Woods Cree Pictograph Sites of Saskatchewan

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites of The Canadian Shield serves as an introduction to this series of posts.  Originally one long and unwieldy post,  separate posts have been created for each province (or US area). Search for specific sites should be easier and faster.

All blue text leads to a map,  more info and/or pix with a click.  

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 first thing to note is that the pictographs are attributed mostly to Woods (or Rocky) Cree and not to Ojibwe “painters”.  The Cree and the Ojibwe do share a mythological view of the world with many common elements as illustrated by various rock images.  A few sites have also been credited to the Dene, in particular at least one of the four sites on the sixty kilometer stretch of the upper Clearwater River just downriver from Lloyd Lake.

A fantastic collection of Saskatchewan pictograph images, the work of Robin and Arlene Karpan,  can be found here. You’ll see pics from 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.

Dewdney's Site #181 - Hickson-Maribelli figures

Dewdney’s Site #181 – Hickson-Maribelli figures

The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River

It was Tim Jones’ 1974 University of Saskatchewan MA thesis which 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 description in terms of rock type and orientation, and detailed descriptions and sketches of the various faces and paintings that each site has. The 23.9 Mb pdf file of his thesis is available for download here from the U of Sask’s eCommon website.

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.)  I spent a morning going through it and noted that 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 first nine sites that Jones discusses in the above 1974 paper are as follows:

Site                                            GPS data                        Pictographs

1          Kinosaskaw Lake           55º 43′ N 105º 56′     one set of paintings

2          Foster River Mouth        55º 46′ N 105º 50′     three small paintings

3          Silent Rapids                 55º 43′ N 105º 51′      large painting of an animal

4          Wamninuta Island          55º 40′ N 105º 46′     8 recognizable figures

5          High Rock Narrows #1  55º 38′ N 105º 42′     1 figure – large human shape

6          High Rock Narrows #2  55º 38′ N 105º 41′      largest of upper Churchill sites

7          Rattler Creek                 55º 38′ N 104º 33′     four separate Faces

8          Cow Narrows               55º 32′ N 104º 32′      two large forms – one human

9          Mountain Peninsula #1 55º 29′ N 104º 31       1 Face with four drawings

See here for a 534 kb file of the 1974 map indicating the approximate location of the various sites.

Wasawakasik Lake pictographs

Wasawakasik Lake thunderbird pictographs

Wasawakasik Lake pictograph panel – source U of Saskatchewan  archives here

Auld Lake –

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

Churchill River – map of some of the many sites along the Sask part of the river

Churchill River (Conjuring River mouth)

Churchill River (Cow Narrows)

Churchill River (Foster River mouth)

Churchill River (High Rock Narrows Site #1) –  location on the map 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’ description of the two sites in this area.

Jones 1974 High Rock Narrows Sites

Churchill – High Rock Narrows – Jones Site #2…some of Face VII – photo by Patrick Mahaffey

Churchill River (High Rock Narrows Site #2) – largest 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.

Churchill River (Island Portage)

Churchill River (Kinosaskaw Lake)

Churchill River (Maple Leaf Rapids)

Churchill River (Pinehouse Lake – McDonald Bay)

Churchill River (Mountain Lake Peninsula 1)

Churchill River (Mountain Lake Peninsula 2)

Churchill River (Neyo Onikup Bay)

Churchill River (Rattler Creek)

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

Churchill River (Silent Rapids)

Churchill River (Stanley Rapids)

Churchill River (Uskik Lake) – see here for Jones drawing of Face II

Churchill River (Wamninuta Island)

Churchill River (Wasawakasik Lake)

Churchill River (Wintego Rapids)

Maribelli-Hickson Pictograph Sites

Hickson-Maribelli Pictograph Sites

Hickson-Maribelli Lake – Smith Narrows between the two.  More info here. Also, go through or download Dewdney’s Dating Rock Art In The Canadian Shield Region (1970). He mentions the site often.

Kipahigan Lake (Proctor’s Narrows) – also here

Kinosaskaw Lake – Jones’ site #1 in his 1974 MA thesis paper.

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

larocque lake picto - human figures and caribou

Larocque Lake picto – human figures and caribou

Larocque Lake – 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 –

Laroque Lake Sask picto site - Dewdney sketches-3

See above for link to Glenbow Museum source

 

MacFarlane River – site with three pictographs

Mountain Lake (Cow Island)

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.

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.

The Canoe Saskatchewan website (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

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 definitely worth the read.  Click on the title  Pictographs In Northern Saskatchewan – Vision Quest and Pawakan to access the pdf file.

In 2015 the University of Regina Press published Canoeing the Churchill: A Practical Guide to the Historic Voyageur Highway (click here for an excerpt, including the table of contents and the first few pages).  The book provides an excellent resource for anyone planning a canoe trip across Saskatchewan on the Churchill River.  It also refers to  the pictograph sites mentioned in this post.  With The Tim Jones book and the Karpan’s Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country, you’d be all set for an epic summer-long canoe trip!

A visit to the Tourism Saskatchewan website provided me with this interesting 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 request – or is it a requirement? –  left me wondering if it applied to all visitors, including those at nearby fishing lodges and at privately-owned camps.  Just what is the point?  Provide a comment below if you have any idea!

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6 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 GSP 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.

        >

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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