Travel

Wendake – Illuminating the past, present and future of Indigenous tourism

Less than a 15-minute drive from the heart of Quebec City, Wendake is an exceptional place that combines tradition with the modern day 

  • Sep 29, 2022
  • 906 words
  • 4 minutes
The remarkable Ekionkiestha’ National Longhouse. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Warriors emerge as shadows from the pencil-straight palisades, disappearing into the dark amid drumbeats, cries and echoes. A colourful origin of life story is retold against a screen of solid rock, while spirit animals appear between the trees. There’s a chill in the breeze and the stars are bright enough to appear part of the show. We’re on an hour-long, 1.2-kilometre-long evening stroll into the forests of Wendake, Que., bedazzled by the sounds, lights and spectacle of Onhwa’ Lumina. Amazed by the vision and ambition of the Huron-Wendat Nation too. 

Canada offers fantastic Indigenous experiences, but seldom will you find this many threads so expertly woven together. Boutique accommodation, history, food, culture, nature, family and adventure all converge in Wendake, located just 14 minutes’ drive from Old Quebec City.    

It starts with history: the 17th century Huron-Wendat Nation were successful farmers and traders, originally located south of Georgian Bay in Ontario, some 30 villages and 40,000 members strong. What followed was disease, war, displacement, migration, discrimination and, after centuries without a home, an eventual settlement in Quebec City. Today, 2,200 Huron-Wendat members call Wendake home, with many more scattered throughout the country.

Onhwa’ Lumina is Canada's first Indigenous-inspired Lumina experience. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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The lobby of the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations featuring artifacts and other rare objects central to the Huron-Wendat culture. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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The past is not always pretty, but the thread is powerful and strong, and there’s much to learn, honour, respect and experience. I feel it when I drive up to the Hotel-Musée Premières Nations, a 55-room boutique hotel that is one part living museum, one part modern urban escape. A distinctive wooden cone reminiscent of a smokehouse greets visitors outside, while the spacious modern lobby features artwork and artefacts central to the Huron-Wendat culture. Wood and stone finishings are awash with light from the forest-facing windows, and the attention to detail is immaculate. Before I check in, my attention is drawn to the glass doors that lead into the exhibits at the adjacent museum. Clearly this is not just another hotel. The Hotel-Musée Premières Nations is an experience. 

Some of the dishes that can be enjoyed at La Traite Restaurant made by Michelin starred chef, Marc de Passorio. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Framed artefacts line the hallway to my room, which has all the modern amenities one expects from a four-star hotel, coupled with traditional art and beaver furs on the bedspreads. I take my kids for a swim and hot tub, freshen up and head downstairs to the award-winning La Traite Restaurant. Michelin-starred Chef Marc de Passorio travelled to First Nation communities around Quebec to gather recipes, cooking techniques and food stories from Elders. Together with his team in Wendake, he prepares inspired seasonal dishes that rely heavily on these culinary traditions, using berries, game meats, forest spices and the “three sisters” of beans, corn and squash. We order a starter of cauliflower with dune pepper, sea buckthorn, black garlic cream and myrtle served with delicious corn bread. The main consists of traditional Three Sisters Sagamité; poached white cod with forest tea, morels and chanterelles; and deer medallions with mushrooms, gremolata and candied lemon. A rich maple mousse with lemon balm jelly to finish. When it comes to combining taste and history, Indigenous cuisine belongs on any gourmet menu.

A short drive from the hotel, Onhwa’ Lumina is a collaboration between Quebec’s acclaimed multimedia Motion Factory and the Wendake Tourism Office. Operating 200 days a year, the $6-million dollars immersive visitor experience brings the history, legends, sounds, story and values of the Huron-Wendat to life. Onhwa translates as “now” in the Huron-Wendat language, a call to bridge the mythical past and technological future with the present. You might be familiar with other Motion Factory Lumina experiences like Terra Lumina in Toronto, Vallea Lumina in Whistler, or Tonga Lumina in Mont-Tremblant. If not, it’s a magical, family-friendly night-time activity, and Canada’s first Indigenous-inspired Lumina is truly something special. My kids insist we do the loop twice, and still talk of their forest walk many months later.

Inside the Huron-Wendat Museum. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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The exterior of the Huron-Wendake Museum. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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The award-winning Huron-Wendat Museum is an attraction well worth driving to, never mind walking just a few minutes from your hotel room. Opened in 2008, it is the cultural heart and keepsake of the Huron-Wendat, a gathering of stories, customs and people, and a showcase for the nation’s legacy. An excellent audio guide ushers us through the exhibits. Downstairs leads to the remarkable Ekionkiestha’ National Longhouse. Protected by tall, sharp palisades, the longhouse resembles a giant wood and bark sperm whale. Each fire pit is indicative of how many families shared a long house, in this case three, with three levels on other side denoting storage, sleeping and food quarters. The attention to detail makes us feel like we’ve been transported through a wormhole to the 16th century. The museum offers a 90-minute “Myths and Legends” package, and it’s possible to arrange an overnight stay in the longhouse, too. Guests are also invited to stroll the Knowledge Trail into the surrounding woodlands, rent snow shoes in winter, visit the horticulture gardens and participate in various cultural workshops.

I leave the hotel deeply impressed not only with the vision of the Huron-Wendat, but the execution of that vision to create a living, breathing portal to the past. By showcasing its rich culture, supporting its community, and utilizing innovations across architecture, cuisine, community, accommodation and immersive activities, Wendake is an inspiration for Indigenous tourism throughout Canada, and around the world.

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