place to stay within a two-hour radius.” In other words: book early. “I’ve already sold three-quarters of my fishing tours for this summer.”
From the GTA, there are two ways to drive to Manitoulin: Highway 6 to Tobermory, followed by a two-hour ferry ride on the MS Chi-Cheemaun; or up Highway 400 to circumnavigate Georgian Bay and across the Little Current Swing Bridge onto the island. Either way, the five to six-hour journey is pretty, with stops to enjoy along the way.
Whether you go all the way there and back or just head out of the city for an hour or two, here are a few recommendations of Indigenous-owned tourist attractions from Indigenous Tourism Ontario.
Start by stocking the cooler for the drive at Pow Wow Café in Kensington Market, Toronto’s only restaurant specializing in pow wow cuisine. Anishinaabe chef and Food Network personality Shawn Adler cooks with local, wild and Indigenous ingredients.
Offering 18,000 acres of wilderness, old-growth pines and several pristine lakes, Point Grondine Park in Killarney on Georgian Bay is worth a trip all on its own. Hike, canoe or kayak along the traditional routes of the Anishnaabek people; throughout the spring, summer and fall, tours and experiences are designed to connect the visitor to the territory of the original inhabitants.
The Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre overlooking the North Channel of Lake Huron and the LaCloche mountain range is more than a place to stay, offering educational experiences such as: guided nature hikes, drumming and traditional teachings, a tour of a Native-designed church, traditional Aboriginal feasting and a visit to a quill box museum. The on-site restaurant, North46, serves Manitoulin fish and other ingredients from the area with a focus on Indigenous dishes.
Wikwemikong is home to the people of Three Fires Confederacy, an alliance of the Ojibway, Odawa and Potawatomi nations, making up Manitoulin Island’s largest First Nation community and Canada’s only officially recognized Unceded Indigenous Territory. Located on the eastern peninsula of Manitoulin Island, Wikwemikong Tourism invites visitors to explore the wilderness, and experience the culture and traditions of the Anishinabek people. Their guides take visitors on journeys through history and nature, for a few hours or even a few days.
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation was established to preserve and revitalize the language, culture, arts, spirituality and traditions of the Anishinaabe people of Mnidoo Mnising — Manitoulin Island — and the surrounding area. Set on the M’Chigeeng First Nation, the centre is home to a museum, art gallery, gift shop, an Ojibwe language school, Gimaa Radio 88.9FM — the first all-Anishinaabe-language radio station — a healing lodge and amphitheatre.
In the community of Neyaashiinigmiing, on the Georgian Bay side of the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, Cape Croker Park is owned and operated by the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. The campground and park sit on 520 acres of limestone bluffs and the shores of Sydney Bay, and offer Anishnaabe cultural experiences such as guided hikes, storytelling, craft-making, traditional wilderness skills and maple-syrup making.
“Domestic travel in Ontario is at an all-time high,” said Still. “Ontarians are exploring their own backyard and loving it, and Indigenous experiences are in high demand because they offer unique opportunities to connect with the land, water and people, giving travellers a deeper understanding of Indigenous cultures.”
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