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European visitors take in all Island has to offer.
by Lindsay Kelly

LITTLE CURRENT--On Monday, a small contingent of European tourism operators and cruise ship owners descended on the Island to learn about its cultural and natural assets, leaving local representatives with the hope that they will one day return, and bring their clients with them.

The group was here at the invitation of The Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT) and the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, which jointly hosted the visitors during an afternoon of learning about First Nations culture and the town’s natural and historical advantages.

The Great Spirit Circle Trail - Northeastern Manitoulin
The week-long ‘Great Lakes familiarization tour’ is an initiative of Cruise Ontario and the Great Lakes Cruise Ship Coalition, made possible through $60,000 in funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism.

Through this funding, Minister Jim Bradley said he hopes this tour will promote the Great Lakes area as an international vacation destination.

“The cruising industry is growing at a remarkable rate, and we want travellers from around the world to know that the Great Lakes is an exciting destination for a summer cruise holiday,” he said in a September 24 press release. “We are delighted to support the growth of Great Lakes cruising as a novel way for visitors to explore Ontario.”

The tour’s Little Current stop began when the group arrived via float plane at the new finger docks in the downtown core, where they were greeted by members of the Northeast Town council and members of The Great Spirit Circle Trail.

GSCT general manager and traditional women’s dancer Dawn Madahbee, traditional male dancer Falcon Migwans, and GSCT manager and grass dancer Kevin Eshkawkogan performed at the Little Current cenotaph for the contingent, which was treated to some lessons in First Nations dance style and culture.

Taking shelter from the rain at Turners, the town and the GSCT each made a presentation to the group, highlighting the best each had to offer, and Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson suggested the tour operators open up a dialogue with the town and the GSCT about “what you are looking for and how we can meet the specific needs of your group.”

Canada’s vast geography is different from Europe’s, but that is what makes Canada so unique, he noted. “It’s not about the destination here,” he said. “It’s about the journey and what you find along the way.”

In fact, the town relied on its history as a long-time, popular Great Lakes port and its proximity to the downtown core as its selling points, along with its natural beauty and the activities associated with it. Golfing, the arts, hiking and scenic tours are just a few of the attractions that visitors to Manitoulin have to look forward to, he said.

“We’re absolutely convinced that the Island has a lot to offer, and we’re trying to go down the path of meeting the needs of this particular sector,” he concluded.

The Great Spirit Circle Trail put forth examples of its powwow and heritage excursions as highlights of their offerings. GSCT manager Kevin Eshkawkogan noted that the Anishnaabe people of Manitoulin are eager to share their culture with visitors, and “our ideal tourist is a person who wants to find out about our lives, our heritage and share in our culture.”

After arriving to a welcome by a representative of the GSCT (such as the one offered on Monday), visitors can board a bus to take a tour of the highlights of the Island’s First Nations, including Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, both in M’Chigeeng, Mr. Eshkawkogan explained. At the latter, dancers demonstrate some of the First Nations dance styles and encourage visitors to participate to get a true appreciation for the Anishnaabe heritage.

The tour has also been known to veer off the path to make a stop at the Rainbow Ridge Golf Club, where visitors can spend a day on the links. Often, Mr. Eshkawkogan said, “we can’t pull them away from the course.”

The afternoon proceeded with a lunch at the Old English Pantry and a walk along the docks, guided by Northeast Town Mayor Joe Chapman, who pointed out the highlights of the downtown core, as well as the coming improvements to the waterfront, before the group boarded the plane for departure.

Following their departure from Little Current, the European contingent was to travel to Sault Ste. Marie. Other stops on the tour included Toronto, Parry Sound, Mackinac Island and Thunder Bay.

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