Points of Interest
Manitowaning is the oldest community of European settlement on Manitoulin Island and one of the oldest in Northern Ontario.
In 1836, the community was the namesake for the Manitowaning Experiment, a socializing project undertaken by the government of the day (Upper Canada) with the support of the Anglican church. The concept was to invent the community as a model town, complete with all of the trades common to settlements further south, and to Great Britain. Thus, a cooper’s (barrel maker’s) shop was set up, as was a blacksmith’s shoemaker’s, carpenter’s and so on with the notion that the First Nations people could learn about and master these trappings of European modernity.
This outreach was accompanied by a good dose of Christian evangelism, provided by the Anglican church, and in fact the local St. Paul’s Anglican Church was raised in this period with construction beginning in 1845. (It is the oldest church in Northern Ontario.)
Across Manitowaning Bay, however, at present-day Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Jesuit priests were also ministering to the First Nations people of the community and their message apparently was the more popular one as the population of the model town diminished with corresponding growth at Wiikwemikoong and by the early 1850s, The Manitowaning Experiment was put on the shelf.
Today, Manitowaning remains a pleasant community on Manitowaning Bay.
Year-round recreation is provided by the Rainbow Ridge Golf Course, a championship 18 course with a spacious clubhouse and adjacent driving range and, sharing the same parking lot, the Assiginack Curling Club. The golf course is owned and operated by nearby Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory while the curling club is owned and operated by the club’s members.
The Assiginack Museum is a focal point of the community, located in a mid-nineteenth century gothic home, built locally quarried stone.
In the Manitowaning area:
On the waterfront, over the hill at the main downtown intersection and down, are the Manitoulin Roller Mills, Burns Wharf and the S.S. Norisle. The Roller Mill is Manitoulin’s last grist mill where farmers would bring their grain products to be milled into flour and into oatmeal feed. The neighbouring Burns Wharf begin life as a pierside warehouse and, until recently has served as a playhouse for the popular Burns Wharf Players theatre group.
The adjacent Norisle was acquired by the municipality in 1975 when she was taken out of service as one of the car ferries connecting Tobemory and South Baymouth. She was the last steam-powered boat built in Ontario, in 1946.
There is a well-kept sand beach on the waterfront down from the Norisle installation as well as dockage for fishermen and yachts.
The museum grounds are the pride of the Assiginack Horticultural Society, as is the adjacent (and impressive) cenotaph structure. The floral displays in the centre of town are well worth the visit and speak to the civic pride this small and historic town boasts.
Another hint at this same culture: Manitowaning has been the winner for five consecutive years of the Harvest Glory Days community decorating/ beautification award won in friendly competition in its class of Manitoulin Island’s larger towns. Visit Manitowaning on Thanksgiving Weekend and the following weeks and you’ll get the idea.
The community features a busy grocery store (Freshmart) and a Guardian Pharmacy downtown as well as motels at and near the Queen Street entrance to the town of Highway 540. They are the Wayside Motel and My Friend’s Inn.
Downtown, on Queen Street, is the Debajehmujig Creation Centre, the home base for the 35-year-old De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre, one of a handful of First Nation Theatre companies in Canada and only one of two to own its own production and theatre space.
Its entrance is the façade of a nineteenth century general store, Mastin’s of Manitowaning, and an art gallery in the foyer recognizes this family as it is named the K.B. Reynolds Mastin Gallery. To check for performances and other events, visit www.debaj.ca.
The bustling community also boasts a large NAPA auto parts and general store on Highway 6, a Home Hardware building centre and Hardware, also on Highway 6, a coffee shop and restaurant (Loco Beanz) in the centre of town as well as two auto repair centres and gas stations.
And there are other gems associated with the community too: the annual Manitowaning Fall Fair (first weekend after Labour Day) is the oldest continuously running agricultural fair in Northern Ontario.
And, in balance and on the newer end of things, Manitowaning is home to Henley Boat Works. The boat works designs, builds and ships commercial and industrial boats all over North America.