Previous Post – Day 6: From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls
- distance: 11.7 km
- time: start – 11:30 a.m.; finish – 2:00 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 0 !!
- weather: overcast and cloudy most of the day, some rain; sun in the late evening
- campsite: Red Granite Point (#18) – room for multiple tents
It had been a cool evening and more rain fell overnight. A mist hung over the bay and the falls area in the morning. After we packed away all the gear – wet from the past day and a half of bad weather – we put the bags underneath the overturned canoe. Then we took to the trail leading up to the falls. We followed it as far as it went and then bushwhacked a bit further to get up to the first of the several drops in the Falls. We stood there and watched the river we had followed from its headwaters. Now one last emphatic rush as it merged with Missinaibi Lake and the Missinaibi River system –
What we know as Whitefish Falls, Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada, had a different name for. He had paddled up what he called Missinibi Lake in 1875 at the end of an epic expedition that had gone from Lake Huron up the Sturgeon from Lake Wanapitei, down the Mattagami to James Bay and then back up the Missinaibi to Michipicoten! The following quote refers to the falls and the outlet of the Little Missinaibi River:
Interesting, too, that the name Fairy Point was already in use and that Bell makes use of it, although, in this case, without an explanation of its Anishinaabe-language origin or version.
With our goodbyes to the Little Missinaibi done – as well as all but one of our images, including a guy in a red or orange rain jacket! – it was time to move on.
It would be a day devoted to the pictograph sites at the west end of Missinaibi Lake. In the early 1980s, we had paddled by them a few times in a hurry to get to the east end of the lake. That is where one of North America’s great wilderness river adventures starts, the one that takes paddlers all the way to James Bay with the guarantee of lots of thrills – and a few spills – along the way. But there was no hurry this day since our planned campsite was maybe twelve kilometers away.
The map below shows our route for the day – from our Day 6 campsite to three pictograph sites –
- Whitefish Bay
- Reva Point
- Fairy Point
We would have our tent up on Red Granite Point by mid-afternoon.
After a brief look at the “Sensitive Area” on the west side of the bay, we paddled back across to the first of the three pictograph sites we would visit on Missinaibi Lake. Since all face west, the ideal time to visit them – at least in terms of light if it is a sunny day – is later in the afternoon. We were just happy there wasn’t a significant wind blowing from the NW or SW and that it was hardly raining.
The Ontario Parks map has all three pictograph sites indicated with brown circles. The recently published 2022 edition of the map corrects the wrong locations from the 2010 map. That map placed the Whitefish Bay site where the “Sensitive Area” sign that we were paddling away from is; the site is actually on the other – i.e. east – side of the bay.
On the 2010 map, the Reva Point site was also incorrectly located. It is just across from the northern tip of the island and not, as shown in the map above, to the south of the island! The errors are odd because the 1990 map printed by the Parks people had all three sites located correctly!
Here is the 2022 corrected version. The Whitefish site is 100 meters further to the north than the map indicates.
Once on the other side of Whitefish Bay, we paddled past the two rock faces you see in the image above. We were headed to the more vertical rock face almost at the end of the bay. In the image above, it is not yet visible; the two pix below do show us getting closer.
The Whitefish Bay site is the most humble of the three we would visit; some of what look to be pictographs are actually bits of red granite vein.
If you are interested in seeing more images and discussion of what we looked at this day, check out a post dedicated entirely to the three sites –
The Anishinaabe Pictographs of Missinaibi Lake
As we paddled out of the bay and headed west, we met the only other paddlers we would see during our nine-day trip. The canoe party was a group of six boys from a Minnesota summer camp at the start of their epic adventure down the river to Mattice. Their positive attitude was impressive given the less-than-ideal conditions over the past two or three days. Though some of the boys looked no more than twelve, some already had tripping experience, and the two older guys leading the group looked to be excellent role models. We are always heartened when we see a younger generation doing what we love to do!
Paddling along the lake’s south shore, we appreciated the lack of wind. The following pix show an almost ripple-free water surface. Next up – Reva Point, a seven-kilometer-or-so paddle from the Whitefish Bay site. The rock images there – six or seven of them – were easier to “read” than the ones at the first site. We spent a few minutes checking them out and then headed to the north end of Reva Island.
We had planned to spend some time with the 350-year-old white pines on the island. We may have had in mind something like the trails through Temagami’s old-growth forest between Obabika Lake and Chee-Skon; we would learn that Reva island has not been groomed like this. The “No Access” sign to the left of the white pine that Max is sitting under was another reason for our decision to move on to Fairy Point.
Reva Island Archaeological Site (DbHw-1)
A possible explanation for the “No Access” sign may be the fact that archaeological work on the island in the 1960s and 70s uncovered evidence of a Terminal Woodland /early post-contact site with a date of about 1590 A.D. Along with the usual stone artifacts – mostly scrapers and projectile points – were gun parts and a possible gunflint. A ceramic fragment found at the site is seen as evidence of contact with groups in Wisconsin or Michigan. See here for a summary of the site’s significance by the archaeologist John Pollack. As with the seasonal traditional pre-European- contact campsite on the west side of Whitefish Bay with the “Sensitive Area” sign, park visitors are discouraged.
Reva Island as an Indigenous site is also mentioned in Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi: From Lake Superior To James Bay By Canoe (2004 reprint of 1994 first ed.) guidebook. We read:
…the island may have served the Anishinabeg as an ancient burial site where corpses were perched in prominent trees in order to watch family members passing by….Occupation and activities of the island date back as far back as 5000 years. (p.50)
The details don’t agree at all with the archaeological record. Instead of 500 years, Wilson has it as far back as 5000! Instead of a seasonal habitation site, it is (maybe) a site where tree burial was practised, presumably at the island’s north end.
The probable source of Wlson’s corpse tree perching detail is the G.F. Speck report (see here – p.26) on the Timagami Ojibwe from 1915, in which Speck summarized their burial rituals –
Bone fragments – human or other – were not mentioned by those who examined the site. Given the nature of the soil, this is not really a surprise.
Sitting at the north end of Reva Island, we marvelled at the incredible quality of the light as we looked back to the Reva Point pictograph site and over to Fairy Point. It had stopped raining. The short paddle across to Fairy Point can be bumpy when the wind blows, especially down the open stretch of water from the southwest. The waves have all of South Bay to roll down before they crash into Fairy Point. No wonder the Ojibwe had stories of underwater creatures like Mishipeshu, the lynx-like creature who lets his displeasure known by overturning the canoes of those who have somehow angered him.
A click on the image below will reveal the locations of the two rock image sites; Fairy Point is about one kilometer across the open stretch of water. Note the absence of waves or raindrops!
Approaching Fairy Point from the south was a different experience. On previous occasions, we were coming at it from Crooked Lake at the beginning of a Missinaibi River trip, one that either finished at Mattice or further down at Moose River Crossing or Moosonee. The uncooperative weather meant we often just zipped by the Point after giving a panel or two a quick glance. We would make amends with this visit!
The pictograph site faces west. We started at the southern end of the point and slowly made our way north along the shore. We spent about a half-hour in pictograph-quest mode though it felt like we had paddled into some timeless dimension. Perhaps framing a string of photos creates this Zen-like state; you are so focused on this one thing that all else fades away!
The image below is of the first pictographs we saw – a humble start. You can see a couple of ochre slash marks, the one on the right with two short arms at the top and the bottom. To the right is an almost-gone hematite smudge, some of which is undoubtedly behind the lichen.
We continued along, amazed at how many pictographs there are at the site. Soon we got to the one panel we were familiar with from our other pass-bys. Along with the Mishipeshu and canoe panel at Agawa Rock, it may be the most well-known and most photographed pictograph panel in north-eastern/north-central Ontario. It doesn’t hurt that it comes at the beginning of a popular canoe-tripping river!
See our post – The Anishinaabe Pictographs of Missinaibi Lake – for much more detail and many more photos of the various panels of the site. I’ve incorporated Dewdney’s “Faces” and Conway’s “Panels” in my account of the site’s rock paintings; their analysis provides some substance and moves the experience beyond merely seeing without understanding what it is we’re seeing.
We spent about a half-hour at the site before turning our thoughts to a campsite for the night. There were a few options, and at first, we headed for one of the island sites to the north of Red Granite Point but, on looking over, decided that Red Granite Point, with its extensive flat rock patio along the shore, looked pretty inviting.
The Red Granite site is excellent, with room for a few tents, the already-mentioned rock face along the shore, and a “thunderbox.” We got the tent up and put the tarp on top of it on the chance that there would be yet more rain overnight; we also put up our bug shelter.
As afternoon turned into early evening, the skies cleared, and the sun shone freely. Yet another “plus” for the Red Granite Point campsite presented itself! We looked over to Fairy Point and were struck by the golden glow of the rock face.
We considered paddling over to take advantage of the special light but were not sure it would still be there when we got there. It was about 9 p.m. and the light was fading quickly; it would take a good 20 minutes to get there, so we contented ourselves with the view from our campsite.
The next day would be a Wednesday. We were nearing the end of our short trip with two days of lake paddling coming up.
Next Post – Day 8: From Red Granite Point to Crooked Lake Island Site
Awesome pics and great travel for sure. We are off to White Otter (Castle) July 26-30 again this year, we go every year and go in from a new entrance each time. I have some still pictures of Wendell’s cabins, is there a way to get them to you to see before I put the remainder of the videos together? I also have more shots of the Ogoki Wilderness Lodge. Cheers
Fred, you’re a lucky man to live so close to such incredible paddling. The Turtle River system is definitely on our list. The only thing that stops us is the two-day drive to get there – and then another two back to southern Ontario! Sounds like you are making visits to eccentric builders a theme of your canoe trips!
Re: your pix from Best Island. You need to start your own wordpress.com website! There is a free version and it is easy to learn how to make good-looking web pages. You are not lacking in potential content!
I have a word press account already but been dedicated to my amateur radio hobby, guess I could always start a sub-menu
Have just found your web site & will take time to go through it in more detail.
I was the Sr. Fire Officer for the Ontario MNR in the Chapleau District from 1980 to spring 1987 prior to my transfer to Sault Ste. Marie. We had a large forest fire in the 1980’s at Missinanbi Lake that I was involved with the suppression effort. This interest me to return in 2011 on kayak trip & stay at the Falls to see how this area recovered after the fire. As you know a large area around the lake was burnt over
in the 1980’s & the Park Staff informed me there were two fires.
I also took keen interest in the pictographs and have the book “Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes”.
I am trying to get information on the two large forest fires that did occur in the 1980’s in this area.
Doug, the Missinaibi River to Moosonee route is where we did our first canoe trips back in the early 80’s! Wilson’s guide book mentions the 1987 fire just above Whitefish Falls. The Falls area is certainly a scenic spot to spend some time – as you did when you checked out how the bush has rebounded from the fire activity.
I recently downloaded a digital copy of Malcolm Squire’s Dynamic Forest: Man Versus Nature In The Boreal Forest and it has been a thought-provoking read that has challenged an assumption or two of mine about the forest industry!
Good luck with your research on those Missinaibi area fires – and I hope you get back for another visit to those rock painting sites!
I am a Canadian university professor in the humanities and am currently writing an article on two persons who undertook a canoeing trip along the Missinaibi River and its tributaries before World War I. I would like to reproduce the JPG of Whitefish Falls, located at the beginning of your post of 2017-07-11 about Day 7 of your “Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River,” in my scholarly article which will appear in a non-profit academic journal. I would like to get in touch with the person who took the photograph in order to obtain permission to reproduce the image. I would be most grateful if you could help me out!
Kathryn, feel free to use my image. My brother and I just count ourselves lucky to be able to paddle the Canadian Shield and take in views like that rainy morning one at Whitefish Falls.
If you could send me a link to your article when you finish, I’d be interested in reading it! Just the other day I was reading Robert Bell’s account of his trip up the Missinaibi from James Bay in 1875!
Thank you so much–and yes, I’ll send you a link to the article when it appears (probably not until 2023 or beyond). The Missinaibi River has a very exciting multi-layered history!
Many thanks for granting me permission to reproduce the image of the pictographs at Fairy Point: I am interested in the persons who tackled the Missinaibi River just before the outbreak of the First World War I because they were pioneering North American scholars of art history, and I am writing a book on the subject. I greatly appreciate your cooperation and envy your many travels to fascinating out-of-the-way places!