A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

Table of Contents:

Related Post: Early Autumn Canoe Tripping In the Heart Of Temagami


Introduction And Map 

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake from the previous night’s island tent spot

After the portage from Bob Lake to Diamond Lake, we originally planned to paddle up the lake’s north arm that afternoon to check out the pictographs.  Having done a less-than-satisfactory job of documenting the rock painting site on our last visit in 2009, we planned on doing better this time!  However, the wind and the waves had their own agenda, so we ended up camping on a small island at the south end of the arm. We hoped there would be less wind and no rain by the next morning.

looking up the north arm of Diamond Lake

Diamond Lake Temagami

  • Click here to open a Google Map view of Diamond Lake and the surrounding area.
  • Download the 041 P 01 Obabika Lake 1:50000 topographical map here.

Morning came, and the weather for the next three hours would be the best of the entire five days of our early October trip.  We paddled the 2.6 kilometers to the pictograph site on the west side of the arm on completely calm water.  In my thoughts was the withering conclusion about the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs delivered by Canada’s then-pre-eminent archaeologist David Boyle over a hundred years ago.


W. Phillips and David Boyle: 1906

The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of the Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario)  included an article titled “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”. Near the end of the article, attributed to W. Phillips but with Boyle as the editor,  Boyle writes this –David Boyle on the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

This article (published in 1907) represents the first scholarly record of the Diamond Lake pictographs.  Doing the recording was W. Phillips, a “temporary Assistant” in the Archaeology Department at the Ontario Provincial Museum. As the Museum’s Superintendent, Boyle had sent Phillips up to Temagami to check reports of rock paintings. Here is Phillips’ own account of his visit –

Phillips Quote - Boyle Article 1907

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - view from the north

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – view from the north

As Phillips noted in his report,  the ochre markings are spread out over a ten-meter length of the white quartzite surface.  Overhead ledges protect the painted markings from the worst of the run-off water. They face east/southeast and are thus spared the worst of the winds from the NW. The above photo shows the site from the north end, with the dot in the circle as the last of the pictographs.

Phillips does not note any insights about the pictographs’ purpose or meaning he may have received from “Steve Ryder, the Indian guide” or from other Anishinaabeg living near the H.B. Co. post on Bear Island.


F.G.Speck/Aleck Paul: 1913

Speck with Timagami band members on Bear Island in 1913

Frank Speck with Timagami band members on Bear Island in 1913

In 1913 F.G. Speck visited Bear Island in Lake Temagami while working for the Geological Survey of the Canadian Federal Government’s Department of Mines. He was an American anthropologist whose main focus was Eastern Woodlands cultures (Algonkian and Iroquoian); at the time, he was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He recorded this statement (which sounds like it has been edited and polished somewhat) by Aleck Paul, who was one of the estimated 95 members of the Temagami band on Bear Island at that time. He was also serving as second chief that year. His family had moved to the Temagami area from Fort Mattagami after the 1850s.

from F.K. Speck. Myths and Folk-Lore of the Temiskaming Algonquin and the Timagami Ojibwa. 1915. p.76.

If one were to take the above account as reliable and accurate, it would mean that (almost all of) the pictographs in the area are not Anishinaabe but rather Iroquois (i,e. Haudenosaunee) in origin. It would also date them back to no older than the 1780s when the Iroquois led by Thayendanegea (known to us as Joseph Brant) left the Five Nations territory of Upper New York State for what was then Upper Canada (i.e. Ontario), having picked the losing British side in the rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies.  Since the Iroquois do not have a pictograph tradition, the explanation is not supported by any facts, and the reason offered for why they were painted does not really make sense.

There is anecdotal evidence of Iroquois raids in the lands north of Lake Nipissing in the 1830s. However, these accounts do not have the raiders from south of the French River searching for a new permanent homeland in northern Ontario.

In the end, some supporting evidence from nearby Hudson Bay Co. post journals that these supposed fur raiders were indeed upsetting the local fur trade would make for a stronger case.

If nothing else, Paul’s account of the pictograph origins shows that the Ojibwe living with the pictographs in 1913 had no idea of who put them there and why.  Speck concluded from his conversations with the Bear Island Ojibwe that their not-so-distant ancestors had migrated from the Lake Huron area in the early 1800s, not long before the 1830s Iroquois fur raids.

As regards the history of the Timagami band itself, evidences seem to support the assumption that these people are part of a steady northward drift of Ojibwa-speaking tribes from the Great Lakes. The Timagami themselves say that their ancestors came from near Sault Ste. Marie (Pawatiri “at the rapids”).  See here for the source – p.11

The Temagami-area pictographs were already there when the dozen or so Ojibwe families migrated to the area. The Anishinaabe people who painted the images were not Ojibwe but Algonquins. Their spring/summer settlements would have been at locations like

  • the mouth of the Montreal on Lake Temiskaming
  • the mouth of the Lady Evelyn River on the Montreal River.

Sometime before the Ojibwe migration into Temagami, the handful of Algonquian families who thought of Temagami as their long-held fall/winter hunting grounds stopped coming.

Perhaps Boyle got something right when he wrote in that 1907 Report discussed above, “Even the Indians of today are unable to give the least hint with respect to the meaning of anything in such pictographs.”

Click on the title to download a 5 Mb pdf copy of the booklet Speck wrote for the Department of Mines – Myths and Folk-Lore of the Temiskaming Algonquin and the Timagami Ojibwa.  It was published in 1915. Speck does not mention having visited any of the pictograph sites in the Temagami area, of which the Diamond Lake site is by far the most impressive. One of his main sources of information was Aleck Paul, the second chief, who was born in the Temagami but whose ancestors had moved into the area from the Lake Mattagami area further north after the 1850s.


Harold C. Lowrey in Macleans: 1919.

In The Unspoiled Wonder, an article about the wonders of Temagami in the August 1919 issue of Macleans (see here for the text), Harold Lowrey also explains the pictographs as an Iroquois piece of work.  Lowrey had spent some time in the Lake Temagami area and would have spoken to many people, Ojibwe, and others during his time there. While the Iroquois explanation seems to have been accepted at the time, Lowrey’s account differs in the purpose of the pictographs and when they were put there.  Raiding Iroquois war parties were a feature of the mid-1600s, not the late 1700s.

Lowrey also provides a fanciful explanation of the pictographs as tribute by Iroquois warriors to one of their princesses (travelling with a war party?) who apparently drowned near the rock. It is as unhistorical as its inspiration, Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha!

And, like Boyle before him, he understood the collection of pictographs to have been put there at one time by one person to tell a coherent “hieroglyphic story”!  What we actually see are individual unrelated painted images put there over a span of time by many “painters,” all drawing from their shared Anishinaabe cultural image bank.


Selwyn Dewdney: 1959

It would be fifty-three years before the next visit from the museum  (now named The Royal Ontario Museum) would check out the pictographs.  It was Selwyn Dewdney, then at the start of his decade-long quest to document the pictograph sites of the Canadian Shield.   The Diamond Lake Site would be #40 of the more than 260 he would eventually visit.  In the 1962 first edition of the book Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes (click on the title to access), he writes the following –

Dewdney on Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Diamond Lake - Lady Evelyn South Arm

Diamond Lake/Lady Evelyn South Arm – clink on the image to enlarge

The flooding that Dewdney noted was the work of the A.J. Murphy Lumber Company. In 1942 it had built a dam just north of the pictograph site at Lady Evelyn Falls, the point where Diamond Lake’s outflow tumbles down into  Lady Evelyn Lake. These falls had seen their height decrease by some 3 meters when an earlier (1926) dam had raised the water level of Lady Evelyn Lake itself.   An insightful  Ottertooth article provides a detailed history.

Of the dam at the outlet of Diamond Lake, the writer (Brian Back) notes this:

Lady Evelyn Falls Dam 1942This explains why a part of the Diamond Lake pictograph site was underwater when Dewdney visited in 1959. The Dewdney sketch below shows which pictographs were underwater.  Strangely enough, they are the ones that seem most vibrant these days! [I added the blue waterline and the text.]

In 1973 the dam at the outlet of Diamond Lake was removed.  In 1976 Dewdney would visit with Conway and Tassé and a CBC film crew working on a potential episode for the This Land series. According to Dewdney’s measurements, the water level had lowered by 1.37 meters!


Thor Conway: 1974

Discovering Rock Art In Ontario's Provincial ParksSince Dewdney, with a few exceptions, there has been very little discussion and research of the Diamond Lake pictographs – or of the pictographs of the Temagami area in general.  One exception is the work of Thor Conway.  It was Conway who, as a young archaeologist, visited the Diamond Lake site with Dewdney in the mid-1970s and who continues to publish material on pictograph sites all across the Canadian Shield area. For example, his book on the Agawa Rock pictograph site stands as the definitive study of that Ojibwe rock painting location.


Conway first visited the Diamond Lake site in 1974. As luck would have it, the year before, the dam had been destroyed by a work crew from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the water had come down to its natural level.  Two years later, he was there again with a CBC film crew.  Along for a visit were Dewdney and Gilles Tache,  a Quebec archaeologist who also focussed on the pictograph quest.  During their visit, they were able to determine that water levels were lower by about 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) from where they had been on Dewdney’s 1959 visit. The dynamiting of the dam in 1973 made that much of a difference.

 Conway’s book Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Parks (2009) has a chapter on the Diamond Lake pictographs. Though the 2009 book is impossible to find, the fall of 2016 saw the publication of a revised edition of the book with 35 pages of introductory material followed by 240 pages of discussion of twelve rock art sites across Ontario. (See here for the chapter titles.)

Titled Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders, it claims to preserve the ” traditional knowledge” of Ojibwe elders from across northern Ontario, which the Conways had gathered in their years spent in various First Nations communities.  Any reader will come away with a bit more of an understanding of the Anishinaabe culture behind the images painted with hematite on rock faces across Ontario – and of the Canadian Shield in general. Clearly, the locals  Conway spoke to in the 1970s had abandoned the notion of the Iroquois origins of the Temagami-area pictographs. No mention is made by Conway of the Iroquois origin stories.

The book is available on Amazon and from Thor Conway himself.  The very first site Conway examines in detail is the one on Diamond Lake.


Justice J. Steele of the OSC: 1984

In December of 1984, after months of testimony and evidence from Gary Potts, the chief of the Bear Island band, a few other Temagami band members,  and numerous non-Indigenous academics, Justice Steele of the Ontario Supreme Court dismissed the land claim brought forward by Chief Potts and the Bear Island Foundation.  While the entire decision makes for interesting reading, here is what Steel concluded after hearing various statements made about the pictographs:

Dr. Noble’s evidence is that pictographs have not yet been identified in any time frame. In addition, Mr. Conway’s evidence itself was conflicting as to the uniqueness of pictographs to the Temagami area. He stated that the upright canoe pictograph was distinctive to the area, but he gave more examples of upright canoes from outside the area than from inside it. His evidence about other unique pictographs was not supported archaeologically.

The oral Indian evidence is conflicting as to who made the pictographs. Some Indian witnesses believe they were made by the Iroquois. Others say they were made by their ancestors. Two Indians who were called made no reference to rock art having any relation to folklore. Michael Paul stated that he had been told by his father that his people had painted some of the pictographs and that, even now, some old people know the meaning of them but will not tell. The only “old person” called was William Twain and he gave no evidence relating to rock art.

Mr. Conway, in an article written in 1974, stated that he had been told that rock art was made by the Iroquois during the Iroquois wars. Now he says that they were made by Algonquins. However, he also stated that the oral traditions of the defendants had not changed from 1913 to today because even now Chief Potts believed them to be painted by the Iroquois, while others believed them to be malevolent to the Iroquois. Chief Potts’ evidence was that all except one had been painted by his own people. Alex Misabi said they were made by the Iroquois. Michael Paul, Sr. said some were made by each group.

I find that the pictographs have not been proven to show any continuity between the defendants and whoever made them, or that any conclusions can be drawn from them.

The full report: ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR ONTARIO V. BEAR ISLAND FOUNDATION ET AL. Ontario Supreme Court, Steele J., December 11, 1984


Checking Out The Pictographs:

The site begins with some indecipherable ochre marks and concludes some ten meters or so further north with the most well-known of the Diamond Lake rock paintings.

The South End of the Site

We approached the pictograph from the south. The following sequence of images follows the ten meters of rock face in the order that Phillips numbered his drawings of the various ochre markings.  Conway counted 77 individual ochre marks or paintings on the entire site. We were not as successful!

They were “painted” with a mixture of ground hematite (i.e. iron oxide) and perhaps fish oil or bear grease and then applied to the rock surface, not with a brush,  but with a finger or two.  The figures are usually no more than an inch  (2.5 cm) wide and up to five or six inches long.

People are sometimes disappointed when they see them since, in the grand scheme of things, these are admittedly very rudimentary expressions of the values and beliefs of a Palaeolithic culture.  However, even if they are not the Lascaux Cave paintings, they speak to anyone who has experienced the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield and how Indigenous Peoples survived in such unforgiving terrain.

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

Ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

The photo above is of the first of them, three ochre marks of which what may be a star pattern or a figure with outstretched arms is the most visible. Phillips did not make drawings of these indecipherable smudges.

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

T mark- #1 on Phillips Plate IV –  and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

The next evidence of ochre comes just a meter further north.  Still visible is what looks like a T.  It is with this pictograph that Phillips began his drawings of the Diamond Lake pictographs; it is #1 in his inventory.  There is an ochre smudge above and to the right of the T, but it is badly eroded.

Phillips - Plate IV top

Phillips – Plate IV top

Phillips also passed by the slash mark below.  The faint upward-pointing arrow just below it and to the right may be his drawing #2.  There is more badly faded ochre, but it is impossible to say what they might have been.

Diamond Lake - ochre slash

Diamond Lake – ochre slash

We have now moved up about four meters of the site.  In the image below, we have two pictographs corresponding to drawings #3 and #4 on the top of Phillips’ Plate IV above.  #3 is on the bottom left, and #4 is quite visible on the right side of my photo. Is #4 a very rudimentary Thunderbird image?

Diamond Lake - Thunderbird pictographs

Diamond Lake – Thunderbird pictographs or Crane footprints?

shaman holding infant (or medicine bag?)

Bloodvein River shaman –  and medicine bag?

As for #3, Conway comments that it may represent an otter skin. If so, it certainly would be an abstract rendition of the otter’s skin laid out flat.  A shaman’s “medicine” bag would typically be made of otter skin.

If, as the quote above by the Bear Island elder from 1913 seems to indicate,  the painting of the pictographs predated the Ojibwe arrival in Temagami, then seeing Ojibwe otter skin bags and totem emblems in the images may be the wrong interpretation. More information on the Algonquins’ shamanic medicine bags might clarify the question.


The Middle Section of the Site:

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – The Core

And then we come to the core of the site – the stretch beginning to the right of the deep cut into the rock face. The first pictograph we see is of the moose (#6).

To the right (i.e. north) of the moose painting are three other clearly visible pictographs. On the Phillips Plate, they are numbered

  • #7 (the six vertical lines, often referred to as tally marks, but who can say for sure?),
  • #9 (a puzzling construction we called “the half banana”), and
  • #10 (usually interpreted as a canoe with 6 paddlers, an image meant to convey the strength and power of a hunting party).

Looking more closely at the panel, other faint lines can be seen, with the highest one looking like Phillips #8 with the five fading vertical lines. All that is missing these days is the moss!

Diamond Lake - overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake – overview of the moose panel and #9 and #10 to the north of it

canoe pictograph - Diamond Lake

Phillips #9 – and canoe pictograph (#10) – note the impact mark between the  two


The Case of the Stolen Pictograph

The moose is #6 on Phillips’ Plate IV.   Underneath the moose image is evidence of an impact or two – most likely from a bullet.  However, Conway states this in his book –

Conway on Diamond Lake pictograph vandalism

(The above quote is from the book’s first edition; It appears slightly edited in the 2016 edition on p. 49.)

It would seem that Conway locates the “removed” pictograph in the space immediately below the moose image.  If Conway is right, the Phillips plate IV should include a drawing of it.  His assumption is based on something he claims Dewdney saw in his earlier visit – i.e. in 1959 – that was no longer there when he visited in 1974.

a view of the moose pictogrpah and surroundings

He is not the only one to make this claim about a removed rock painting.

In a transcript of a CBC radio program called Morning North,  “Backroads Bill” (Bill Steer) makes this comment in “Glimpses of the Past”:

Backroads Bill on Diamond Lake vandalism

Instead of Conway’s exact 1959 to 1974 time frame, Steer states that the supposed theft of the pictograph on the rock below the moose occurred between two of his visits. No dates appear in his article, but his two visits would presumably have to fall within Conway’s ’59-’74 timeframe. Steer does not include a description of the pictograph that he claims was removed.

Diamond Lake – moose (#6) and vertical lines (#7)

If there was an image there, it is also possible that the slab of rock just broke off from the rock face and fell into the water below, though the impact marks below the moose image do not fit with that scenario.

However, we do have Phillips 1906 drawings! Drawings #4 to 7 are all visible on the rock face. So are #8 to 10.  So where is the missing pictograph? If a pictograph was striking enough to motivate someone to remove it from below the moose image, Phillips presumably would have included it along with all the others.

In an Ottertooth forum thread, the topic turned from Temagami environmental activism to the story of the claimed theft of a pictograph chiselled off from under the moose image. The debate was effectively ended with Brian Back’s rebuttal of all the supposed evidence.  He provided an image from 1954 taken by a guide at the Keewaydin camp. It shows the rock face looking exactly as it does now.

1954 image of the area around the moose pictograph at the Diamond Lake site

Conway says the pictograph was stolen sometime between 1959 and 1973; Bill Steer says it was vandalized between two of his visits, presumably within Conway’s time frame.  However, the blurry image above shows the empty space below the moose pictograph five years before Dewdney supposedly recorded an image in that now empty space.

[See here for the Ottertooth discussion. What is most noteworthy about it is that people will continue to believe what they want to believe, even when presented with clear evidence that they are wrong.  The photo above fits in with Phillips’ 1906 drawing of the site.

One last thing – in his book  Discovering Rock Art, Conway includes the Dewdney sketch sheet of his Temagami area visits (Sites #40, 41, 42).  However, he only includes the left half of the sheet. Had he shown the entire sheet, we would have seen the drawing that Dewdney made of Face III – i.e. the area with the moose on it. Dewdney drew the area underneath the moose with the same jagged lines as that blurry 1954 photo! His sketch sheet of the Diamond Lake site shows that nothing was removed after his visit. What Dewdney saw is what Phillips saw and what you and I see when we stop to take a look.

The conclusion?

  • No “insensitive visitors compromised the ancient images” at any time in the last 115 years.
  • There was no “cultural vandalism,” as claimed by Steer.

Re: the impact marks.  There are a few, and they are probably the result of hunters (Indigenous or non-) firing at the moose image, perhaps an expression of magical thinking – i.e. hitting the moose image to ensure success in the actual hunt they were about to undertake.

Here, for example, is a pictograph grouping from Darkwater Lake in Quetico. It also has an impact mark close to the moose figure. It may be a coincidence; it may support my point.

canoes, Mishiginebig, the two-horned snake,  and a moose figure

And here is another moose pictograph from the site on the east end of Lac la Croix in Quetico. A section of the moose’s head is missing, the probable result of a bullet impact.

The 1954 Diamond Lake image above shows some of the bullet impacts. There are other bullet impact marks, including one at the site’s north end below the canoe and the circle with a center dot.


After Dewdney visited the Diamond Lake site (#40 on his list – see here for the complete list), he went down to Bear Island to check out some pictographs on the island’s west side (his site #41).  The seeds of the Diamond Lake stolen pictograph legend can perhaps be traced back to what he wrote – 


The North End of the Site

Then we arrive at the last three panels of the site, as pictured in the shot below.  Plate V (see below) of the Phillips drawings contains all of them.

Dewdney devotes very little space to the Diamond Lake pictographs in his book. I get the feeling he really was not all that bowled over by what he found here. The one quote above, along with the sketch of the core of the site,  and the quote below, are pretty much all he had to say about this site.

Dewdney on Diamond Lake pictographs

See the entire Dewdney passage on Diamond Lake here.

#13 (double arrow or otter skin); crane (#14) and bird tracks (#15)

Looking at Phillips’ Plate V above,

  • #14 would represent the “clumsy heron,”
  • #12 the maymaygwayshi,  though it hardly seems like a vestige!
  • #19 the circle with the center.
  •  #16 is perhaps included in his catch-all phrase “stick figures.”

Picking up on Conway’s comment, #11 and #13 possibly represent the otter skins associated with the shaman’s medicine bag if we can accept an Ojibwe origin of the images.

the Diamond Lake Site - the Three Northernmost panels

the Diamond Lake Site – the Three Northernmost panels

Surprisingly, Dewdney did not identify Phillip’s #16  as the horned snake of Anishinaabe myth.

Phillips #16 – horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

Another stick figure is #17, looking very much like a square root symbol. Not mentioned by Dewdney are the three dots, what looks like a canoe with two paddlers, more crane or heron footprints, and other impossible-to-say-what marks. Here is the drawing that Dewdney included in his write-up –

Diamond Lake pictographs – sketch from Dewdney’s book Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes

Diamond Lake - the last two panels

Diamond Lake – the last two panels

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictos

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictographs

Diamond Lake Pictographs - northernmost grouping

Diamond Lake Pictographs – northernmost grouping

As if to point out the problem of saying exactly what it means, Dewdney concludes his comments on the site by noting this about the circle with the dot –Dewdney diamond lake rock painting quoteEnding the statement with an exclamation point does point out that these two inventories, both from the mid-1800s, come up with very different meanings for the same image!


The Nearby Pictographs Below Lady Evelyn Falls:

the lost nearby Lady Evelyn Picto Drawings Plate VI

The lost (i.e. flooded)  nearby Lady Evelyn Picto Drawings Plate VI

Included in the report that Phillips submitted was Plate VI. It is his record of the Lady Evelyn pictograph site just below the used-to-be Lady Evelyn Falls at the outlet of Diamond Lake and is about three kilometers north of the Diamond Lake site. While people have looked, they have not found it due to the higher water level caused by the Mattawapika Dam built in the mid-1920s.

Brian Back’s  Ottertooth article “The Lady Evelyn Lift-Over”  provides some historical background on the impact of dams on water levels on Lady Evelyn Lake and on Diamond Lake.


one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

What does it all mean?

David Boyle’s statement near the end of the 1907 article “Rock Paintings At Temagami District” was already noted.   He wrote: “It would be utterly vain to look for any interpretation.

In spite of that, Boyle could not resist offering an interpretation and ended up proving his own point!

David Boyle on Diamond Lake pictographsRather than see the site as it is – associated in Anishinaabe tradition as the home of the maymaygwayshi and other powerful medicine spirits to which a number of shamans came over an extended period of time – he sees it as a tablet on which one person has written a “sentence” or two using the pictographs as a picture script.

This one person, he writes, has written a “story.” Boyle is able to state quite categorically that the first sentence ends near the top of Plat VI!  Oddly enough, the article ends with that assertion.  I flipped the page, expecting to see a continuation somewhere, but that statement is it – a peculiar way to end the report.  To conclude, Boyle seems to be a victim of the notion that the pictograph site represents an application of a coherent Anishinaabe writing system. Such a system did not exist.

There is no Rosetta Stone to help us unravel the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs, as shown by the conflicting mid-1850s inventories of symbols and their meanings left by Schoolcraft and Copway and by the conflicting views as to who even put the pictographs there.

However, those who have visited over the past 100 years have provided a bit more insight into pictographs’ nature and significance.  Boyle’s “utterly vain” can be amended to “much is still puzzling.”  It will probably remain that way! However, thanks to some of the more recent visitors, we can now better see elements of the Anishinaabe worldview in the ochre, from possible references to their clan (doodem) system and their religious beliefs.

As we paddle past the dramatic quartzite rock face, the least we can do is stop and appreciate the fact that maybe two or three hundred years ago, Anishinaabe shamans stopped at this same spot. As a part of a visit to the home of the maymaygwayshi for powerful medicines,  he left the rock paintings as part of the ritual. Perhaps others were left by young men at the end of their arduous vision quest ritual, leaving a record on a sacred-to-them stretch of rock where generations of his people had come to leave their marks.

From their birch bark canoes, they reached out to the rock and created enduring marks with their specially prepared mixture of finely ground hematite (iron oxide) and fish oil. The pictographs of those with better formulations of the “paint” have fared better over the two or three centuries since they were put there.

While we will never completely understand the significance of all the ochre paintings, we still stop briefly and enter another cultural space.

Views of The Site From A Distance

Diamond Lake Picto site – a view from the other side of the lake’s north arm

looking south at the site from near the Lady Evelyn Liftover – what was once Lady Evelyn Falls


Links to Related Information:  

You can access a pdf file of  W. Phillips’  “Rock Paintings At Temagami District” from my WordPress site.  If you want to see where it came from, look here – The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario) published in 1907.


The 1962 first edition of Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes is available for online reading or download.  It documents the first 109 sites he visited.  A second edition came out in 1967 with documentation on an additional 155 sites. By this time, his quest had taken him far beyond the field of study, as stated in the title!


Thor Conway’s Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders can be purchased directly from the author.

The Thor and Julie Conway article on the Lake Obabika pictographs – “An Ethno-Archaeological Study of Algonkian Rock Art in Northeastern Ontario, Canada” – provides background to the Diamond Lake pictographs, which are briefly mentioned in the article published in issue #49 of Ontario Archaeology in the mid-1980s.


Dewdney mentions Cuttle Lake in his discussion of the Diamond Lake rock paintings. Grace Rajnovitch’s article “Paired Morphs At Cuttle Lake” is in the Jan/Feb 1980  issue of Arch Notes, the newsletter of the Ontario Archaeological Society. It includes drawings from one of the panels and provides a point of comparison.


Another collection of Diamond Lake pictograph photos can be seen at the temagami.nativeweb.org site. The pix show some of the pictographs from a better angle than our shots do. Go here – Ancient Pictographs at Diamond Lake in Temagami.   How ancient they really are is an open question. My guess would be no more than three hundred years.


Finally, I wonder what happened to the film footage shot by that CBC crew in 1976 for that episode of This Land.

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13 Responses to A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

  1. Bruce Parker says:

    Another comprehensive article on one of my favorite subjects. I visited the site 2 years ago on a canoe trip in Temagami. I also have Conway’s book, but I don’t really like it, as it seemed to digress from the topic at hand. I remember Irene Dewdney telling me that she didn’t like it all.

    • true_north says:

      Bruce, thanks for the positive review.

      It wasn’t quite finished yet but I just figured I’d let it go and post it anyway. I still want to incorporate some material from Rajnovich to explain some of the pictographs.

      Your use of the term “comprehensive” is very kind! An alternative title for the post might be – (More Than) Everything You Wanted To Know About the Diamond Lake Pictograph Site! I can get quite obsessive about things I take on!

      The Conway book I have on the Agawa Rock site is vey useful. I have yet to find a copy of the book on the Ontario Provincial Parks. Without a doubt his overall approach is somewhat different than Dewdney’s.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am certain I heard of these appearing on rocks at Matachewan Ontario..4 hours north of Temagami..an area you have nothing listed here

    • true_north says:

      The Matachewan area has not come up in all the research I’ve done but you may be right. It would be great to see some images of drawings and a specific location.

      All in all there are not a lot of recorded sites east of Lake Nipigon. This summer we spent a week on the Steel River system just west of Matachewan. No pictographs to report from that area although Dewdney mentions a site on McKay Lake just east of Long Lac. We didn’t get up that far and are not really sure where that site is supposed to be located. You could spend days paddling McKay’s shoreline looking for something which may not exist!

      Let me know if you come up with some solid info. I’d love to add it to the list of known sites in Ontario.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    How do I follow you?
    My cousin is coming from Australia next year & would be interested in your work.
    Do you guide in Northern Ontario? Would he & his wife be able to join you to see rock paintings on the Spanish River & elsewhere in Northern Ontario. We are from Spanish, Ontario.
    You can look up his work with rock paintings in Australia: Joc Schmeigan (Adelaide, SA)
    Thank you, Marvia Mitchell

    • true_north says:

      Marvia, thanks to your question I just put a “Follow” button on my home page!

      Nice to hear the pictographs posts have an interested reader in your cousin. While I am not a guide, I can certainly offer him some advice on which sites would be easy to access on a day trip with or without a rented canoe. The following would make a nice introduction –

      Mazinaw Rock– a 700 meter paddle across the lake from the campsites (canoe rentals in the immediate area)
      Collins Inlet – a ten-kilometer paddle from the parking lot (Killarney Outfitters can set you up with gear)
      – the Peterborough Petroglyphs NE of Peterborough – access by vehicle
      Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park- a short hike from the parking lot
      – the Ninth Lake site on the Spanish – easy to access from 144 via canoe
      – the Wizard Lake site near Gogama – a short two kilometer paddle from the parking lot off Highway 144 N of the town
      Diamond Lake in Temagami – just a bit more complicated – it would require an overnight camp
      Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake – also difficult to do as a day trip but would be possible with a motorized boat from the Backlay Bay put-in.

      A great book to put all this into context is Thor Conway’s Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders (2016). The book covers most of sites I listed.

      Tell Joc to get in touch with me if he wants more info or suggestions.

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  6. Bill Ramsay says:

    Philips mentions a second site on Lady Evelyn Lake just north of the Lady Evelyn Falls. Has it all been washed away by the higher water levels? I note that he was there before Lady Evelyn Lake was dammed. I’m often there in the winter but there is no ice on the water north of the Lady Evelyn Falls for about 300 m to go look. In the winter the water level would be about the same as when Philips was there. Have you any idea how far north and was there any drawings so we could look. I might haul a canoe down the lake some winter to explore that area.

    • true_north says:

      Bill, I’ve had the same thought! Philips was there 10 years before the dam was built at the mouth of Lady Evelyn in 1915. The water level went up high enough to eliminate the set of falls that used to be where Diamond Lake now tumbles over a 1′ ledge into Lady Evelyn! Just a bit beyond that was the pictograph site noted by Philipss in 1905. See this map in my post for a rough indication of where it is –

      If you read the Philips account in my post he mentions that the site is about two miles from the Diamond Lake site. I used that bit of info to estimate the location.

      As you have noticed, the Lady Evelyn water level goes down about ten feet in the winter. I was informed by someone who has spent time in the area that he had spent hours looking for the picto site but came up empty. I can’t recall now if he had been up there in the winter to check it out. Re: the drawings of the pictographs at the site. Philips included them in his write-up and I also included a copy of his drawings in my post –

      Let me know if you have any luck. It wouild be quite the find!

  7. Bill Ramsay says:

    Unfortunately I will not have time to go up there this winter. The ice is quite solid in that area and there are some white cliffs there. I usually snowmobile by there 2 or 3 times a winter but almost always on the east shore just because of momentum of turning the corner just to the north. March is the most opportune time to go since the water level is down and there is less snow cover on the ice.

  8. kipperbernie says:

    Late to this, but what I find most interesting is persistence of the ring with centre symbol, globally. It is called called cup and ring in england, and can be seen in the moors, where it is carved into rocks (it’s where I grew up so i’ve always been interested).

    I saw similar carvings and paintings in Nevada, (and spirals, posited to be a reference to the sun) but in the last decade vandals got to them, damn their eyes, located in a beautiful and accessible site in a long dried up riverbed.

    Sorry it’s wikipedia but as a starting point, it references further reading for the interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cup_and_ring_mark

    • true_north says:

      Re: “late to this”. Never too late to contemplate about the many possible meanings of the circle!

      BTW – Wiki is okay! I made the same point as you do to my high school students at the beginning of each essay assignment!

      Re: the dotted circle…it is certainly a universal image. I wonder what Carl Jung had to say about its meaning. His “collective unconscious” concept would explain how it pops up everywhere!

      The interesting thing about the Diamond Lake image is that two mid-19th C writers quite familiar with Ojibwe culture would come up with such different interpretations – i.e. time as opposed to spirit. The most common one is as a symbol of the sun or life force.

      Thanks to your comment I ended up looking for more examples. I found this one from the pre-Buddhist Upper Mustang region of today’s Nepal:

      The anthropomorphic figure on the bottom right could be an Ojibwe rock-dwelling maymaygweshi!

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