Wiikwemkoong’s Luke Wassegijig receives 2017 Tourism Champion Award

In photo left is Hilary Chambers, president of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario, presenting the Tourism Champion Award to Wikwemikong Tourism’s Luke Wassegijig at the 2017 Northern Ontario Tourism Summit in Thunder Bay.

THUNDER BAY—Wikwemikong Tourism Manager Luke Wassegijig was awarded the 2017 Tourism Champion Award at the Northern Ontario Tourism Summit in Thunder Bay earlier this month.

“I feel very honoured to have been recognized by the industry,” Mr. Wassegijig told The Expositor following the summit. “It is the first time the award has been presented to not only an individual, but someone from a First Nation community.”

Mr. Wassegijig noted that the work he does wouldn’t be possible without the support from his community of Wiikwemkoong.

“This year’s tourism champion nominee is both dedicated and driven to promote not only his community, but the region as a unique tourism destination,” states a press release about Mr. Wassegijig. “He is the tourism manager for Wikwemikong Tourism operating under the Wikwemikong Development Commission and has served on his band council from 2012 to 2014 under the Lands and Resource Portfolio. He has been involved in community tourism development in his hometown of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory for 10 years and has been instrumental in building a foundation for sustainable tourism development by implementing their tourism strategy. One of his first accomplishment in his role was building a tourist centre which provides visitor information while collecting visitor data.”

Mr. Wassegijig founded the annual Wikwemikong Ice Fishing Derby in 2008, attracting over 500 anglers from across the province each year. He also worked with trail groups to assist in developing a hiking trail system in Wiikwemkoong starting in 2010.

“In 2012, they (Wiikwemkoong Tourism) opened the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail with over 14km of trail complete with educational signage, outdoor fitness stations and authentic Indigenous lodges,” the press release notes. “This tourist attraction now draws over 3,500 users to his community. Also in 2010, he initiated a partnership with the Georgian Bay Coastal Trail to develop a rugged hiking trail along Georgian Bay. From there he reignited the vision of the Point Grondine Park which opened to outdoor enthusiasts in 2016. The Point Grondine Park is a phased development to create a First Nation owned and operated Eco Resort and Campground where traditional Anishnaabek culture meets a peaceful eco-retreat in one of Ontario’s spectacular regions.”

Mr. Wassegijig and his team have been training and helping build hiking trails for First Nation communities across the province through Wikwemikong Tourism’s Trail Development Services.

“Not only is he the tourism manager, he is also an entrepreneur and is the proud owner of Wass Tours,” the release concludes. “He has diversified his business from a private island cottage rental to now offering scenic/historic boat cruises and fishing charters on Georgian Bay. Wass Tours was featured on national TV programs such as Canadian Sport fishing with Italo Labignan and Fuel the Fire TV.”

Over 300 delegates from across the region gathered for the Summit from November 15 to 17, participating in over 24 workshops and sessions.

“It was nice to see Luke Wassigijig of Wikwemikong Tourism receiving the 2017 Tourism Champion Award from  Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) congratulations,” said the Chair of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocate (MICA) Maja Mielonen, who attended the summit. “The former Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Cooperation (OTMPC) was renamed to Destination Ontario (DO)  and presented the powerful promotional video Cycle Ontario. It was in part shot on Manitoulin this fall.

“Succession planning for businesses was well attended as so many businesses owners in the north reach the age where they would like to find young entrepreneurs that want to continue what they had created through their life,” said Ms. Mielonen of the summit. “A pilot project opportunity for businesses called Experience Fishing was presented for businesses that want to include fishing experiences for new guests that may never have had an opportunity to experience fishing. MICA was happy to see the release of the Cycle Tourism Plan booklet we have assisted with in the past two years. We found the significance of the Manitoulin Passage Ride as a excellent product that is sold out year after year mentioned amongst many other important cycling information.”

“We were very happy to share the good news the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun, our great ferry, shared with us with all our tourism friends,” she added. “For 2017 the ferry’s  cycle traffic count was 5,843 up over six percent comparing with the 2016 numbers. Manitoulin Island is emerging quickly as the essential link in the ever growing provincial cycle community, as the essential connection coming to northern Ontario where we have so much beautiful cycling to offer.”