If the banks of the Grand River could talk, they would have centuries worth of tales to tell. The Grand, which is located just about an hour west of Toronto, is so steeped in history it has actually been designated a Canadian Heritage River. The Six Nations of the Grand River, which is Canada’s largest First Nations community, plays an incredibly important role in ensuring that the history of this storied river that winds through their homeland lives on.
As you would expect of any group that has spent generations living in such close proximity to a major waterway, the canoe has always been a key mode of transportation for the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations that call the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory home. Area outfitters work closely with Six Nations partners to offer a wide range of paddling experiences that educate visitors to the area about First Nations history while they enjoy a day out on the water. Here are just a few of the experiences available.
Six Nations Tourism offers a three-hour On The Water guided experience for groups of at least five people that includes a canoe or kayak trip down the Grand River with the telling of the Creation Story and a guided tour through the rare ecosystems along the Grand River. Through the experience, participants gain a stronger appreciation of the importance of all living things within the Haudenosaunee culture.
Grand Experiences’ Voyage of the Iroquois trip is a five-hour journey that celebrates the Grand River’s rich First Nations history. The “ride” for the day is a stable 12-passenger Voyageur canoe piloted by an expert guide. Halfway through the float, the group sets out on a guided hike to explore the Trail of the White Cedars. The trip culminates with a stop at Turtle Island, a small isolated island with an ancient hardwood amphitheatre. After a traditional Indigenous greeting, a Native storyteller brings history to life sharing First Nations music, myths and legends.
Grand River Rafting’s Whisper To The Moon Paranormal Night Paddle is a truly one-of-a-kind experience. After a 90-minute drift down the Grand River by the light of a full moon into the territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River, paddlers pull up on shore at Chiefswood Mansion National Historic Site, the childhood home of Mohawk Poetess, E. Pauline Johnson. Local guides share ghost stories and ancient Six Nations legends and then lead guests on a paranormal investigation of this historical home. Seating for this popular experience is limited to 14, but private tours for up to six people can also be arranged.
The Natural Path is a two-day guided trip that offers a paddling experience in a 12-person Voyageur canoe, cycling along the Trans Canada Trail, an educational farm experience, a guided plant walk, great meals and a number of tours including a stop at Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks. Built in 1785, this beautifully preserved National Historic Site is the oldest surviving church in Ontario and the last remaining building of the original Mohawk Village. Guests can choose between a comfortable farm stay sleeping in tents under the stars or enjoy a few more creature comforts by overnighting at a nearby hotel. Delicious lunches are served alongside the trail and dinner can be enjoyed at Stillwaters! Plate & Pour on the Grand River.
The Two Row on the Grand Paddle event is an annual summer re-enactment of the historic Two Row Wampum Treaty that was put in place over four centuries ago. Two rows of paddlers, one Indigenous and one settler/immigrant, make their way down the Grand River from Cambridge to Lake Erie demonstrating the simple concept of the Two Row Wampum Treaty: to travel the river of life on parallel paths, close enough to help each other, but not disrupting each other’s way of life. In addition to paddling, this nine-day event features educational events, dancing, storytelling and sharing circles.
Timing a canoe trip on the Grand River that coincides with July’s Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow is another great way to enjoy an immersive First Nations experience. In addition to watching the over 400 dancers from across North America compete in the colourful Pow Wow dancing and singing contests, guests can enjoy Native food from over 30 vendors and shop for Native crafts. The event is held at Chiefswood Park in Brant County. Read this blog post for five tips that will help you have an even more amazing Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow experience.
When visiting the Six Nations of the Grand River, fuel up for your paddle in Ohsweken at Burger Barn, featured on the television show You Gotta Eat Here, or the Village Café. Other great dining choices just a short drive away include Camp 31 Bar-B-Que and Sociable Kitchen + Tavern. The Bear’s Inn, also in Ohsweken, is a charming place to stay that offers a perfect blend of warm country hospitality with Six Nations’ history. Stop by Iroqrafts to find some beautifully made crafts to take home as a memento of your trip.
The Woodland Cultural Centre’s Museum and Gallery are also excellent options for learning more about the Grand River’s rich First Nations history. The Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic collections are presented in a dramatic storyline beginning with the Iroquoian and Algonkian prehistoric past and spanning through to the 21st century. The Gallery’s three exhibition spaces rotate temporary contemporary art and historical exhibitions on a three-month cycle.