Woods Cree Pictograph Sites of Saskatchewan

Table of Contents:

Essential Sources of Information

An A to Z of Some of Saskatchewan’s 70+ Reported Picto Sites

“Learning to be respectful custodians”

Links to Other Sources

My Other Posts on Canadian Shield Pictograph Sites

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The Location of  Saskatchewan’s Pictograph Sites

Northern Saskatchewan’s Boreal Shield Ecozone was home to at least 400 generations of cultures. The most visible of the region’s archaeological sites are vertical bedrock outcroppings on which paintings in a durable reddish-brown pigment have been applied. At this writing 70 sites are known. This comprises about ten per cent of the sites which may be designated part of the “Canadian Shield rock art style.” Some 700 sites extend from Saskatchewan in the northwest, then eastward through Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Minnesota and Michigan.

~ Atlas of Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Pictograph Country

To date, some seventy different pictograph sites have been recorded in that part of Saskatchewan north of Highways 165 and 106.

  • The pictographs are mostly attributed to Woods (or Rocky) Cree and not Ojibwe “painters.”  The Cree and the Ojibwe do share a mythological worldview with many similar elements, as illustrated by various rock images.
  • A few sites have also been credited to the Dene, particularly one of the four locations on the sixty-kilometer stretch of the upper Clearwater River just downriver from Lloyd Lake.

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Essential Sources of Information:

The Photos of Robin and Arlene Karpan

A fantastic collection of Saskatchewan pictograph images, the work of Robin and Arlene Karpan,  can be found here. You’ll see photos and commentary about the pictos of

  • Larocque Lake,
  • Auld Lake,
  • the Smith Narrows between Hickson and Maribelli Lakes,
  • Stewart Narrows,
  • High Rock Narrows,
  • Inman Channel by Keg Lake and Black Bear Island Lake,
  • Manawan Lake,
  • Medicine Rapids on the Sturgeon-Weir River system, and
  • the Stanley Rapids on the Churchill River system.

Their book Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country has these photos and many more; it also provides the routes and inspiration for at least a dozen canoe trips on which they paddled past these ochre expressions of Woods Cree/Algonquian culture.  The sample chapter includes some stunning images of sites covered in the book. See here.

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Tim Jones- Churchill River Report

Tim Jones’ 1974 University of Saskatchewan MA thesis systematically recorded and analyzed twenty different pictograph sites on the Churchill River system.  It did for Saskatchewan what Selwyn Dewdney’s pioneering work had done for Ontario.

Titled The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River, it was based on four visits Jones had made to the river from 1965 to 1969. It provides

  • a general but not super specific GPS location for each site,
  • a rock type and orientation description, and
  • detailed descriptions and sketches of each site’s various faces and paintings.

The 23.9 Mb pdf file of his thesis is available for download here from the U of Sask’s Harvest website. [The download prompt is on the left side of the page.] See here for a 534 kb file of the 1974 map indicating the approximate location of the various sites.

Jones cover

In 1981 his book with the same title was published. The Toronto Public Library system (Central Reference Library) has one copy (See here for the details.)  It brings the research up to 1980 and is more polished than the initial MA thesis. It also added two new sites – the Pinehouse Lake (McDonald Bay) site and the Wintego Rapids site.

From the book, I also learned that Selwyn Dewdney (between 1962 and 1964) had visited twelve of the twenty Saskatchewan sites that Jones included in his original study.

More recently (2016), a second edition of the book was published, so copies should again be readily available. Not clear is if it is just a reprint of the first edition or if it contains any additional text or drawings. See here for more info.

The 2006 reprint is available at the Internet Archive site and can be borrowed for one hour at a time.

Sign-up is easy and only requires an email address. Click here to access the sign-up page. Having done that, when you click on the hot links for each of the 19 sites listed below, you should end up at the relevant page of the Jones report.

  1. McDonald Bay site
  2. Kinosaskaw Lake site
  3. Foster River Mouth site
  4.  Silent Rapids site
  5. Wamninuta Island site
  6. High Rock Narrows site 1
  7. High Rock Narrows site 2
  8. Rattler Creek site
  9. Cow Narrows site
  10. Mountain Lake Peninsula site 1
  11. Mountain Lake Peninsula site 2
  12. Neyo Onikup Bay site
  13. Stanley Rapids site
  14. Island Portage site
  15. Uskik Lake site
  16. Conjuring River Mouth site
  17. Wintego Rapids site
  18. Wasawakasik Lake site
  19. Maple Leaf Rapids Site

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Churchill Canoe Trip Guidebook

Canoeing the Churchill: A Practical Guide To The Historic Voyageur Highway (a 2015 reissue of a book that was first published in 2002 ) is a goldmine of info for paddlers and anyone interested in pictographs. Given the list of references in the index, the topic of rock paintings gets excellent coverage.  Click on the book title above to access the Amazon website.  If you want to see the book’s first few pages, a pdf file is available here on the University of Regina Press website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kiwetinohk: The Rock Paintings of Northern Saskatchewan 

The Saskatchewan Archaeological Society produced this Teacher’s Guide for a comprehensive exhibit package prepared for K-12 classrooms.   The downloadable pdf file, with text by Tim Jones, is more current(i.e. in the past decade)  and covers more Saskatchewan sites than Jones’ Churchill book.

Pages 32 to 57 deal with Saskatchewan pictographs. Click here to access the 3 Mb file.

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A to Z  List of Some of the 70+ Sites

Note: This post on Saskatchewan Pictograph sites is a tangent from my post on Ontario sites. However, since  I had the information (as meagre as it is), it seemed a waste not to make it more readily available. 

I have never paddled west of Lake Winnipeg,  so information on the sites mentioned in this post comes from the book sources mentioned above, other material found online or at the Toronto Reference Library,  and the occasional email contact. 

Some site locations that you will find here are vague and, I am sure, completely wrong!  It may be the nature of the source I used; it may be my bad interpretation of that source.  Over time I hope to eliminate most of the inaccurate information. 

Any specific location info – GPS coordinates or map-indicated  – you can provide to improve this post would be appreciated.   So too would any jpg images you would be willing to make available to others who share your passion and interest.  You can email me at  

true_north@mac.com

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Major Locations:

  • Churchill River -19 sites
  • Reindeer Lake – 9 sites
  • Hickson-Maribelli – 5 sites
  • Laroque-Auld Lakes – 3 sites

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Amisk Lake (Sturgeon River system)

overview map;

“Many pictographs can be seen in the southern part of the lake to this day,” according to the Wikipedia entry on Denare Beach.

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Auld Lake –

A note from the Teacher’s Guide to  Kiwetinohk: The Rock Paintings of Northern Saskatchewan

There are two small sites on Auld Lake, this one being just across the short portage which connects Auld to the east end of Larocque Lake. The red-brown paintings on the left are framed by a circle of yellow paint, which is probably yellow iron oxide. This is the only site where this colour is seen. Source, p.45

A June 13, 2019, Facebook entry at the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society had this account of a visit to the site by Tim Jones and the writer.

Unlike the site on Larocque Lake, the paintings on Auld lake were previously unrecorded in detail in the provincial files (and do not yet have an official Borden Number). Tim had not visited the site on his earlier visit to the area, although the paintings had previously been sketched by Jim Brady.

The Auld Lake rock painting site was located on a low, sheer rock fracture, on the portage side of the wooded peninsula separating the rapids which flow westward from Auld into Larocque.

The rock features presented a 30° overhang which had sheltered the paintings from inclement elements. The details were remarkably clear and bright. The section of the fractured rock face which had fallen to the ground presented itself as an ideal workstation upon which to sit and paint.

The paintings were in two groupings on two separate slabs of rock, portraying as many as many as 16 separate dark red images-10 on the left slab within a yellow circle and six on the right within a red outline. Thunderbirds, deer, snakes and pipes were included.

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Buchanan Lake

Kiwetinohk:

“Differing styles and colours of the paintings at this site suggest that at least two painters left their creations here. It is not possible to tell how much time elapsed between each painting event.” (p.43)

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Churchill River ….Jones 19 sites from W to E

Jones provided GPS coordinates for each of the 19 sites. You can download them in either

Both files are in my Dropbox folder.  In some cases, the coordinates do not seem to be very exact.

The Jones report links below work better if you have signed up for borrowing privileges!

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Site #1: Macdonald Bay in Jones’ 1981 study:

map: Jones report

Site #2: Kinosaskaw Lake

map;  Jones report

Site #3: Foster River Mouth

map; Jones report

Site #4:  Silent Rapids site

map: Jones report

Max Finkelstein. Canoeing a Continent – On the Trail of Alexander Mackenzie. p.241

Site #5: Wamninuta Island 

map; Jones report

Site #6: High Rock Narrows site 1

map; Jones report;  The location on the map is based on Jones GPS coordinates.  It is actually on the other side of the narrows to the west of Site #2.  See here for Jones’ 1974 description of the two sites in this area.

Site #7: High Rock Narrows site 2

map: Jones report

Some of Face VII in a photo by Patrick Mahaffey.  The site has the most extensive collection on the Upper Churchill.

See here for a satellite view of the area and nearby fishing/hunting lodge. Another image of Face VII here.

Site #8: Rattler Creek

map; Jones report

beaver picto

Site #9: Cow Narrows

map; Jones report

Site #10: Mountain Lake Peninsula site 1

map; Jones report

Site #11: Mountain Lake Peninsula site 2

map; Jones report

Site #12: Neyo Onikup Bay site

map; Jones report

Site #13: Stanley Rapids 

map; Jones report

Site #14: Island Portage site

map; Jones report

Site #15: Uskik Lake 

map; Jones report.  see here for Jones drawing of Face II

Site #16: Conjuring River Mouth

map; Jones report

Site #17: Wintego Rapids 

map; Jones report

Site #18: Wasawakasik Lake

map; Jones report

Wasawakasik Lake pictographs

Site #19: Maple Leaf Rapids

map; Jones report

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Clearwater River

map:

four sites downriver from Lloyd Lake to the junction with Virgin River, with two within twenty km below Lloyd Lake and one before the Virgin River junction

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Gow Lake

The Gow Lake paintings were made, like those at many sites, on a south-facing rock surface on a cliff at the water’s edge.

While the setting of the paintings is typical, the Gow Lake site is unusual in that all the figures were made in a straight horizontal line. At most sites figures are found in different configurations or groupings than at this site.

The main grouping displays the following, from left to right: unknown geometric figure, a “stick” figure of a horned animal, a cross, the head of a horned animal facing the viewer, a smoking pipe, a stick figure of a human with upraised arms, and a hollow “box”.

Hickson-Maribelli Lake –

Dewdney’s Site #181 – Hickson-Maribelli figures

Smith Narrows between the two lakes.  More info here.

Also, Dewdney’s Dating Rock Art In The Canadian Shield Region (1970)mentions the site often.

Maribelli-Hickson Pictograph Sites

Hickson-Maribelli Pictograph Sites

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Kipahigan Lake (Proctor’s Narrows) 

Kiwetinohk: “37 paintings on ten rock faces, in two concentrations”

image source

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Lac La Ronge – the Lac La Ronge Provincial Park web page

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Larocque Lake

A June 13, 2019, Facebook entry at the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society had this excellent summary of the history of the study done at the Laroque Lake site.

The pictographs at Larocque Lake (GlNd-1) have been described as one of the largest sites in northern Saskatchewan, containing many paintings, which remain in excellent condition. It is a remote site north of the Churchill River, which is visited in the summer by a handful of paddlers who must enjoy portaging.

The site of the rock paintings was first reported to the Museum of Natural History in Regina by the well—known prospector and political activist Jim Brady in 1959. He made sketches of many of the paintings on Larocque Lake as well as a separate series of paintings on nearby Auld Lake.

Selwyn Dewdney undertook the first detailed recording of the Larocque site in 1961. A complete rock slab with a painting which is currently in storage at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum was apparently scooped up by a Saskatchewan Government Airways pilot in 1963.

Tim Jones last visited the site in 1967, when he camped for a week with volunteer assistant Peter Gerrard while conducting his research and tracings. The power of taking complete notes became evident as we reviewed the recorded comments of Jim Brady, Selwyn Dewdney and Tim’ s own notebook from 30 years ago.

Read pages 34-35 of this sample from Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country by Robin and Arlene Karpan, complete with many exquisite colour photos. Also, see the Glenbow Museum’s Dewdney tracings of the Larocque Lake pictographs here or see the image below –

larocque lake picto - human figures and caribou

Larocque Lake picto – human figures and caribou

Laroque Lake Sask picto site - Dewdney sketches-3

See above for the link to the Glenbow Museum source.

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Lower Waddy Lake

Kiwetinohk (p.44)

The Lower Waddy Lake paintings were made on a vertical rock face by an artist standing on a rock ledge.

This is a most unusual Shield rock art site, in that about half the paintings are red, and half are black.

Even more unusual is this insect-like figure, created by using both black and red paint. This is probably the only polychrome (multiple-colour) rock painting in the whole Shield area!

—————–

MacFarlane River

  • site with three pictographs

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Reindeer Lake –

nine sites near Southend. See here for a 7.7 Mb copy of the 2011 M.A thesis submission of U of Saskatchewan student  Perry Blomquist titled Contextualizing The Reindeer Lake Rock Art for more discussion of the pictographs.

Here is a map from Blomquist’s paper indicating the locations of seven of the sites –

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“learning to be respectful custodians”

Note: In August 2022, a visit to the U of Sask webpage where I found the above image turned up an empty page. A few more clicks and I ended up with this explanation for the blank –

This page originally included several photographs of pictographs from various locations in Northern Saskatchewan, part of the Institute for Northern Studies fonds at the University of Saskatchewan’s University Archives and Special Collections. In May 2022, we removed these culturally significant images since we did not have permission to include them. This is part of our efforts and ongoing learning to be respectful custodians of collections relating to Indigenous communities.  source

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Links To Other Sources: 

Visions On Rock,” a web page about the pictographs of Lac La Ronge Provincial Park in Saskatchewan (part of the Churchill River System). Tim Jones, the author of the  1981 book on the pictographs of the Churchill River system,  provides some interesting quotes.

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The Canoe Saskatchewan website (unfortunately dead as of Nov. 2017) had write-ups on five of the Churchill River sites and included sketches from the 1980 Tim Jones book mentioned above.  The web page covered the following sites –

  • McDonald Bay
  • High Rock Narrows (second site)
  • Rattler Creek
  • Uskik Lake
  • Wasawakasik Lake

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An M.A. thesis paper submitted by Katherine A. Lipsett in 1990 to the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology in Saskatoon is worth the read.  Click on the title  Pictographs In Northern Saskatchewan – Vision Quest and Pawakan to access the pdf file.

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A visit to the Tourism Saskatchewan website in 2017 provided me with this bit of trip-planning information –

These protected sites are only accessible by water. Contact Heritage Conservation Branch, Parks, Culture and Sport, prior to visiting.

The suggestion  – or is it a requirement? –  left me wondering

  • just how are the sites protected?
  • Does the instruction to contact the department before visiting apply to all visitors, including those at nearby fishing lodges and at privately-owned camps?
  • Does it apply only to non-Indigenous people?

Just what is the point?  Is it so they can give you exact GPS coordinates so you will not miss the sites? Is it to provide a brief lecture on what kind of behaviour is and is not appropriate in the vicinity of the sites?

My August 2022 revisit to the webpage with the above quote turned up a dead link. In its place, I found this statement about the pictographs –

Traces of ancient history are preserved through Indigenous Rock Art (Pictographs), red ochre pictographs of humans, animals and geometric shapes. These protected sites along the historic Churchill River and Sturgeon-Weir River systems are only accessible by water. Visits to these culturally sensitive locations must be conducted with care and respect for First Nations culture and tradition. When visiting, do not attempt to touch the pictographs, and report any damage to these sites to the local RCMP detachment or the Heritage Conservation Branch. The book, “Aboriginal Rock Painting of the Churchill River” by Tim E. H. Jones is available at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Regina.

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8 Responses to Woods Cree Pictograph Sites of Saskatchewan

  1. Dina says:

    Interesting, but for curiosity, the figures not appears as humans, but as stranger being aliens, and they hand with 4 fingers. Think about. That is interpretation of “modern culture” . I am interested to know MORE about the interpretation of Natives people or Woods.
    Thank you

    • true_north says:

      Dina, I am not sure what your point is. Are you saying that aliens may have done the painting? Are you saying that the paintings are of aliens with four fingers instead of five?

      The credit for the rock paintings clearly belongs to the people who live in the area where the pictographs are found – that is, an Algonkian-speaking culture whose mythological narrative matches the figures on the rocks.

      If you really want to know more about the interpretation of these rock paintings, I can recommend Grace Rajnovich’s book Reading Rock Art: Interpreting the Indian Rock Paintings of the Canadian Shield. Rajnovich has devoted her entire career to researching this aspect of indigenous culture. There is an ebook version available at Amazon here –

      The book will give you a really good idea of why the painters of the images put them there and what they meant to them.

  2. Patrick Mahaffey says:

    The locations of the ‘High Rock Narrows’ sites 2 is not shown correctly on your map. It is on the north side of the channel.

    • true_north says:

      Patrick, thanks for the correction. I’ve emailed you the map – indicate the exact location on it and I’ll replace the existing map.

      BTW – that pictograph site location is definitely not the only Churchill river one I got wrong! I was working with Tim Jones’ vague GPX references when I did the maps a couple of years ago. Any other corrections appreciated – by all those paddlers who will go looking for them with my bad maps!

      • Patrick Mahaffey says:

        Thanks for your reply. I will e-mail you a map showing the location of the large High Rock Narrows Site #2, within 50 m. I have visited this site twice; most recently last summer. Also, this site is really on Black Bear Island Lake rather than on the Churchill River.

        I don’t know what is meant by “High Rock Narrows Site #1”. There is only one very small & faint pictograph about 100 m west of Site #2, and it probably is not where you show it on Corman Island on the south side of the channel, because there are no cliffs there.

        Thank you also for your hard work putting your website together!

      • patrick mahaffey says:

        Thanks for the reply!

        I have attached a map showing the location of the large High Rock Narrows Site #2, within 50 m. I have visited this site twice; most recently last summer. Also, this site is really on Black Bear Island Lake rather than on the Churchill River.

        I don’t know what is meant by High Rock Narrows Site #1. There is only one very small & faint pictograph about 100 m west of Site #2, and it is probably not where you show it on Corman Island on the south side of the channel, because there are no cliffs there.

        >

  3. Katherine Lipsett says:

    Hey, thanks for the compliment.

    Katherine Lipsett

    • true_north says:

      Katherine, given that I was not sure if it was right to post a link to your paper for copyright reasons thanks for not giving me hell or worse!

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