8 Indigenous Experiences to Discover in North Bay: A Guide to Exploring Local Culture

Dive into the rich Indigenous heritage of North Bay, featuring local stores, products, events, and activities.

a group of dancers in colourful jingle dresses dance on green grassy pow wow grounds. The roofs of vendor tents are in the background.

The rugged lands and waters in and around North Bay, Ontario have a vibrant history as the ancestral home of First Nations peoples. Nipissing First Nation peoples are of Ojibwe and Algonquin descent and known as the N’bisiing Anishinaabeg, while the Dokis First Nation members are of Ojibwe descent. Indigenous people have lived here for upwards of 10,000 years, and for many generations, the area has been a hub of trails and canoe routes through the region’s vast boreal forest and many lakes and rivers, with opportunities for agriculture, hunting, fishing and trading. Today, there are over 8,000 urban Indigenous residents of North Bay and you can discover that Indigenous heritage through a variety of experiences in the city and neighbouring communities like Nipissing First Nation, Dokis First Nation, and Temagami First Nation.

1. Visit a Pow Wow Near North Bay

The annual Maamwi Kindaaswin pow wow, hosted by North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, takes place in June at Lee Park on the shores of Lake Nipissing. Maamwi Kindaaswin, which means “learning together” in Anishinaabemowin, is open to the public and offers two days of cultural singing and dancing, with on-site artists and craft vendors, food trucks and community information booths. Dokis First Nation, located on the French River on the south side of Lake Nipissing about a 90-minute drive from North Bay, hosts its annual pow wow in June as well while Temagami First Nation holds its annual pow wow in July. For more information about attending the event and what to expect, visit Tourism North Bay's pow wow guide

a closeup of two dreamcatchers hanging in an outdoor vendor booth, with a ring of vendor tents, green grass and trees in the background. Dancers at a pow wow at Dokis First Nation hold hands and dance in a circle at the green, grassy pow wow grounds at sunset. finely crafted moccassins laid on a vendor's table at a pow wow near North Bay.
The annual Maamwi Kindaaswin pow wow and Dokis First Nation's pow wow are spectacular events to be able to attend. // Photo credits North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre (left, right), and Dokis First Nation (centre).

2. Cruise the Waters of Lake Nipissing

Named for Chief Raymond Commanda of Dokis First Nation, the Chief Commanda II is a popular outing for residents and visitors alike, offering a number of seasonal excursions on Lake Nipissing that include commentary about the area’s history and heritage. Consider, for example, the Manitou Islands scenic cruise option which gives you a closer look at the five fabled Manitou Islands, part of the ancestral lands of Nipissing First Nation and now a provincial park.

The Chief Commanda 2; a large passenger cruise ship sailing in the distance on Lake Nipissing, the sky beautifully lit by a delicate pink sunset. Green foliage and a rocky shore are in the foreground.
Take in the beautiful sights on a cruise aboard the Chief Commanda II.

3. Travel the EcoPath on Chippewa Creek

The EcoPath on Chippewa Creek is a 3.2-km paved trail between Lake Nipissing and Thomson Park. A traditional gathering place of the N’bisiing First Nation peoples, it’s now a community spot for all to celebrate nature and preserve the creek and its habitat. Interpretative signs along the trail cover the creek’s importance to the community, including number 4: A People Place, which was developed in consultation with local Elders to highlight the importance of inclusivity, water and the First Nation way of life. A new addition to the Path is Miskwaadesi, which means “painted turtle,” celebrating the Anishinaabe creation story of Turtle Island as well as the 13 moons of the lunar calendar represented on the shell. There are also four sturdy cedar posts in the traditional colours of red, yellow, white and black, to guide you through the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, and seven stones that represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Love, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Truth, Humility, and Respect. Miskwaadesi was created as a partnership between NBIFC and the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.

Miskwaadesi; a sculpture of a turtle made of flat stones inside a circle, laid in a greenspace surrounded by trees and a walking path.
Miskwaadesi, the Painted Turtle along the Chippewa Creek EcoPath.

4. Spend Time on the Shores of Lake Nipissing

Shabogesic Beach is the city’s largest beach, named after Chief Shabogesic, a Nipissing First Nation Chief—look for the plaque describing the history behind the name. Here you can swim, stroll on the beach or contemplate a spectacular sunset. Lake Nipissing is an important part of the area’s Indigenous heritage, both past and present. It was a place for trade, fishing, gatherings and ceremonies, for the N’bisiing peoples and other visiting Indigenous community members. Today, the N’bisiing community is involved in protecting these waters and restoring beds of wild rice, an important traditional food.

Shabogesic Beach; a large white sand beach with a playground structure, next to the large blue expanse of Lake Nipissing. Green foliage is in the foreground.
Shabogesic Beach is a supervised, white sand beach and one of North Bay's most popular.

5. Get Creative: Indigenous Art and North Bay

Aanmitaagzi is an Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist-run company based in Nipissing First Nation. Through theatre, dance, art, storytelling, music and more, Aanmitaagzi, which means “he or she speaks,” celebrates collaboration, tradition and exploration. Check its Facebook page for information about interactive workshops and public events. In North Bay, visit Maroosis Art Centre, a First Nations and local art, framing and art supply shop on Main Street, and check the exhibition listings of the WKP Kennedy Gallery at the Capitol Centre for current and upcoming displays of Indigenous fine art, sculpture and photography.

 WKP Gallery; a large, open gallery space with black walls and potlights highlighting the brightly coloured indigenous art hung along the walls. A stage being set up for a show, with set designers and crew working.
Enjoy magnificent live performances and works of art from the North Bay/ Nipissing area's Indigenous artists. // Photo credits WKP Gallery (left), Aanmitaagzi (right).

6. Support Indigenous-Owned Businesses in North Bay

Visit the business directory of Nipissing First Nation to check out the variety of Indigenous-owned businesses. For example, you can shop for traditional craft supplies at Supplies for the Soul, jewelry at Gokmis Creations, intricate beadwork and other artisanal crafts at 17HR Convenience or dine on fresh locally caught pickerel at Jocko Point. In North Bay, pick up some delicious coffee (roasted in-house!) and fresh sandwiches and pastries at Twiggs, shop for organic foods and natural health products at Green Medicine or see what Anishwe has in store for art, décor and clothing. Ever Cool Ice Cream is a fun destination too—this food truck beside the North Bay Museum has all kinds of tasty treats.

a colourful milkshake topped with whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry, sitting next to a vase of pink flowers on a windowsill. A bright blue sky and sunshine is in the background. the storefront of indigenous-owned Anishwe in North Bay, a clothing design store.
Take some time to peruse one-of-a-kind pieces from Indigenous designers, or cool off with a delicious North Bay summer staple. // Photo credits Ever Cool Ice Cream, Anishwe

7. Discover Indigenous History at a North Bay Museum

The North Bay Museum features exhibits about pre-colonial life for the N’bisiing peoples as well as their role in the European fur trade, including birchbark canoe displays. The Mattawa Museum in Mattawa, a 45-minute drive east of North Bay, also has a section dedicated to Indigenous history, highlighting the area’s role as an important transportation corridor.

The North Bay Museum, beautifully lit by a darkening sunset sky behind it, its windows lit from inside. two birch bark canoes surrounded by artificial bullrushes in a display at the North Bay Museum.
The North Bay Museum showcases Indigenous history and craftsmanship with fascinating exhibits.

8. Head to a Provincial Park Near North Bay

There are several gorgeous provincial parks in the North Bay area, perfect for a day trip, with opportunities to take in seasonal programming that imparts Indigenous ways of knowing, or simply explore the rocky islands, waterways and boreal forest. Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is a 35-minute drive east of North Bay and has a Visitor Centre depicting cultural, natural and historical features of the area. You can try your hand at paddling a Voyageur canoe too. The Mattawa River is a designated Canadian Heritage River, and at Mattawa River Provincial Park.

Experienced paddlers can follow a canoe route that includes several stretches of rapids, 14 portages and an eight-metre waterfall. It’s also the site of the Mattawa River Canoe Race in June. Learn more about the historic route of the La Vase Portages too. South Bay Provincial Park on the south bay of Lake Nipissing is a 25-minute drive south of North Bay. At this non-operating park (no camping or organized activities) popular pastimes include swimming, fishing, boating and hiking.

Two people in a canoe paddle along a creek filled with lilypads, surrounded by lush green forest under a blue sky.
Travelling the heritage canoe routes shows a person this land in a very special way. // Photo credit Friends of La Vase Portages

Explore Indigenous Culture in North Bay

North Bay, a vibrant small northern city about a four-hour drive from Ottawa or Toronto, has a variety of ways to explore the area’s rich Indigenous culture and heritage. Start planning your trip to North Bay today!

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of www.tbaywithkids.ca, 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 www.northstarwriting.ca.

Recommended Articles

Search North Bay