In the 17th century, it was part of the territory occupied by the Odawa (see OTTAWA), who called it Mnidoo Mnis, meaning "island of the Great Spirit." The Odawa believed that Mnidoo or MANITOU dwelt on the island. Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1648, but their mission was short-lived. The island was sporadically inhabited until the 1830s when it became the centre of Aboriginal administration for northern Ontario. First Nations from across the region were settled here and others visited to receive their annual presents from the British government. In 1862, the provincial government purchased most of the island from the First Nations, except for the most northeastern section. By this time, settlers were arriving to clear farms. The island's First Nations now live on small reserves, including Wikwemikong, the unceded reserve of the Odawa and Ojibwa.
Though the island is fertile only in spots, farming has always been a major economic activity. Turkey production thrived after 1920 and by 1930, the island was one of the most important sheep-rearing areas in Ontario. Logging dates from the 1860s and commercial fishing for whitefish and trout was also an economic mainstay; however, both these industries have declined.
Since the 1920s, the island has become a popular outdoor recreation area, and tourism and agriculture are now the principal activities. Little Current, within the town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, and Gore Bay are the main populated centres. Little Current is linked to the mainland by road. The railway reached Little Current in 1913 but the line was abandoned in 1980. The swing bridge built for the railway remains for vehicle traffic. A ferry runs for much of the year from South Baymouth to Tobermory on the northern tip of the BRUCE PENINSULA.
Author DANIEL FRANCIS
Links to Other Sites
A tourism website for Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world.
Check out the links to sites about recreational opportunities in the scenic Manitoulin Island area of Northern Ontario.
A visitor's guide to the Manitoulin Island region.
An informative site dedicated to the Mississagi Lighthouse built in 1873 by the department of Transport of Canada to protect and guide ships through the perilous passage known as the Mississagi Strait.
Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve
The website for the historic Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, located on Manitoulin Island in the Georgian Bay region.
Manitoulin Chamber of Commerce
This website provides an introduction to the natural and historic attractions found on Manitoulin Island.
Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands
The website for the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands offers local maps, guides to points of interest, and other tourism related features.
Municipality of Central Manitoulin
View an online gallery of photos depicting the scenic Manitoulin region at the website for the Municipality of Central Manitoulin. Also provides information for residents and visitors to the area.