Tourism minister launches rediscover Ontario campaign on Manitoulin

Ontario Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod serves up a cold brew while Manitoulin Brewing Company’s Blair Hagman and Nishin Meawasige, Indigenous Tourism Ontario CEO and president Kevin Eshkawkogan and The Port’s Darren Boast belly up to the bar. photo by Michael Erskine

MANITOULIN – Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister Lisa MacLeod chose Manitoulin Island to launch her 10-day ‘re-discover Ontario tour.’

“Tourism has been the hardest hit and will take the longest to recover,” Minister MacLeod told The Expositor during a lunch stop at Little Current’s Manitoulin Brewing Company (MBC). “Northern Ontario seemed to me to be a key place for me to start.”

Indigenous Tourism Ontario president and CEO Kevin Eshkawkogan acted as “tour guide of convenience” for the minister’s visit, which focussed on Indigenous businesses and tourism operations during her Manitoulin stops. On Tuesday, the first day on the Island, the minister’s itinerary included Rainbow Ridge Golf Course, Mishibinijima Art Gallery, the new Wiikwemkoong Tourism Gift Shop, the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail Head, the Jesuit Mission (Holy Cross) ruins and the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre.

During her stop at Rainbow Ridge Golf Course the minister enjoyed dinner prepared by chef Joseph Shawana that included smoked rainbow trout, pine ash crusted venison, sweet corn succotash and a roasted butternut squash puree, all topped off with sweetgrass crème brulee.

While at Rainbow Ridge, Minister MacLeod met with Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier and his team, including Wiikwemkoong Tourism’s Luke Wassegijig where they discussed the important role tourism plays in Indigenous communities’ economic development mix.

Minister MacLeod said she believes Ontario residents are looking for two key aspects as they explore newly discovered tourism opportunities in their backyard: a more natural experience based in nature and opportunities to learn more about how they can support Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous (tourism) operators, in particular, offer authentic experiences,” she said. “The Indigenous operators I have met over the past couple of days have demonstrated the kind of product they have that we can support when Ontario is ready to welcome visitors from around the world again.”

The minister said that she personally found the educational aspect of the residential school talk she received at the ruins informative.

Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod may hail from the Maritimes, but she caught her very first fish in McGregor Bay while on a tour with Stillwater Fishing. photo by Derek Rowland

Impressed by what she has seen on Manitoulin, Minister MacLeod said that the products and ideas that are being implemented by Manitoulin Indigenous communities hold great promise for replication in other Indigenous communities across Northern Ontario. 

She spoke of establishing a “tourism trail” across Northern Ontario in a “responsible way, a sustainable way” through a five-year plan.

“I am very grateful for the experience,” she said. “I have experienced nothing like it before.”

Minister MacLeod noted that the province will be soon be unveiling a $100 million program aimed at product development they are working with Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

The minister noted that while Northern Ontario will be a key destination in the province’s post-pandemic tourism strategy as the nation once again opens its doors to the world in the meantime Northern Ontario destinations are a vital part of the Rediscover Ontario promotion.

“I was delighted to meet people from my own riding while visiting Bridal Veil Falls,” she said. It was a factor that repeated itself across the Island as the minister and her entourage visited various locations. “There were people from Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton who are coming here for the natural beauty and to learn more about Indigenous communities.”

On the second day of her tour, Minister MacLeod met with Aundeck Omni Kaning Ogimaa-kwe Patsy Corbiere where they discussed the important role tourism and the hospitality industry can play in improving the economies of Indigenous communities before going on a tour of Endaa-aang Tourism assets in that community.

Minister MacLeod discovered firsthand the importance of the hospitality industry to the economies of Indigenous communities when the manager of the Indigenous consortium-owned Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre, Corey Stacinski, noted that the hotel currently employs 35 people, but could hire as many as 25 more.

“There are jobs out there,” said Minister MacLeod, who noted that the hotel’s location holds historical significance as well.

Then it was off to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and a cultural education session with Mr. Eshkawkogan. The Island tour finished off with a McGregor Bay experience with Brian Still through Stillwater Fishing where the minister caught her very first fish.

The minister continued on to Sudbury’s Science North, where she announced a provincial investment of more than $8.9 million to support 2021-22 operations, the development of new exhibits and online content, maintenance and repairs and the delivery of learning supports for students and teacher.

A further $150,000 has allocated for the development and promotion of ‘Honouring Indigenous Ingenuity,’ a travelling exhibit whose events and programming highlight the innovations and history of Canada’s Indigenous culture as seen through the lens of science and technology.