Anishinaabe Wild Rice Experience: Learn how to harvest and prepare wild rice at this family-owned experience in Northwest Ontario

The company’s mission statement puts it simply: “To preserve a traditional way of life of the Ojibway peoples and to share and teach others how to harvest wild rice.”

For Rhonda LeClair, owner of Anishinaabe Wild Rice Experience, the arrival of northwestern Ontario’s golden fall days means it’s time to harvest wild rice. Located at Whitefish Lake, about 70 km west of Thunder Bay and about 60 km from the US border, Anishinaabe Wild Rice Experience is a family-owned rice camp. Guests participate in land-based learning, discovering how to harvest and prepare wild rice with a blend of traditional and contemporary methods. 

Wild rice is a traditional food of Aboriginal peoples. “My family tells me that our family has always harvested wild rice at Whitefish Lake, going as far back as my great-grandfather and my grandparents,” says LeClair. “My mom remembers being out on the lake when she was a young girl, being in a canoe while her parents would paddle her around.” However, LeClair didn’t learn about harvesting wild rice as a child, although her family enjoyed eating it as a treat. As an adult, she asked her grandparents to teach her, and while they cautioned her that it was hard work, she persevered and found she had a passion for it. Members of the Friday family, like her siblings, mother, aunties and kids joined her. In her first years of learning, LeClair would take the rice to share with members of Seine River First Nation, her mother’s home community, as well as to her home in Pic River First Nation (Biigtigong Nishnaabeg). Soon, LeClair began dreaming of opening a rice camp so others could learn too. “I had this vision of having camps, you know, learning our ways,” she says. “The wild rice just fit.” The company’s mission statement puts it simply: “To preserve a traditional way of life of the Ojibway peoples and to share and teach others how to harvest wild rice.”

About eight years ago she purchased a property on Whitefish Lake, and six years ago she began offering two-day camp experiences, assisted by her son Joshua. Today her students are mainly Indigenous from a variety of elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. She is considering having an additional camp in fall 2022 that’s open to anyone who is interested, as long as she is able to fill the required numbers of 10 to 20 students per session. 

What’s it like harvesting wild rice?

The wild rice season lasts from early September to late October. Whitefish Lake is a shallow lake that has the right growing conditions for wild rice, including muddy soil and optimal water levels. It’s important to LeClair to start each session with grateful words in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway). “We always have to start out in a good way, and what better way is there than ceremony?” she says. “We always start off with ceremony.”

The group is divided amongst the camp’s five canoes. One person at the bow of the canoe poles the canoe through the rice beds, while the ricer in the stern reaches out with a cedar stick and bends as many stalks of wild rice as possible over the side of the canoe. Then the ricer uses a second cedar stick to gently knock the ripe grains of wild rice into the bottom of the canoe. (Despite the name, wild rice is actually an aquatic grass, not rice.) Back on shore, it’s time for drying. The wild rice needs to be dried immediately, so students spread it out on tarps and scatter it with a rake. Then, they remove debris like pieces of weeds, leaves, stalks and insects. They turn the rice constantly to help with the drying process, which can take from four to 24 hours, depending on the weather conditions. 

Visitors learn to patch the rice over a wood fire.

The next step is called parching, where the rice grains are heated over a wood fire in an iron kettle, frequently stirred by a cedar tool. “You parch the rice over heat to stop the germination process,” explains LeClair. This prepares the rice for storage. “Once it’s parched, it has a hull on it that needs to be removed. You could do it a couple of ways. Traditionally, it was the boys who stomped on the rice; they were maybe 10 or 11 years old, with nice clean moccasins,” she says, laughing as she recalls her own children attempting the hull the rice by dancing on it in new white socks. “Or, the contemporary way is to use a machine that removes the hull. I call it my ‘ten little men,’ because it has soft paddles that hit the rice.” A blower removes most of the lightweight chaff. The final part of the process is winnowing, when the rice is placed in a tray (traditionally made of birch bark) and then tossed in the air so the breeze can remove any leftover chaff. The rice is then ready for storing or for cooking. Compared to store-bought wild rice, it is a lighter brown colour, does not need to be soaked before cooking, and cooks in a shorter amount of time. 

The rice is placed in a tray (traditionally made of birch bark) and then tossed in the air so the breeze can remove any leftover chaf.

“The students love it,” she says. “They love when I cook the popped wild rice, because it's like popcorn, but better. I'll add blueberries sometimes too.” The wild rice harvest takes a lot of practice, and students may find that their efforts only yield about five pounds of wild rice between 10 people. Still, being out on the land and forging connections with each other and with surrounding wildlife is invaluable. “The beavers are beautiful this time of season. They actually dig up medicines for us,” says LeClair, referring to the water lily roots that beavers excavate from the lake bottom and leave floating on the surface of the water. “When it's ricing season, they dig up that root. In our language it's called akandamoons. We just grab it, and say miigwetch, miigwetch!” She uses the roots to prepare teas.

LeClair also values the spirituality of the wild rice harvest. “My connection to wild rice is very healing. I just feel so peaceful when I’m in the rice fields. I sing to the plants. They nourish me, they protect me, they feed me. My elders talk about how it is such a healing food.”

To learn more, visit

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of, which covers fun family-friendly attractions, events and restaurants in Thunder Bay. She enjoys canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing and travel, and you can read more of her award-winning work at

Recommended Articles

Ontario Pow Wow Calendar: 2024 Edition

Culture, community, food, dancing, music, tradition, regalia—check out the 2024 pow wow calendar and discover where to celebrate this year.

6 Indigenous-owned Accommodations in Ontario

Check out these cool spots and start planning!

Rebecca Maracle's Gallery & Gifts

This Mohawk feathersmith's art gallery is a must-visit destination

13 Indigenous-Owned Businesses to Visit on National Indigenous People's Day—and Every Day 

Restaurants, lodges, shops, and experiences to check out in Northern Ontario

Pow Wow Road Trip 2024

This four-day route makes it easy to plan a summer long weekend road trip to one of Manitoulin Island's eight annual Powwows.

Wake the Giant is the most important music festival you'll see this year

Celebrate inclusivity and Indigenous culture in Thunder Bay

Have You Visited Manitoulin Brewery Yet?

Whitefish tacos, summer brews, and patio views on Manitoulin Island

Dreaming of summer vacation?

Make it make it an unforgettable adventure with these 8 Indigenous-owned accommodations

The Land That Gives Life

Exploring Northern Ontario's Pimachiowin Aki UNSECO World Heritage Site

Indigenous Restaurants in Ontario

Seven delicious spots where tradition meets innovation for unforgettable dining

Have you visited the Manitou Mounds yet?

This award-winning Indigenous site offers a life-changing experience

Sweet Water

Anishinaabe and Kanyen’keha’:ka-owned Giizhigat Maple Products is rooted in tradition.

Building Canoes, Building Dreams

Temagami's Bear Island Canoe House

The Art of David Maracle

Discover Mohawk Haudenosaunee art and music at this Bay of Quinte micro gallery.

Celebrate Summer Solstice Festival North with ITO

Grab your tickets now to this drive-in celebration on June 19th.


Indigenous Cuisine in Temiskaming Shores

Paint it Bright

Discover the story behind Ojibway artist Thomas Sinclair's new mural in Sault Ste. Marie

Discover Indigenous Ingenuity at Science North

Build igloos and do some VR dogsledding at this new, family-friendly exhibit.

5 National Indigenous Peoples Day Events You Can Attend in 2023

There are lots of fantastic events, activities, and more to experience this June 21!

Think Outside the Teapot

An Indigenous superfood is the star of this Thunder Bay company's unique tea offerings.