When exploring Ontario, it’s easy to get completely lost in the majestic beauty of the lakes, mountains, and forests around you. And it’s even easier to immerse yourself in quaint towns and busy cities.
But another essential and enjoyable part of travelling through this part of Canada is discovering the deep and impressive aboriginal culture by exploring what Indigenous tourism Ontario offers. There is much to learn from the many First Nations tribes, including their languages, history, and art.
You may not realize how many places in Ontario are dedicated to preserving and sharing aboriginal culture with visitors. So here’s a short list of some must-sees to add to your day trip or weekend getaway.
What is the Purpose of Indigenous Tourism in Ontario?
When done respectfully, indigenous tourism can increase awareness and understanding of aboriginal cultures. This, of course, can be done at any time of the year. Still, attending an in-person or virtual event on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a great place to start.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
On September 30, Ontario/Canada commemorates the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Like Remembrance Day, September 30 is not a statutory holiday in Ontario. Converting the day formerly known as Orange Shirt Day into a holiday was recommended in 2015. More on Orange Shirt Day is below.
The purpose of this day is to reflect on the atrocities Canada committed against Indigenous peoples.
A prominent example of these atrocities is discovering the remains of children found in unmarked graves near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia and the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Some of these remains are children as young as three.
A prominent example of these atrocities is the remains of 215 children who had been found near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia. Some of these remains are children as young as three. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir made this announcement in May of 2021.
The children are believed to have been students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which operated between 1890 and 1969 and was one of the largest schools in Canada’s residential school system.
In June, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had found another estimated 751 unmarked graves, the most significant discovery to date. These remains were located near the former Marieval Indian Residential School and operated under the control of the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to the 1990s
These government-funded schools were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and destroy Indigenous cultures and languages.
Aboriginal Tourism Ontario: Indigenous Experiences
Road Trip Ontario is committed to including content that provides opportunities for Ontarians and Canadians to experience and learn more about our country’s indigenous roots and beautiful culture.
- Fun Things To Do In Brantford On A Day Trip – Brantford is named after the famous Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, which borders Six Nations Of The Grand River. It is home to the Mohawk Chapel and Woodland Cultural Centre.
- What to Do in Burlington Ontario (Activities for a Weekend Getaway) – Crawford Lake is out in Burlington’s Halton region; not only has trails littered with beautiful Indigenous sculptures, you will find well-preserved longhouses with indigenous tools and artifacts. You can also take a paid tour of the Longhouses for $10 per person.
Indigenous Experiences and Landmarks
Whether you live in Ontario or just visit, there is something special about digging into the province’s cultural history and heritage. And luckily, there are plenty of places that allow you to do just that.
Here are some of the best aboriginal experiences you can find in Ontario.
Located in Midland, Ontario, the Huronia Museum is a great place to visit to see what Huron life was like between AD 1500-1600. This mini-village is outside on the museum property. You can spend some time walking through and viewing the wigwam, longhouse, and many different racks that the Hurons used for drying clothes, fish, and even burials.
The museum was opened in 1947 and has been expanded ever since. It boasts magnificent archaeological collections of Ouendat and Ojibway First Nations and several artworks from native to Victorian-era masterpieces.
Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
The First Nations of Ontario had unique traditions, culture, art and languages. And through the years, these cultures have run the risk of being lost in history.
Ojibwe Cultural Foundation was established in 1974 to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of the Anishinaabe people of Mnidoo Mnising. The museum depicts the stunning Anishinaabek artistic skills, while workshops offer the chance to learn more about these people.
Great Spirit Circle Trail
Many First Nation communities call Manitoulin Island their home, and the freshwater island is steeped in history and cultural significance. This, in part, makes the Great Spirit Circle Trail through the Manitoulin Mountains such an experience.
Of course, incredible natural beauty is also found on the island. You can immerse yourself into sacred cultural experiences, hike the trails, and even spend a night or two in a teepee – talk about fantastic glamping in Ontario. Spending time at the Great Spirit Circle allows you to learn about aboriginal life from a knowledgeable guide.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park
Petroglyphs Provincial Park is a historical-class provincial park in Woodview, Ontario. And while there isn’t too much to do here, it is home to Canada’s largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings. It also boasts the grand blue/green McGinnis Lake and plenty of wildlife.
You can easily spend the day hiking through the park, enjoying the views, and seeking out the rock carvings. These carvings are of many things, including turtles, snakes, birds, and people. The park also has a visitors centre where you can learn more about Ojibway (Nishnaabe) people.
Located in one of Ontario’s largest provincial parks, Agawa Rock is understandably one of the more famous pictographs found in Canada. You’ll find this aboriginal rock painting in Lake Superior Provincial Park, one of Canada’s most-visited indigenous archaeological sites.
The paintings on Agawa Rock are fascinating and have drawn plenty of attention from locals and visitors alike. To see the pictographs up close, you can take the Agawa Rock Indian Pictographs Trail – it gets a bit tricky near the rock, but you can get a guide to help you.
Whetung Ojibwa Centre
This centre is a great place to visit with a massive collection of Curve Lake First Nation arts, crafts, and other items. You can view traditional arts and crafts here, purchase something from the store, and take a souvenir home.
The centre is a seventh-generation business, and everyone who works there is part of the Curve Lake First Nation. They also claim to love speaking to people and answering any questions. So this is the place to bring any inquiries you’ve had about indigenous Canada.
Found in Bon Echo Provincial Park, on Mazinaw Lake, this rock has preserved pictograph paintings believed to have been done by the Algonquin people. You can reach this rock by visiting the park, which is beautiful as well.
This one sizeable cliff-face rock has over 260 paintings on it, making it the most extensive collection of its kind in Southern Ontario. Many people travel to this spot to see the paintings which show how the Algonquin Indians viewed life hundreds of years ago.
Note: The paintings are stranded on a rock in the middle of the lake, so they can be hard to get to. The red paint has also blended into the rocks over the years, which can sometimes be hard to make out.
The Story Of Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada, in May 2013.
This project was the idea of Alkali Lake Chief Fred Robbins, a former student, was to bring together other former students and their families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations along with the Cariboo Regional District.
As a spokesperson for the Reunion group, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at residential school and how her shiny new orange shirt, purchased by her grandmother, was taken from her when she was only six years old.
The annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30th, which now coincides with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, opens the door for a conversation about Residential Schools. It also brings awareness to the effects of the Residential Schools left behind.
September 30th was chosen because it is the time of year when children were taken from their homes to residential schools.
Book: Beyond the Orange Shirt Story
Beyond the Orange Shirt Story is a compilation of true stories from residential school survivors who share their personal experiences. It gives readers an up-close view of life for them before, during, and after their time in residential schools.
Where To Buy: Orange Shirt Day
- Orange Shirt Day
- Giant Tiger – The designer of this t-shirt is Patrick Hunter, an Indigenous artist from Red Lake, ON, who specializes in fine art and digital design from his Ojibwa heritage. He wants to raise awareness of Indigenous culture and icons. See more of his incredible work HERE!
The proceeds of this shirt go to Indspire. Indspire is an Indigenous registered charity that helps educate First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people for the long-run benefits of themselves, their families, their communities, and Canada. Learn more about their incredible work HERE!
- Walmart – We at RTO would rather support local mom-and-pop than big box stores. Still, since Walmart Canada has partnered with the Orange Shirt Society for this year’s orange shirt designs, we thought we’d share some info about them. This years Orange Shirt Design is from Indigenous Proud. It features the art of Timothy Foster, Gixstasan from the house of Nisotso in the Lax Seel clan.
All profits from this product will be donated to the Orange Shirt Society to help them continue their essential work. These include supporting and promoting an understanding of residential school reconciliations, increasing public knowledge of the impact of residential schools on individuals, families, and communities, and raising public consciousness of the importance of every child matters.
- Turtle Lodge
- Dream Catcher Productions
- Kit & Kaboodle
- South Island Crafts
Explore Indigenous Ontario
Regardless of where you are in Ontario, there is a centre, a park, or a landmark to visit to experience the indigenous history. Take a scenic hike or canoe ride to view pictographs or visit a native art gallery. Or take a road trip and see them all.
You can take the chance to speak to First Nations Ontario people or play your part in preserving their culture by visiting one of the centres that do this. These Ontario indigenous tribes have mesmerizing traditions, and they’re all more than willing to share their knowledge with you.