Manitoulin Island is the world's largest freshwater lake island. With an area of 2,766 km² (1,068 square miles), it is the 174th largest island in the world, and Canada's 31st largest island. Part of Ontario, Canada, the island separates the larger part of Lake Huron to its south and west from Georgian Bay to its east and the North Channel to the north. Manitoulin Island itself has 108 freshwater lakes, some of which have their own islands; in turn a few of these "islands within islands" have their own ponds. Lake Manitou (about 104 km²) is the largest lake in a freshwater island in the world. The island has three rivers, the Kagawong, Manitou, and Mindemoya Rivers, which provide spawning grounds for Atlantic Salmon and trout.
Manitoulin means spirit island in the Ojibwe language. The island was a sacred place for the native Anishinaabe people who were Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi.
The North Channel was part of the route used by the voyageurs to reach Lake Superior. The first known European to settle on the island was Father Joseph Poncet, a French Jesuit, who set up a mission near Wikwemikong in 1648. The Jesuits called the island "Isle de Ste. Marie". Diseases introduced by the visitors had a devastating effect on the island's population. Raids from the south by the Five Nations Iroquois drove the remaining people from the island by 1650. According to oral tradition, the island was burned to purify it as they left and it remained largely unsettled for the next 150 years.
Native people (Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi) began to return to the island following the War of 1812. The island was ceded to the Crown in 1836 and set aside as a refuge for natives. Jean-Baptiste Proulx re-established a Roman Catholic mission in 1838 which the Jesuits took over in 1845. In 1862, the Manitoulin Island treaty opened up the island for settlement by non-native people. The Wikwemikong chief did not accept this treaty and that reserve remains unceded.