Bloodvein Headwaters Day 6: Barclay Lake to Artery Lake

Previous Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

my brother Max - 60 years young on this day

my brother Max on July 13… this is where he got to celebrate his 60th birthday!

From Barclay Lake to Mary's Lake

From Mary's Lake To Artery Lake (central)

DAY SIX BASICS:

distance:  27 kilometers

weather: the worst so far – intermittent rain and a north wind put an edge on things!

rapidsportages: W08 …125 meter carry

campsites: a decent one on a point at the center of Artery Lake

The plan had been to paddle up Barclay Lake and the Musclow River to the pictograph site near the top of the river; it was ten kilometers from our Day 5 campsite. A morning drizzle and spit which became rain with some North wind thrown in for good measure is what we had to deal with as we broke camp on Day 6.

We decided to pass up on the Musclow  Barclay Lake upriver to Musclow Lake Picto Sitepictograph site  and the twenty kilometer   detour it would have required.

Dewdney drawing of Muslcow moose

 

 

Included in our photocopied pages of Selwyn Dewdney’s book was a drawing he did of the one pictograph at the Musclow site – that of a moose.  Given the weather and given the meagre reward, it seemed like a long way to go. Instead,  if we just kept paddling down the Bloodvein we would be at the #1 pictograph site on the entire Bloodvein system in a few hours. So off we headed for the famed Artery Lake pictograph site.

Reported Pictograph Sites on  Artery Lake and Mary's lake

Reported Pictograph Sites on Artery Lake and Mary’s lake

The Bloodvein took us southwest from Barclay Lake. The wind and drizzle hit our backs as we made our way to the bottom of the “U” that would take us back up to Mary’s Lake and then, after a short portage, into the narrow stretch of river leading to Artery Lake.

But first another decision – yet another pictograph site!  In a bay in the NE corner of Mary’s Lake, the Wilson map indicated a site of interest.  Four kilometers up there on some pretty open water with rain and  NW wind … We took a gorp and Bloodvein Nouveau break with Max kind enough to let me make the call. My good Roman Catholic upbringing reinforced with OCD did serve up a generous serving of guilt about not getting done what I said I’d do – that is,  seeing every single rock painting on the Bloodvein!  However, I turned around and said, “How about we spend some quality time at the big site coming up ahead instead of paddling 8 km in bad weather to see a very minor one?”  You can see his response in this post’s first image.

As for the Mary’s Lake pictographs, I have since learned that there is one to be seen.  Hap Wilson describes it this way -

Hap Wilson quote

Maybe next time!

W08 P125

W08 P125

There was only one portage to do this day – that around W08.  The pictograph site was another two kilometers down from there.  But first – the portage.  Max put the video mode of his camera to use to show  a real “pro” getting the job done. I know for a fact that the guy carrying the canoe (it weighs all of 42 lbs.)  was just worried his L.L. Bean boots would slip on the moss-covered rock!

 

As you will have noticed if your watched the video clip, the rain had stopped!  In fact, except for the occasional drizzle it was mostly dry for the next four hours – long enough for us to visit the famous pictograph site, search for a second one,  and get up our tent and tarp. First  we paddled up to the imposing rock face pictured below -

Artery Lake Pictographs - looking south to Face II

Artery Lake Pictographs – looking south to Face II

Artery Lake Face III - shaman panel with buffalo panel

Artery Lake Face IV – shaman panel with buffalo panel

While the pictograph site between Murdock and Larus Lakes had been impressive (see here for some pix), this stretch of vertical granite  at the east end of Artery Lake has one of the more famous pictograph faces of the entire Canadian Shield.  The image above shows two of them side by side;  Selwyn Dewdney  labelled the one on the left  “the Bloodvein shaman” and the one on the right “the Bloodvein bison”.

Appreciating the turn in the weather, we spent some time here taking in the images and trying to figure out what they all meant. Without a doubt these images had a spiritual significance to those who put them there. Just as clear is that our paddling up to them three hundred years later elevated our canoe trip for a while to another level.

I’ve created an entire post which looks at this Artery Lake rock painting site in much more detail. If you’re interested, just click on the title below -

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites On The Bloodvein – The Artery Lake Site 

We moved on a half-hour later, heading for the NE arm of Artery Lake and a reported pictograph site there. The pic below was taken from the point on the east side of the narrow entrance to this arm – we had pulled in there to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat.

Break Time - Artery Lake

Break Time – Artery Lake

Up the arm we paddled, not really sure about what we’d find. On the west side of the arm we paddled toward this rock face, thinking that it might be one that would meet a shaman’s requirements for a spirit rock where he might petition the maymaygwayshi (the underwater spirits who made the rock their home) for the medicine or other favour he needed.

Artery Lake NE Arm rock face

Artery Lake NE Arm rock face

There really wasn’t another rock face like this on the west side so we were sure we were heading in the right direction.

part of Artery rock face we scanned

part of Artery rock face we scanned

As at the main Artery Lake site we had been at a couple of hours before, there was evidence here of the flaking off of the surface rock face.  What we didn’t find was evidence of ochre on rock. Perhaps any pictographs that had been here were on those pieces?  The fact that  someone had chosen this spot to scribble down their “I wuz here” notices (I think I am reading the numbers “1973” and “1993”) would seem to be an indication that there was something else here – i.e. a pictograph or two.

"Leroy wuz here" - writing on a Artery Lake rock face

“Leroy wuz here” – writing on a Artery Lake rock face – two different handwritings

One of the weird things that happens if you stare at rock faces enough in search of pictographs is that you start seeing them everywhere.  We called it “picto fever”; I’ll admit that I seemed to have a worse case of it than Max, who more than once went along with a detour knowing full well that there was nothing there that wasn’t a geological feature!  Here is natural streak in the rock face that caught my eye from about forty feet away – I could have swore it was a human figure with outstretched arms!

an example of  what "picto fever" can create meaning of

an example of what “picto fever” can create meaning of

To make sure we hadn’t missed the actual site, we did end up paddling another 700 meters to the end of the arm but came up empty.  Back down the west shore we paddled, checking other rock faces as we did so. No luck!  By four our campsite located on a point was up; it sat almost at the middle of an Artery Lake which branches out in all four directions like a crucifix.

We had just gotten the tent and tarps up, when the rain started again. The reprieve of the past four hours was over. Now it came down steady and strong for the next few hours.  From under the “dining room” tarp we watched as a couple, the first people we had seen since Day 1,  paddled east towards the pictograph site. If they got there without pulling over first to get out of the rain, their experience would be very different than ours. We had not really noticed any potential campsites as we had paddled west to our spot and we hoped that they had some accurate and nearby campsite markers on their map.

Time to celebrate a birthday! Out came the bottle of brandy; combined with a Harvest Foodworks “Blueberry Crumble”.  Bro, may you paddle ’til you’re 100!

Next Post: Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: The Artery Lake Site

Bloodvein Headwaters Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

Previous Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

The Bloodvein Larus to Barclay

Bloodvein River - barclay lake area

DAY 5 BASICS:

distance:  26 kilometers over 7  hours

weather: morning sunshine; afternoon rain and thunderstorm; evening overcast and threatening to rain

rapids/portages: 1 set of rapids -W07- which we portaged 135 meters

campsites: a nicely sheltered one on a point just below the entrance to Barclay Lake

We got up at 4:45 this day.  While we had both gotten some sleep, the bear was still on our minds. So too was the wind; we did not want to be windbound for a second day.  We were off by 5:30 with plans on having breakfast after dealing with the 3.5-km. open stretch of Larus.  The water was still very calm and the paddling went easy.  We agreed we should be doing this more often!

cabin complex on point at west end of Larus

cabin collection on point at west end of Larus

looking back after dealing with the open stretch of Larus

sun rises as we look back after dealing with the open stretch of Larus Lake

There are many great things about paddling in the early morning – that coolness, the stillness and tranquility, and that chance to catch a view of some of the locals getting a bite to eat. This moose just stood there and watched as we paddled by shortly after sunrise.

moose sighting on the way to Barclay Lake

moose sighting on the way to Barclay Lake

moose closer up

moose closer up

post-burn birches along the Bloodvein

post-burn birches along the Bloodvein

We stopped for breakfast a bit after seven at the top of W07, our only portage of the day.  By now the sun was more than up –  as the following pic shows -

sun up on the Bloodvein from W07 Rapids

sun up on the Bloodvein from top of W07 Rapids

W07P135

W07 P135

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the morning as we neared the channel going up to Sabourin Lake we met our first fishermen of the trip – a couple of boats which had come down to the Bloodvein from the lodge on the lake.  We left them behind and headed for the next target – Barclay Lake. The plan was to find a Day 5 campsite on spitcampsite on Barclay – the map above has a number indicated – and then head up to Musclow Lake the next morning to see the pictograph site.  We never did get that far.  We could definitely feel something coming in so at about two when we passed the spit shown on the map to the left we decided to stop paddling and start putting up the tent and tarp right away.  We passed up on some beautiful fair-weather tent spots on top of the hill, instead taking advantage of the shelter that some trees and the hill itself provided down in the suburbs! The tent was barely up when it it started pouring. We watched as a couple of fishing boats raced by; we wondered how long it would take them to get to the lodge on Sabourin Lake – if that is where they were indeed going. In any case, there is no way they ended up being anything other than totally soaked.

campsite south of Barclay Lake

campsite south of Barclay Lake

This had been our easiest day of the trip so far with one easy and short portage and some nice paddling.  We’d also been lucky to get off the river when we did; Barclay Lake could always wait until tomorrow.

foreshadowing tomorrow's rain

a sky full of clouds foreshadowing tomorrow’s rain

 Next Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 6: south of Barclay Lake to Artery Lake 

Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

Previous Day:  Bloodvein Headwaters Day 3: Knox L.  Portage to Murdock Lake

approaching the Murdock Lake pictograph site

the Murdock Lake pictograph site at the east end of the lake – campsite is on the point to the left

One last look at the small pictograph site around the corner from our campsite on the point and we were off at 7:15.  The goal for the day was to paddle through Larus and find a campsite a few kilometres further downriver. The highlight promised to be the pictograph site on a narrow stretch of the river as it flows from Murdock to Larus. And while there was a portage this day, we knew that the worst of the hauling was done.

Day 4 - a

Bloodvein Canoe Trip Day 4 -b

Images expand with a click or two;  blue text leads to more info with a click.

DAY 4 BASICS:

distance: 20 kilometers over five hours                       Bloodvein W04 to 06  P850

weather: overcast; mid-morning thunderstorm;

then sunny with a worsening west-north-west wind

rapids/portages:  three sets of rapids W04, W05, and W06.  One portage of 850 m  dealt with all three rapids. (A reminder: the W refers to Wilson and the numbers are based on his rapid numbering system for easy cross-reference.)

campsites: a good one at the end of the spit on the east end of Larus Lake

We paddled a bit over ten kilometres to the north end of Murdock Lake. looking for a spot to pull over for breakfast. The flat rock and potential campsite on the shores of a small island we were approaching were just what we needed as we heard the sound of thunder in the distance. We soon had the tarp up and the food bag out. We used the butane stove to boil a liter of water, enough for the usual oatmeal and the mugs of filtered coffee. In the hour that we were there the storm blew over and when we left it was sunny and a bit windier than it had been.

breakfast stop with lightning and thunder as a back drop

breakfast stop with lightning and thunder as a back drop

The beautiful light that bathed the lake after the mini-storm gave me every reason to haul out the dslr and frame a few shots of the scene.

looking south on Larus after the storm passed

looking south on Larus after the storm passed -

taking advantage of the light on Lake Murdock after the storm

taking advantage of the light on Lake Murdock after the storm

We then paddled along a stark shoreline lined with blacked tree trunks which had seen a major fire three years ago. What we saw was the result of 2011’s massive fire Red #124 in the Murdock/Larus area illustrated by the map below.

Murdock Lake - evidence of fire...and new growth

Murdock Lake – evidence of fire…and new growth

Bloodvein Headwaters Fire History Map

Bloodvein Headwaters Fire History Map – see here for the  interactive version you can zoom in on

Another map which illustrates the extent of Red #124 can be accessed here.  Already the new growth blankets the area and you can see that a new cycle begins.

Fire 124 impact on the west shore of Murdock Lake

Fire 124 impact on the west shore of Murdock Lake

At the very top of the lake we headed west and ten minutes later we were face to face with one of the more dramatic single  pictograph sites we had ever seen.

Here are a couple of the pix we took during the time we spent scanning the vertical granite rock face for any ochre-coloured images put on the rock  by Anishinaabe medicine men and  still discernible after 150 or more years of exposure to the elements.

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

human figure holding small human(?)  in oustretched right arm

human figure holding small human(?) in outstretched right arm

If you’re interested,  I’ve put together about twenty images in the sequence you would see the various pictographs if you were paddling down the river.  I have also included some related material (text and drawings) by Selwyn Dewdney. Click on the title –  Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: the Murdock – Larus Site – to see the post.

W04 take-out on the Bloodvein River

W04 take-out on the Bloodvein River

one empty canoe waiting to be portaged!

the start of the day's one portage

the start of the day’s one portage

After our time with the pictographs we continued on. The pics above shows the take-out of the one portage of the day, an 850-meter carry which would take us around three sets of rapids. The photo also shows me standing next to our empty 42-lb. Swift Dumoine. I would leave it there while I did my first carry – one of the Hooligan packs, a duffel and the paddles- half way across the portage.

Max carrying his 90 lb load to the other end

Our Dumoine on the loose!

Our Dumoine on the loose!

Unfortunately, deadfall across the trail meant a need to get out the Sven saw and do some trail maintenance. It was a while before I got back to the canoe.  The Garmin in my pocket graphically captured the WTF moment when I returned to get the canoe! It had floated up river about thirty meters and I waded out to fetch it, feeling pretty stupid – and very lucky – at the same time.

a cross-river view from the portage trail

a cross-river view from the portage trail

The portage done by one, we had a leisurely lunch at the put-in point below the Class IV rapids nicknamed “The Cauldron” in Wilson’s book.

W07 - lunch at the end of the portage - notice the burn

lunch at the end of the 850 meter portage – evidence of  Fire Red #124 all around

the bottom of "The Cauldron"

the bottom of “The Cauldron”

The 1:50000 topo has a water level of 339 for Murdock Lake; at the bottom of W06 (“The Cauldron) and the start of Larus Lake it is 331 meters. An eight-meter (26 feet) drop in less than a kilometre of river will definitely remind you that you’re paddling a river and not just a series of interconnected lakes, which I’ll admit is my overriding impression of canoeing in Woodland Caribou Park.

the wind and waves of Larus

the wind and waves of Larus

Indulging in a noontime cup of filtered coffee, we noted that the west wind had continued to pick up; noticeable on the Larus were whitecaps as the waves came rolling in to the east shore.  Lunch done, we set off – as the day’s maps show, we really didn’t get very far before deciding that doing a four-kilometer crossing of  Larus to the west end could wait until the next day.  We ended up at a campsite – in a sheltered bay on the tip of the spit just a kilometer from our lunch spot –  that Wilson had recommended  if the wind on Larus was of concern.

Tent up and canoe put into use as a wind screen, we rambled around the spit. A bit of bushwhacking and we were on the east side of the spit with a view of where we had lunch a couple of hours ago. Looking back was also a last reminder of Fire 124’s impact on the area we had just paddled through. As the fire map above makes clear, while we would be seeing some more evidence of fire, Day 4 presented us with the worst of it.

The Cauldron as viewed from the Larus Lake spit to the west

The Cauldron as viewed from the Larus Lake spit to the west

checking out Larus Lake as the sun sets

checking out Larus Lake as the sun sets

Our evening on the spit on the east end of Larus Lake ended with our first bear sighting of the trip.  It was a bit after dusk when we heard a racket in the mess of deadfall down the spit a bit. I popped out of the tent to see a bear cub – but no mama – about twenty-five meters away.  A few shouts and hand claps and it was gone – hopefully scared after her first human encounter; to reinforce it, I fired off a Bear banger.  We’ll admit to sleeping with ears wide awake that night – but also on our minds was the west wind.  We hoped to get across Larus the next day nice and early.

looking west on Larus Lake at sunset

looking west on Larus Lake at sunset

Next Day: Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: the Murdock – Larus Site

Related Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

The six  days we spent on the headwaters of the Bloodvein River system were highlighted by a number of Anishinaabe (that is, Ojibwe or Chippewa) pictograph sites.

As he had been on our visit to Cliff Lake/Pikitigushi River pictographs , Selwyn Dewdney would be our guide on the Bloodvein. Researched and written over fifty years ago, the first edition of his book  Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (click on the title for a downloadable copy) was published in 1962. It included an account and drawings from his visit to the #1 pictograph site on the Bloodvein River system, the one at the east end of Artery Lake.

In the following four years Dewdney would continue to add to a growing collection of documented pictograph sites. By this time his reach had clearly outgrown the subject area of book’s title!  In the second edition of the book (1967) another sixty sites were added.  Included were his drawings and observations from his 1963 visit to the Bloodvein site which is the focus of this post.

Where Is The Site?

The Bloodvein River - Murdock To Larus

The site is located on the narrow section of the river which connects Murdock Lake to Larus Lake.  It is a kilometer west of the north end of Murdock and about three kilometers south and east from “The Cauldron”, the Class IV  set of rapids that tumbles into Larus Lake. (The “W” on the above map refers to Hap Wilson and the numbers – 04, 05, and 06 -refer to the specific sets of rapids he illustrates and numbers in the Bloodvein chapter of his essential “book of maps” for canoe trippers ( The Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba.)

Dewdney’s text notes – “About thirty-five miles upstream [from the Artery Lake site] just west of Larus Lake…” (p.118)  He then goes on to describe in great detail the site that is actually located east of Larus Lake!  In the summary list of all sites at the end of the book it is Site #154 and is correctly situated east of Larus Lake.

Given that three sets of rapids separates the site from Larus Lake, it is probably more fitting to refer to the site as a Murdock Lake site. To add to the potential confusion my Garmin Basecamp map above labels the water above the rapids as “Larus Lake”!  I’ll just label it the “Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein”.

The pictographs were on river left as we paddled west towards Larus Lake.  This is unusual since it means that they are facing north, as does the Artery Lake site.  Most sites face SE or S. Dewdney makes the following comment on this -

Dewdney Quote

While there are many spots along the river where the Anishinaabe shamen could paint his images, this section stood out as special. Higher, more dominating rock face, long stretches of white granite, and what could be interpreted as  underwater entrances to the rock face used by the resident water spirits (the maymaygwayshi) which the medicine men have come to acknowledge or petition.

We saw this as we paddled slowly along and inhaled the moment. When we reached the end we turned back to the beginning of the pictographs and took out our cameras to record some of what we saw.  The first pictographs we saw were a few meters before (that is, east of)  the main site.

Bloodvein pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

The lowest figure – in a different pigment than those above – looks like a moose or caribou. Some indecipherable drawing sits above his pronounced ears. Above that seems to be a human figure with a central spine drawn in; he seems to be holding something in his stretched-out right arm.  Given the presence of a similar figure on another rock face meters away, it may be a shaman holding out his medicine bag, sometimes depicted as an otter skin.

Murdock-Larus pictos - different angle

Murdock-Larus pictos – different angle

Two caribou and shaman holding medicine bag?

Two caribou and shaman holding medicine bag?

And then we paddled back down a few more meters to the remaining pictographs were. They will appear here in the order one would see them if paddling down the river. At the same time, I will try to connect the various pictograph panels or faces to the comments which Selwyn Dewdney makes.

canoe image and tally marks

canoe image and tally marks

the main stretch of the Murdock-Larus pictograph site on the Bloodvein

the main stretch of the Murdock-Larus pictograph site on the Bloodvein

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Murdock-Larus Pictograph Face Ia

Murdock-Larus Pictograph Face Ia

human figure - Face Ia

human figure – Face Ia

Detail from Face III of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face Ia

Murdock- Larus Pictograph Site - Face III and Figure with Outstretched Arm

Murdock- Larus Pictograph Site – Face III and Figure with Outstretched Arm

Face III - "The Hand"

Face III – “The Hand”

Murdock-Larus picto site up close

Murdock-Larus picto site up close

Murdock-Larus pictographs

Murdock-Larus pictographs – Face III on left

A figure which stands out, partly because of the different colour of the “paint” compared to other pictographs in the area, is the one you see below.  Of it Dewdney writes:

Dewdney quote 118-119

human figure holding small human(?)  in oustretched right arm

human figure holding small human(?) in oustretched right arm -

Bloodvein Larus Site - human figure holding something in outstretched arm

Next we come to a couple of images of canoes and smudges of ochre with tally marks or hands visible.

Bloodvein (Murdock-Larus site) detail

Bloodvein (Murdock-Larus site) detail

Murdock-Larus rock painting face labelled IIb by Dewdney

Murdock-Larus rock painting face labelled IIb by Dewdney

Murdock-Larus Face IIb

Murdock-Larus Face IIb

Murdock-Larus Face IIb - fox and human figure

Murdock-Larus Face IIb – fox and human figure

Face just before thunderbird and Face IV

around the corner from the main section of the Murdock-Larus pictographs

around the corner from the main section of the Murdock-Larus pictographs

Face IV of the Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein

Dewdney’s Face IV of the Murdock-Larus site on the Bloodvein

Face IV details of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face IV details of Murdock-Larus Pictograph site

Face IV close-up of Thunderbird and moose

Face IV close-up of Thunderbird and moose

And then it was time to re-enter the mundane world, the world of canoe strokes and portages. The west wind had picked up as we made our way to the day’s portages which would take us into Larus Lake.

See here for a pdf file of Dewdney’s brief discussion of this Bloodvein site. It can be found in the second and expanded edition (1967) of his classic work Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes.

Next Post:  Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

Bloodvein Headwaters Day 3: Knox Lake Portage to Murdock Lake

Previous Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 2: Crystal Lake to Knox Lake Portage

Day 3 - getting breakfast ready - tent spot was behind the canoe

Day 3 – getting breakfast ready – tent spot was behind the canoe

The empty area behind the canoe is where the tent had been; now it was tucked away for the day and the canoe was put into temporary service as a table.

Our breakfast is definitely low-fuss.  A serving of instant oatmeal, supplemented with cranberries, raisins, chia seeds,  hemp seeds, and walnuts – individual servings all prepackaged at home in small plastic zip-lock bags – is the daily fare.  While we’re taking down the tent we put a liter of water to boil on the butane stove. After the tent is down and packed away, one of us takes care of the breakfast – preparing the oatmeal and setting up the coffee filters and mugs for the main course!

Meanwhile the other person is getting the lunch bag ready – instant soup packages, Wasa bread, different spreads (peanut butter, dehydrated black or pinto bean spread, or mushroom pate). Also laid out on the table are the snacks for the day – a Clif Bar and another zip-lock bag with mixed nuts and fruits for each of us.  It means that during the day there is no need to go “furkling” (I should thank the mountain guides in the Canadian Rockies for teaching me that word!)  through every bag to find a snack or to put lunch together.

Bloodvein headwaters Canoe Trip Day 3 map

DAY THREE BASICS:

distance: about 17 km.

weather: sunny in the morning; noticeable WSW wind once on Knox lake

rapids/portages  3 – all portaged around + the one into Knox L; distance: 1935 m

campsites: our best one so far at Pictograph Point at the east end of Murdock Lake

In a few minutes we were at the start of the day’s major undertaking – the big portage into Knox Lake. We would spend two hours getting everything to the  Knox Lake side.  Our usually-efficient portage system broke down pretty quickly. The first 500 meters or so  looked pretty much like what you see in the image below – carrying a 60 lb. Hooligan pack and then a 30 lb. duffel on top of that was not possible, given the absence of any sort of predictable footing!  After about thirty meters we were down to one bag per carry – and even that was a challenge.

Knox Lake portage - the first stretch

Knox Lake portage – the first stretch

Eventually we got the packs beyond the initial muddy stretch.  That still left the canoe! Impossible to walk up the middle of the trail with it and impossible to walk along the side of the trail, we were reduced to dragging it through the mud.

hauling the canoe through the mud

hauling the canoe through the mud

The other two-thirds of the trail was quite walkable and helped us forget the mud pit we had just experienced.  At the end of the portage there is room of a couple of tents if a campsite is required for paddlers who took on the portage at the end of the day.

the put-in at the end of the portage into Knox Lake

the put-in at the end of the portage into Knox Lake

And then it was north to the outlet of Knox Lake and the first three of the eighty-nine rapids we would face for the rest of the trip.  The “89” comes from the Wilson/Aykroyd guidebook Wilderness Rivers Of Manitoba.  Their chapter on the Bloodvein is in the essential category for planning a trip down the river.  In it they identify 89 different sets of rapids that paddlers will face in getting to Bloodvein Village on Lake Winnipeg. For most of these rapids, they provide a grading system (using the Class 1 to Class V system), accurate drawings of rocks and channels to be dealt with,  information about what to look out for and what to avoid, as well as various portage options.

We’ve used their numbering system – and the names which they gave to some of the rapids – in our posts.  So – W01 125 refers to the first set of rapids described in the Wilson/Aykroyd guidebook.  We added our estimate of portage length at the end.  The length is in meters – one meter equalling 1.1 yards  if you want to make the conversion into a measure you understand better. For the Headwaters section of the river you can also find rapids/portage information on the official WCPP Map and on the Chrismar Adventure Map for the park.

the bottom of W02

the bottom of W02

We will admit to really liking the feel of being on a river, as opposed to paddling a series of lakes connected by portage trails, which is what the first couple of days  from Douglas Lake to Knox Lake mostly felt like.

the middle section of W03

the middle section of W03

Looking SW on the Bloodvein after W03

Looking SW on the Bloodvein from the put-in spot at the bottom of  W03

Lunch at the end of W03 and then it was time to move on. We had a stretch of actual river to paddle down – being able to see both sides of the river as you move down creates a sort of intimacy that you don’t get in the middle of crossing a big lake.

outpost:cabin on Murdock Lake

outpost/cabin on Murdock Lake

Coming out into Murdock Lake, we soon paddled by the outpost (nobody home!) on our left.  Our eyes were on the look-out for a pictograph site indicated in Wilson’s book. We realized later that he only provided a general indication of where they are.  The first one ended up being maybe 200 meters further south than we had estimated from looking at his map. Perhaps this is his way of making sure that everyone still gets to experience the thrill of discovery!

Outpost, Picto Site, and campsite on Murdock Lake

Outpost, Picto Site, and campsite on Murdock Lake

approaching the Murdock Lake pictograph site

approaching the Murdock Lake pictograph site – our camp site would be on the point to the left

Murdock Lake pictographs

Murdock Lake pictographs

Murdock Lake pictographs - the enitre panel up close

Murdock Lake pictographs – the enitre panel up close

Murdock Lake pictographs - two up close

Murdock Lake pictographs – two up close

We got to the point just south of the pictographs around 4. Thinking that it might make a good place to stop for the night, I scrambled up to the sheltered area above the sloped rock face on the shore. I found the best campsite so far! The significant SW wind that we’d have to deal with if we continued down Murdock Lake convinced us to call it a day – and take on the next stretch early and rested the next day instead.  it was an excellent choice.

Murdock Lake campsite - tent is up on the top

Murdock Lake campsite – tent is tucked away on the top of the hill

Day 3 camp on Pictograph Point

Day 3 camp on Pictograph Point

looking up Murdock Lake at sunset

looking up Murdock Lake at sunset

sunset on Murdock Lake

sunset on Murdock Lake

Next Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: The Artery Lake Site

Previous Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 6: Barclay Lake To Artery Lake

Paddling by the series of rock face with rock paintings made by Ojibwe shamen perhaps three hundred years ago, we seemed to slip into another dimension.  We weren’t canoe tripping anymore – maps, portages, campsite search, all forgotten.  Now we were pilgrims searching for meaning in the ochre images, hoping to hear the stories of those who came to this very same place in their birchbark canoes.

The highlight of our paddle through the headwaters of the Bloodvein River in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park was the time we spent at the various Anishinaabe pictograph sites.  Two stand out – the one between Murdock Lake and Larus Lake – and the one we came to as we approached the east arm of Artery Lake.

What we discovered was not a surprise. Many had been here before us and provided accounts in words and pictures.  Selwyn Dewdney, the man most responsible for the systematic recording and analysis of the pictograph sites of the Canadian Shield, had found his way here in the summer of 1959. He wrote:

The Bloodvein River site was one of those rare experiences that  are the supreme reward of pictograph-hunting.”  

Using the pictures we snapped during our time there – a Sunday morning in July of 2014 and my brother’s 60th. birthday no less! –  I hope to give some visuals for the notes and drawings which Dewdney made while at the site.

approaching the Artery Lake site from upriver

approaching the Artery Lake site from upriver

The first notable thing is that, like the Murdock-Larus site further upriver, this one faces north.  Wrote Dewdney -

The northern exposure was unexpected, and the question arises how the rock came to be lichen-free at the time it was chosen for a site.  Peter and I scrubbed off whole yards of the fuzzy green species that had grown over a good half of the paintings.

Look at some of the overview images I have included and you can see that “the fuzzy green species” is alive and well!  We did wonder if someone in an official park capacity should be doing what Dewdney and his son did and scrub the stuff or whether nature should just be allowed to take its course.  To what extent should the park staff get into site management? The current policy does not seem to go further than not publicizing the locations of the various sites for fear of vandalism.

The north end of the site – Face I in Dewdney’s organizational scheme – has a few fairly vague markings; the two following images show some of them.

Artery Lake Pictographs - Face I

Artery Lake Pictographs – Face I

Dewdney refers to the above images as “the two curious ‘wigglers'”;  they may be representations of the medicine serpent, usual depicted with two horns. In Anishinaabe cosmology they were involved in the transfer of “medicine” or good favour to the shaman who has come here.

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face I ochre smudge

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face I ochre smudge

As we paddled on we approached the core of the site. First up was Face II, a five-meter stretch of rock face showing a significant amount of flaking.

Artery Lake Pictographs - looking south to Face II

Artery Lake Pictographs – looking south to Face II

Artery Lake Pictographs - Face II

Artery Lake Pictographs – Face II

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face II closer up

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face II closer up

The human figure with the outstretched arms is a bit reminiscent of the Murdock-Larus one holding out a smaller human figure. Perhaps it is a variation of the shaman holding the otter skin medicine bag? Also noted on Dewdney’s sketch is his indication of the crack which corresponds to the flaking.  One wonders if the piece was still attached when he was there over fifty years ago.

human figure

Artery Lake -Face II – human figure with outstretched arms

Face II - canoe with lone figure

Face II – canoe with lone figure

Artery Lake Face II pictograph detail

Artery Lake Face II pictograph detail

Artery Lake Pictographs. Face II detail - canoes and thunderbird

Artery Lake Pictographs. Face II detail – canoes and thunderbird

Next up was Face III  – at least I think this is Face III given Dewdney’s description of it -

Face III is a puzzling conglomeration of overpainting and abstractions in which little can be deciphered.  I would guess that the animal on the upper left is a porcupine.

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face II to III

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face III?

Dewdney Sketch of Artery Lake Face III

Dewdney Sketch of Artery Lake Face III

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face II to II detail of canoe

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face III detail of canoe

Somehow we did not get a shot of the entire face – but  here is the porcupine he refers to. From the details it looks like it was sitting just above and to the left of the rest of the “puzzling conglomeration of overpainting and abstractions”.    

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face II closer up - Face III?porcupine?

Artery Lake Pictograph Site-  Face III porcupine

And finally, the pictographs for which the site is best known. (I have labelled it Face IV, though the number is not mentioned in Dewdney’s account.) While the pic below shows me looking at the flip-out lcd screen – a newly-acquired approach to image framing for someone who has spent the past forty years staring into viewfinders! –  and focussing on Face III and one of the pix you see above, the main is event is to the right.

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face III overview

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face IV overview

The image on the left is known as “the Bloodvein shaman”. Dewdney explains the evidence that brought him to give the image that name -

Dewdney. shaman figure explanation.

Artery Lake Face III - shaman and  buffalo pictographs

Artery Lake Face IV – shaman and buffalo pictographs

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV pictoraphs above the bison

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV pictographs above the bison

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV  bison and canoe above shaman?

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV bison and canoe above shaman?

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face III shaman close-up

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face IV shaman close-up

Shaman Riding Thunderbird

Looking at the “power” or “interconnectedness”  lines coming out of (or into) the shaman’s head, I can’t help but think of Norval Morrisseau.  He is the Ojibwe painter who often used exactly the same visual vocabulary in his paintings. It is a recurring theme in his artwork. Also note that his human figures are usually painted in the same ochre colour as the pictographs!

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face IV detail below shaman

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face IV detail below shaman

In front of the shaman figures is what Dewdney interpreted as a porcupine – perhaps a clan totem or a symbol of fighting prowess. Below the war canoe – the number of people in it maybe a sign of great military strength –  we see a snake, often associated with Mishipeshu in pictographs elsewhere. (See Agawa Rock.)

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV Shaman figure

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV Shaman figure

And then there is the bison image.  It may be the single-largest pictograph we have seen. You are left to wonder – a bison? Here? Wrote Dewdney -

Dewdney buffalo explanation

Artery Lake buffalo pictograph

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face IV buffalo pictograph

Dewdney also made note of two particular features in the drawing. One was what he called “a vague indication of a heart”, referring to the circle on the bison’s body emphasized with extra paint by the painter.

Another detail has to do with the feet drawn in as ovals. By chance Dewdney had been looking at some of the Lascaux Cave paintings around this time and noticed a similar treatment.  Coincidence? Well, of course. The Lascaux Cave paintings date back 20,000 years. The Bloodvein bison is maybe 300 years old.  What else would it be?  You’ll have to read Hap Wilson’s chapter on the Bloodvein in his Trails and Tribulations: Confessions of  Wilderness Pathfinder to get another “take” on this.  (Open this link and click on p. 132 for the answer!)

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV  bison up close

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV bison up close

Underneath the bison image is the one you see below. It appears to be a structure with a human figure inside. What comes to mind is the Ojibwe ritual involving the “shaking tent” into which the shaman would go for conjuring purposes.

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - Face IV detail below bison

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – Face IV detail below bison

Beyond Face IV

Beyond the shaman and bison images are yet more pictographs.  How could I have framed the  image below so that only the rear half of the moose figure on the right hand side is visible? That’s what zoom is for!

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Beyond Face IV

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Beyond Face IV

Beyond the moose and fairly close to the water line is the following row of pictographs -

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- a collection of images south of Face IV (The Bison image)

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- a collection of images south of Face IV (The Bison image)

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- detail from  collection of images Beyond Face IV

sphere from collection of images beyond Face IV

sphere after Face IV

Dewdney sketch of sphere with rays

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- more detail from  collection of images Beyond Face IV

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- more detail from collection of images Beyond Face IV

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - approaching the south end

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – approaching the south end beyond Face IV

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - south end

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – south end

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- looking back up to where we've come from

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- looking back up to where we’ve come from

Artery Lake Pictograph Site - near the south end

Artery Lake Pictograph Site – near the south end

More questions than answers as we take in the images but it is undeniable that we felt something special as we paddled away from the famed Artery Lake pictograph site. During the first three days  on the Bloodvein headwaters we had joked that the aches and pains that come from doing six kilometres of portages at maximum travel weight to get to the pictographs was the price of admission. As we moved on to the next pictograph site we agreed it had been worth it.

Links To More Information:

Dewdney’s book on the pictograph sites of the Canadian Shield is available for online reading or download here. The Artery Lake site is discussed from pages 59 to 61.

Over the past 35 years Thor Conway has taken over the work of Dewdney to record and understand the pictographs, taking a special care to listen to the Anshinaabe elders and incorporate their understanding of their traditional culture and the place of the rock paintings in it.  His website and contact info can be found here.  Coming soon from Conway is a new book which will include a chapter on the Artery Lake site we have just visited.

If you click on  “Ojibwe Pictographs” on my site header, you find a few more posts I have put together on the pictographs of the Canadian Shield.  It all began about a year and a half ago as we were preparing for a canoe trip that would, among other things,  take us down Cliff Lake on the Pikitigushi River system. It turns out that Cliff Lake is one of the premiere pictograph sites on the Canadian Shield. Who knew! Certainly not me.   I was excited to have this additional element added to our adventure; I was also struck by how little I knew about those enigmatic rock paintings in a canoe country I have spent thirty years paddling and was keen on blowing away the fog of ignorance.  It has been an interesting journey but clearly there is a long way to go!

 

Bloodvein Headwaters Day 2: Crystal Lake to the Knox Lake Portage

Previous Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 1: Trout Bay to Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake early morning sunshine

Crystal Lake early morning sunshine

All images expand with a click or two: all blue text is clickable too!

Crystal Lake to Indian House Lake

DAY 2 BASICS:

distance: about 25 kilometers

weather: a beautiful sunny day in WCPP – lots of sunshine and no wind

rapids/portages: seven in all,  totalling about 2045 meters; also a beaver dam approaching Indian House Lake!

campsites: again, scarce and average at best.

We were on the water before 9:30 for what promised to be a big day.  We were hoping to be at the far end of the Knox lake portage by the end of the day.  By noon we were at the A09 put in and paddling across the small lake (mistakenly labelled “Indian House Lake” on the Garmin map) and Indian House Creek into the lake itself.

portage time - Max hauls a double load

portage time – Max hauls a double load a the start of A07, our first of the day

A08 P380

A08 P380

A07 P275

A07 P275

 

rock face on the shoreline as we approach Indian House Lake

rock face on the shoreline as we approach Indian House Lake

The pix above and below convey a little of the terrain as we approached Indian House Lake. As you can see the weather was our friend on this particular day!

beautiful easy paddling before Indian House Lake

beautiful easy paddling before Indian House Lake

one stern paddler - my bro Max!

one stern paddler – my bro Max!

like paddling in a dream - the south end of Indian House Lake

like paddling in a dream – the south end of Indian House Lake

Some distance up Indian House Lake on the west side of one of the string of islands that almost divides the lake in half, we pulled over and stopped for lunch.  While lunch is a hurried affair for some paddlers, we actually spend an hour and even take out the butane stove to boil up some water – water for soup and water for tea or coffee.  We also get the water filter out and refill the one-liter Nalgene container and then add some Gatorade.  Adequate hydration is key when you’re paddling.

A10 P105

A10 P105

A11 P160

A11 P160

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the end of A10 portage from Indian House Lake

the end of A10 portage from Indian House Lake – the water is flowing into Indian House

After lunch (3:00!) we continued to the north end of Indian House and Portage A10. I was surprised to see the small creek that the portage trail comes out at was running down into Indian House and not into the nameless lake we had just portaged into.  Looking at the maps that evening revealed that while Indian House Lake does indeed flow into the Bloodvein River system, it does not do so through Knox Lake. Instead,  its outlet is Indian House Creek just to the west of our lunch spot which then flows down to Murdock Lake.

IHL to KLP

A12P270

A12 P270

A13 P405

A13 P405

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we got past Portage A12 we briefly considered taking the time to paddle up to the actual headwaters of the Bloodvein River itself – it would have meant a three-kilometer detour.  In the end we agreed that we were getting a bit obsessive about doing all of the Bloodvein and figured that 99% was close enough!  So – off to the day’s final portage .  Given the aches and pains we were feeling for our first two days of paddling – but mostly from the hauling – we already knew we would not be sitting on Knox Lake at the end of this day.  The revised goal was a campsite near the start of the portage, which we would then tackle early the next day instead of late this one.

We did scout the south shore for a place to camp but, as the map below shows, we were coming up empty!  The third site we paddled by seemed to be the one we had taken from Harlan’s map at his front desk the previous morning – perhaps in our haste to to get going, we didn’t get it quite right. In any case, we paddled across the lake to the other shore and found a rock face backing up into some  sheltering trees that did the job. The Thermarest is the great equalizer when it comes to campsites!  Still, neither of the first two on our 17-day paddle would make the top 15 list!

looking for a campsite - fourth time lucky!

looking for a campsite – fourth time lucky!

Day Two camp set up

Day Two camp set up

We were feeling some aches and pains at the end of this day.  Advil time for sure!  Over four kilometres of portaging and 50 kilometres of paddling in two days. However, there was just one more portage and then we would be able to say that we’d paid our entrance fee to the Bloodvein River.  And what a last portage it would be – the 1500 meters into Knox!

Next Post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 3: Knox Lake Portage To Murdock Lake

 

 

 

 

Bloodvein Headwaters Day 1: Trout Bay to Crystal Lake

Previous Post: Canoeing The Bloodvein River system: Maps & Planning

Shuttle - east section

Trout Bay and First Two Days' Paddling

The first map shows our gps track from the Red Lake town dock west through Red Lake itself and past the pictograph island towards Trout Bay; the route continues on the second map and shows our round-about approach to Knox Lake.  (Clicking on maps and images will enlarge them!)  Also on the second map is an alternative approach via Pipestone Bay and then the portages to Lund Lake and westward towards Knox.

DAY 1 BASICS::

distance: 25-kilometer boat shuttle to Trout Bay portage into Douglas Lake; a 25-kilometer paddle  to Crystal Lake island campsite

weather: overcast and spitting in the morning and then improving; sunny in the afternoon and clear overnight

rapids/portages: no rapids but six portages in all totalling a bit over 2000 meters.

campsites: scarce and average at best, including ours on Crystal Lake

We were finally on the water!  The  2000-kilometer “Grande Portage” from Toronto to Red Lake done, we were looking forward to two weeks plus on the Bloodvein.  First, the shuttle to get to the starting point. We had opted for the Trout Bay entry via Harlan Schwartz’s brand new power boat and he was at the store when we dropped in at 7:00 to get things rolling.

Red Lake town docks

the morning scene at the Red Lake town docks – bush plane central!

We drove the car down to the dock and unloaded our now “used and abused” Swift Dumoine and the gear – the two Hooligan packs, the two duffel bags, and the two life jackets and four paddles.  Oh – and one camera pack.  I was trying something new this year. Instead of having my Sony A77 dlsr safe inside the Watershed duffel (itself inside a large M.E.C. duffel for extra abrasion protection), I decided to make it more accessible.  This meant getting a Pelican 1400 case for it and a few of my favourite lenses – and a lightweight rucksack to carry it on portages. Now I’d carry the canoe and the camera pack as one carry on portages.

bush plane and aluminum canoes at the dock at Red Lake harbour

bush plane and aluminum canoes at the dock at Red Lake harbour

I had always thought that Red Lake was nicknamed “The Norseman Capital of Canada” because of the number of Finns and Swedes who came through and settled here.  While there definitely are lots of signs of their influence, I found out that the name  is really because of a bush plane named the Noorduyn Norseman  It predates the de Havilland Beaver and has been on the job up in northwest Ontario since the 1930’s and the first years of the gold rush for which the Red Lake area is famous.

ready to go - the express way to Trout Bay

ready to go – the express way to Trout Bay … you could paddle from Red Lake in a day and a bit!

Keeto on guard in Red Lake harbour

Keeto checking out the scene in Red Lake harbour

It is a thirty-five kilometer boat ride to the portage trail in Trout Bay that leads to Douglas Lake.  It took us a little under an hour.  We did stop to look at the only pictographs on Red Lake itself.  The location was a bit of a surprise, having none of the rock face and dominating position on the lake that one usually associates with Anishinaabe pictograph sites.

Keeto eyeing the shoreline of pictograph island in Red Lake

Keeto eyeing the shoreline of pictograph island in Red Lake

pictograph Island on Red Lake

pictograph Island on Red Lake

Whereas many pictograph sites saw new rock paintings added or super-imposed over several generations, you get the impression that this humble site had a significance to a single person for whatever reason – a life spared, a bounty received, a spiritual connection made. One can only guess.  As for the pictographs themselves, two are easily seen but disclose little meaning to visitors. Between the two is another fading set of lines.

Red Lake pictograph site - overview

Red Lake pictograph site – overview

Red Lake pictographs - close up

Red Lake pictographs – close up

The cross figure below could indeed be a cross! If it is, it could be Christian-inspired; it could just as easily be a cross associated with the Medewiwin, the society of Ojibwe medicine men.  Then again, it may be a figure in a canoe with an undulating snake approaching from below. Or yet again, it could be a crude representation of the two-horned serpent associated with the “medicine” the painter of this image has come for.  There is a similar figure in NE Ontario at the Diamond Lake site in the Temagami area.  Lacking any context it is difficult to say much!

Selwyn Dewdney, whose book Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes,  initiated the systematic recording and analysis of pictographs in the Canadian Shield area, visited this site in 1960.  The sketch he made of the site show that the pictographs haven’t deteriorated very much in the past fifty-plus years.

Dewdney's sketch from 1960

one of the Red Lake pictographs up close

one of the Red Lake pictographs up close

As we approached the top of Trout Bay, we spotted a moose grazing in the reeds. As soon as it noticed us, it  was gone, seemingly melting into the woods in the way tha moose can. They may look awkward but they are the ballet dancers of the boreal!

Douglas Lake stream coming into Red Lake

Douglas Lake stream coming into Red Lake

Seeing the water tumbling down into Red Lake (357 meters a.s.l.)  was a reminder that Douglas Lake (376 m), as well as the next lake we’d be paddling up – Hatchet Lake (393 m) – both feed into Red Lake. As for Red Lake itself, its outlet river is the Chukuni River, which flows south into the English River a bit west of the hydro dam at Ear Falls.  Eventually, like the waters of the Bloodvein River system, Red Lake ends up in Lake Winnipeg.

from Trout Bay to Peterson Lake

From Peterson Lake to Crystal Lake Camp

it begins with a 880 meter portage!

it begins with a 880 meter portage!

A01P800

Nothing like starting off a canoe trip with a portage – an 800-meter carry!  However, you accept it because –  well, because that is the way it is! It is the price that everyone pays for access to some incredible canoe country.  At 4 lbs. of food a day and enough to last us for twenty days, our Day 1 portage meant eighty lbs. of weight on top of the fixed weight of canoe, paddles, tent, and all the other stuff we consider essential. We are very conscious of weight and have pared it down to this – the above food weight per day of 4 lbs. + 100 lbs. of fixed weight + the canoe and four paddles (50 lbs.).  Total portage load to be moved from A to B for this trip on Day 1 = 230 lbs. or 105 kilos.

Harlan played photographer and snapped a couple of shots of us at the onset of what we hoped would be yet another excellent adventure and then he and Keeto were off.  The gps track on the right shows the 800 meter path from Trout Bay to Douglas Lake and the sliver of a section of Woodland Caribou Park recently added. Around the corner from our put-in we would paddle by Viking island with the Carlson family’s Lodge on it – first opened by Art Carlson in 1947!

two Hooligan packs, two duffels - and one canoe

two Hooligan packs, two duffels – and one canoe

The rain and drizzle of the early morning had stopped and conditions would  steadily improve as the day progressed. The paddling was easy and the portage take-outs were  where the official park map indicated they’d be. Given that our route into to Knox could be described as “the road less travelled” the trails are not heavily used and sometimes in need of a trim but we were far from bushwhacking our way to the other side of the portages. We met one other canoe party at the portage take-out for Hatchet. Other than the four fishing boats we saw on the Bloodvein down from Sabourin Lake three days later and another canoe on Artery Lake,  they were the only people we saw in a week at WCPP.

A02P230

A02 P230  Douglas into Hatchet

A03 P320

A03 P320 – Hatchet into Peterson

start of portage into Peterson Lake (A03)

start of portage into Peterson Lake (A03)

entering the A03 waypoint!

Max the keeper of the waypoints – entering the data on his Etrex Legend!

A05 P370

A05 P370

A04P240 (Peterson_Page

A04 P240

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A06P155

A06 P155

After a stop for lunch at the Page Lake end of Portage A04, we pressed on.  The goal for the day was Crystal Lake. At the top of Page Lake we did Portage A05 into an unnamed lake and were rewarded with a 45-minute paddle south on a very pretty narrow stretch of water that brought us to Portage A06.  Before we had left Harlan Schwartz’s Red Lake store, we transferred some of his campsite info to ours – at least for the first couple of nights.

Now we headed to the first of them – the island site just across from the put-in from the portage from Bell Lake to Crystal Lake.  It was 6 when we pulled in to what looked like at most an “it’ll do”  spot for the night. However, it is not as if we had paddled by a lot of great alternatives in the hour or two before.

 

The two days of driving to get up to Red Lake combined with a solid Day One’s workload and what would end up to be one of the buggiest evenings of our trip meant that we took to the tent around 9 for a good night’s sleep.

Crystal Lake island camp

Crystal Lake island camp

While the sky was clear we weren’t taking any chances so we strung up one of the tarps over the tent just in case.

the uber-fly -  why we now bring two tarps!

the uber-fly – why we now bring two tarps!

Next post: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 2: Crystal Lake to the Knox Lake Portage

Canoeing The Bloodvein River System – Introduction, Maps & Planning

Why The Bloodvein?

Atikaki & Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks

Atikaki & Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks

From its headwaters just west of Red Lake, Ontario the Bloodvein River flows westward for 340 kilometres before emptying into Lake Winnipeg.  The first 120 kilometres are within the boundaries of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and flat water paddling dominates.

This changes dramatically after Artery Lake with the Manitoba section of the river. Some eighty sets of rapids – many can be run by those with the right skill set – await canoe trippers as they enter Atikaki Provincial Park and embrace the final two hundred plus kilometres to Bloodvein Village at the river’s mouth.

Having just completed a seventeen-day trip down the river, my brother and I are of one mind about the Bloodvein: it is the most beautiful river we have ever paddled.

Rapids on the Bloodvein - called %22X-Rock%22 by Wilson:Aykroyd

Rapids on the Bloodvein – called “X-Rock”  by Wilson/Aykroyd

We are certainly not the first to rave effusively about the river’s natural beauty and seeming magic. Google “Bloodvein canoe trip” and you come up with all sorts of very positive reviews of various trips – always expressing amazement at the pristine wilderness feel of the river.  Some paddle the whole thing; some paddle the WCPP headwaters; others paddle down from Artery Lake.  There are many possibilities – none bad! And the thing is – you do not have to be an Olympic-class river runner to do it.

Hap Wilson, your best guide to the river,  gives it a “experienced novice” rating with the proviso that all rapids from CII technical upwards are portaged. Given that my brother and I  were travelling on our own, this is mostly what we did and the portaging after Knox Lake was no big deal. In fact, it provided me with lots of reasons to pull out the dslr and get yet more shots of rapids and other stunning scenery as the water tumbled down through various chutes and rock combinations.

the river view from Day 10 campsite

the river view from Day 10 campsite

While the local Anishinaabe (that is, Ojibwe)  have lived on and with the river for at least the last three hundred years,  the fact is that other rivers to the north or south were more convenient for the fur traders, whether they were from Montreal or Hudson Bay.  Thus the Bloodvein system remained relatively untouched – and unspoiled. Logging and mining also seem to have passed the area by.

Like other great canoeing rivers of the Canadian Shield country – the Missinaibi and the Kopka come to mind –  it flows freely along  its entire length with no communities along its shores except for the Ojibwe community at its mouth.

Admittedly, you can see change coming. We paddled under the bridge some 10 kilometres east of the village. Just beyond the bridge fresh and ugly graffiti spoiled a small pictograph site we paddled by. By October of 2014 the road will open and connect the east side of Lake Winnipeg from Bloodvein Village to Highway 305 in the south. However, even with development near the mouth of the river, the top 95% will hopefully be spared the worst of what we know can happen.

In 1984 the two senior levels of government in Canada  established the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. To date, some 42 rivers have received the “heritage river” designation.  The CHRS website sums up its mandate this way – “…to conserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational heritage,  to give them national recognition, and to encourage the public to enjoy and  appreciate them.”                                                                                                             
The Bloodvein is one of these rivers, having joined the list in 1987.

 Pimachiowin Aki Map

Pimachiowin Aki Map

More recently, the Governments of Manitoba and Ontario, along with some First Nations leaders in the lands east of Lake Winnipeg, have pursued a bid to have a vast area comprising the two adjoining provincial parks as well as other lands, recognized as a United Nations World Heritage site. In 2013 an expected decision on the application was postponed by the UNESCO committee meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  However, bid organizers are optimistic that Pimachiowin Aki (as the overall site is known) will soon receive its UN designation.  A recent Winnipeg Free Press article brings the issue up to date.

shaman panel with buffalo panel

The Artery Lake Pictograph Site

On top of everything else that the Bloodvein has going for it, another major draw for me was its significance as a major pictograph site. There are at least a dozen different rock faces along the river system with Anishinaabe-inspired rock paintings which provide entry points to their traditional culture. While many of the pictographs have faded beyond any hope of being “read”, there is still enough there to make you forget that you’re on a canoe trip as you sit like a pilgrim in front of the ochre images painted by the shamen of old.

Mapping The Route:

Trout Bay at west end of Red Lake to Lake Winipeg

Trout Bay at west end of Red Lake to Lake Winnipeg – click here for a live Google Map view

In our case the route was pretty simple to figure out.  We had three weeks set aside to spend with the Bloodvein.   We also knew we wanted to do the entire river from top to bottom. Others may have less time or want to focus on the WCPP – or the Atikaki – section of the river.

The obvious starting point for anyone planning a Bloodvein canoe trip is the following guide-book:

Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd. Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba: Journey By Canoe Through Land Where The Spirit Lives. Boston Mills Press, 2003.

a canoeist's  ultimate source of info on the Bloodvein

the canoeist’s ultimate source on the Bloodvein

Based on the notes and drawings from a few thousand kilometers of rivers paddled in the early-to-mid-1990’s, this book by Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd makes the very notion of doing another trip report on the Bloodvein seem pretty pointless.  In the book’s Preface Wilson says this of Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba – 

“(It) is not a ‘how-to’ book, although we have included chapters that briefly cover worthy areas on interest….Instead, this is a book of maps. Over 300 hand-drawn and labelled maps to be more specific.”

What is remarkable – and very positive –  is how little has changed in the twenty years since the book was first published. The text and the maps dealing with all 89 of the rapids (from Class I to Class V) will still be your best guide to the challenges of the river and a ready source of excellent advice on how to meet them.  Included on the maps are the general location of campsites and pictograph locations, as well as other points of interest.

While I am old enough to remember paying something like $2.75 a sheet for the Federal Government 1:50000 topos for our early 1980’s Missinaibi trips, those days are long gone. The last time I bought a topo was in 2010 for our first Wabakimi trip and it was $15. a sheet for Tyvek; we could easily have spent $150. on maps for our Bloodvein route. We didn’t!

While both my brother and I bring our Garmin gps units (and the installed Topo Canada v.4 map set) along, we still like to work from a set of paper maps in the canoe and keep a spare set in the dry bag.  What we do now is create our own maps using two government websites where the map material is available at no charge. (That is, no charge for something CDN taxpayers have been paying for for years!)

The first is a site which has all of the 1:50000 tops available. All you need to know is the map’s identifying number. The maps you would need to paddle from the headwaters of the Bloodvein near Pipestone Bay to Artery Lake and then downriver to Lake Winnipeg are the following -

052 M 01 (Pipestone Bay);   052 I 06 (Medicine Stone Lake);  052 M 02 (Murdock Lake)052 M 07 (Sabourin Lake);     052 M 06 (Artery Lake);  052 M 12 (Sasaginnigak Lake);   062 P 09 (Minago Lake);  062 P 08 (Shallow Lake);      062 P 10 (Pine Dock);                     062 P 15 (Princess Harbour).

Clicking on the above map titles will take you to the Government of Canada website.  The downloadable files are in pdf format;  if you would rather work with tif files, the website provides the option – click here to get started.

The second site – another Government of Canada map source –  is the Atlas of Canada’s Toporama which can be accessed here.  One nice feature of the Toporama site is the ability to zoom in to 1:15000 scale for extreme close-up. On my Garmin Oregon 450 is the Topo Canada v.4 map set, which makes for a good companion to the above two sources. There is nothing like a gps reading to resolve that feeling of total confusion that will invariably occur sometime during the trip!   Add a mix of gps and paper topos to the essential Wilson/Aykroyd maps and you have really got it all covered.

Other Map Sources: 

There is an official planning/canoe route Woodland Caribou Provincial Park Map  which I think I paid $15. for.  The key information provided is portage location and length. We found this information to be fairly accurate. The map also indicates access points.  Missing from the map are campsite locations or pictograph locations. Here is the official park explanation for not providing the campsite information. Oddly enough, there is a useful map of the park put out by Ontario Parks (click here) which indicates a couple of hundred campsites!

woodlandcariboumapThe Chrismar Adventure Map people published a first edition of their Woodland Caribou P.P. and Area map in January of 2014.  Like the WCPP Planning map it  also costs $15. Printed on a tear-resistant plastic, the map’s scale is 1:110,000.  I  have a couple of their other maps – the Temagami 1 and the Missinaibi 1 – and both are very well done.  They  include campsite locations and the Missinaibi one provides pictograph locations as well. I have yet to see a copy of their WCPP map so I can’t say if campsite and pictograph locations are indicated.  It may make a better buy than the paper copy of the official one.

Access Points – Choosing A Starting Point

The most obvious starting point for a Bloodvein canoe trip is Red Lake and the various access points at the west end of the lake itself.

  1. You could just start off from the Red Lake town dock and spend a day and a half or two paddling along the south shore of the lake until you get to one of the usual access points – either Pipestone Bay or Trout Bay.  Given the potential for some pretty choppy water if the wind is right – and it often is when you’re paddling west! – the thought of starting off your canoe trip with this can be intimidating. Yes, it would be cheap!  However, you have to believe that it would be more fun to spend the two days in the park instead of getting there on big Red Lake!

1. The Wilson/Aykroyd trip down the Bloodvein begins at the Black Bear Lodge on the south side of Red Lake, not far from Pipestone Bay. After paddling to the west end of the bay, the portaging to Knox Lake begins! Seven portages totalling 4900 meters will get you to the start of the last and longest one, the 1600 meter portage into Knox Lake itself.  The crucial assumption here is that the trails will be walkable. Harlan Schwartz at Red Lake Outfitters did not recommend this access route, given recent fires in the are and the amount of uncleared deadfall. Given that you are at your heaviest on Day One of the trip, I’m guessing that it could take a couple of days of slogging to get to Knox Lake.   So – on to Option #2!

two Hooligan packs, two duffels - and one canoe

two Hooligan packs, two duffels – and one canoe

2.  This access route eliminates some of the portaging involved in #1 by use of a road which runs north and west of Red Lake to Lund Lake.  What this does is knock off the first three portages (and 2700 meters)  from the workload. One party of four canoes which we later met on the river had come in this way.  All you can say is that it is less work than the first option. They didn’t comment on trail conditions.   Here is a third possibility -

access points - west end of Red lake

access points – west end of Red lake

3.  A vehicle shuttle from Red Lake on the Suffel Lake Road which runs on the south side of the lake will get you to Johnson Lake.  600 meters worth of portaging and a bit of paddling and you find yourself on Douglas Lake to the south of the Carlsons’ Viking Island Lodge. Now you’ve got a couple of days of paddling west and north – first to  Indian House Lake and then, after a few more portages, the take-out point for that carry into Knox Lake.  Total portage distance – about 3800 meters to the start of the last carry.

Knox Lake portage - the first stretch

Knox Lake portage – the first 400 meters of mud

4.  A post (New Access Point/Option For Woodland Caribou) at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum by Harlan Schwartz of Red Lake Outfitters alerted us to another possibility – and the one we ended up choosing. Harlan provides a forty-five minute boat shuttle to the west end of Red Lake – specifically to the start of the 800-meter portage trail from Trout Bay into Douglas Lake.

Red lake dock at 7:30 a.m.

Red lake dock at 7:30 a.m.

It took us two days to paddle from the put-in on Douglas Lake to the take-out for the portage into Knox Lake, having portaged a total of about 4000 meters to get there.  On Day 3 around sometime before noon after the final 1500-meter carry we were  in Knox Lake and knew that the worst of it was done.  We had done two-thirds of the trip’s portaging in the first two and a half days!   We thought of it as the “admission fee” that one pays to enter the Bloodvein. The fact that not everyone would be willing to pay the price makes being there even more special!

5.  Something you might consider, if the above sounds a bit too painful,  is being dropped off by bush plane on Knox Lake thus avoiding the worst of the portaging altogether.  The 2014 cost is $745. for a Beaver to drop off a canoe and two passengers.  A tempting proposition at $373. a person!

What does seem to be more common for folks not focussed on a down-the-Bloodvein route  is a flight into Artery Lake and then a paddle back towards Red Lake with a vehicle shuttle at the end. Kevin Callan did such a route in his first visit to WCPP and introduces it here.  You can catch episode 1 of his 10-part video on the trip by clicking on Youtube.

6. I am sure there are yet more possibilities. How much time you have – and how willing your are to part with a bit of cash for a bush plane drop-in or pick-up – will determine the choice you make.

 Getting Back To Red lake At the End of the Trip:

The road back To Red lake at the end of the trip

The road back To Red lake at the end of the trip …717 kilometres and a day’s worth of driving

If you’re going to the Bloodvein from top to bottom you have a problem on your hands! Sitting by the ferry dock in Bloodvein Village, you are a long way from Red Lake and your vehicle! One solution that people have come up with is to have someone shuttle the vehicle to the Islandview ferry terminal at the end of PR234 to the north of Pine Dock. At least once a day (weather permitting!) there is a ferry that crosses from Bloodvein to Islandview. Apparently the shuttle costs something in the order of $1000. It will interesting to see how an all-season road from Highway 304 right to Bloodvein will impact shuttle options.

at the Carlson dock in Red Lake

at the Carlson dock in Red Lake

We ended up flying back to Red Lake via a Viking Air Beaver which landed in front of Bloodvein Village about three hours after we ended our trip at the ferry dock there. It was only the third time – twice in the past two summers – we have made use of air service as a part of our canoe trips.   Somehow the notion that bush plane drop-ins or pick-ups are wildly extravagant and outrageously expensive has faded from my mind as I have grown older.

de Havilland Beaver serial plate

Okay, so the ride back cost $1995.+ HST – but we got to experience a ride in a classic piece of Canadiana – the de Havilland Beaver – and we got to fly over the river we had come to know over the past seventeen days.  Less than two hours later we were in Red Lake strapping our canoe to the top of our vehicle which Harlan Schwartz of Red Lake Outfitters had just parked by the Carlson landing dock. All in all, pretty painless and as the VISA commercial says – “Priceless!”

Marathon, ON - Lawren Harris Painting redone on the Pizza Hut wall

Marathon, ON – Lawren Harris Painting redone on the Pizza Hut wall

By now I should be apologizing for my eastern-Canada-centric presentation  of the entry and exit options.  Obviously if you live in Winnipeg or anywhere nearby, your trip may well begin with a ride up to Matheson Island and a flight by Wamair to the east end of Atikaki Park or perhaps all the way to Red Lake. If fact, if you live anywhere from Thunder Bay west or in nearby Minnesota or Wisconsin all I can say is “You lucky so-and-so, being so close to some  incredible canoe country – Quetico, Wabakimi, Woodland Caribou, Atikaki. Wow!”  Within eight hours you can be at the start of your canoe trip; it took us two days and a bit over twenty-two hours to drive up from southern Ontario. The pic on the right shows us  at our overnight stop half-way to Red Lake – in downtown Marathon, Ontario.

Park Regulations and Permits

The 2014 Woodland Caribou Provincial Park interior camping fee schedule can be accessed here in pdf format. While Ontario residents pay $9. a night, non-residents of Canada (the 85% of those who make use of the park!) get to pay $13.25.

Once you cross the border into Manitoba and Atikaki Provincial Park, you’re done with camping fees. Check out this chart of Manitoba Parks, and you’ll see that it is one of three without a “per night” camping fee.

Unmentioned so far are fishing permits.  Given that we are just not into fishing, I really cannot comment on the issue.  Perhaps someone can provide a comment below which would clarify the need for fishing permits on both side of the border?  I did google my way into a current Ontario government brochure on the topic but my eyes kinda glazed over as I read it.  If you are big on fishing as a part of your tripping experience,  you might be more motivated to understand what is being said  here!

Outfitters in the Red Lake area:

Harlan Schwartz at Red Lake Outfitters was our contact in Red Lake  and we would highly recommend his services, No matter how much or how little help you need to make your trip a reality.  In our case, I’ll admit it was relatively simple –  a couple of copies of the WCPP map, a shuttle in, a flight out, and a place to stay in Red Lake (the Super Eight Motel) on arrival.  He also answered my occasional emailed questions during the months preceding the trip.

our canoe sitting at Union Station on a previous trip to  the Kopka

our canoe sitting at Union Station on a previous trip to the Kopka

Getting to Red Lake:

We had considered taking the VIA from Toronto this year – it is a thirty-hour ride – but in the end were not willing to give up the flexibility that driving up in our own vehicle allows. Besides, the CN tracks as they go from Sioux Lookout to Winnipeg cross Highway 105 (the road to Red Lake) about 155 km. south of the town. Therefore,  after getting off the train at 4:00 a.m. (assuming it is actually on schedule!) you would need to have pre-arranged a $365. shuttle to Red Lake. Maybe the Via east and then a shuttle up to Red Lake would make more sense for paddlers coming from Winnipeg; they would only have to figure out how to get home once they got to Bloodvein Village or Islandview on the mainland.

Given that I don’t drive, my brother got to do 4400 kilometres there and back spaced over four days. I google mapped the distance when we got back home – it is  the distance from Toronto to Vancouver!  It may also end up being the reason it will be our only visit to WCPP – but we’re really glad we did it at least this once!

What follows is a day-by-day summary of what we paddled into and what we framed in our viewfinders. Also included are some overview maps and specific maps on portages and such.

The Day-By-Day Trip Journal – maps and pix

Part One: The Bloodvein Headwaters & Woodland Caribou Park

Day 1: Trout Bay Portage to Crystal Lake Day

Day 2: Crystal Lake to the Portage Into Knox Lake Day

Day 3: Knox Lake to Murdock Lake Day

Day 4: Murdock Lake To Larus Lake

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites on the Bloodvein: The Murdock-Larus Site

Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake Day

Day 6: Barclay Lake to Artery Lake

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites of the Bloodvein: The Artery Lake Site

Part Two: The Bloodvein River & Atikaki Park – the ten days downriver from Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg –  a work in progress which should be up in a couple of weeks.

Atikaki sign on the ON:MB border

The Anishinaabe Rock Paintings of Agawa Rock – A Quick Guide

Agawa Rock - A Site of Spiritual Power to the Anishinaabe

Agawa Rock – A Site of Spiritual Power to the Anishinaabe (aka Ojibwe or Chippewa)

Images expand with a click; blue text leads to additional information with a click.

Agawa Rock -Lake Superior Provincial Park

Agawa Rock  – Lake Superior Provincial Park

Easy to access – but easy to miss! 

As you’re driving along the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 17), either 80 kilometres from Wawa heading south or 150 kilometres north from Sault Saint Marie, you will pass by a sign indicating that the turn-off for Agawa Rock is coming up soon.

agawa rock signThe sign will probably not even register with most travellers, unaware that they are passing by one of Canada’s most significant pictograph sites where rock paintings made by Anishinaabe shamen two or three hundred years ago can still be seen.  Most similar sites on the Canadian Shield are not so easily accessed and need a canoe or a boat and a bit of time to get to.

Agawa Rock Access Road Map

Agawa Rock Access Road Map

Turn off Highway 17 and on to the access road for Agawa Rock for a two-minute downhill ride to the parking lot. There you’ll need to get a machine-generated permit for $5.25 which gives you two hours on the site. Another ten minutes of walking on a sometimes-rocky trail down to the shores of Lake Superior and you are there.

There is another option if you want to paddle up to the pictographs – you can drive down to Sinclair Cove instead of turning in at the parking lot.  Down at the cove is a boat launch and you can put in there. You also get to visit what was once a campsite popular with the voyageurs of old as they made their journey to the west end of the lake. If the waters are calm – which is often not the case! – the canoe option would give you a different perspective of the site as you framed some shots in your camera viewfinder.

Agawa Rock Trails Map

Agawa Rock Trails Map – note the different orientation

What follows is a selection of photos my brother and I took during our two visits to Agawa Rock. We first visited in August of 2013 after a Wabakimi-area canoe trip; waves and high water meant we were only able to see the first third of the site.  This summer on our return from Red Lake and our Bloodvein River canoe trip  we had better luck and were able to walk the length of the ledge accessible to the public.

the trail down to the pictographs

the trail down to the pictographs

trail marker on Agawa Rock trail

trail marker on Agawa Rock trail

 

the last bit of the way down to the water

the last bit of the way down to the water

At a couple of places beside the trail to the pictographs, you’ll see the sign below.  The warning should be taken seriously – a walk on the ledge in rough weather is no place for even the most sure-footed adventurer to be.  A pic a bit further below shows what it was like on our first visit – i.e. mostly inaccessible.

Warning Sign - one of two to empahsize the dangers

Warning Sign – one of two to emphasize the dangers

info plaque at just before the pictographs

info plaque at just before the pictographs

On our second visit we had better luck as the water in the above image shows.

looking back up at the plaque and the final steps down

looking back up at the plaque and the last steps down

At the bottom of the hand railing the first thing you see attached to the rock face is the following plaque -

dewdney plaque at Agawa Rock

Dewdney plaque at Agawa Rock -

While the site was obviously known to the Ojibwe and cottagers of the area,  it was Selwyn Dewdney whose inclusion of the site in his book Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes brought the pictographs back into the discussion of Anishinaabe culture and spirituality.

the front cover of a classic

the front cover of a classic

He visited the site for the first time in 1958, having picked up on the existence of the site from the notes and drawings made by Henry Schoolcraft in the mid-nineteenth century.  Schoolcraft  worked as the Indian Agent at the Sault Set Marie on the U.S. side.  It was his collection of Ojibwa legends which formed the basis for Longfellow’s Hiawatha.  In 1851, as Dewdney recounts it in his book,  Schoolcraft “published his Intellectual Capacity and Character of the Indian Race. Included in it were birchbark renderings of two pictograph sites painted by an Ojibwa shaman-warrior who claimed the special protection of Mishipizhiw…” (Dewdney, 14)

This, then, was the information that Dewdney had as he tried to track down the site.  Here is his account of the day he finally found it-

Selwyn Dewdney on finding the Agaw Rock Site

Agawa Rock on our first visit-mostly inacessible

Agawa Rock on our first visit-mostly inaccessible – enlarge image with a click to read text

better luck on our second visit Agawa Rock on a calm day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rock ledge runs along the length of the 100-foot high granite cliffs here; you can imagine the original painters standing there and putting their ochre/fish oil “paint” to the rock face. Motivated by vision quests or the placating of turbulent spirits of the lake, a succession of painters all left  their mark.  It was not uncommon for one generation’s pictographs to be painted over by following generations.

The ultimate source on the Agawa Rock site as it exists today is Thor Conway.  His book Spirits On Stone (the 2010 edition of a book first published in 1991)  presents the pictographs in the voice of the descendants of the Ojibwe who painted them.  Conway identifies 117 separate pictographs at the site and provides the most informed commentary I have found anywhere as to the meaning and purpose of these rock paintings.

http://thorconway.com/ThorConoway_SpiritsHome.html

Conway divides the site up into seventeen different panels, with anywhere from one to eight separate pictographs in each of those panels.  I have used his panel numbering system (from I to XVII in Roman numerals)  to identify the pictographs we recorded.

Panel I is the first panel you see as you step on to the ledge.

Panel 1 - fish and snake with horns

Panel I – fish (sturgeon) and mythic snake with horns

The horned snake is associated in Anishinaabe cosmology with the healing powers of the shaman or medicine man.

Agawa Rock Panel 3 - "The Wolf's War Party" Paintings

Agawa Rock Panel III – “The Wolf’s War Party” Paintings

This panel, attributed to a Ojibwe warrior named Myeengun (“Wolf”),  apparently depicts a historical event from the late 1600’s. It recounts the confrontation of the Anishinaabe of the area with an invading Iroquois war party.

Wolf's War Party Panel DrawingEach of the canoes represents a local clan, with a crane, eagle or thunderbird, and a beaver in front of one of them. Conway devotes thirteen pages to a discussion of the panel’s meaning. Drawing both from Henry Schoolcraft’s writings and from the memories of local Ojibwe like Fred Pine, he makes a good argument for this interpretation. (The drawing on the left is from Grace Rajnovitch’s book Reading Rock Art.)

Panel IV - Canoe with Two Paddlers

Panel IV – Canoe with Two Paddlers

Most of the pictographs are fairly small (from 5 to 15 centimetres in size) and many are all but indecipherable. Some visitors to the site are clearly disappointed with what they see. The site is definitely not the Lascaux Caves!  It is a situation where some pre-visit research can help provide the background needed to bring out the meaning of what often needs to be drawn out of the rock.

Panel VI - Moose

Panel VI – Moose

The most famous panel is Panel VIII – that of the Great Lynx or Panther (but looking awfully reptilian)  whose moods account for the turbulence of the lake. Canoes will make safe passage – or not – depending on whether or not he has been properly acknowledged and placated. Living with him in the depths of the Gichi Gami (“Great Sea”) are serpents, two of which are depicted  below Mishipeshu. One can only hope that the canoe  behind Mishipeshu did not incur his wrath.

Panel VIII - Michipeshu and the Snakes

Panel VIII – Mishipeshu and the Snakes

canoe from Panel VIII (Mishipeshu Panel)

canoe from Panel VIII (Mishipeshu Panel)

Mishipeshu and the snakes

Mishipeshu and the snakes

In his book Dewdney mentions his shock to see some vandal had painted his initials and the date over the Mishipeshu pictograph panel. Further research led him to the offender – the teenage daughter of a fisherman who had in 1937 painted over what Conway calls the most famous aboriginal painting in Canada. The modern paint has clearly not lasted as there is little evidence in 2014 of the black paint used. You’d like to think that people today would not be so unthinking.  Well, I’d find out soon enough that thoughtless people are alive and oblivious to the impact of their actions even today. (As if that is a surprise!)

Panel IX - Canoe with Three Tall Human Figures

Panel IX – Canoe with Three Tall Human Figures

Panel X – the Horse and Rider Panel – is another dramatic set of pictographs. Seeing Conway’s rice paper copy of this panel which he made in the late 1980’s, I am struck by the degree to which they have faded.  No longer visible is the cross above the fourth sphere; gone too is the louse in front of the horse.  The human figure on the back of the horse is also much less clear than he was twenty-five years ago.

Panel X - full view

Panel X – full view

Apparently the two arches at the bottom of the panel were once two concentric circles which encompassed the entire panel; the top part has flaked off in time and fallen into the lake.To the right of the panel are five horizontal lines, the meaning of which we will never really know.

The Horse and Rider Panel preserved on rice paper by Thor Conway

The Horse and Rider Panel preserved on rice paper

Thor Conway working on Agawa Rock's Horse and Ride panel

Thor Conway in the 1980’s working on Agawa Rock’s Horse and Ride panel using clear acetate

As for the spheres, there are a couple of explanations.  One has to do with the passage of time – a period of four days – to accomplish some unstated deed.  Schoolcraft gives such an explanation. The interpretation port forward by Conway related the spheres to the Midewewin, the Anishinaabe society of shamen. With each sphere representing a level of power, the highest level of spiritual power attainable. Conway’s book, chapter 10 (“Secrets of The Horse and Rider Panel”), provides thought-provoking analysis.

[The images above from Conway's Spirits On Stone (used with the kind permission of the author) illustrate two of the techniques used to record the pictographs.  The earlier method made use of by Dewdney involved placing wet rice paper over the pictograph and then copying them. It was eventually replaced in the 1970's  by the use of clear acetate and acrylic paint to copy the rock paintings.]

Panel X - Horse and Rider

Panel X – Horse and Rider and Four Spheres

Barely visible there days is the cross whose base begins at the top of the fourth sphere and the canoe with a solitary paddler about a half way up on the left side.

Panel XII overview

Panel XII overview – five different pictographs but only the bears are recognizable

Panel XII - Two Bears

Panel XII – close-up of the Two Bears

Further down the cliff face you come across the following panel – a canoe with a human figure in it followed by two caribou.

Panel XIII - Figure in Canoe and Two Woodland Caribou

Panel XIII – Figure in Canoe and Two Woodland Caribou

Panel XIII - close-up of caribou

Panel XIII – close-up of caribou

Panel XIV - The Two Drummers

Panel XIV – The Two Drummers

Panels XIII and IV in context

Panels XIII and XIV in context

Panel XV - Canoe with Two Paddlers

Panel XV – Canoe with Two Paddlers

And that was it for our visit to the dramatic cliff face of Agawa Rock. There are a few other pictographs just a bit further but they are beyond public access.  We turned around and headed back for last looks at the two bears, the horse and rider, the Mishipeshu and snakes.

nearing the end of the Agawa Rock site accessible to the public on the ledge

nearing the end of the Agawa Rock site accessible to the public on the ledge

We also got to look at a couple of examples of recent acts of vandalism – the painted initials in the image below and, very troubling, the nonsense symbols scratched into the rock face with a key or some sharp object.

remnants of grafitti  - someone's initials or name

remnants of graffiti – someone’s initials or name

It seemed very fresh, perhaps from 2014.  Usually there is a park employee sitting at the beginning of the pictographs; sometimes though (s)he goes up to the parking lot to check for possible non-payment by visitors. In any case, there is no way that someone can police the entire rock face 24/7.  My school teacher’s answer is to make people aware of the significance of what they are looking at and of the impact of their actions to the point that they police themselves.  That, of course,  is the theory – but damn, just look at this piece of ignorance…it is not the first bit of graffiti that Agawa Rock has seen but it is so fresh you can feel the scratches and they hurt.

a recent addition to the rock face - someone has carved some nonsense symbols

a recent addition to the rock face near Panel XII  – someone has carved some nonsense symbols

In time the above scratches will fade away.  And so too – unfortunately – will the remaining pictographs.  Make sure you pay them a visit – you’ll need about a hour or a bit longer if you want to take in the atmosphere. The only thing you can’t control is the weather and the state of, with a nod to Gordon Lightfoot,  “the lake that they call Gitchi Gami”!

Info Board Explaining the Pictographs:Left half

Info Board -Left section

Info Board - Right Half

Info Board – Right section

 

Useful Resources:

Recommended before or after a visit to the site is some time spent checking out these three classics of Ojibwe rock painting research in Canada.  Just click on the title for access to the book itself – or for info on how to get it.

  1. Selwyn Dewdney. Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes, especially p, 77-83.

  2. Thor Conway. Spirits On Stone: Lake Superior Ojibwa History, Legends &  the Agawa Pictographs. 2010. Second Edition. 132 pages.  While I ordered my copy directly from the author, I also did see a half-dozen copies of the book available at the Lake Superior Provincial Park interpretative centre a few kilometres south of the site at Agawa Bay. The first edition of the book (1991) is the one shown at the Amazon web site.   You definitely want the second edition with all the additional material!

  3. Grace Rajnovitch. Reading Rock Art. 1994. Seven of the 143 figures and illustrations in this book are from Agawa Rock, which also gets frequent mention in the text. The book is recommended to anyone keen on understanding more deeply the Anishinaabe culture behind the pictographs. Rajnovitch makes major use of the illustrations and text of the Ojibwe birchbark scrolls in her bid to “read” the rock art.

  4. The Lake Superior Provincial Park web page specifically dealing with the pictographs of Agawa Rock can be found here.

If you’d like more information about other native rock painting sites, an earlier post titled  Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites Of The Canadian Shield will get you started.