The Ojibwe Rock Paintings of Killarney’s Collins Inlet

Related Post:  Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

N.B. The post above is one of two on our mini canoe trip around Philip Edward Island. In it I devoted some space to the pictographs of the Collins Inlet site.  What you’ll see below is just the section on the pictographs, expanded and updated.  If you are interested in the logistics of the canoe trip, check out the post above – and Part One.

philip-edward-island-overview

On the last day of the four we spent paddling around Killarney’s Philip Edward Island we paddled the western section of Collins Inlet from Mill Lake back to the Chikanishing parking lot. This “inside passage” from Beaverstone Bay all the way across the north side of Philip Edward Island was a favourite of the voyageurs of old, as it gave them a brief respite from the potentially turbulent waters of Georgian Bay.

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site

Just beyond Ambush Narrows, said to be the site of an Ojibwe ambush of invading Iroquois warriors during the Algonquian/Iroquoian War of the mid-1600’s, we paddled up to the Collins Inlet pictograph site.

collins-inlet-stretch-of-rock-with-pictographs

On a twelve-meter (about 40′) stretch of the rock face pictured above and below are faded red ochre rock paintings left by Ojibwe shamans or vision quest-ers sometime in the last three or four hundred years. They are not easy to see and, in fact, we did not see all of them on our visit. The reason – we only learned about their existence afterward. We would have looked a bit harder had we known!

looking west the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

looking west  at the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

Indian Rock Paintings of the Great LakesTo understand the site and its images, I turned to two sources.  The first was Selwyn Dewdney and the 1962 first edition of his  Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (Click on the title to access the text.) Dewdney visited the area in 1959.  The book has a sketch of the site and a brief description of the some of the pictographs.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454The other source was  Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders,  a study of a dozen Ontario Anishinaabe rock image sites by Thor Conway.  It was published in the fall of 2016 – i.e. after our trip.  Conway worked at the site on at least a couple of occasions in the 1980’s (1983 and 1989). I’ll use Conway’s organizational approach to examine the site more closely. He discusses the site in terms of four “panels” with each panel being a distinct collection of one or more rock paintings. Panel I is the furthest to the east and Panel IV is about twelve meters to the west.

As for Dewdney, of the more than 260 sites he would eventually visit,  the Collins Inlet site was #39.  He was there early in the summer in 1959, having been at Mazinaw Lake (#37, #38) in the days  just before. He would go from Collins Inlet up to Temagami to see the Diamond Lake site (#40) afterwards.

Here is Dewdney’s description of the site. He approached it from the west so the first panel he describes – one solitary image – is Panel IV in Conway’s analysis.

The Collins Bay site is in the conventional red again, on the rock-lined inner passage that the voyageurs used when Georgian Bay got too rough for comfort. Here is an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site. Here again is our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird, and tally marks, I should judge, rather than the alternative canoe.

He includes the following sketch in his book (See pp. 92-93 for the sketch and text.)

dewdney-collins-inlet-drawing

And that is it for his treatment of the site.  Missing from his sketch is what Conway identified as Panel I; also missing is any discussion of the other images in the vertical collection of Panel II.

On our visit to the site, the image below captures all of what we were able to see. We saw Panel II with its four levels of pictographs, one on top of the other.  About three feet to the left of this vertical panel is what Conway labels as Panel III, a lone thunderbird image, barely discernible.

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Panel I is not in the image, but to the right and down closer to the waterline.  Conway’s sketch of the image is accompanied by a quote from Joe Wabegijig of Manitoulin Island,  who first saw the pictographs in 1901 when he was twelve.   We learn of the Panel I image  that “…there was a head with horns also marked in red.”  Conway notes that it is possibly a  large head or mask but does concede that it may be something else entirely.

the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

Panel II: the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

Panel II:

This is the largest of the site’s panels.  Dewdney comments only on the bottom image.  I count twelve lines in his sketch.  As he mentions, an alternative explanation is of a canoe with riders, indicated by the vertical lines.  I’d go with the canoe.  A calcite vein interrupts the canoe but you can see the continuation on the bottom right of the image above with four more riders indicated.

This canoe image is a common one in the Canadian Shield pictograph country and is often interpreted as a war canoe with a number of warriors and as a symbol of strength and power. This could be why it appears so close to Ambush Narrows, given its association with a bloody Anishinaabe encounter with Iroquois raiders from the south.  Conway labels it as a canoe in his discussion of the panel.

Above the canoe is an image which most will assume is that of the Christian cross.  If it is indeed a cross then the question arises – is it really the Christian cross?  Some have argued that it is an ancient symbol used by the Midewiwin, the exclusive society of Ojibwe “medicine men” to indicate the fourth degree of attainment.  Others argue that the Medewiwin itself was a post-contact nativist response to the incoming Europeans and that it repurposed the cross, an obvious power symbol to the Europeans, and gave it a Ojibwe-related meaning.   See here for further discussion of this contentious issue!

Of the Christian interpretation Thor Conway concludes –

This is unlikely. When you look for identical images at other Ojibwa rock art sites, you will find almost every example is painted above or below an animal image. This remains an intriguing and, as yet unexplained clue.

In looking at it I thought that it looked like a stylized and simple representation of a bird, an eagle (a totem symbol)  perhaps or even Animikii, the Thunderbird. As opposed to a simple “plus sign”,  the image bulges in the vertical middle and the top of the vertical line seems to have a beak point to the right.  Dewdney unfortunately does not comment on this image or the ones above it in this panel.

Update: here is a version of the image I played around with in Adobe Lightroom, hoping to simulate the DStretch effect.  I altered the saturation and emphasized the ochre hue.  The result?  The beak looking to the right that I thought I was seeing is not there!

collins-inlet-cross-or-bird

Above the Animikii or cross image is what appears to be the rather rectangular and headless body of an animal.  At the rear is an upright tail . Conway identifies it as a dog.  I thought it could be a crude representation of Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx.  To the left of the raised tail of the animal is a remnant of what could be a canoe image.

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake picto at Diamond Lake

The zig zag lines at the very top of this small panel – well, again, who can say.  In Dewdney’s sketch they appear as indistinct smudges.  Of the jumble of lines Conway makes the following – a possible “shorebird track” and a canoe with paddler image. Bird footprints also  appear at the Diamond Lake site. They may be statements of clan affiliation. What also appears at the Temagami-area site is  the horned snake image. Perhaps the zig zag lines depicts a more horizontal version of  the two-horned snake (Mishiginebig  in Ojibwe) often depicted along with Mishipeshu.  Its head and horns would be at the right side – i.e. the part of the rock painting that Dewdney did capture. It is the horned snake image at Diamond Lake in Temagami that I thought of as I tried to make sense of the zig zag lines here.

N.B.  The analysis I provided above is likely off the mark! (Editor: Likely! Try 100%. While Animikii, Mishipeshu, and Mishiginebig are indeed figures from Ojibwe myth and were common subjects to be painted,  the human mind has a knack for finding , even  imposing,  meaning and connection even on events and markings that have nothing to do with what the viewer wills them to be!

Panel III:

To the left of the vertical panel is a lone painting seen in the image below described by Dewdney as “our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird“.  Looking at Dewdney’s sketch of the image, he was not able to capture much of it the day he was there.  Perhaps the angle of the sun?   Animikii’s body is  a triangle shape; the beak on top faces to  the right.

Collins Inlet - lone Thunderbird pictograph

Collins Inlet – lone Thunderbird pictograph

Panel IV:

dewdney-quetico-lake-picto-site-animal-headA pictograph we did not see at all was the one Dewdney described as ” an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site“.  I looked through his sketches and found this one from the mentioned Quetico Lake site; it was of the head and antlers of a woodland caribou.

Woodland caribou in Killarney?  Conway includes interviews with a number of Ojibwe elders who have stories going back to the mid-1800’s when the caribou was in fact a part of the ecosystem of the area. A reader of this post was kind enough to send me a photo of the Panel IV caribou head.

Collins Inlet - Panel IV - caribou head

Collins Inlet – Panel IV – caribou head

He also sent a version of the image that had been processed using a pictograph enhancing application called DStretch.  Seeing what it does makes me realize that I need to get a copy of the app too!  What is really necessary are DStretch-ed versions of all the panels!

The antlers are not as dramatic as those on the Quetico Lake caribou head but other aspects of the representation correspond. Conway’s book also includes photos of the rice paper drawings he made on site of the caribou head – and of an almost vertical ocher slash located above the caribou head.  The bottom of this slash may appear in the image below.

collins-inlet-panel-iv-caribou-image-dstretch-applied

And that is it for the Collins Inlet Pictograph Site.  Here is an overview shot I took of the rock face with the various markings indicated.  Missing from it are Panel I (somewhere to the bottom right) and Panel IV. ( It  is just to the left on the image I framed.)   Already knowing that they are there will hopefully make it that much more likely that you will see them!

grafitti-on-the-rock-face-to-the-west-of-the-pictographs

As indicated above, there is some minor evidence of graffiti a few feet to the left of (or west of) the Panel III Thunderbird image. You can see the initials J.P. in the middle. Just above them is the year number 1939 and more initials.

Update: After looking over the photos I took at the site and taking into account information gleaned and received since our visit, I can now identify the four panels that Conway uses to discuss the site.  I’ve left in some of the tree growth in the rock face on either end to help as initial markers as you hone in on the various panels.

collins-inlet-pictograph-site

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site – enlarge with a click or two

These pictographs face south and are quite exposed. Given all the human activity in the Inlet since they were painted here with the mixture of ground hematite and fish oil some three to four hundred years ago or so, it is nice to see that their presence has been respected by almost all non-Anishinaabe passerby going all the way back to Samuel de Champlain in 1615 (though his trip down the Inlet may have pre-dated their painting).

Conway does record a brief statement by  one elder from Manitoulin Island about a supposed attempt by Jesuit priests living in the Wikwemikong community – when is not stated –  to erase one of the images –

And the priest kind of doubted that this thing could be washed off. They [the priests] tried to scrub it, and done everything else try to get it off. Never took anything off of it. It’s still there. (155)

In the end we just appreciate the fact that we can sit in our canoe in the same spot that an Ojibwe shaman sat or stood in as he dipped his fingers in the powdered hematite/fish oil mixture and reached out to the rock face intent on drawing specific images taken from his culture’s mythological image bank.

point-grondine

In his 1959 season Dewdney continued the search to the east of the Collins Inlet site.  He writes –

Farther east, I had no success in finding “an astonishing serpent” referred to in Harmon’s Journal, presumed to be in the vicinity of Grondines Point. In ’59 I flew over the area, a complex labyrinth of small islands and shoals, all seeming to shelve gently into the water.

It may be that Dewdney was looking in the wrong place.  Daniel Harmon’s journal entries for May 26 to May 29, 1800 indicate that he was on the north shore of Lake Huron on May 26 near the Serpent River mouth.

harmon-may-26-1800-journal

Scratched into the lichen on a rock face near the mouth of the Serpent River was that “astonishing serpent” that Dewdney was looking for. See here for a brief article by Thor Conway in the March/April 1985 newsletter (Arch Notes )of  the Ontario Archaeological Society.

There is, however, another reference to a pictograph site in the Point Grondine area that Dewdney may have had in mind.  In 1850 J.J. Bigsby, an English physician and geologist, published a two-volume account of his travels in Canada in the 1820’s titled  Shoe And Canoe. Of his route up Lake Huron he  noted the following –

j-j-bigsbys-shoe-and-canoe-vol-ii-p-102

Source of quote here

A pictograph site in the immediate vicinity of Point Grondine  has yet to be found.  If  22 kilometers qualifies as “not far hence” then perhaps Bigsby was relaying an account he had heard about the Collins Inlet site. It is clear from the text that their route did not in fact take them through the inlet; he mentions the Fox Islands as their next landmark.

from-chikanishing-to-killarney

As for us, we were headed west!  As we paddled down the Inlet away from the pictographs our thoughts turned to something more mundane – fish and chips at the “World Famous” stand/restaurant in Killarney!   Now we were motivated to finish off our canoe trip and drive into town, a few kilometers from the Chikanishing Road parking lot.

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Related Posts:

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

The Pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake

dewdney-sketch-from-stone-age-painting-1965

Missinaibi Lake and nearby Little Missinaibi Lake are two of the more significant pictograph locations In northern Ontario. Both contain sites visited by generations of Anishinaabe shamans who created images (pictographs) painted with a mix of hematite powder and fish oil that they applied with their fingers on the vertical rock face, usually while seated or standing in their birchbark canoes. These images were an expression of their culture and its values; they offer an entry point to the traditional belief system of one of North America’s most widespread pre-European indigenous cultures.

Running rapids, inhaling the energy of the waterfalls we portage around, observing moose and bear and the eagles watching over us, stopping to embrace  majestic white pines, oohing over crimson sunset skies, listening to the sound of a loon breaking the evening stillness –  a canoe trip on the lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield has much to offer.  Often the most memorable highlight of all is the time spent gazing into the heart of Anishinaabe culture that we find painted on the rock face as we paddle by.

N.B. The drawing above is by Selwyn Dewdney and comes from his Stone Age Paintings, a brief study of Manitoba’s pictograph sites he did for the Parks Branch of the province’s Department of Mines and Resources. It was published in 1965.

Click on the View Larger Map prompt in the top left hand corner for a full-screen view.

In the summer of 2017 my brother and I plan to spend a day or two on Little Missinaibi Lake on our way to Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake.   We will be entering the top of the lake (i.e. the south end)  at Lookout Bay, having paddled down the Little Missinaibi River from our put-in point at Healey Bay on Lake Windermere.

trip-overview

120 km. from Windermere Lake (Healey Bay) to the Missanabie train stop via the Little Missinaibi River, Missinaibi Lake, Crooked Lake, and Dog lake

Until we generate some gps co-ordinates and snap some photos to share,  I thought I would bring together what  information I’ve found on the pictograph sites of Little Missinaibi Lake  from various print and internet sources.  If the lake is at all on your radar as part of a potential canoe trip, this post  will give you a good idea of where to look and what you will see.

If you’ve already been and  have any images or information you’d like to

  • share by inclusion in this post or
  • provide the url link to your own web page

contact me via the comments section below or at true_north@mac.com  Images would be especially welcome!

missinaibi-1-cover

The 1:50000 topo map  (based on 1976 aerial photos!) ) put out by the Federal Government’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources  includes the Little Missinaibi Lake area . It is the  042 B 04 Bolkow map.  (Click on the link to access a downloadable copy from the government website.)

If you’ve got the Google Earth app installed, its satellite view would give you a much more recent look at the area.  ChrisMar’s waterproof 1:50000 Missinaibi 1 map is also a good investment as it covers both lakes and provides all the usual canoe-trip-specific information.

Sources Of Information About The Pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake:

Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes

The oldest written source I’ve found on the Little Missinaibi Lake pictograph sites is in Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes. (Click on title to access the book.)  The work represents the first systematic recording and analysis of the Anishinaabe rock paintings in the Canadian Shield area.  In the first edition, published in 1962, Dewdney very briefly covers the three Little Missinaibi Lake sites he  visited at the end of the 1959 season.   The sites are #74, #75, and #76 in the list of pictograph sites in the appendices.

Here is p. 90 of the text –

dewdney-p-90-of-indian-rock-paintings-of-the-great-lakes

In the early 80’s I paddled the Lake Missinaibi to Mattice stretch three times with my brother and other canoe trippers. On one of those summer trips we went all the way down to Moosonee; on another we flagged a train at the Moose River crossing.  While we vaguely knew about the Fairy Point pictographs, the weather (usually the wind!)  and our own ignorance about their significance meant that we spent little time at the point.  Our manual-focus Nikon SLRs (if we brought them along at all) were not usually out during the day and few pix were taken. Just being in the bush and the thrills and spills of the rapids were the biggest draws to guys in their late twenties!

wilsonIn 1994 Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi: Journey To The Northern Sky was published. It provided paddlers with essential information on rapids and portages that would ensure a safer journey down the entire length of the Missinaibi, still one of North America’s great remaining wilderness rivers.

Included in the book was a section on alternative routes to Lake Missinaibi, the river’s headwaters. As well as entry points at Michipicoten, Missanabie, and Barclay Bay, he detailed a route that begins at Boklow Lake near the Shumka siding,  a VIA stop on the CPR-owned rail line from Sudbury to White River. (See here for the timetable and  stops. ) This route takes you into Little Missinaibi Lake and the pictographs.

Wilson provides much more detail about the pictograph locations than Dewdney’s one-paragraph treatment.  Also, Wilson notes four – and not three – sites on the lake. On his Little Missinaibi Lake map he locates various selected features from north to south.  The four pictograph sites correspond to the letters A, C, E, and F.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454The most recent print source of information on the pictographs can be found in Thor Conway’s Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders.  Published in the fall of  2016, it is a major revision of a first edition from the 1990’s titled Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Parks: Sacred Landscape of the Ojibwa and Algonkians. Included in the coverage of twelve Ontario pictograph sites is a chapter on Lake Missinaibi’s Fairy Point and one on the Little Missinaibi Lake sites.

As the sub-title suggests, Conway highlights the stories and explanations provided by Ojibwa and Algonquin elders familiar with the pictographs and with the traditional worldview and myths of their people. It makes for an engaging entry into their beliefs and values and provides the necessary cultural context for the rock images.

Conway begins the chapter on Little Lake Missinaibi with a retelling of an encounter he had with a group of American fishermen on the lake.  Conway and his wife were doing archeological work at a site on the lake.  The fishermen were staying nearby in one of the two fly-in outposts located on islands at the north end of the lake near the outflow (see the map below for the locations).  They were clearly surprised to see anyone else on the lake; Conway was just as surprised by how little they knew about where they were!  He could be talking about me in my youth!  He writes –

These fishermen did not have maps or any background information about the area. What a loss it would be to visit the historic Missinaibi countryside so ill-informed. We talked about our rock research, the provincial park, and the nearby Chapleau Crown Game Preserve.

little-lake-missinaibi-picto-sites

The Little Missinaibi Lake Pictograph Sites:

Dewdney on his visit checked out the three sites he had been told about. Wilson, thirty years later, notes the existence of four sites.  Another thirty years later and there are reports of further smudges and images. This post will focus on the four sites highlighted in Wilson’s canoe tripper’s guide.

We’ll start at the north end of the lake not far from the Air Dale island outpost. A trip report from 2000 posted at the Canadian Canoe Routes web site by Scott Warner describes the scene this way –

We pass the fly-in camp and begin to hug the right shore to look for the Pothole pictographs. You couldn’t miss them if you tried. The canoe easily fits into the pothole and we get lots of pictures…. Crossing the lake here we proceed to the next pictograph site which we find without a problem.

The Pothole pictograph site Warner is referring to is Pictograph Site #1 and #2 is the one they crossed the lake to visit.

Pictograph Site #1 (Site “A” on Wilson’s annotated map of the lake): Also referred to as the Pothole by Wilson and Conway.  Wilson describes the site like this –

The most impressive rock site as all paintings are contained within a polished “pothole” depression, clearly depicted in the photograph.  (Wilson, p.51)

The photograph he refers to is on p. 52; it shows a small semi-circular cove with steep vertical rock wall. The photographer has scampered to the top of the rock to get nice shot looking down on the canoe with stern paddler sitting along the south side of the “pothole”.

With respect to the name of the site, Conway quotes an earlier visitor, the canoe historian Edwin Adney, who visited the lake in 1930  in the company of Cree and Ojibwa guides.

It was on the vertical rock sides of a natural perfectly semi-circular recess which the Indians proceeded to name in Ojibway and Cree, Rock Kettle and Little Kettle – Akikwabik (Ojib.) and Eshikwabish (Cree).  (quoted in Conway 231)

Dewdney’s brief treatment of the lake’s three pictograph sites included sketches of various images.  While he does not identify which of his three sites they are from – or if they are a composite made up of examples from all three sites – an examination of the images in Conway’s book leads me to conclude all of Dewdney’s image sketches  come from The Pothole.

dewdney-sketch-of-little-lake-missinaibi-pictographs

Dewdney, from p. 90 of Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes

little-lake-miss-pictos-2

a lower section of the Pothole pictograph site at Little Missinaibi Lake – see here for image source at Hawk Air Fly-In Vacations web page on their Little Missinaibi Lake  outpost.

Conway discusses this site extensively in his chapter on Little Missinaibi Lake. In fact, it is the only site that is dealt with.

He draws on his conversations with various Anishinaabe elders across northern Ontario over the past forty years, as well as the time he and his wife Julie spent there doing archeological work in the mid-1970’s.  He provides a list of some 72 different pictographs although elsewhere  he does mention 64 as the number. The difference in numbers may be because of the remains of  images painted underneath later ones which he also notes.

Three figures receive special attention in Conway’s coverage of Site #1:

  • the hunchback figure holding a stick, said to be connected with the Ojibwe mythical figure Bokwawigan
  • the so-called Dancer and what is either an unrelated slash of ochre or one impressive penis!
  • The Great Turtle, Mikinak, who is associated with the “Shaking Tent” ritual.  The image on the bottom right of Dewdney’s page of sketches does indeed look like a turtle. It leads Conway to suggest an interpretation of the Pothole itself as a sort of Shaking Tent, given Mikinak’s customary presence as a messenger and go-between connecting the manidoos and the shaman who has come for guidance or answers.
Mikinak (Turtle) and Shaking Tent

Mikinak (Turtle) and Shaking Tent – a painting by the great Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau

Picto Site #2 (Site “C” on Wilson’s map of the lake) is a bit less than two kilometers south of the lake’s major site.  It gets this write-up from Wilson –

The second pictograph site, unusual and interesting as the paintings have been accomplished while standing on the rocks instead of the customary canoe perch. There is also a prominent “conjuring rock” or pillar that often signifies particular deities. One morph drawing is similar to the “sun-face” found at Fairy Point.  (Wilson, 51)

Wilson provides a sketch of the overall rock face and of eight individual pictographs, including  a canoe with three paddlers, a moose, three or four thunderbird images, and the”sun face” referred to above.

little-lake-miss-pictos

Conway does not get into any of the pictographs at this site. From a chat with someone who recently visited this site, I learned that the photo above captures only some of the images that can be seen.

Picto Site #3 (Site “E” on Wilson’s annotated map of the lake)

The site is located on the south-west end of the island indicated in the overview map above. Wilson deals with it in a few words –

…typical west exposure and barren rock face. (Wilson, 51)

picto-site-3-close-up

He also provides a sketch of the rock face and of individual images.  There are three of them – a human figure with outstretched arms, a moose, and four oblique lines. The lines are often described as tally marks. A more recent visitor’s description included two moose figures and the lines but did not make mention of the human figure.  We’ll  see for ourselves when we pass by in July.

Picto Site #4 (Site “F” on Wilson’s annotated map of the lake).

Grave Bay is a 1.6 kilometer long and narrow bay at the south end of Little Missinaibi Lake. This coming summer it will be the first pictograph site we see as we paddle the first five kilometers of the lake from the mouth of the Little Missinaibi River. Wilson has this to say of the site:

The fourth pictograph site, barely visible under layers of lichen, is located at the entrance to Grave Bay. (Wilson, 51)

grave-bay-entrance-picto-site-4

And that’s it for Wilson’s  treatment of Site “F”!   There are no accompanying sketches to add to the words above.

A fellow paddler spent an hour last summer looking for this site on both sides of the small point on the west side. He came up empty.  Given Wilson’s cursory treatment of the site it is not clear what there is under those “layers of lichen”. If you’ve found something at this location and can clear up the mystery, let me know!

And that – for now – is what I have on the pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake.  In the coming months if more information comes my way I’ll update or add to this post. And sometime in July as my brother and I enter the lake from Lookout Bay we will make sure to set aside a couple of days to savour being in a space – much like Cliff Lake or Mazinaw Lake – that drew generations of shamans and vision questers to  a place held sacred  in traditional Anishinaabe culture.

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

Previous Post: Paddling Around Philip Edward Island – Part One

Day Three: From Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (26 Km.)

Day Three route - Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (Collins Inlet)

Day Three route – Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (Collins Inlet)

The first thing we did after our late get-up (7:45!) was climb back up to the top of Big Rock for some morning shots of Georgian Bay to the north and west and of Big Rock Bay immediately below us.  It was a beginning of a sunny day with next to no wind and the paddling would prove to be easy.

the-hawks-and-the-foxes-from-big-rock-top

Georgian Bay's Fox Archipelago

Georgian Bay’s Fox Archipelago as seen from Big Rock Bay top

While we were up there we would see the only other paddlers of our four-day trip pass by below. They were headed west towards the Fox Archipelago.

canoe heading towards the Foxes

canoe heading towards the Foxes

looking over Big Rock Bay from the view point

looking over Big Rock Bay from the summit view-point

looking-towards-the-la-cloche-range-from-big-bay-rock-top

In the Footsteps of the Group of 7-2

Before leaving home I had gone though my copy of  In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven by Jim and Sue Waddington to see if any of the sites they identified were in the area where we would be paddling.  While I didn’t find any mention, it was still easy to imagine a Group of Seven painter sitting with paints and board up on top of Big Rock and taking in the scene. Jim Waddington would later confirm that the group never made it up to the Philip Edward Island area  with this comment –

Although Tom Thomson and the group seem to have explored much of Georgian Bay, I haven’t found anything that they did between Killarney and the French River. (Thomson sketched at the mouth of the French and paddled up it.) They usually travelled by train and then canoe so they would not have had a convenient way to Philip Edward Island. Too bad. [See here for the source.]

Georgian Bay view from Big Rock Bay viewpoint

Georgian Bay view from Big Rock Bay viewpoint

Before leaving our campsite, we did get a shot of it and the Big Rock top where we had spent some quality time.  In the pic below the campsite is on the middle right and Big Rock is on top left. Then it was time to move on.

a view of Big Rock Bay campsite and the Big Rock behind it

a view of Big Rock Bay campsite and the Big Rock behind it

cottages on the way to Hincks island

cottages on the way to Hincks island

Given the tranquil water we found ourselves paddling across open stretches that we would normally have avoided in favour of a more protected route behind the scattered rocks and islands.  We were treated to more Georgian Bay eye-candy as we paddled into one great photo-op after another.

heading down a protected channel near Hincks island on Georgian Bay

heading down a protected channel near Hincks island on Georgian Bay

one stern paddler at work

one stern paddler at work

Hincks Island stop

Hincks Island stop

We went for a ramble on Hincks Island, checking out potential tent spots and putting our Helinox chairs together so we could sit while we enjoyed a Gatorade and Clifbar break. It was 11 a.m. and we had reached the east end of Philip Edward Island.  We could have stopped at Hincks and chilled for the day – it certainly was scenic enough.  However, we would prove once again that at heart we are canoe trippers as opposed to canoe campers. We decided it was way too early to stop and figured that lunch at the top of Beaverstone Bay and then maybe a campsite near there would make more sense. So off we went, making easy progress.

The Coast Guard boat leaving Beaverstone Bay for Collins Inlet

The Coast Guard boat leaving Beaverstone Bay for Collins Inlet

By 12:30 we had paddled the eight-kilometers to the top of  Beaverstone Bay and stopped for lunch. We watched a Coast Guard boat chug by and enter Collins Inlet while we sat in the shade and sipped on our Thai noodle soups and munched on our Wasa bread with peanut butter.

Coast Guard boat passing by at the top of Beaverstone Bay

Coast Guard boat passing by at the top of Beaverstone Bay

Then it was time to find a campsite. There was one indicated across from the used-to-be lumber mill community of Collins Inlet. We figured it would make for a good spot. I was also expecting to see a marina there and meet boaters passing through the Inlet; I even suggested that we could have a second lunch at the restaurant!

The state of the village dock in the image below was the first clue that my expectations were pure fantasy!  The village of Collins Inlet died in 1917 when the lumber mill burned down; some of the pillars of the dock are amazingly still standing after 100 years of ice and thaw.

the remains of Collins Inlet village dock - 100 years later

the remains of Collins Inlet village dock – 100 years later

The Mill Lake Lodge sits directly cross from the remains of the dock. The Lodge consists of six cabins and the main building; it looks to be well-maintained and is definitely open for business.  While we did not see anyone as we paddled by, that could be because the fishermen it caters to were all out for the day.

Mill Lake Lodge across from the Mahzenazing Lodge

Mill Lake Lodge across from the Mahzenazing Lodge

Mill Lake Lodge dock and buildings

Mill Lake Lodge dock and buildings

Across from the Mill Lake Lodge is Mahzenazing Lodge and the remains of the once-thriving community of Collins Inlet.  When the mill burnt down the site was essentially abandoned until someone turned what was left into a fishing and hunting lodge.  The 49-acre property is surrounded by the Grondine Indian Reserve on three sides and is billed as boat-access-only.

Mahzenazing Lodge:Mill Lake Lodge area

Mahzenazing Lodge:Mill Lake Lodge area

As we paddled towards the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to the Mahzenazing property we noticed the billboard below, complete with a realty sign affixed to it. A bit of research after I got home turned up some info on the property – it is listed for sale at $749,000. by Narozanski North Realty Inc. From the unkept look of the site it is clear that it has not functioned as a lodge for a few years. Abandoned machinery sat there and at least a half-dozen “Private Property/No trespassing” signs told us we were not welcome but nobody seemed to be around to reinforce the message.

Boundaries of Mahzenazing Lodge Property

Boundaries of Mahzenazing Lodge Property

And that marina and restaurant – as if!  Only in my imagination!

the rock face just to the west of the entrance to Mahzenazing Lodge

the rock face just to the west of the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to Mahzenazing Lodge

Mahzenazing Lodge Sign with realty notice

looking back to the Mill Lake Lodge from the entrance to Mahzenazing

looking down to the mouth of the Mahzenazing R – the building on the right served as the bait house when the lodge was open

end of our paddle into Mahzenazing Lodge territory

end of our paddle up the Mahzenazing R.

Leaving the Mahzenazing Lodge property, we paddled back out to the Inlet. Not having seen the campsite supposedly just east of the Mill Lake Lodge, we paddled west and continued our search. We had as our guide Jeff’s Killarney Map which indicated a few spots along the Inlet and down into Mill Lake.  Our eventual conclusion after a few futile searches: what makes up a campsite may depend on whether you use a tent or a hammock and, if a tent, whether it is a one, two, or four-person one.

campsite hunting on Collins Inlet

campsite hunting on Collins Inlet – Max waiting for the word

Over the next hour we paddled down Mill Lake as far as the south end of Green Island and checked out three different marked sites and a couple of unmarked ones that at first glance looked promising. Each time we refused to believe that was the best we could do. Finally, we admitted defeat and paddled back to the site directly across from the continuation of the Inlet on the west side of Mill Lake.  We’d rate it a notch or two above “it’ll have to do”!

Collins Inlet campsites on Jeff's Killarney map

Collins Inlet campsites on Jeff’s Killarney map

A bit of work and our four-person MEC Wanderer was up for the night. There was also  room there for another tent – a two-person.   Not shown in the pic below is the flat rock on the shore that made for a nice exposed eating area. That night – with no wind and no sound of the waves – would be the quietest of the three we spent!

Collins Inlet campsite - the best of five we looked at

Collins Inlet campsite – the best of five we looked at

Mill Lake shoreline by our campsite

Mill Lake shoreline by our campsite

Day Four: From Mill Lake to The Chikanishing River Take-Out Point

The home stretch – the 16 kilometers of Collins Inlet back to the Chikanishing parking lot. This “inside passage” from Beaverstone Bay all the way across the north side of Philip Edward Island was a favourite of the voyageurs of old, as it gave them a brief respite from the potentially turbulent waters of Georgian Bay.

We were actually a day early and  in retrospect should perhaps have spent another day on the Georgian Bay side relaxing on Hincks Island.

Collins Inlet - stretch of rock with pictographs

Collins Inlet – stretch of rock with pictographs – enlarge to see arrow indicators!

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site

Just beyond Ambush Narrows, said to be the site of an Ojibwe ambush of invading Iroquois warriors during the Algonquian/Iroquoian War of the mid-1600’s, we paddled up to the Collins Inlet pictograph site. On a twelve-meter (about 40′) stretch of the rock face pictured below are faded red ochre rock paintings left by Ojibwe shamans or vision quest-ers sometime in the last three or four hundred years. They are not easy to see and, in fact, we did not see all of them on our visit. The reason – we only learned about their existence afterward. We would have looked a bit harder had we known!

looking west the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

looking west  at the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

Indian Rock Paintings of the Great LakesTo understand the site and its images, I turned to two sources.  The first was Selwyn Dewdney and the 1962 first edition of his  Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (Click on the title to access the text.) Dewdney visited the area in 1959.  The book has a sketch of the site and a brief description of the some of the pictographs.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454The other source was  Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders,  a study of a dozen Ontario Anishinaabe rock image sites by Thor Conway.  It  was published in the fall of 2016 – i.e. after our trip.  Conway worked at the site on at least a couple of occasions in the 1980’s (1983 and 1989). I’ll use Conway’s organizational approach to examine the site more closely. He discusses the site in terms of four “panels” with each panel being a distinct collection of one or more rock paintings. Panel I is the furthest to the east and Panel IV is about twelve meters to the west.

As for Dewdney, of the more than 260 sites he would eventually visit,  the Collins Inlet site was #39.  He was there early in the summer in 1959, having been at Mazinaw Lake (#37, #38) in the days  just before. He would go from Collins Inlet up to Temagami to see the Diamond Lake site (#40) afterwards.

Here is Dewdney’s description of the site. He approached it from the west so the first panel he describes – one solitary image – is Panel IV in Conway’s analysis.

The Collins Bay site is in the conventional red again, on the rock-lined inner passage that the voyageurs used when Georgian Bay got too rough for comfort. Here is an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site. Here again is our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird, and tally marks, I should judge, rather than the alternative canoe.

He includes the following sketch in his book (See pp. 92-93 for the sketch and text.)

dewdney-collins-inlet-drawing

And that is it for his treatment of the site.  Missing from his sketch is what Conway identified as Panel I; also missing is any discussion of the other images in the vertical collection of Panel II.

On our visit to the site, the image below captures all of what we were able to see. We saw Panel II with its four levels of pictographs, one on top of the other.  About three feet to the left of this vertical panel is what Conway labels as Panel III, a lone thunderbird image, barely discernible.

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Panel I is not in the image, but to the right and down closer to the waterline.  Conway’s sketch of the image is accompanied by a quote from Joe Wabegijig of Manitoulin Island,  who first saw the pictographs in 1901 when he was twelve.   We learn of the Panel I image  that “…there was a head with horns also marked in red.”  Conway notes that it is possibly a  large head or mask but does concede that it may be something else entirely.

the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

Panel II – the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

Panel II:

This is the largest of the site’s panels.  Dewdney comments only on the bottom image.  I count twelve lines in his sketch.  As he mentions, an alternative explanation is of a canoe with riders, indicated by the vertical lines.  I’d go with the canoe.  A calcite vein interrupts the canoe but you can see the continuation on the bottom right of the image below with four more riders indicated.

This canoe image is a common one in the Canadian Shield pictograph country and is often interpreted as a war canoe with a number of warriors and as a symbol of strength and power. This could be why it appears so close to Ambush Narrows, given its association with a bloody Anishinaabe encounter with Iroquois raiders from the south.  Conway labels it as a canoe in his discussion of the panel.

Above the canoe is an image which most will assume is that of the Christian cross.  If it is indeed a cross then the question arises – is it really the Christian cross?  Some have argued that it is an ancient symbol used by the Medewiwin, the exclusive society of Objibe “medicine men” to indicate the fourth degree of attainment.  Others argue that the Medewiwin itself was a post-contact nativist response to the incoming Europeans and that it repurposed the Christian cross, a obvious power symbol to the Europeans, and gave it a Ojibwe-related meaning.   See here for further discussion of this contentious issue!

Of the Christian interpretation Thor Conway concludes –

This is unlikely. When you look for identical images at other Ojibwa rock art sites, you will find almost every example is painted above or below an animal image. This remains an intriguing and, as yet unexplained clue.

In looking at it I thought that it looked like a stylized and simple representation of a bird, an eagle (a totem symbol)  perhaps or even Animikii, the Thunderbird. As opposed to a simple “plus sign”,  the image bulges in the vertical middle and the top of the vertical line seems to have a beak point to the right.  So…star – plus sign – Christian cross – bird? Who can say!  Dewdney does not comment on this image or the ones above it in this panel.

Above the Animikii or cross image is what appears to be the rather rectangular and headless body of an animal.  At the rear is an upright tail . Conway identifies it as a dog.  I thought it could be a crude representation of Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx.  To the left of the raised tail of the animal is a remnant of what could be a canoe image.

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake picto at Diamond Lake

The zig zag lines at the very top of this small panel – well, again, who can say.  In Dewdney’s sketch they appear as indistinct smudges.  Of the jumble of lines Conway makes the following – a possible “shorebird track” and a canoe with paddler image. Bird footprints also  appear at the Diamond Lake site. They may be statements of clan affiliation. What also appears at the Temagami-area site is  the horned snake image. Perhaps the zig zag lines depicts a more horizontal version of  the two-horned snake (Mishiginebig  in Ojibwe) often depicted along with Mishipeshu.  Its head and horns would be at the right side – i.e. the part of the rock painting that Dewdney did capture. It is the horned snake image at Diamond Lake in Temagami that I thought of as I tried to make sense of the zig zag lines here.

N.B.  The analysis I provided above is likely off the mark! (Editor: Likely! Try 100%. While Animikii, Mishipeshu, and Mishiginebig are indeed figures from Ojibwe myth and were common subjects to be painted,  the human mind has a knack for finding , even  imposing,  meaning and connection even on events and markings that have nothing to do with what the viewer wills them to be!

Panel III:

To the left of the vertical panel is a lone painting seen in the image below described by Dewdney as “our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird“.  Looking at Dewdney’s sketch of the image, he was not able to capture much of it the day he was there.  Perhaps the angle of the sun?   Animikii’s body is  a triangle shape; the beak on top faces to  he right.

Collins Inlet - lone Thunderbird pictograph

Collins Inlet – lone Thunderbird pictograph

Panel IV:

dewdney-quetico-lake-picto-site-animal-headA pictograph we did not see at all was the one Dewdney described as ” an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site“.  I looked through his sketches and found this one from the mentioned Quetico Lake site; it was of the head and antlers of a woodland caribou.

Woodland caribou in Killarney?  Conway includes interviews with a number of Ojibwe elders who have stories going back to the mid-1800’s when the caribou was in fact a part of the ecosystem of the area. A reader of this post was kind enough to send me a photo of the Panel IV caribou head.

Collins Inlet - Panel IV - caribou head

Collins Inlet – Panel IV – caribou head

He also sent a version of the image that had been processed using a pictograph enhancing application called DStretch.  Seeing what it does makes me realize that I need to get a copy of the app too!  What is really necessary are DStretch-ed versions of all the panels!

The antlers are not as dramatic as those on the Quetico Lake caribou head but other aspects of the representation correspond. Conway’s book also includes photos of the rice paper drawings he made on site of the caribou head – and of an almost vertical ocher slash located above the caribou head.  The bottom of this slash may appear in the image below.

collins-inlet-panel-iv-caribou-image-dstretch-applied

And that is it for the Collins Inlet Pictograph Site.  Here is an overview shot I took of the rock face with the various markings indicated.  Missing from it are Panel I (somewhere to the bottom right) and Panel IV. ( It  is just to the left on the image I framed.)   Already knowing that they are there will hopefully make it that much more likely that you will see them!

grafitti-on-the-rock-face-to-the-west-of-the-pictographs

As indicated above, there is some minor evidence of graffiti a few feet to the left of (or west of) the Panel III Thunderbird image. You can see the initials J.P. in the middle. Just above them is the year number 1939 and more initials.

Update: After looking over the photos I took at the site and taking into account information gleaned and received since our visit, I can now identify the four panels that Conway uses to discuss the site.  I’ve left in some of the tree growth in the rock face on either end to help as initial markers as you hone in on the various panels.

collins-inlet-pictograph-site

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site – enlarge with a click or two

These pictographs face south and are quite exposed. Given all the human activity in the Inlet since they were painted here with the mixture of ground hematite and fish oil some three to four hundred years ago or so, it is nice to see that their presence has been respected by almost all non-Anishinaabe passerby going all the way back to Samuel de Champlain in 1615 (unless his trip down the Inlet pre-dated their painting).

Conway does record a brief statement by  one elder from Manitoulin Island about a supposed attempt by Jesuit priests living in the Wikwemikong community – when is not stated –  to erase one of the images –

And the priest kind of doubted that this thing could be washed off. They [the priests] tried to scrub it, and done everything else try to get it off. Never took anything off of it. It’s still there. (155)

In the end we just appreciate the fact that we can sit in our canoe in the same spot that an Ojibwe shaman sat or stood in as he dipped his fingers in the powdered hematite/fish oil mixture and reached out to the rock face intent on drawing specific images taken from his culture’s mythological image bank.

In his pictograph quest that day in 1959 Dewdney continued on down the inlet and back out to Georgian Bay and Point Grondine.  He writes –

Farther east, I had no success in finding “an astonishing serpent” referred to in Harmon’s Journal, presumed to be in the vicinity of Grondines Point. In ’59 I flew over the area, a complex labyrinth of small islands and shoals, all seeming to shelve gently into the water.

It may be that Dewdney was looking in the wrong place.  Daniel Harmon’s journal entries for May 26 to May 29, 1800 indicate that he was on the north shore of Lake Huron on May 26 near the Serpent River mouth.

harmon-may-26-1800-journal

Scratched into the lichen on a rock face near the mouth of the Serpent River was that “astonishing serpent” that Dewdney was looking for. See here for a brief article by Thor Conway in the March/April 1985 newsletter (Arch Notes )of  the Ontario Archaeological Society.

There is, however, another reference to a pictograph site in the Point Grondine area that Dewdney may have had in mind.  In 1850 J.J. Bigsby, an English physician and geologist, published a two-volume account of his travels in Canada in the 1820’s titled  Shoe And Canoe. Of his route up Lake Huron he  noted the following –

j-j-bigsbys-shoe-and-canoe-vol-ii-p-102

Source of quote here

A pictograph site in the immediate vicinity of Point Grondine  has yet to be found.  If  22 kilometers qualifies as “not far hence” then perhaps Bigsby was relaying an account he had heard about the Collins Inlet site. It is clear from the text that their route did not in fact take them through the inlet; he mentions the Fox Islands as their next landmark.

As for us, we were headed west!  As we paddled down the Inlet away from the pictographs our thoughts turned to something more mundane – fish and chips at the “World Famous” stand/restaurant in Killarney!   Now we were motivated to finish off our canoe trip and drive into town, a few kilometers from the Chikanishing Road parking lot.

Blue skies and almost-ripple free water provided ideal paddling conditions. We did note a good campsite or two on our left (the P.E.I. side)  as we got closer to the mouth of the Chikanishing River.

looking east down Collins Inlet

looking east down Collins Inlet

As we approached, a party of five or six canoes were heading out in the Bay; we caught the first two as they waited for the others.  It was a Thursday; they would have more fabulous weather right through the weekend as they did their island hopping among the Foxes and the Hawks.

kayakers coming out of the mouth of the Chikanishing River

kayakers coming out of the mouth of the Chikanishing River

It was my first visit to the fish and chips place.  My brother’s memory of the place went back to the 1980’s when it was simply a stand and not the elaborate building you see below.

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Immediately across the street from the restaurant is an empty corner lot.  Just as we pulled into the parking lot the rhythmic beats of the powwow drums started.  Gathered there were members of the Wikwemikong First Nation of Manitoulin Island and their guests for  a festival.  (The Grondine Reserve north of Philip Edward Island is part of the greater Wikwemikong First Nation community.)

Speeches by Members of Parliament and elders were followed by a circle dance,  some of which I captured on video below.

Killarney Powow participants

Killarney Powwow participants

Taking in the speeches and watching the dancing provided a great ending to our fantastic four-day paddle.  The wind and waves we had spent the  days leading up to the trip worrying about proved to be fairly benign and we got to experience a beautiful little slice of our province.

Six hours after leaving Killarney we were on the shores of Lake Ontario – beautiful in itself and in its own way – but also a world away from the beauty of Killarney and the isolated north shore of Georgian Bay.

If You Want To Do this Canoe or Kayak Trip:

Trip Reports:

Kas StoneThe most useful bit of writing on Philip Edward Island and the loop around the island is Chapter 4 in Kas Stone’s Paddling and Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast.  An excellent overview map and a list of some twenty major sites to visit as well as a detailed natural and cultural history which puts everything into context makes it an essential read before you go.  I have a copy on my bookshelf. We brought a photocopy along for the ride.

Kevin Callan has a chapter on Philip Edward island loop in a couple of his books. I found it in his Top Fifty Canoe Routes of Ontario. It is also in  A Paddler’s Guide to Killarney and the French River.  It has less detailed info than the Stone chapter but does provide the usual Callan drama and humour to entertain the reader.  It’s worth checking out to see what he emphasizes in his account.

Callan cover Dazed But Not Confused

If you want a bit more history then a recent Callan book – Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer has brief chapter on P.E.I. and Collins Inlet. You can read it (pages 99-102) on-line here at the Google Books website.

Killarney Outfitters has a useful webpage that will probably answer any question you might have about the logistics of a canoe or kayak trip in the waters of northern Georgian Bay.  See here for their trip planning advice.

Maps:

jeffs killarney map

Your best single map for this trip is Jeff’s Killarney & The Georgian Bay Coast map. A waterproof plastic version of the map can be found at a MEC outlet or at the George Lake Park Shop where you also pay for your parking permit.  Or – you can download a copy and print out the bit that you need yourself.  See here for the various file download options – jpg, kmz (Google Earth),  Garmin GPS, and iPhone and Android options.

chrismar-pei-map

Another good map is the ChrisMar map Philip Edward Island & Area, also waterproof. However, it does not give any campsite info or pictograph locations. It was finding this map at the downtown T.O. MEC store that set the ball in motion for this trip.

We also brought along our Garmin GPS devices. Given the maze of islands that you’re paddling through a gps device with the Topo Canada maps (version 4.0) is definitely useful.  If you don’t have a dedicated gps device, your iPhone will probably do just fine. David Crawshay’s IOS app Topo Maps Canada is free and does a terrific job.  See here for the iTunes page.  Android users have the Gaia app. It costs $20. but gets excellent reviews from most who use it.  See here for some info. There is also a IOS version of Gaia. there may be additional features that make it worth $20. more than Crawshay’s app.  If you are familiar with it, feel free to add a comment below explaining why it’s worth the money – or not!

They were not really necessary but we also printed off the bits of a couple of topo 1:50,000 Federal Government topographic maps.  You can access them at jeffstopos.com  Look for Collins Inlet– 041H14 – and Lake Panache – 041I03.

If you have Google Earth installed on your computer here is the 2.8 mb kml file of our trip.

Additional Inspiration: 

Mad About the Bay

Mad About The Bay, a book of perhaps thirty photographs by William Harris and text by Elizabeth MacCallum and John Fraser, was published in 2004.  I found it in the public library two years later and it prompted a one-week canoe trip in Massassagua Provincial Park that very summer.   Using the latest technology, Harris provided a modern take on the Group of Seven’s vision from the 1920’s and 30’s.  I wanted to capture some of the feel of Harris’ digitally-enhanced Georgian Bay images.  While I wasn’t successful, on the plus side I was now aware of the Georgian Bay coast as a fantastic paddling destination and as a great place to frame beguiling images in my viewfinder!

Our Massassagua Park visit was done in August with way too many people around.  We had to pre-book specific camp sites for each night.  We just don’t canoe trip like that!  Also, we got to paddle in a thick ugly smog that had blown all the way up from the Ohio Valley via southern Ontario.  No escape that summer!  Our week in Massassagua would prove to be perhaps our most forgettable canoe trip!  I will admit that the greater isolation of the Killarney area, the better weather we had this year, and the fact that we were there just before the summer holiday season and were able to choose our campsites each day made for a much better trip.

Mad About The Bay  shows up on the Amazon site –  see here for its current status.  If you are a Toronto Public Library card holder, the system has ten copies available.  You can reserve your copy here.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454

A copy of Conway’s Discovering Rock Art can be had from the author himself. See here for the web page. It can also be found at Amazon.  It provides essential cultural context for not just the Collins Inlet pictograph site but for a dozen in all, ranging from the Peterborough petroglyphs in eastern Ontario to the Artery Lake site on the Ontario-Manitoba border in Woodlands Caribou Provincial Park.

The Future Status of Philip Edward Island:

Currently P.E.I. and the other small island archipelagos south of Collins Inlet and Beaverstone Bay  are Crown Land and open to all.  The map below shows the southern boundary of Killarney Park and of the Point Grondine Reserve (since 1968 a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation which is located on the east side of Manitoulin Island). Free camping is not allowed on Point Grondine land; however, in August of 2015 Point Grondine Park opened with day and overnight hiking trails developed with the help of Killarney staff.  There are two designated campsites in the Killarney P. P. stretch of Collins Inlet. You can camp for free on the other side of the inlet on P.E.I.!

Wiikwemikoong Boundary Claim & Proposed Alternative Selections

source of map: Georgian Bay Association website

A Toronto Star article from September 10, 2015 provides some basic information about the planned change in land ownership: Access To Pristine Land At Stake In First Nations Deal.

A post last August in the Canadian Canoe Routes forum alerted readers to the potential change in the status of Philip Edward Island.  Depending how things unfold, it may become a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation and what that would mean to its accessibility to the paddling community is unclear.  Click on the blue link below to read some informed  and passionate responses from fellow paddlers to the land claims  issue – Important Message about Philip Edward Island & areaL

A Paddler’s List Of Wabakimi’s Top Six

The Wabakimi area – with Wabakimi Provincial Park’s 8,920 square kilometers (3,440 sq. mi) as its core – is one of Ontario’s more remote and vast paddling destinations. The network of lakes and rivers scratched by retreating glaciers some ten thousand years ago have made this section of the Canadian Shield a paddler’s paradise.

It is bounded by the Albany River to the north, Highway 599 to the west, and the Kopka River and Lake Nipigon to the south and east.

wabakimi

Click here to access a Google map and zoom in or out for more detail.

That makes the Wabakimi area larger than the state of Connecticut or twice the size of the province of Prince Edward Island. And the amazing thing is that this remote section of north-western Ontario sees very few visitors. While a number of fly-in fishing outposts see some action, it is the seven hundred or so canoe tripping parties each year who mostly have Wabakimi to themselves.

Armstrong Station - 250 km N of Thunder Bay on Highway 521

The reward for making the 250 kilometer trip up the highway from Thunder Bay to Armstrong Station is a memorable trip on any one of the many possible combinations of waterways through this slice of the  Boreal Forest, limited only by time and ambition and perhaps the willingness to splurge on a bush plane insertion or pick-up.

Wabakimi’s Top Six:

Back in early 2010 my bro Max and I hadn’t even considered Wabakimi;  actually, we had never even heard of it!  And if had, the distance from our southern Ontario homes would have made us think hard about driving that far.  Then we found  Kevin Callan’s book A Paddler’s Guide to Quetico and Beyond; it has a chapter which focusses on the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island in Whitewater Lake.  It  provided us with the initial motivation to make the 1600-kilometer drive.

Finding The Wabakimi Project‘s website led us to Phil Cotton and Barry Simon and their as-yet-unpublished material for Volume One of the five map sets which this Wabakimi advocacy group has published over the past five years.  INow we had what we needed to know about our chosen canoe route.  Ken Kokanie’s downloadable map set  also helped provide more details on portages and campsites that made our first Wabakimi trip a reality.  (See this post – Discovering Wabakimi: Paddling To The Center of the Universe – for more info on logistics and maps and route planning.)

The other day while reminiscing about our four trips – about sixty paddling days in all- on some of what Wabakimi has to offer,  we mulled over a list of our  half-dozen favourites  – those places with a definite “wow” factor.  Subjective as any such list will be, we figure that our attempt to nail The Six has to contain at least a highlight or two that would make the cut no matter who was making it!

For what it’s worth, here is our  Wabakimi Top Six!

1. Cliff Lake on the Pikitigushi River system

small stretch of Cliff Lake's vertical rock face

a small stretch of Cliff Lake’s vertical rock face – that’s Max on the cliff edge!

In spite of having visited Wabakimi the two previous summers, we had not even heard of Cliff Lake and had no idea of what we would find.  It took a trip report by Chuck Ryan to clue us in to the lake as one of the great pictograph lakes of the Canadian Shield.  While the fifty feet plus in height rock faces that line some stretches of the lake are awesome in themselves, the presence of two or three hundred year old Anishinaabe rock paintings elevates the lake to an even higher level. The east facing orientation of these pictographs provides an interesting counter point to those on the west-facing Mazinaw Cliffs found on the other side of Ontario in the much more easily accessible Bon Echo Provincial Park.

Cliff Lake site #219 up closer

Cliff Lake –  Dewdney’s site #219

We will definitely get back to Cliff Lake one summer soon – and this time we’ll spend more than a day there to experience the pictographs with hopefully both a setting and rising sun!

rock face at the south end of the lake across from the first of the portages to Bad Medicine Lake

rock face at the south end of the lake across from the first of the portages to Bad Medicine Lake

For more info on Cliff Lake, see here.

2. The Kopka River – The “Seven Sisters” Section

The Kopka is one of the favourite rivers of Cliff Jacobson, the U.S. answer to Kevin Callan. References to it pop up in a couple of his books that I have read through.  Like Cliff Lake, it wasn’t a destination I was at all familiar with before I started researching.  What Max and I ended up with was a twelve-day canoe trip from Allan Water Bridge to the highway back to Armstrong Station. It  took us up the Brightsand and Kashishibog Rivers and, for the last five days, down the Kopka River from its headwaters in Redsand Lake.

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While the entire trip was memorable, the most dramatic is the section of the Kopka from the south end of Lake Kenakskaniss to the bottom of the last dramatic set of rapids.  This stretch makes up the Seven Sisters section of the river.  In the barely two-killometer distance between these two points there are seven drops in elevation, adding up to an  awe-inspiring 215 feet (65 meters).

looking up to the beginning of the first of three sets of Kopka River falls

looking up to the beginning of the first of three sets of Kopka River falls

We were so taken by this stretch of the river that we are planning another trip that will combine it with a return visit to Cliff Lake – the ultimate double-header and one we can do in ten days or less.  It would start with a plane ride from Mattice Lake to Cliff lake and then a three-day paddle down the Pikitigushi River to the Mud River VIA train stop.  A train ride to  west of Collins and we’d access the Kopka via the Aldridge Lake route.  The return visit will definitely  include more time spent just being there instead of paddling through.

Kopka River- view between first and second falls in Seven Sisters section

Kopka River- view between first and second falls in Seven Sisters section

For more info on the Kopka, see here.

3. The Albany River – The Stretch From Upper Eskakwa to Snake Falls

You can’t go wrong with water falls and sets of powerful rapids on any Top Six list; they demand respect and elicit awe from those paddling by. While we missed the challenging rapids just up river from where the Misehkow empties into the Albany, we did get to experience four sets of Albany waterfalls over a two-day period as we paddled down towards Petawanga Lake.

falls-on-the-albany

Well-trodden portage trails around all of them made for easy carries; we would dump our gear at the end of the trail and then walk back up river with our camera gear, hoping to capture a little of the magic. Upper Eskakwa, Eskakwa, Snake and Miminiska too – what a buzz to stand there and take it all in!

looking-down-river-at-the-top-of-eskakwa-falls1

The Albany River (892 kilometers from its headwaters in Cat Lake  to James Bay) shares  “longest river in Ontario” status with the Severn River. And while it is no longer the river it once was, having been neutered by a number of water diversion schemes, it is still an impressive river. We were glad our canoe trip included at least a few days on this historic waterway of the fur trade era.

For More Info on The Albany:  See here.

4. The Misehkow River

We won’t soon forget the Misehkow, a short and little-travelled river system which flows about one hundred kilometers from its headwaters east and north into the Albany.  The only signs of human activity along the length of the river are an abandoned outpost on Rockcliff Lake where we landed and a mining camp just below the river’s one major waterfalls, Iron Falls. What we did see during the three days we spent on the river was a half dozen moose – more moose than on any stretch of river before.

morning mist on the Misehkow

morning mist on the Misehkow at Day 3’s “Mooseview” Camp

cow moose and calf on the Misehkow

cow moose and calf on the Misehkow

my idea of a meditation center - Day 4 camp on the Misehkow by the rapids

at OM on the Misehkow – Day 4 campsite and  meditation center!

For more info on the Misehkow, see here.

5. The Palisade River

The Palisade is another short Wabakimi river which empties into Kenoji Lake after winding its way south and east from its headwaters near Burntrock Lake.  It has some beautiful narrower stretches that really add a certain intimacy  to paddling through Canadian Shield country.  We did the scenic stretch from Kenoji up to the turn-off for Scrag Lake. We had actually planned to go all the way up to Burntrock Lake; unfortunately, it was the summer of 2011 and NW Ontario was ablaze with a record-setting number of massive fires.  Thunder Bay 50 had its start right near Burntrock Lake so our route plan changed.

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smoke on the Palisade – the Thunder Bay 50 fire makes its presence known

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6. The Ogoki Lodge and The Beckwith Cabins on Best Island in Whitewater Lake

From Wabakimi Lake the Ogoki River takes you down to Whitewater Lake, passing through Kenoji on the way.   Located around the lake are a number of lodges and outposts that make it seem quite busy – and yet on our two trips through the lake we saw no one…no fishermen and no paddlers.

whitewater-lake

When we paddled by the Ogoki Lodge we stepped on shore to take a look and were surprised to find an abandoned set of buildings, the most impressive being the main lodge pictured below but also including four cabins and a two-storey motel-like addition.  It was an incredible amount of real estate to be sitting there idle and we wondered what the story was.

main Ogoki Lodge building

Ogoki Lodge – built in the 1970’s and now all but abandoned

One story we later heard was that the tipi-inspired building at Ogoki Lodge was designed by an eccentric American hermit by the name of Wendell Beckwith who had lived on nearby Best Island until his death in 1980.  Since it was just a short paddle to Best Island we went to check out what he called “the center of the universe”,  feeling a little like pilgrims as we walked around the site and peeked into the three cabins that he had constructed.

one of the beckwith cabins

one of the three Beckwith cabins on Best Island

As impressed as we were with  Beckwith’s work, we left with a more depressing thought.  It was clear that if something is not done soon  time and nature will combine to bring down the Cabins. The largest of them has a massive hole in the roof which is open to the elements; the blue tarp seen in the image above was someone’s attempt about a decade ago to deal with the problem. It has been five summers since we were there and when our thoughts turn to the fate of the Beckwith Cabins we end up with a meditation on the one certainty that no one or no thing can escape.

If only the Cabins could serve as a hook of a different kind to lure visitors to Wabakimi Park. This is where the voice of reason chimes in with a harsh- “Yes, spend a million dollars to preserve and mantain the cabins so that  all of fifty or sixty paddlers or fishermen a year can see them!”


beckwith cabin interior

For more info on Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins, see here.

Also Worthy of Consideration:

7. Brennan Falls/Granite Falls on the Allan Water River

I know – more waterfalls!  The two on the Allanwater River system are especially welcome after spending a day paddling the length of Brennan Lake.

granite falls

 

8. Our favourite Wakakimi campsite – a spot on the Kopka 

Had it been a rainy day – or had the water level been higher or lower – it may well have been all different. On another day we may have kept on going in search of a camp site a bit further down river.  Instead, we stopped at two in the aft to enjoy  one of those perfect afternoons which became a perfect evening.  Looking around we agreed that we were lucky to be smack dab in the middle of one big WOW.

camp site on the Kopka River

And there you have it – our subjective take on the best of Wabakimi!  Given how much there is to explore, we’ve clearly not paddled by a spot or two that really should be on this list.

If you’ve been to Wabakimi, let us know if we hit some of your high points and what spots we missed.   You’ll be giving us ideas on where  we should get to on our next Wabakimi canoe trip!

The Peterborough Petroglyphs: Building Over An Ancient Algonquian Ritual Site

Previous Post: Peterborough’s The Canadian Canoe Museum  – Journey Into An Epic Past

N.B. The term Algonquian (also spelled Algonkian) refers to one of  North America’s largest aboriginal language families. Individual tribes or First Nations like the Innu, the Micmac, the Algonquin, the Ojibwe, and the Cree all speak a version of Algonquian.  (See here for a primer.)

A one-hour drive from Peterborough and the Canadian Canoe Museum and we were approaching the entrance to Petroglyphs Provincial Park.  It is a day-use-only  park with hiking trails but its real reason for existing is the 90′ x 120′ outcrop of gently sloping white marble (limestone) in the center of the park.

From Peterborough to Petroglyphs Provincial Park

From Peterborough to Petroglyphs Provincial Park

Peterborugh Petroglyphs with man examining In 1954 a prospector, Everett Davis, sat on this rock face as he surveyed the area east of Eels Creek and north of Upper Stony Lake. He had been here before but had never noticed anything special; this time the sun’s light hit the rock just right and the images came out of the rock – some recognizable as humans or animals and others more abstract or fantastical.  As he pushed away the leaves and moss covering some of the rock face, more and more petroglyphs were revealed.  He did not know it at the time but he was standing on one of the largest petroglyph sites in Canada.

(N.B. That is not Everett Davis in the image!  It is also not how it would have looked like to Davis, who found the site overgrown and covered in places with grass, shallow rooted plants and deadfall.  Not clear is what makes the petroglyphs pop out as they do. Have the cavities created by the original carvers been filled up with sediment over time or were the petroglyphs coloured in even before the Vastokas team used charcoal crayons to make them more visible? )

entrance to Petroglyphs Provincial Park

entrance to Petroglyphs Provincial Park from Highway 56 (Northey Bay Road)

Since 1954 – and especially since the late 1960’s –  the site has seen increasing numbers of curious visitors. Wild theories popped up to explain the nine hundred or so marks and images – many of them difficult to see – hammered out of the rock face. Who put them there? Phoenicians, Vikings, Celts – these were just some of the suggested answers.  As entertaining as they may have been, the explanations of people from far away do not stand up to any serious examination of what we know about those cultures and their iconography.

Milwaukee Journal headline from October 27, 1962

Milwaukee Journal headline from October 27, 1962

The answer lies much closer to nearby Stony Lake.  The territory lies on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield and before the arrival of the Europeans it was in the cultural transition zone between Algonquian-speaking cultures to the north who lived in small mobile hunter-gathering bands and the Iroquoian-speaking cultures with their more advanced agricultural villages to the south.

Fred Bruemmer photo of some of the Peterborough Petroglyph rock face - Milwaulkee Journal Oct. 27, 1962.

Fred Bruemmer  – Milwaukee Journal Oct. 27, 1962. Note the coloured-in look of the petroglyphs.

The answer to who hammered out the images on the relatively soft limestone rock face can be traced back to one of these two cultures, and since there is no evidence – for example, common iconography at other sites –  connecting the Iroquois with the petroglyphs,  we are left with one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples.  A number of the images on the rock have parallels with pictographs at other sites on the Canadian Shield which are known to be Algonquin or Ojibwe or Cree. Thus, placing the petroglyphs in an Algonquian context fits the evidence best and is in keeping with the principle of Occam’s Razor.

Since carbon dating a petroglyph is not possible, the discovery of other datable material at the site  helped set a rough parameter for when it was used.  Found in the crevasses of the rock were bits of pottery – the remains of small offering bowls? –  which were dated back about 1000 years, placing it in the Woodlands Period of pre-Columbian archaeology.  At the very least, this puts their creation before the arrival of the French in the 1600’s.

Petroglyphs Provincial Park

In 1976  the Ontario government of the day created a new park – Petroglyphs Provincial Park.  Since 1990 Ontario Parks has managed the site along with members of a nearby Ojibwa First Nation whose ancestors first moved into the area in the late 1700’s.  Their present community is found on Buckhorn Lake southwest of and above Burleigh Falls.

Burleigh Falls below the bridge

Burleigh Falls below the bridge – water tumbling into Stoney Lake

It is about a forty-kilometre hike and paddle from the petroglyph site to their community though they may have lived closer to the site before the lumbermen, farmers, and miners started arriving in the 1850’s.  While the Ojibwe community has no direct link to the petroglyphs, the 2015 Park Information Guide informs us that –

Today the local First Nation of Curve Lake acts as a steward of the petroglyph site  providing Ontario Parks with guidance in this culturally significant and ceremonial place.

This guidance is presumably because the current “spiritual caretakers” of the site share some cultural traits with the creators of the petroglyphs, in particular a mythological worldview that they can use to explain the meaning of the images. The ongoing mystery about the exact meaning of the petroglyphs shows how tenuous that cultural connection really is.

The covered structure over the petroglyph site

The mid-1980’s structure – 35′ high with lots of windows –  built to protect  the petroglyph site

For almost thirty years after the discovery of the site it received only the minimum of attention from authorities. At first it was completely open and one could walk over the rock face. Eventually concerns about the deterioration of the site – and a few examples of graffiti left by unthinking visitors – motivated officials to erect a series of fences, increasingly serious, to keep people away from the sloping rock face while still permitting it to be viewed. Sacred Art Of The Algonkians In the mid-1960’s Joan Vastokas (then of U of T) and Romas Vastokas of Trent U in nearby Peterborough began their study of the site with their students. Among other things, they used a charcoal-coloured crayon to enhance some of the petroglyphs so that they could be better seen. Their findings  were eventually written up in Sacred Art of the Algonkians  which was published in 1973. Forty years later it remains the definitive study of the site.  It is also a difficult book to get a hold of – sellers at  Amazon have used copies available for $175. U.S.! The Toronto Public Library system does not have a single copy and I have yet to read it.

do and don't sign at the entrance of Petroglyphs Provincial Park

do and don’t sign at the entrance of Petroglyphs Provincial Park

Peterborough Petroglyphs plaque

The Canadian Heritage Site Plaque beside the  site

Petroglyphs Park after the parking lot

Petroglyphs Park after the parking lot

Other than the various hiking trail options, there are three other activities available to visitors. It begins at the Learning Centre and its various poster displays,  continues with a brief 18-minute film overview of Ojibwa culture, and concludes with a visit to the site itself. I’ll take a look at each of them in turn.

1. The Learning Centre 

The Visitors’ Centre, also called The Learning Centre, opened to the public in 2002 and is where the visit to the site begins.  While the building has a small gift shop with various souvenirs and a movie theater with seats for perhaps 80 visitors, the main attraction is a colourful multi-panelled poster display.  We spent some time reading our way through the various snippets of text. I had expected an introduction to the petroglyphs and their meaning to be the main focus but it soon became clear that there was something else being presented here.

welcome center display

welcome center (The Learning Place) display

The wall in the photo above, nicely decorated with Norval Morrisseau-esque spirit lines emanating from the sun symbol, sums it up.  “A culture is a living thing”.  What the folks responsible for the exhibit have done is use this space to present an updated version of indigenous spirituality, an adaptation felt to be more relevant to the late 1900’s than the paleolithic original.  Pretty much absent is any reference to the animistic beliefs that ruled the lives of the actual people who created the petroglyphs.

In its place we have the principles of Deep ecology and the environmentalist ethos of Grey Owl mixed with New Age concepts. I didn’t realize it at the time but this spiritual version of environmentalism as a defining feature of being aboriginal is a widely held view.  At the Assembly of First Nations website, for example, I found this statement –

Indigenous peoples are caretakers of Mother Earth and realize and respect her gifts of water, air and fire. First Nations peoples’ have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity.                           (see here for source)

It left me wondering where a non-indigenous person fits in.  Presumably not as a “caretaker” since (s)he lacks  “a special relationship” and “profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth”.  This race-based approach has parallels with the stance taken in many of the world’s religions –  also built on the notion that this one people has a special relationship with the Great Spirit.  In the Tanak (The Jewish “Bible”), for example, this relationship is called a covenant – and the ones making it with the Great Spirit are His Chosen People.

Having established this special relationship, the next step is to claim possession of some sacred text with the very words of that God in it.  Or, if not a book then for pre-literate societies, at least some sort of special knowledge.  In the case of the Algonquian-speaking cultures, it is referred to as traditional knowledge supposedly not accessible to “outsiders”.

The Teaching Rocks

The Teaching Rocks – building a new worldview on ancient rocks

It is the place we come to reflect...

It is a place where we come to reflect…

While the original purpose of the site can be guessed at – vision quests? initiation rituals for males and/or females? initiations for shamans? the shamans’ source of medicines or guidance? –  the Learning Center repurposes the petroglyph site for interested Anishinaabe as they live their lives in 2015.  Culture is indeed a living thing and it changes to suit new realities.

overview of panels at the learning center

The environmental ethos

a statement of the  environmental ethos of contemporary Anishinaabe culture but with traditional gender-assigned roles still intact

The above poster alludes to the possibility that the Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe) once lived on the shores of the Atlantic at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.  From details of the various accounts told by members of the Medewiwin (the shamans’ exclusive medicine society),  some scholars date the migration westward towards Lake Superior somewhere around 1350. They connect it to the arrival of the Black Plague along with European fishermen on the eastern shores of North America at that time.

From careful mystery to clear message - the teaching rocks speak to us

Changing one’s worldview in response to changing times is not uncommon. It is also not uncommon to reinterpret and repurpose older cultural expressions –  like the petroglyphs – which you did not have a hand in creating and which you can make no special claim to understanding. While the sentiment expressed in the poster above is laudable and may well be true to those who now visit the site, there is no basis for the claim that this is what the rock was all about.

If our legends fall silent...

If our legends fall silent…there will be new legends and new heroes

The Turtle ...

The Turtle …

Cryptic figures on the rock face have much to teach us

Shrouded in mystery but having much to reveal.  Really?

What The Bear Teaches ...

What The Bear Teaches …

Miigwech...to Mother Earth

Miigwech…to Mother Earth (Aki)

The Learning Centre reveals surprisingly little about the meaning of the petroglyphs we are about to see. The primary focus is on Mother Earth and how we should treat it – perhaps given the difficulty of saying much about the petroglyphs, the hope is that this environmentalist focus will give visitors an acceptable alternative lens through which to see the images on the rock face.

2. The Teaching Rocks

We moved on from the poster displays to the movie theater.  My brother and I were the only two there that afternoon but the Park ranger – I did not get his name – graciously set up the film for us to watch. Entitled The Teaching Rocks, the nineteen-minute documentary-style film dates back to 1987.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources commissioned the cinematographer Lloyd Walton to direct the project; Fred Wheatley, an Ojibwe language teacher at Peterborough’s Trent U as well as an Ojibwe elder, did the narration.

Vimeo - The Teaching Rocks The following week I would google my way to a copy of my own.  The film is available for on-line viewing or for download at the Vimeo website (click here to access). The brief synopsis of the film reads like this  –

A visually arresting film, concentrates on the native art of the Ojibwa tribe. Much Ojibwa history and philosophy has been related through the rock carvings and paintings which are featured throughout this work. The voices of the Elders are heard in the film, describing the tales of creation and existence that mark the group’s iconography. A sense of mystery informs this evocative film as the realization strikes that no individual can expect to penetrate the mythos of the Ojibwa.

The film begins with a scrolling text which tells us that “the precise meaning of the petroglyphs are carefully shrouded in mystery” thus putting a positive spin on the difficulty of entering into the minds of those who put these images and markings here some time ago. Given that the documentary is meant to teach us about Ojibwe culture it makes remarkably little use of traditional Ojibwe myth and legend.

Missing is any discussion of Thunderbird and Mishipeshu, of Nanabush and the Giant Beaver…what we are offered instead are musings and platitudes on Mother Earth. Walton does combine some nicely filmed scenes of the rocks and water of the Canadian Shield, as well as shots of pictograph sites at Agawa Rock on Lake Superior and Lake Missinaibi, and I think a couple of seconds of  Mazinaw Rock.

a stretch of mazinaw Rock

a stretch of Mazinaw Rock

On top of close-up clips of the animals of the Shield country – the moose, beaver, bear, and heron – the narrator provides a commentary which emphasizes the same environmentalist ethos presented by the displays in the Learning Centre.  The narrator – he speaks as an elder – tells us that –

We were put on this earth to look after our mother , the earth … Every blade of grass has a right to grow and whenever you set your tipi up, or your shelter, don’t leave it there for long because you will kill the grass if you leave it there. That’s why the Great Spirit has given you a strong body to be able to do these things…

Given that the narrator was an Ojibwe language teacher at Trent University in Peterborough with a classroom in a large concrete block on the banks of the Otonobee River, you have to wonder just what he was seriously advocating other people to do while he showed up for class in his grass-killing mega-longhouse.

Elsewhere he says this –

It is up to us to go back to our traditional ways  and to try to warn the white man before he has poisoned the whole earth. Don’t contribute to the mess that’s being made…

Consider the usefulness of this elder’s “wisdom” for today’s young Ojibwe as they try to find a meaningful role for themselves in the world being poisoned by “the ignorant – or worse – white man”.   Romanticizing the past – advocating a return to an indigenous past that never actually existed – surely is not the answer.  And just what does “traditional ways” include?  Electricity?  Cell phones?  Snowmobiles? Boats with kickers?  Modern medicine?  Hip hop music? Smokes? One house that you live in all year ’round?

To emphasize the harmonious nature of life before the coming of the white man, Wheatley tells us of the annual month-of-May  Ojibwe “meetings with the Sioux on the south shore of Lake superior to exchange medicines“.  The word “Sioux”  is Ojibwe in origin and had the uncomplimentary meaning of  “little snake”.  Also known as the Dakotas, they were a neighbouring tribe who lived at the west end Lake Superior.  When the Ojibwe moved into this area from further east around 1650 to 1700 they battled with the Dakota for control of this land. For generations there were back and forth raids and wars between the two tribes for control; the Ojibwe won out and the Dakota moved further west.

For generations the Ojibwe were also at war with the Iroquois tribes. This is in the historical record; what Wheatley presents is a  pre-European-contact paradise which never existed.  This may suit his purpose but it gives those watching the film a false idea of the way things actually were.

(Access a pdf copy of George Copway’s 1851 book The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation here and check out chapter 5 for an account of those wars. Copway was an Ojibwe from the Trenton area to the east of the petroglyph site. He was born in 1818. See also this article – The Ojibwa-Iroquois War: The War The Five Nations Did Not Win  for a comprehensive scholarly summary.

The petroglyph site is presented as “The Teaching Rocks”, a place where select young people were taken as a step in the initiation into becoming shamans. Using the images on the rock as teaching tools,  the young person would learn some of the truths that he would need to become a medicine man in his own right.  It may be that the creators and original users of this rock face also used it in this way.  However, more likely is that we have here a modern repurposing of the rock face to fit in with the reality of a contemporary Ojibwe culture being swamped by external forces and an attempt to create a focal point for cultural revival two hundred years after the deluge began.

3. The Petroglyph Site

As we approached the petroglyph site, another sign reminds us – yet again! – that given the sacredness of the site, no photography is allowed. Given the cellphones with cameras that almost everyone has these days, this must be a tough one to enforce.  I think back at pix I’ve taken on Temple Mount in Jerusalem,  the Sistine Chapel in Rome, or more recently at the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar – the Shwedagon Pagoda – with its gold-plated dome and relics said to be of the Buddha himself.  The Myanmar site even has free internet access provided on the temple grounds for visitors!  The reason for the “no photo” rule here escapes me. More than anything else, it feels like politics.  Having let the folks on duty know my view on the matter, I did abide by it.

Notice at the entry to the fenced site

Notice at the entry to the fenced site

We walked through a gate in the fence which I assume rings the entire site and separates it from the rest of the park. The photo below sets the scene as you approach the site.  The structure covering the petroglyph site was built in 1984. The glass walls reach a height of about 40′ (12 meters) and let in a fair amount of subdued light.

approaching the petroglyph site

approaching the petroglyph site

Not far from the site archaeologists – perhaps the Vastokas team –  found gneiss rock hammers which the creators of the petroglyphs used to peck and grind out the images. Somewhere nearby there are two smaller petroglyph sites. The 1977 Master Plan for Petroglyphs Park provides this information –

One of the smaller sites is directly north of the major concentration, while the other site is 250 m to the northwest.The second small site consists of 23 distinct glyphs. In addition to these sites, there are a few glyphs scattered through the peripheral areas of the site.

The covered structure over the petroglyph site

The covered structure over the petroglyph site

Not everyone is happy about the building covering the site.  Joan Vastokas, mentioned above as one of the authors of the still-definitive study of the site, has said that the structure itself is the biggest act of vandalism which has been done to the site.

At the end of the post is a link to a paper written by Dagmara Zawadzka of Université du Québec à Montréal which gives a negative assessment of Ontario Parks solution to protect the site. I did photograph the information board – see below – in which the Park officials present the reasons for doing what they did.  My overall impression – while the building may not be perfect it is still the best solution to the realities of the soft limestone rock and the need to protect it from the impact of visitors.

Peterborough Petroglyphs Site Info Panel- Part 1

Peterborough Petroglyphs Site Info Panel – Part 1

Peterborough Petroglyphs Site Info Panel- Part 2

Peterborough Petroglyphs Site Info panel –  Part 2

Once we entered the building itself, I obviously did not take any more photos.  For study purposes, it would have been nice to have a set of images which I could examine in more detail at my leisure.  We did have the benefit of having the park official – the same young man who had set up the movie for us – as a guide.  We had him to ourselves for about forty-five minutes and he gave us a fantastic tour of the rock face, taking us from one end to the other and pointing out key petroglyphs and some of the meanings given to them and their supposed relationship to others nearby.  Only two other people – a young couple – came in while we were there and their, at most, five-minute visit left us wondering why they had bothered coming all this way.

As you enter the building, there is a rack with pamphlets available; they explain the overall significance of the site, as well as a few of the dominant images. The tone of the pamphlet is more like what I had expected at the Learning Centre.   Also on the wall was a 24″x36″ or so drawing of the rock face and its many petroglyphs. I’d imagine it is from the Vastokas book mentioned above. At the end of the tour, the park official was good enough to take it off its wall hook and bring it outside the building where I took a couple of photos of at least parts of it.

drawing of some of the petroglyph rock face

photo of drawing of some of the petroglyph rock face

While this Wikipedia entry tells you that there are 1200 petroglyphs at the site it – an unlikely high number – it does not go on to say that maybe 200 to 250 of them are still recognizable.

photo of same drawing - the far corner of the rock face

photo of same drawing – the far corner of the rock face

In the above drawings there are a few images which jump out, probably because our minds can find some sort of meaning in them. Human forms and animal forms are definitely there, as are objects like canoes. Some are fantastical and others are more abstract geometric forms.

The photo below was shot in 1970 and is one of a dozen that can be found at Jim Werner’s website. Serpents, turtles, a “rabbit-eared” human figure, the 56″ long crane, the attention-grabbing triangles…obviously while the charcoal crayon which Vastokas’ students used to colour in the petroglyphs helps us see them better, we are seeing the site in a manner not thought of by the various people who hammered their images out of the rock. One could characterize the colouring in of the cavities as an act of vandalism in itself.

Robin Lyke Peterboro Petroglyph - used with permission of the owner

Robin Lyke  – Peterboro Petroglyph  (1970) – used with permission of the owner

This is where you ask the question – what does it all mean? The first thing to recognize is that the images were not all put here at the same time. It is more accurate to picture the site as one to which the image makers – the shamans? – came over a period of generations to leave their mark for whatever purpose.

Having said that, it is important to resist the very human impulse to take two adjacent images and create some sort of “story” that explains their connection.  Chances are they actually have nothing to do with each other. So – what is the key to unlocking their meaning?

There is no Rosetta Stone; there is no “grand theory of everything” which we can apply here. However, the images are the product of a particular culture with its set of myths and stories developed over time to explain all that they needed to explain. And what culture? As already indicated – the culture of an Algonquian-speaking people like the Algonquin or Ojibwe seems like a safe bet.

An interesting feature of the site is the number of crevasses and cracks in the rock face. One in particular goes diagonally across the entire rock face. Even more significant, there is a stream that passes underneath and at least in the past one could apparently hear the echo of the moving water. The sounds were given a spiritual twist and taken as voices of the manitous who dwelt in or under the rock. A parallel Ojibwe belief would be in the maymaygweshiwuk who lived in underwater caves associated with rock faces where shamans would leave their ochre images as a part of the ritual of obtaining favour or medicine from these spirits. A number of my posts on pictograph sites on the Canadian shield have images of such rock faces.

woman with vagina hole-2

Another interesting feature – and one that some people feel uncomfortable dealing with –  are the holes at different places on the rock face. The Parks site pamphlet mentioned above discreetly omits this petroglyph from the discussion even though it may have been one of the first to be put there.  Apparently a seam of reddish iron oxide runs right through the figure and is thought to symbolize menstrual blood. The drawing can be seen directly above and an internet- sourced image on the left makes it all clear – the creator of the image has incorporated the hole as vagina. On the upper body one can make out a breast. On the day we were there a small amount of tobacco sat on top of the outstretched right arm of the female figure, presumably left by someone as a part of a petition or of thanksgiving ritual.

Mishipeshu and the snakes

Mishipeshu and the snakes – Agawa Rock

In the third drawing above, a figure below the female figure has been interpreted as a camel! Notice the humps.  “Aha the “reasoning” goes – so the Phoenicians really were here! A less fantastical and more likely explanation – one that comes from traditional Ojibwe iconography is that it is a representation of  Mishipeshu. He is the underwater lynx who is seen as a counter-force to the Thunderbird (Animikii)) who is second only to Gitchi Manitou (the spirit above all other spirits)  in power.  The famous pictograph of Mishipeshu at Agawa Rock bears similarities to the animal depicted here.

Also very common on this rock face are depictions of snakes. Unlike the Christian spin put on the snake – Satan the deceiver in the Garden of Eden – for the Algonquins and Ojibwe the snake, often depicted with two horns (Mishikinebik) is a positive force associated with the medicine and wisdom that a shaman would have come for. The Park pamphlet puts it this way – “Because snakes live and move between the spirit worlds, they are often viewed as messengers from the underworld and protectors of the springs.” Look at the first photo of the drawings – not having any photos to double check I am assuming that whoever drew the images did so accurately!  –  and you’ll see three different snake figures with the double horns indicated. There are apparently thirty or so snake images at the site, with some of them incorporating the crevasses and cracks of the rock face.

Petroglyph Park turtle image

Petroglyph Park turtle image

Another animal figure which figures prominently on the site is the turtle Mikinak. It is seen at pictograph sites across the Algonquian world and represents the messenger who brings the manitous’ communication to the shamans. At this site there are a dozen turtle images – one of them is depicted in the image to the left.  One interpretation has the dots as eggs which symbolize new life. There was even an explanation for the number of eggs – 13? – which I have forgotten. It is probably best to take many of the explanations with a touch of skepticism.

gitchi manitou? One unusual image that provokes puzzlement is the one to the left. It seems to show the lower part of a human body and then a sun symbol on a vertical line which could be the upper body.  The park pamphlet writes:  “This large central figure near the centre of the site is thought by some First Nations to be a carving of ‘Gitchi Manitou’…it may also represent a shaman who has been given powers by the creator.” Given the transcendent nature of the Great Spirit it seems highly unlikely that such an image would be made. It would be as if the Hindus were to depict Brahman, the God beyond all gods. I have yet to read of or see another example on the Canadian Shield of such a depiction. (Let me know if you can think of one.)

Looking at the photo another answer comes to mind – perhaps we are looking at two different pictographs, one on top of the other and not actually related or even done at the same time by the same person. The fact that we link the two says more about how the human mind works than it does about what the rock carvers engraved in the rock face.

shaman Another image commented on in the pamphlet is one of what may be a shaman or “medicine man”. The object in the figure’s right hand “may possibly be a turtle rattle used in ceremonial practices.  The cone shaped hat over the person’s head may indicate his/her connection to the spirit world and the power of healing.” The shaman figures I have seen further west share some common elements with this one.  Like this one they are always standing figures who hold something in an outstretched arm.  That “something” is interpreted to be an otter skin  medicine bag. This image from the Bloodvein River is typical –

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV Shaman figure

Artery Lake Pictograph Site- Face IV Shaman with Medicine Bag figure

While the Artery lake figure does not have the conical hat, he does have what could be interpreted as a spirit line coming out of his head.  Perhaps there is a parallel there? Here is a drawing from the Smithsonian Institute’s anthropological archives. It depicts a medicine man with a ritual object in his left hand which he seems to be spinning or shaking  –

Ojibwe shaman with rattle

Ojibwe shaman with rattle – Smithsonian Institute’s anthropological archives – see here for source

the crane and the Nanabush figures

the crane and the Nanabush figures

A physically large petroglyph is that of the crane or heron that you see in the image to the right. It measures some 56″ from top to bottom. According to the Park pamphlet the crane “is a common totem bird among the different Algonkian peoples. Playing a relevant role in the world of shamanism, signified as helping spirits that aid in revealing prophecies, and they are receptacles of the souls of the dead, as birds can read the future.  Members of this clan traditionally are the speakers at meetings.”  (Someone at Parks Ontario  needs to rewrite this passage!)

Mazinaw Rock's Rabbit man panel

Mazinaw Rock’s Rabbit man panel

Also in the above image you will find two images associated with Nanaboozoo or Nanabush, the rabbit-eared “trickster” of Ojibwe myth. The next day we would see a similar ochre pictograph at Mazinaw Rock – a human figure with two large “ears” protruding from his head.  In all of southern Ontario –  everything from Sudbury to the Ottawa River on down to Lake Ontario, there are really only two aboriginal rock image sites – Mazinaw Rock at Bon Echo and this petroglyph site. Interestingly, both are the biggest sites of their kind in Ontario – and maybe in Canada.  See here for our visit to Mazinaw.

The walkway takes you right around the site; every few meters there is an information board with an explanation of particular images.  Normally I would have taken photos of them and reread them after the visit.  The pamphlet deals with most of the ones I’ve covered above.  It also has a bit to say about the canoe images, the thunderbird, what looks like large arrowheads but which could be a shaman’s spirit (the pamphlet’s suggestion) or Christmas trees (a silly suggestion made in that Milwaukee Journal at the start of the post).  I haven’t seen anything like it in all the pictograph sites I have been to – or seen images from.

More time and access to photos of different parts of the site would add more substance to my analysis. So would reading the Vastokas’ book!

Lyke Peterboro Petroglyph 2-2

Robin Lyke 1970 photo-  used with permission from J. Werner – in this photo the animal below her feet looks like a long-legged moose

If you want to see more images of the petroglyphs, the best collection I have found on-line belongs to Jim Werner; the photos were actually taken by his uncle Robin L. Lyke.  His website has an excellent discussion of the site and twelve images; you can access it here.

The drive to Petroglyphs Provincial Park took us about an hour from Peterborough. We had spent the morning at the Canadian Canoe Museum so we got there about 2:30. I am glad we took the time to finally check it out.  As is often the case, we left with more questions than we had arrived with – but isn’t that why we travel and check out things we don’t know about?  We came expecting to see the physical structure over the petroglyph site; we left wondering about the ideological construction undertaken by some members of the Curve Lake Ojibwe community.

This post was my attempt to grapple with some of those questions.  I have a feeling that in the coming months I will be returning to this post – rethinking, revising, researching, and replying to comments of those who may or may not agree with my view of things.

Useful Links For More Insight:            

The 1977 Ontario Government “Master Plan” for Petroglyph Provincial Park is worth skimming through.  You can access it here. I also took pp. 32-36, the section on the history of the site,  and put it into a 1.2 Mb pdf file which you can download here.

Among the statistics in the report were the annual visits for 1974 (14,227) and 1975 (13,613).  The most recent statistics I could find were for 2010 (13,254). If the stats are all measuring exactly the same thing, it would seem that less people are visiting now than forty years ago!  If so, I wonder why?


Dagmara Zawadzka of Université du Québec à Montréal has a 2008 paper accessible online as a pdf file.
 It is entitled  The Peterborough Petroglyphs/ Kinoomaagewaabkong: Confining the Spirit of Place. Concerned with the structure built over and around the petroglyph site in the early 1980’s her stated aim is this –

Due to the site’s uniqueness and popularity, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) implemented measures to protect and conserve it, as well as to transform it into a tourist attraction. One such measure was the construction of a building directly on top of the site. In the following paper, I demonstrate that this building thwarts the understanding of the meaning inherent in this sacred Indigenous site, and that less intrusive and culturally sensitive conservation measures might be more suited for transmitting the spirit of the place.

 It is definitely worth a read before your visit even if Zawadzka only sees (or acknowledges) the physical building over the site by the MNR and not the ideological repurposing by some members of the  Curve Lake First Nation.
________________________________________________________________

leather-boat-book-cover

Robert Burcher has developed the  argument the petroglyphs should be attributed to the Celts.  His book The Leather Boat fleshes out his theory as to how people from Ireland came to carve images into the limestone in the central Ontario wilds some 2000 years ago.  Like me he is a WordPress blogger; unlike me he has a book for sale. See here for details!    Alas, no copies in the Toronto Public Library system!


Carol Diaz-Granados and James R. Duncan have edited a collection of papers in The Rock-Art of Eastern North America: Capturing Images and Insight  (2004). Chapter 16 – The Peterborough Petroglyphs: Native or Norse? – is a contribution by Joan Vastokas.  The teaser blurb begins –

This chapter discusses the ongoing debate over the Peterborough Petroglyphs and whether they were created by Native Americans or Norsemen. First, a history of the debate is covered positing the various theories. Then, forms of writing that have been compared to the Peterborough Petroglyphs are addressed and their similarities and differences explained. Throughout the chapter, I present evidence that concludes a Native Ameri-…

And they leave it at that! Given the author we can guess what the conclusion is. Most of the chapter (except for three pages)  can be read here at Google Books.


Charles Lock is currently a Professor of English at the University of Copenhagen but for twelve years (1983-1995) he taught at the University of Toronto. He  has a 15-page paper in a 1994 issue of Semiotica (special edition on Prehistoric Signs)  entitled “Petroglyphs In And Out Of Perspective”.  It is available here.  While written for an academic audience and occasionally an obtuse read (just like this post), it is worth the effort. He uses the Peterborough Petroglyphs to illustrate some of the points he makes about how and why modern scholars study “primitive” art. Here is a brief sample from the article:

Unlike prehistoric artefacts in Europe , but like mediaeval ones, the petroglyphs of North and Central America are still, or have become again, the focus of cult. The most famous petroglyph site in Ontario — near Peterborough — was discovered in 1954, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources undertook to preserve ‘this important part of our national heritage … for future generations of Canadians’ (Sweetman 1955: 108). Fences of increasing seriousness were built to protect the site from visitors — not only from wear, but from the graffiti that graffiti always invites — until it was recognized that the main damage was caused by the weather. Before their discovery the petroglyphs had been well protected by moss and undergrowth. In the late 1970s the Ministry built a large structure over the entire rock surface; the atmosphere inside is now fully controlled. In 1976 the site was designated a Provincial Park . I first visited the petroglyphs in 1984, and my thought then was that as the petroglyph would not go to the Museum, the Museum had gone to the petroglyph. Sometime between then and my next visit in 1990 a wooden sign appeared, on the path between the car-park and the site, and visitors are now informed that this is a sacred place, honored and used for ritual purposes by Native Americans; non-Natives are asked to behave with respect. Native people are now the guides and wardens of the Park, and there is talk of the Ontario government ‘handing back’ the petroglyphs to Native Americans.

The way we view these petroglyphs has changed radically. No longer a museum, ideologically neutral and spatially homogeneous, the structure belongs to others and is to be entered on sufferance. Should one remove one’s hat? One’s shoes? Voices are lowered. And one certainly gets a ‘romantic thrill’ from seeing on that great rock, at a discreet distance from any carving, the traces of a tobacco offering. Visiting in 1992, however, I noticed not only tobacco and feathers and stones, but also red, yellow, and white ribbon. These ribbons are traditional and authentic, but my aesthetic sense inwardly protested that the effect was tawdry. With petroglyphs as with icons, offerings must be placed in contiguity with the object of devotion, and thus become part of it; one cannot open a site to cultic devotion and then ask that offerings be left elsewhere, to the side. As a visitor, one knows that one’s aesthetic protest would be, if voiced, a mark of disrespect. In a museum, of course, complaints are expected.

Here we have a rare and spectacular instance of a prehistoric artefact which is now serving what we might call a ‘first-order purpose’. Obviously there has been no continuity of cult; the Ojibway Anishinabe band, who now revere the site and care for it, do not pretend that it was ever associated with their ancestors. Whether the contemporary cult is the same or similar to that practiced in prehistoric times is of course unknown; indeed, not everyone is agreed that these petroglyphs ever had sacred significance or were at any time the site of a cult. Probability certainly favors the Ojibway, and whatever the authenticity of the present cult, it must be considered ‘first-order’: there is a consensus among Native people which legitimates the cult, and the ritual has nothing to do with ‘second-order purposes’, the aesthetic and cognitive practices of non-Native viewers. Viewers, spectators, scholars, helpfully raised on the ramp that encircles the rock, prevented by railings from falling (or straying) onto the rock, we notice the little gate through which Natives may pass: the way in, not for viewers but only for participants.

 


Next Post – The Pictographs of Mazinaw Rock: Listening For Algonquian Echoes

The Mazinaw Pictographs: Listening For Algonquian Echoes

Previous Post: The Peterborough Petroglyphs – Building over An Ancient Algonquian Ritual Site

checking out Mazinaw Rock from the landing near our campsite

checking out Mazinaw Rock from the landing/boat launch area near our campsite

Massanog, Massinaw, Mazinaw  …no matter how you spell it in English, the roots of the word lie in the Algonquian language of those who came to this lake over a time span measured in millennia. Meaning something like “painted image”, the lake gets its name from the close to three hundred ochre rock paintings put there by Ojibwe or other Algonquian-speaking people three or four hundred years ago or perhaps even longer. Their canvas? Three kilometers of awe-inducing vertical pink granite cliff face with heights of up to one hundred meters.  Mazinaw Rock has the largest single collection of pictographs in the entire Canadian Shield area.

My brother and I have visited a few of these rock painting sites over the past three years, often taken in by the majestic settings in which the shamans and vision quest-ers of old chose to make their ochre marks.  Agawa Rock on Lake Superior, the Pikitigushi River’s Cliff Lake, the Bloodvein’s Artery Lake … one hushed “wow” after another as we came up to them. Now we were looking at the Mazinaw Rock about five hundred meters across the lake, ready for the biggest wow of all.

Bon Echo Campsites

Bon Echo Campsites =- a small town when everybody’s there!

We visited Mazinaw Rock in May just before Victoria Day weekend. The Lake and the Rock are a part of Bon Echo Provincial Park and as the map above illustrates, when its four hundred campsites are full – common during prime time summer – it becomes a small town!  While we were there we saw two other tents and a camper van. The emptiness definitely added to our appreciation of the lake and the Rock!

sign to our campsite on Mazinaw's west shore

sign to our campsite on Mazinaw’s west shore

I had booked our campsite online in March;  Billed as a “premium” walk-in site, it requires a two hundred meter carry from the parking lot. On the park map above you will find it at the extreme top left – site #168.

I still recall when the total cost for two nights at the site popped up on my computer screen – $99.71. I almost scrapped the idea of visiting right then and there – $100. for 2 nights at a park tent site?  Well, thankfully I got over it.  While nothing beats our usual camping on Crown land for free, in this case sitting right across from Mazinaw Rock had an added value that made the fee seem more reasonable.

Bon Echo Campsite #168

Bon Echo Campsite #168

We arrived there early Wednesday evening and left a couple of mornings later.  While the two nights were a bit cool-ish, we had clear sunny weather during the day and saw Mazinaw Rock – it faces westward – change colour from the dark grey of early morning to a lighter grey in late morning to an almost reddish glow in late afternoon. It was magical.

our Swift Dumoine across from Mazinaw Rock

our Swift Dumoine across from Mazinaw Rock

During our time there we paddled the entire length of the rock face twice – once in the morning and again in the late afternoon.  Before we left the next morning we went over a third time and redid a good stretch of it. What a great way to spend time!  None of our pix captured the feeling of sitting there in our canoe and looking up eighty meters of vertical rock face. Now that I think of it, using the camera’s video option would perhaps have been the way to show some of the sheer grandeur of Mazinaw.

dusk view of Mazinaw Rock

a dusk shot of Mazinaw Rock from our Bon Echo Campsite

We set off the next morning before breakfast for a ninety-minute paddle down the two kilometer length of Mazinaw Rock from the south tip of German Bay to the Narrows. As we had done on other pictograph site visits, we enlisted Selwyn Dewdney as our guide. He is the one who initiated the systematic recording and analysis of Canadian Shield pictographs in the late 1950’s and provided us with explanations of sometimes puzzling ochre marks and images.

Dewdney, of course, was not the first to note the existence of the pictographs.  In The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo and Beyond (see the end of the post for a link to the book), John Campbell lists references to the rock paintings that go back to 1848, when J.S. Hargen (or Harper according to another source) saw them while surveying the Mississippi River system of which Lake Mazinaw is the headwaters. Also mentioned are an A.J.B. Halfpenny article in the 1879 edition of The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal and reports from the 1880’s by both the Smithsonian Institute and Canada’s Federal Department of Indian Affairs.

In the early 1890’s the site was also visited and systematically recorded  by David Boyle, Canada’s pre-eminent archaeologist of the day and the director of the Ontario Provincial Museum (which would later become the Royal Ontario Museum).  Given that many had already noted the existence of the rock paintings,  his following comments are puzzling –

David Boyle - The Rock Paintings of Massanog

Needless to say, Boyle found what his informants (Messrs. Caldwell of Lanark and Drummond of Perth identified in the footnote indicated in the quote) had told him about. Boyle would write a brief report on his visit which represents the first attempt by an archaeologist to deal with the site and its meaning. (See the end of the post for access to the report.)

Mazinaw Lake - upper section

Mazinaw Lake - lower section

I have arranged our photos of the pictographs in the same north to south order that Dewdney used. We would soon see that while there may well be 295 pictographs at Mazinaw Rock,  many are on the verge of disappearing and most are no more than lines and what some  refer to as “tally marks”. Like 80% of the pictographs found in the Temagami area, for example, the Mazinaw ones tend to be abstract. Dewdney makes the following general comment about the site –

Handprints are entirely absent, canoes are rare, and the tendencies to geometric types of abstractions so marked that we are tempted to ask whether the paintings are not the product of a culture quite distinct from those further west.They seem older, too, in so far as a large number have been weathered to near-disappearance. (p.97)

Take a look here at my photos of the pictographs from the Bloodvein River’s Artery Lake site and you will see what Dewdney is getting at when he compares the Mazinaw’s pictograph style to the naturalistic portrayal of humans and animals more common further west.

the northernmost pictograph we found

the northernmost pictograph we found – it may be an animal or perhaps a T shape

one of the  pictos north of Face II's Mishipeshu

one of the pictographs north of Face II’s Mishupeshu – four uneven parallel lines

We were soon rewarded with one of the two most striking pictograph faces of the entire site – Dewdney labels it Face II.  He begins by commenting on a figure that others have connected to Mishupeshu, the mythic underwater lynx –

The weird central figure is surely no native animal, although the shoulder-neck area is too badly weathered for the viewer to be able to make out the original outline.The strong suggestion of cloven hoofs is unique.  Note the same animal below this one’s belly – not identifiable either, but far more typical of the other animals on the site. Even the canoe, if we so interpret the lower part of the painting, is strikingly different from others elsewhere.

Mazinaw Rock - the Mishzupeshu  face (Dewdney's Face II)

Mazinaw Rock – the Mishupeshu face (Dewdney’s Face II)

Dewdney's sketch of Mazinaw's Face II

Dewdney’s sketch of Mazinaw’s Face II

As a comparison, here is how David Boyle saw the same panel in his 1892 visit. His ordering system goes from south to north so by the time he got to this face he was up to #37.

Boyle's drawing of what Dewdney labelled  Face II

Boyle’s drawing of what Dewdney labelled Face II

Mazinaw Face II close-up

Mazinaw Face II - afternoon shot

Mazinaw Face II – afternoon shot

Just underneath and to the south of Face II is what could be interpreted in the Ojibwa worldview as a water level cave entrance for the maymaygweshi, the very creatures that the shaman would come to meet.  (See the above face overview photo for the exact location.) Next to the rock indent are the pictographs seen in the image below, more cryptic and indecipherable lines, including three sets of vertical parallel ones.

pictographs just south of Dewdney's Face II

pictographs just south of Dewdney’s Face II

We paddled on, seeing single ochre marks in a couple of places.  We also saw the first evidence of graffiti – someone’s initials scratched onto the rock face. Admittedly, given that for over a hundred years or more that the lake has hosted increasing numbers of vacationers, things could be a lot worse.  First with the Bon Echo Inn and its satellite cabins and now with Bon Echo Park and its four hundred campsites, 99.5% of  visitors have been able to look at, appreciate and just paddle on.

initials scratched onto Mazinaw Rock

initials scratched onto Mazinaw Rock

When I quickly reviewed our photos after the trip I was initially puzzled by the one below. And then I noticed the two rock screws permanently embedded in Mazinaw and I remembered that the Alpine Club of Canada (the Toronto chapter to which I used to belong), has a hut around the corner in German Bay and its members often do climbs on Mazinaw Rock. The first recorded climb was in 1956. Now I am curious about where the various routes are located and what impact they have had on the pictographs!

rock screws on mazinaw between Faces II and VII

rock screws on Mazinaw between Faces II and VII

Mazinaw Rock S of Face II

some pictographs on Mazinaw Rock south of Face II

I took a photo of the rock face below because of what seemed to us like intentional scouring of the ochre. You can see the two lighter-coloured areas. Given that it makes no sense at all, there must be a better explanation! It looks to me like the result of shoes slipping on the rock as climbers try to get traction at the start of their climb.

a scoured patch of Mazinaw rock face

a scoured patch of Mazinaw rock face

six pictographs to the north of Rabbit Man

six pictographs to the north of Rabbit Man – afternoon shot

a stretch of mazinaw Rock

a stretch of Mazinaw Rock – morning shot

Mazinaw moose pictogaph and vertical lines

Mazinaw moose pictograph and vertical lines – Y-like figures

Dewdney drawing of Muslcow moose

Dewdney drawing of Musclow moose

Mazinaw - Dewdney Face VII

Mazinaw – Dewdney Face VII

It is a human trait to find meaning everywhere – even where it usually isn’t!  We’re able to turn random events into parts of a connecting narrative. Looking at the rock face above had me thinking about another one 1500 miles away on the Musclow River in Northwestern Ontario.  Dewdney did a sketch of a moose there that bears some similarity to the one on this Mazinaw rock face.

As we headed south to the next major face, the one with “Rabbit man”, we passed this rock face which Dewdney had stopped to sketch and which he labelled Face VII. Three human-like figures and some vertical slashes above them is what the sketch and the image below show.

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face VII

Mazinaw – Dewdney’s Face VII – click on the image to enlarge it

Next up was the other – along with Face II – striking rock face. It features a figure that Dewdney labels “Rabbit-Man”.  Everything is up in the air he tries to make sense of what he is looking at. Of the pictograph on the south side of the face, he asks –

Are these a hare’s ears on this strange small figure? Or large feathers? If it is Ojibwa in origin we could make out a case for its representing Nanabozho, legendary hero and “demigod’, traditionally a hare. (99-100)

And of the left side of the face, he asks about what some have called “the picket fence” –

Are other rabbit ears emerging from the “tectiform” to the left? This strangely structured form, unique to the Mazinaw site, appears again on two other faces.

Stumped by the word “tectiform”?  I was.  The online dictionary defines it as “a design found in Paleolithic cave art and believed to represent a structure or dwelling”.  It certainly suits better than what I first saw – a chorus line of thirteen penguins!  

Mazinaw Rock's Rabbit Man Face

Mazinaw Rock’s Rabbit Man Face

possible nanabush picto and picket fence signs

possible Nanabush picto and picket fence signs

Again as a point of comparison, here are the sketches as they appear in Boyle’s report from the 1890’s –  I am again struck by how straight Boyle made everything.  He certainly seemed to be lacking the artist’s sensibility that Dewdney had in spades.  It is also be a reflection of the era each lived in – the rather starchy Victorian Era versus the freewheelin’ 1960’s.

Mazinaw Rabbit Man pictograph

the %22picket fence%22 pictograph

I am a bit confused here by Boyle’s numbering system. #26 and #34 are right next to each other and yet not numbered that way.  Also, since the the pictographs sketched below are closer to #37 – the “Mishupeshu” pictograph panel – you’d think that their number would higher than the “Nanabush” pictograph on the right.

Mazinaw Rock's Rabbit man panel

Mazinaw Rock’s Rabbit man panel – morning shot

Rabbit Man face close up

Of all the Mazinaw rock faces, this  is the only one which even gets a mention in Grace Rajnovich’s Reading Rock Art: Interpreting The Indian Rock Paintings Of The Canadian Shield.  She writes:

The Mazinaw Lake pictographs in eastern Ontario are puzzling to this author.  The repeated “honeycomb” or “picket fence” signs (Figure 143)  do not occur elsewhere in Shield rock art, so the site appears to be unique, perhaps someone’s deeply personal dream. (161)

She does go on to note that a birchbark scroll found in northwestern Ontario at Burntside Lake has similar designs.  However, her comment about the site as the possible expression of “someone’s deeply personal dream” is perplexing. She would have to be referring to this particular rock face and not the entire site.  She would know from her extensive work at other sites that Mazinaw is not one person’s work. Many “painters” came to this special place over an extended period to create the sheer quantity of pictographs which are still evident today.  Also, as personal as these ochre paintings may be, the fact remains that those who came here were members of the same culture and shared a common mythological image bank and purpose. To emphasize the “deeply personal” misses the point.

another difficult to say what mazinaw pictograph face

another difficult to say what Mazinaw pictograph face

Dewdney sketch of the above rock face Dewdney noted this about the pictographs in his above sketch and also shown in the photo just above-

At the top left of the opposite page we have an abstraction which we are also tempted to relate to the “rabbit-man” already viewed. The face illustrated below it was most frustrating to record, much of it being too faint to trace directly.  The rendering here suggests dorsal spines and a horned head, but these should be regarded with some suspicion; I may well here have succumbed to my own wishful thinking. (pp.100-101 of IRPOTGL, 1967)

closer up of the above Mazinaw panel

closer up of the above Mazinaw panel

A few meters further on we saw this pictograph which reminded us of similar ones on the Bloodvein – there we saw a couple of versions of a standing human figure holding something in his outstretched arm. We looked at this one and wondered if this too could be interpreted as a shaman holding out his otter skin medicine bag?

Anishinaabe shaman with medicine bag on Mazinaw Rock?

canoe and double-ended Y

canoe and double-ended Y

As you paddle south you will pass by dozens more pictographs, some in better shape than others. Eventually you approach the Narrows. But first, a feature that looks like a cave  comes up.  Max hopped out of the canoe to see if there were any pictographs on the inner walls of the “cave” – the answer was “No”. We didn’t know it yet but Max had just walked inside the belly of the Turtle!

approaching Turtle Cave from the north

from Inside Turtle Rock Cave

As we paddled around the corner, there was the Turtle!   In the pic below you can see the Turtle’s head stick out over the water. From another angle you can almost imagine the front legs. You can see how this spot is just asking for some meaning to be assigned to it!

Turtle Rock as seen from the north

view of Turtle Rock from the south

view of Turtle Rock from the south

Beyond the Turtle’s nose we paddled by another indecipherable rock face sketched by Dewdney.

more Mazinaw  pictos which left Dewdney puzzled

more Mazinaw pictos which left Dewdney puzzled

Of this face and its pictographs Dewdney wrote –

The more familiar forms below call for little comment, but those in the bottom margin [of p. 101] are strange indeed. The one might have been influenced by a pottery design; the other might be described as “geometricized tree branches” for lack of a better guess.

Dewdney sketch of rock panel just North of  Old Walt and the narrows

closer up of the above rock face

closer up of the above rock face

Next up was this strange collection of small rectangles – different shades of white and ochre coloured strips. Perhaps an experiment to see how long different paints and ochre formulations last?

strips of white and ochre - an experiment in progress?

strips of white and ochre – an experiment in progress?

Bon Echo Inn Plaque

For a thirty-year period from 1900 to 1930 not far from the Narrows was the Bon Echo Inn and its cabins.  It included a few members of the famed Group of Seven painters as its clientele; the owner was a Flora MacDonald Denison, a woman with progressive and somewhat unconventional views. A women’s rights campaigner as well as a spiritualist of the Madame Blavatsky sort, she was also smitten by Walt Whitman, the U.S. poet. In 1920 she had a memorial to Whitman – entitled “Old Walt” – engraved onto Mazinaw Rock just a bit north of the Narrows.

Old Walt engraving on Mazinaw Rock

Old Walt engraving on Mazinaw Rock

Old Walt closer up- afternoon shot

We were surprised to find more pictographs south of the Old Walt engraving and wondered what ochre images had been destroyed in creating the homage to Whitman.

Dewdney’s Face XXIV:

Dewdney's Face XXIV at Mazinaw Rock

Dewdney’s Face XXIV at Mazinaw Rock

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face XXIV

Mazinaw – Dewdney’s Face XXIV – afternoon shot

Dewdney sketch of mazinaw Face XXIV

Dewdney sketch of Mazinaw Face XXIV

a closer up of the above face XXIV

a closer up shot of Dewdney’s Mazinaw Face XXIV

There is one more site north of the Narrows – Face XXVIII.  It is divided into a couple of parts, the first of which Dewdney labelled XXVIIIa.

last pictograph face north of  the Narrows

Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa – pictograph face north of the Narrows

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face XXVIII

Mazinaw Rock - Dewdney's Face XXVIII and more to the south

Mazinaw Rock – Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa and yet more to the south

Maziinaw - the pictos just S of Dewdney's Face XXVIII

Mazinaw – the pictos just S of Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa

on the west side of Mazinaw at the Narrows

on the west side of Mazinaw Lake at the Narrows

a paddler passing Old Walt N of Mazinaw Narrows

a paddler passing Old Walt N of Mazinaw Narrows

Our early morning paddle done we headed back to our camp site and breakfast.  Given that we had entered the park the previous evening after closing time, we also had to go up to the gate and register our vehicle and get our two-day pass. Driving through the park we were surprised to see that there was nobody there.

Mazinaw dock to south of the narrows

Mazinaw dock to south of the narrows

In the afternoon we went back over to the east side of the lake and paddled by all the pictos again.  The light and shadows gave the rock face a different and warmer look. When we got to the dock just beyond the Narrows we parked the canoe and spent an hour walking up to the top of the cliff and enjoying the view from the various viewing platforms developed by Friends of Bon Echo Park.  A commendable project  and very nicely done!

Mazinaw Cliff Top Trail info board

Mazinaw Cliff Top Trail info board

The Friends of Bon Echo Gravel Project

The Friends of Bon Echo Gravel Project

a stretch of the Cliff Top Trail

a stretch of the Cliff Top Trail

a few flights of steps to deal with on the way to cliff top

a few flights of steps to deal with on the way to cliff top

a view of the Lagoon and lower Mazinaw Lake view from the top of Mazinaw Rock

a view of the Lagoon and lower Mazinaw Lake view from the top of Mazinaw Rock

Cliff top view of Mazinaw Lake with the Narrows below

Cliff top view of Mazinaw Lake with the Narrows below

the west side of Mazinaw Lake across from the 1 mile of cliff face

looking north up  Mazinaw Lake  from the a Cliff Top viewing spot

Lower Mazinaw Lake Pictographs:

Leaving the dock after our Cliff Top visit, we paddled south to see the three rock faces mentioned by Dewdney on the lower part of the lake.  (They make up Site #38 in his list.) While I have ordered them here in the order we would have seen them (north to south), I decided not to take any pix as we paddled down.  “I’ll just get them when we come back in a few  minutes” was how I put it.  So – we ended up seeing four different rock faces with pictographs as we paddled down  but when we came back we could only find three!  I am also not sure why none of the three sites we photographed have a face that looks like the  Face III sketch on p.102 of Dewdney’s book – unless it is the one we missed on the way back!

Lower Mazinaw Lake pictographs

Lower Mazinaw Lake pictographs

Lower Mazinaw  pictographs - two vertical lines

Lower Mazinaw pictographs – two vertical lines

Lower Mazinaw - two vertical lines closer up

Lower Mazinaw – two vertical lines closer up

Lower Mazinaw lake - southernmost pictographs

Lower Mazinaw lake – southernmost pictographs

We paddled back to our campsite and spent some time rambling around the area behind our tent.  As sunset came we got to see Mazinaw Rock glow one more time. While it had taken us a while to get there, we recognized our good fortune in being able to glide past the ochre signs still visible  just above water level. In the process of listening to the pictographs  we came away with more pieces of a puzzle that seems to get bigger instead of smaller!

shadow on rock

shadow on rock – ephemeral pictograph!

Mazinaw Rock glows in the late afternoon

chillin' at Bon Echo campsite #168 on a cool May evening

chillin’ at Bon Echo campsite #168 on a cool May evening

Useful Links:

John Campbell’s The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo And Beyond provides a great overview of the history of the area.  The first two chapters deal with the First Nations period and further chapters cover lumbering , farming settlements, mining, and tourism in the region. Click on the title above to see its Amazon page (available as a mobi file) or read the introduction and the first two chapters (pp.1-23) at Google Books by clicking here

The first edition (1962) of Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes is accessible for online reading or downloadable in various formats thanks to the Royal Ontario Museum. It  made the contribution to the Internet Archive in 2014. Just click on the book title to go to the website. Mazinaw is dealt with from pp. 96 to 101.

David Boyle’s report Rock Paintings At Lake Massanog can be found online at the Google Books site. The article begins on the bottom of p. 46 and is preceded by three pages of general comments entitled “Rock Paintings or Petrography”.  I’ve taken both articles and put them into a 1.4 mb pdf file which you can download here.

A nice bit of video uploaded to Youtube in September 2015 and titled “First Ever Drone Aerial of Bon Echo Park’s Mazinaw Rock” is worth a look. See below –

Previous Post – The Peterborough Petroglyphs: Building Over An Ancient Algonquian Ritual Site

Early Autumn Canoeing In The Heart Of Temagami

We got to the public dock and parking area at the end of Temagami’s Central Access Road (the old Mine Road)  on an overcast Wednesday afternoon; it was October 1. Ahead of us was up to a week of paddling and camping in a part of Ontario we have grown to love over the past few years. The plan was to paddle up to the pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake  and then loop back through Wakimika Lake and River to Obabika Lake. The total distance: 100 kilometers. The biggest concern: the weather!

up-temagami-and-obabika-to-diamond

We were hoping that the two weeks of “Indian summer” in late September would continue for another week.  Appreciated was the fact that a six-hour drive from southern Ontario put us on the edge of something approaching wilderness. Since it was autumn, it would mean that we wouldn’t see (m)any other paddlers on Temagami waters that can be quite busy during the prime summer months. And while Temagami fall colours are not as dramatic as those in Algonquin Park, we knew we were in for some nice splashes of red and yellow to go along with the evergreen.

maples leaves on the portage

We left  Toronto at 7:00 a.m. for the 470-kilometer drive up Highway 11 to the Lake Temagami Access Road just south of the town of Temagami itself. (See here for a Google view of the ride.)  When we got there at 1:00, there were a few other vehicles in the public parking lot.  We had chosen this starting point instead of Sandy Inlet  at the end of Red Squirrel Road because we were a bit concerned about a possible break-in of the car while we were out paddling.

put-in end of the Lake Temagami Access Road

put-in at the end of the  Lake Temagami Access Road – Temagami Island sits at the top of the pic

In retrospect, we should have gone with the Red Squirrel Road/Sandy Inlet entry. Fellow paddlers have since assured me that the chances of our vehicle being broken into are quite low. Also, the 60 kilometers of mostly big lake paddle from our car to the north end of Obabika Lake and back would be eliminated. Given the wind and waves we faced on both Obabika and Temagami,  a Sandy Inlet put-in certainly has its attractions.

Day One: 

  • distance: 15 km                  
  • weather: overcast, windy, drizzling      
  • portages: none

02. Camp near Turtle Rock

Two and half hours of paddling took us from the put-in up the northwest arm of Lake Temagami to an established campsite at Turtle Rock;  nearby are a couple of pictograph sites but we had no luck finding them.  As the map below indicates, there are also a couple of pictograph sites on Bear Island. Paddling along the north shore of Bear Island,   we decided to keep them for the return in a few days. We hoped that the conditions would be more conducive for a search for faint ochre marks on rock.

Temagami - Day One route

Day One – From the put-in up the northwest arm of Lake Temagami

A bit of rambling around our Turtle Rock campsite did turn up a thunder box, nicely tucked away in the bush and covered with leaves.

03. thunderbox at Obabika Inlet camp

We spent a wet, drizzly evening under the kitchen tarp testing our new camp chairs. After twenty years of the venerable MEC Senate Seat, we have gone seriously upscale (and “upweight”  at two pounds [900 gms]  each).  We splurged on the Helinox Chair One for the decadence of off-the-ground seating. The post-trip decision – we’re definitely making room for them on all our future portages!

Day Two: 

  • distance: 20 km
  • weather: overcast/drizzle and rain, windy.
  • portages: 900 m into Obabika from Obabika Inlet; 760 m into Chee-skon from Obabika
  • campsite:  point at the north end of Chee-skon Lake
Temagami - Day Two Route

Day Two – from Turtle Rock To Chee-skon Lake

Going up Obabika Inlet gave us some sheltered paddling and the portage itself, a wide and well-trodden trail, even if 900 meters, was no big deal.  Just before the somewhat muddy take-out we did spot the shell of an old 1940’s truck that did duty on the trail back in the days of logging in the area.

04. abandoned 1940's truck shell at east end of Obabika Inlet portage

Up the east shore of Obabika we went, getting out to stretch our legs at a sand spit named Ranger (or Fog) Point. The campsite here has room for several tents and even has a nice beach. We continued past the two Grandparent (Kokomis and Shomis) Rocks, which figure in the traditional mythology of the local Anishinaabe.

a rock formation on the east bank of Obabika Lake which figures in local native myth

the rock formation on the east bank of Obabika Lake which figures in local native myth – pic taken on a summertime trip in 2009

When we reached the top of the lake we looked around for the beginning of the portage that would take us into the day’s goal, Chee-skon Lake. It was another landmark of significance in the traditional Anishinaabe world, thanks to a striking rock face and a rock tower on the east side of the lake.

obabika-lake-north-end-to-chee-skon-lake

The portage marker told us we were at the right spot. As the photo shows, there is definitely room here for a tent or two if it is too late in the day to contemplate the 760-meter carry into Chee-skon.

05. portage market at start of Chee-Skon carry

We both set off with a Duluth pack (well, the modern nylon version by the now sadly defunct company Hooligan Gear) on our backs and a duffel on top and the paddles. Given that it was hunting season, before we set off  we also made sure we had our orange vests draped around the packs and replaced our usual Tilley’s with orange caps.

When we got to what felt like half way, I put down my load and went back for the canoe while Max carried on to the end. I know we have done a good job estimating when I meet him again at the half way point and he is just picking up the pack and duffel.  It wouldn’t be happening this time, however.

yellow Chee-Skon portage marker

yellow Chee-skon portage marker

A “space cadet” moment would have me taking the canoe for a hike far away from the comforting yellow portage markers.  Along with the portage trail the Chee-skon area has a number of hiking trails that take walkers through one of North America’s finest old growth pine forests.  The map below will show you where I made a right turn and headed towards that creek flowing out of Chee Skon to Obabika!

Portage Trail - Obabika to Chee Skon

source: Ontario Parks map (2016) – see here

You will note the orange hiking trail marker on the pics below –

Chee-skon Hiking Trail marker

Chee-skon Hiking Trail marker in the distance

I should have picked up on the difference as I walked along with the canoe over my head. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, then I should definitely have clued in that something was wrong when I crossed Chee-skon Creek in the photo below –

creek flowing from Chee-skon to Obabika

creek flowing from Chee-skon to Obabika

I now get the difference between the orange and yellow markers but that afternoon I just kept on truckin’ further than I should have as the trail got rougher and rougher.  Finally, that “Duh” moment when  it  struck me that I had left the portage trail behind for an adventure I didn’t want. It sure was scenic though!

Chee-skon creek close-up

Putting down the canoe, I started making my way back until I bumped in my brother, who was wondering what was taking me so long. He offered to retrieve the canoe and carry it the rest of the way while I took a bit of a break but, given that it was my screw up, I went back for it and finished the carry. (Note: the canoe – a Swift Dumoine kevlar/carbon version -only weighs 19 kilos or 42 lbs.)

hiking the Chee-skon Old Growth Trails

hiking the Chee-skon Old Growth Trails

We got to the end of the portage and I finally got to see Chee-skon. At the put-in was an overturned canoe, probably left by locals to allow them to paddle to the Conjuring Rock at the other end of the lake without having to carry a canoe the 760 meters from Obabika. Across from the put-in was a small stretch of vertical rock with a nice reflection –

rock face across from Chee-skon put-in_

But it was the view down through the narrows to the north end of the lake that really caught our attention.

looking down to the east end of Chee-Skon

You can see the rock face and the pile of talus and scree in the distance.  We would paddle down the lake through the narrows and set up camp on the small point across from the rock. We then paddled across to look at Conjuring Rock up close.  In the photo below you can see our campsite on the far side of the lake – the green dot is our 10’x14′ MEC tarp.

view of east end of Chee-skon from the rock face

Max went for a scramble over the broken rock to the vertical cliff face itself; it rises about fifty meters and has a powerful presence. It’s easy to see how it would be considered a special place in the context of the rest of the terrain in the neighbourhood.

Here is a shot of  Conjuring Rock – the tower –  and the lake from above and to the north of the tower. Looking down the lake you can see Obabika itself in the distance.

Conjuring Rock and Chee-skon Lake

Conjuring Rock and Chee-skon Lake…thanks to Anon for the pic!

For another angle of the tower – a side shot taken from the north –  click here for a Thor Conway photo of the Rock that looks to be about thirty years old. He also provides a clear explanation as to why this rock would be associated with conjuring. And down below is the entire cliff face with the rock tower – Conjuring Rock – in the middle.

Conjuring Rock - the granite pillar on Chee Skon Lake

Conjuring Rock – the granite pillar on Chee Skon Lake

An issue of terminology to explore here – shades of leaving the portage trail for another impromptu hike!

In Hap Wilson’s 2004 Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Temagami (and the 2011 edition retitled Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise) the rock tower is called “Conjuring Rock”.  Wilson bases this name on a late nineteenth century map of the area sketched by the Anishinaabe elder Windaban for the Geological Survey of Canada’s Robert Bell.  In a chapter about Chee-skon in his book Trails and Tribulations Wilson writes about the map:

One place of prominent importance was Chee-skon-abikong sakahegan, or, for those not fluent in Ojibwa, “conjuring rock place lake”….Anishnabe linguistic expert and historian Craig MacDonald says of Chee-skon, “The name is derived from the root word for ‘shaking tent’- the seven-poled open-topped used by medicine healers (shamans).”

So there you have the reason why it is called Conjuring Rock.

On the other hand, The Friends of Temagami map has gone with the name  “Spirit Rock”  as does Jeff’s Temagami Map.

Both names convey the significance of the rock  as a sacred place to the Anishinaabe – but while the first name makes clear the exact nature of the activity,  the second name – Spirit Rock – has a more vague and general feel to it. One explanation offered as to why to  avoid the supposedly negative term “conjuring”  is that it was used by the Christian missionaries, who also affixed terms  like “devil” and “wizard” to other nearby locations.

the face of Chee-skon

a part of the cliff face immediately north of Conjuring Rock

Chee-skon Lake - east side cliff and Conjuring Rock from campsite

Chee-skon Lake – east side cliff and Conjuring Rock from campsite across the lake

We would spend the late afternoon paddling around the lake and taking in the views of a spot we were really glad to have finally gotten to.  Here is a look south from the base of the cliff to where we had put our canoe back in the water after the portage –

Sheepskin Lake from the Conjuring Rock

Chee-skon Lake from the talus below the cliff face

the south end of Chee-skon - the portage from Obabika ends here

the south end of Chee-skon – the portage from Obabika ends at the water line at photo center

north end of Chee-skon Lake and the face of Conjuring Rock

north end of Chee-skon Lake and the dramatic stretch of 50 meter high rock wall

We got back to our camp just as it started drizzling;  our dining room tarp was already set up so we just deked in under it and stretched out on our plush new camp chairs.  After supper – an Indian curry in a boil-a-pouch each as well as some pasta – we leaned back with our coffee mugs and liqueur and contemplated the rock face in front of us. For just a moment we let our thoughts wander to the pair of panties we had found next to the fire circle and wondered what that was all about.

Chee-skon campsite on the north end point

Chee-skon campsite on the north end point

taking in the view at Chee-skon

taking in the view at Chee-skon

looking at the rock face from our campsite

looking at the rock face from our campsite

Day Three:

  • distance: 10 km.
  • weather: overcast in the morning with one 15-minute slash of sunshine; wind and rain the rest of the day.
  • portages: 840 m from Chee-skon to Mud; 265 m from Mud to Bob; 1175 m from Bob to Diamond.
canoe at take-out on Chee-Skon waiting to be carried across the portage to MudLake

canoe at take-out on Chee-skon waiting to be carried across the portage to Mud Lake

Temagami Day Three

The day of the portages!  We hoped to get to the Diamond Lake pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake by early afternoon and then head back down to find a campsite on the west end of Diamond – but the combination of wind and rain starting around 1 meant we set up camp earlier than planned. The morning part – the portages – actually went smoothly, though Mud Lake did live up to its name at both ends of the portage!

portage trail from Chee-skon to Mud Lake

portage trail from Chee-skon to Mud Lake

end of portage into Mud Lake from Chee-skon

end of portage into Mud Lake from Chee-skon Lake

the put-in on Mud Lake from Chee-skon

the put-in on Mud Lake from Chee-skon

east shore of Mud Lake

some nice rock face on the east shore of Mud Lake

off the portage trail from Mud to Bob

off the portage trail from Mud to Bob

Bob Lake - Diamond Lake Portage and island Camp

The portage trail to Diamond Lake from Bob Lake is in good shape and pretty flat most of the way. Near the end it crosses an old gravel  logging road, as the map below illustrates.  We sat at the end of the portage and had lunch and enjoyed our first real sunshine of the trip.  It was not to last.

As we paddled out of the shelter of the bay into the open lake itself we met a fierce east wind and the waves it was pushing our way.  Once we committed ourselves to crossing,  we were relieved to get to a small island.  It was quite exposed but we did find a spot which was somewhat sheltered from the wind and quickly put up our tent and supplemented it with a tarp for extra protection. Propping up the canoe between the wind and the tent also made a difference.  It would rain most of the afternoon and evening;  we focussed on staying dry and warm.

The visit to the pictograph site up the north arm of the lake – about 2.5 kilometers from where we were tented – would have to wait until the next day.

Day Four: 

  • distance: 26 km.
  • weather: overcast but calm in the morning; wind and occasional drizzle in the afternoon; rain throughout the night.
  • portages: from Diamond to Lain 450 m; from Lain to Wakimika 435 m;  a couple of 20 m or less carries and liftovers on the lower Wakimika River. 
  • Campsite: an established site on the north point across from Misabi and the start of the Obabika River

We got up to an overcast day but at least it had stopped raining and there was no wind.  Here is what the north arm of Diamond looked like as I gazed up the lake towards the pictograph site.

looking up the north arm of Diamond Lake

Breakfast done and the canoe loaded with the gear, we paddled the three kilometers north to revisit a rock face that we had passed by in 2006 and 2009. This time we planned to do a better job getting a visual record.  Here is a shot taken a half-hour later when we got to the north end of the site; we’d spend a half hour there checking things out.

the Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

the north end of the Diamond Lake pictograph site

If you want to see more close-up pics of the pictographs, I’ve set up another post that looks at the site in detail.

A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

The site represented the turn-around point of the trip; we’d spend the rest of the morning paddling  back down to the main body of Diamond and then to the west end of the Lake. Luckily the wind had yet to become an issue so the kilometres slipped by nice and easy.

approaching the west end of Diamond Lake

The pic above is a shot of the west end of Diamond Lake; we rounded the point on the left and headed down to a couple of portages that would take us into Wakimika Lake.  Here is a shot of the very scenic bay you paddle into to get to the take-out for the 450-meter portage trail over to Lain Lake –

panorama of Diamond Lake to Lain take out

A part of the route we always enjoy is the stretch on the Wakimiika River. After crossing the lake with a noticeable head wind to deal with, it was nice to slip into the narrow confines of the river/creek as it meanders its way to the marshes at the north end of Obabika Lake. Paddling around or slipping under fallen trees is part of the fun –

Wakimika River view

By 3:30 we were at the top of Obabika and facing a strong wind.  We decided to make it to the point on the north side of where the Obabika River starts; we had camped there back in 2006 on another wet and soggy Temagami fall trip!  I did, however,  take a closer look at the camp site just north of it to see how it compared. We moved on.

canoe in park while I check out an Obabika campsite

Max with the canoe on the rock while I check out an Obabika campsite

That evening brought more rain and cooler temperatures but the two silnylon tarps – one as insurance over our tent and the other over our cook area – made things easier to deal with.

Day Five:

  • distance: 32 kilometers
  • weather: intermittent rain and strong winds
  • portages: just one –  from Obabika into Lake Temagami – 900 m.

Temagami Day Five

The plan had been to be out for six or seven days but here we were at the start of Day Five having decided to paddle out this very day if possible.  It would mean we would not be paddling over to  Alex Mathias’ place to say “hello”;  the visit to the three pictograph sites on the south end end of the lake would also be scrapped for another time. So too would spending some time hiking the Old Growth Trails around Chee-skon.

We were on the water by 7:00 and by 9:00 we were having breakfast at the start of the 900-meter portage into Lake Temagami.  By 1 p.m.  we were back at the campsite that we had stayed at on Day One. By now the wind was blowing and the water was rolling from the south. We stopped there for some lunch and then knocked off the rest of the distance by 4.

Along the way we would meet our first person since the start of the trip, a cottager who was shutting down things for the winter. He shouted over to us – “You guys are pretty brave to be out here today”.   We thanked him for his choice of words and said we could think of some other less positive ones.  As the map above shows, we  made use of the series of islands in the middle of the lake to break the wind and waves as we made our way back to the north side of Bear and Temagami Islands to our car.

While the weather had not been the best and it sometimes felt like we were in a episode of Survivor: Temagami, the pics hopefully illustrate that we got to paddle for a few days through a beautiful small stretch of the woodlands of the Canadian Shield.  The next morning, sitting at the kitchen table in Toronto, we considered the thought – “Maybe we were a bit hasty with our decision to pull out a day early?”  If nothing else, we have lots of reasons for getting back up there some day soon.

Some Useful Links:

If you are planning to visit the general area that this post describes, there are a few resources that will help you get a handle of routes, campsites, and the like.

temagami

Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise (2011) by Hap Wilson is the obvious starting point for any Temagami canoe trip. Drawing on his decade-plus experience as a park ranger in the Temagami area, Wilson provides detailed maps and descriptions of twenty-seven routes, complete with portages, campsites and other points of interest.  We made use of “Route #6: Diamond, Wakimika and Obabika Lake Loop” for our trip planning.  See here for more info on the book. If you have a Toronto Library System card, you can access one of the 13 copies it has – click here.

Wilson - Trails and Tribulations

 

You can read the entire chapter about Chee-skon from Wilson’s book Trails and Tribulations online.  It is available at Google Books. Click here and scroll back to the beginning of the chapter. Oddly enough, the chapter is titled “Place of the Huge Rock Lake”. No hint of conjuring there!

 

 

Maps:

If you are looking for 1:50,000 topo maps of the area there are a couple that you need.

The ones we used  were – Lake Temagami 41-I 16 and Obabika Lake 41-P 1

You can, if you want, access the map files at a Federal Government website here.  You will be faced with a number of folders; go for the 50k pdf or tif. Then you face a list of yet more folders; choose the 041 folder and ….well, you get the idea. See above for the letter and the number of the 041 maps we used for our trip.

Jeff's Topos Home Page

Luckily, there is an easier way to access the topo maps.  Check out Jeff McMurtrie’s Jeff’s Topos website for his easy-to-use version of the topographic map library.  He has gotten rid of all the folders!  The digital maps are downloadable and you can either print  what you need for your route yourself or McMurtie has the equipment to run off copies for you in paper or some sort of waterproof material.

McMurtie also had a series of maps specifically on the Temagami area.  Unlike the topos, they are heavily annotated with useful information on campsites, portages, points of interest, and distances between various points.  See here for a look at Jeff’s Temagami maps. We made use of the Central Map, printing the relevant bits ourselves on 8.4″ x 14″ paper and putting them into our map case.

More Information:

Ontario Parks has a recently-published (2016) map of the Obabika area which indicates all the Old Growth Forest Trails, as well as the portage trail from Obabika to Chee Skon and the one from Chee Skon to Mud Lake.   See here for a downloadable pdf copy.

The Canadian Canoe Routes web site is another internet resource you should check out. This General Information page of Temagami-related links organized by Allan Jacobs is a great place to start. The Ontario Trip Reports folder has dozens of Temagami-related contributions by forum members; if you are just getting into wilderness tripping, the site is a great one to visit regularly and pick up useful stuff on everything from gear to food to canoe routes and a whole lot more.

Friends of Temagami is a volunteer organization dedicated, as their web site says, to “preserving and promoting the Temagami experience since 1995”. You can support their efforts in a variety of ways – buying an annual membership; purchasing their Temagami Planning Map (which for some reason  does not show up on the new web site); or becoming an active member. It’s all good!

If you have just discovered Temagami as a paddling destination, the Ottertooth website has enough material to keep you busy for days – a forum area with threads on a wide range of topics, annotated maps, and mini-essays on a variety of useful topics. We took along a printed copy of “Wakimika Triangle” and some related material.

A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

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

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake

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

All images enlarge with a click; all blue text leads to more info with a click.

The portage from Bob Lake to Diamond Lake done, we had originally planned to paddle up the north arm of the Lake that same 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, this time we planned on doing better!  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 that by the next morning there would be less wind and no rain.

Diamond Lake Temagami

[Click here  to open a Google Map look at Diamond Lake and area.]

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.

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,  he 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 a 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.

Diamond Lake pictographs - sketch from Dewdney's book

the northernmost Diamond Lake pictographs – sketch from Dewdney’s book

It would be fifty-three years before the next visitor from the museum  (now named The Royal Ontario Museum) would arrive.  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 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

Some time before Dewdney visited the site (in 1942 to be exact), a local lumber company had built a dam just north of the pictograph site at the point where Diamond Lake flows into the south arm of Lady Evelyn Lake. This point – once known as Lady Evelyn Falls but, thanks to massive flooding when another earlier dam had raised the water level of Lady Evelyn Lake itself,  is now referred to as the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over and is the subject of an insightful  Ottertooth article. The writer (Brian Back) writes this of the dam at the outlet of Diamond Lake –

Lady Evelyn Falls Dam 1942This would explain why parts of the Diamond Lake pictograph site were under water when Dewdney visited in 1959.

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-1970’s and who continues to publish material on pictograph sites all across the Canadian Shield area. His book on the Agawa Rock pictograph site, for example, stands as the definitive study of that Ojibwe rock painting location.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454

Conway first visited the Diamond Lake site in 1974. As luck would have it, the previous year the dam had been destroyed by a work crew from the 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 the visit were Dewdney and Gilles Tache,  a Quebec archaeologist 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 of discussion of twelve rock art sites across Ontario. Titled Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders it preserves 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 deeper understanding of the Anishinaabe culture behind the images painted with hematite on rock faces across Ontario – and of the Canadian Shield in general. The book is available at Amazon and from Thor Conway himself.  The very first site Conway examines in detail is the one on Diamond Lake.

We approached the pictograph from the south.The following sequence of images follow the ten meters of rock face from south to north.  In doing so we followed the order in which Phillips presents his drawings of the various pictographs.  The site begins with some indecipherable ochre marks and ends with the most well-known of the Diamond Lake rock paintings. Conway has counted 77 individual ochre marks or paintings; we were not as successful!

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

The pictographs begin with a few barely discernible ochre marks at the south end of the site.  They were “painted” with a mixture of ground hematite and perhaps fish oil or bear grease and then applied to the rock surface, not with a brush,  but by finger.  The figures are usually no more an inch  (2.5 cm) wide and up to five or six  inches long.  As I mentioned in another pictograph-related post, people are sometimes disappointed when they see them.  In the grand scheme of things, these are admittedly  very simple physical expressions of the values and beliefs of a paleolithic culture.  However, they speak to anyone who has experienced the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield.

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.

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

T mark 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

Diamond Lake - ochre slash

Diamond Lake – ochre slash

 

shaman holding infant (or medicine bag?)

Bloodvein River shaman –  and medicine bag?

We have now moved up about four meters of the site. So far these is very little to make sense of. We were now looking at what seems to correspond to pictographs #2 and #4 on the top of Phillips’ Plate IV above.  The ochre marks in between may be #3. It is impossible to say from the image below. Are we are looking at crane footprints being used as a clan emblem or are we are looking at rudimentary Thunderbird images?

Conway comments that the Phillips #3 drawing may represent an otter skin. If so, it certainly would be an abstract rendition of the otter’s skin laid out flat.  It was of otter skin that a shaman’s “medicine” bag would typically be made.  Philips’s #3 can be seen at the bottom left of the image below.

Diamond Lake - Thunderbird pictographs

Diamond Lake – Thunderbird pictographs or Crane footprints?

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.  It is #6 on Phillips’ Plate IV (see below).   Underneath the moose body is evidence of an impact – from a bullet or a hammer-head perhaps.  Conway states this in his book –

Conway on Diamond Lake pictograph vandalism

a view of the moose pictogrpah and surroundings

It would seem that he locates the “removed” pictograph in the space below the moose painting.  His assumption seems to be based on something Dewdney saw in his earlier visit. He is not the only one to make this claim of 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

It is also possible that the slab of rock just broke off from the rock face and fell into the water below,  Seeing a copy of the supposed Dewdney drawing or description would help.  However, if a painting has indeed been removed I am left wondering why Phillips did not include a drawing of it on Plate IV.  All of the Phillips drawings from #4 to #7 are visible on the rock face. If there was indeed a pictograph  striking enough to motivate someone to remove it from below the moose image, Phillips would have included it along with all the others.

Update: A visit to the Ottertooth forum turned up a 2006 thread  (click here)  which discusses this very topic – scroll down the thread a bit from Ed’s initial post and you will find the following statement from Ed – and then a whole lot of response!

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 9.55.57 PM

The space underneath the moose pictograph is identified as the claimed location of the missing pictograph. Do continue reading the thread on  page 2 where you will find Brian Back’s summation of the evidence. Included is a photo from 1954 – five years before Dewdney – which shows the area around the moose pictograph looking pretty much as it does now.  So just what did Thor Conway and Backroads Bill think was vandalized? Very interesting!

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - The Core

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – The Core

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 or of a hunting party).

Looking more closely at the panel, other faint and 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!   Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see for yourself.

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Diamond Lake - overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake – overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake - moose and vertical lines paintings

Diamond Lake – moose (#6), the stick figure (#5)  and six vertical lines (#7)  paintings

canoe pictograph - Diamond Lake

canoe pictograph (Phillips #10) – Diamond Lake

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.  (If Plate VI, which I included here, also records further Diamond Lake pictographs, then we did not see them.  More likely it is the record of the Lady Evelyn South Arm pictograph site.  See the end of this post for an explanation of what has happened to the Lady Evelyn site since Phillips and Ryder visited in 1906.)

the Diamond Lake Site - the Three Northernmost panels

the Diamond Lake Site – the Three Northernmost panels

Dewdney devotes very little space to the Diamond Lake pictographs in his book. The one quote above, along with the sketch of the core of the site,  and the quote which follows is pretty much all he had to say.

Dewdney on Diamond Lake pictographs

Looking at Phillips’ Plate V,

  • #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.

It is surprising that Dewdney did not identify Phillip’s #16  as the horned snake of Anishinaabe myth.  #17, looking very much like a square root symbol,  is another stick figure. 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.

Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate V_

Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate V_

the lost nearby Lady Evelyn Picto Drawings Plate VI

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

Diamond Lake pictographs - crane and bird tracks

Diamond Lake pictographs – crane and bird tracks

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

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-1800’s, come up with different meanings.

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Already noted was David Boyle’s statement near the end of the 1907 article “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”.   He wrote: “It would be utterly vain to look for any interpretation.”  In spite of that, he could not resist offering an interpretation and  ends up proving his very 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 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 article.  To conclude, Boyle seems to be victim of the notion that the pictograph site represents an application of  a coherent Anishinaabe writing system. It is almost as if he sees the cliff face as another birchbark scroll.

There is no Rosetta Stone – in spite of the conflicting mid-1850’s inventories of symbols and their meanings left by Schoolcraft and Copway –  to help us unravel the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs.  However, those who have visited have given us more insight into the nature of pictographs and their significance.  Boyle’s “utterly vain” can be amended to “much is still puzzling”.  Thanks to more recent visitors  we can now better see elements of the Anishinaabe world view in the ochre, from possible references to the 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 vision quest, perhaps, or as a visit to the home of the maymaygwayshi for powerful medicines,  the rock paintings were part of the ritual.  From their birch bark canoes they reached out to the rock and created enduring marks with their specially prepared mixture of finely ground hematite and fish oil.  While we will never completely understand the significance of all the ochre paintings, we still stop and for a brief while enter into another world.

Useful Links:  

Just click on the blue text to access material.

You can access the pdf file of  W. Phillips’  “Rock Paintings At Temagami District” here 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 of the book 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” – provide excellent background to the Diamond Lake pictographs, which are briefly mentioned in the article published in issue #49 of Ontario Archaeology in the mid-1980’s.

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

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.

George Copway’s The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation can be read online or downloaded in various file formats.  Pages 132-134 provide examples of pictographic symbols.  Copway writes – “An Indian well versed in these can send a communication to another Indian, and by them make himself as well understood as a pale face can by letter.”

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

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

Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 8 – “Moosebone” Rapids to “X-Rock” Rapids

Previous Post:  Canoeing the Bloodvein Day 7 – Artery L. to Moosebone Rapids 

DAY 8 BASICS:

looking back at our Moosebone Rapids campsite

looking back at our Moosebone Rapids campsite – the Fineview!

All images enlarge with a click or two; blue text leads to more info with a click.

distance: 32 kilometers

weather: a great day to be on the river

rapids/portages:  rapids W15 through W26 on the Wilson maps.

campsites: many to choose from – we were headed for the island portage at X-Rock Rapids (W26)

The Bloodvein from east of Bushey to X-Rock Rapids

The Bloodvein from east of Bushey to X-Rock Rapids

Our goal for the day was the island in the middle of the Bloodvein at what Wilson called X-Rock Rapids.  He had labelled the campsite a classic and we liked the sound of that! A Canadian Canoe Routes forum contributor (jjoven) had also posted an account of his 2004 trip down the Bloodvein from Artery Lake (click on the blue to access!)  and had mentioned camping at X-Rock. His experience left us thinking it was a popular spot and that we might meet some fellow trippers already camping there.

Eight days into the trip and we had said “hello” to two other canoeing parties – two paddlers at the portage into Hatchet on Day 1 and the couple paddling east on Artery Lake in the pouring rain.  We had also seen perhaps five fishing boats – all in all, not a lot of people. (During the next ten days we would meet two parties of three canoes each and two fishing boats near the end! The Bloodvein is not a busy river!)

This day was one of those when we postponed breakfast until we were a bit down the river and the sun was really up. After  paddling through the rapids marked #15 in the Bloodvein chapter of Wilson’s book Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba,  we spent 15 minutes on a river right portage at W16.  We were getting used to and expecting the orange tape to provide the heads-up – and, true enough, there it was!  Thanks to whoever refreshed the markers earlier this year! Next up was Nutcracker Falls (W18), a ten-minute carry on river left.

Bloodvein Nutcracker Falls W17

Bloodvein Nutcracker Falls W17

W18 P85 "Nutcracker"

W18 P85

Now we were on Bushey Lake and looking for a breezy flat space for our breakfast stop. We found it about half way down on the west side of the lake.  This spot would also make a decent multiple-tent  “fair weather” campsite but it is quite exposed. Luckily there are lots of other more sheltered sites  available if you keep paddling.

Bushey Lake campsite on west side of lake

Bushey Lake campsite on west side of lake – lots of room on mostly flat rock but little shelter

Below is a shot of Bushey Lake I fluked on our flight back to Red Lake from Bloodvein village ten days later. It was only later when I looked at the flight path and gps info that I realized that I was looking at Bushey Lake. It is about 2.5 kilometers from one end of the lake to the other.

Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein River system

Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein River system – we crossed the lake from  middle left and exited middle right after a breakfast stop down from the point in the centre of the image

W19 P90 "Bruiseasy" Falls

W19 P90 “Bruiseasy” Falls

After our usual breakfast – that would be our oatmeal concoction and large mugs of filtered coffee – we were off again. There was a pictograph site coming up – but first we had to deal with what Wilson nicknames “Bruiseasy” Falls. Doing a fifteen-minute version of our  “beast of burden” routine got us to the put-in spot below the rapids.

Bruiseasy Falls - W19

Bruiseasy Falls – W19

Around the corner from the rapids on river right was the pictograph site.  In terms of the number of images or markings, it would rank third of all the sites we were able to find in our trip down the Bloodvein.

As we paddled away from the put-in we headed for the rock face on river right and followed it down, scanning above the water line for traces of ochre. Here is our first reward- three sets of vertical marks all by their lonesome.

the first pictographs below Bruiseasy Falls

the first pictographs below Bruiseasy Falls

three sets of vertical lines - below Bushey Lake siteWith Bruiseasy Falls still visible in the photo above, we stopped to take a close-up of our first pictographs of the day, knowing all the while that this was not all there was to it!

Still recognizable are three sets of vertical lines – a set of four on the top and two sets of three below that. Tally marks of some sort – days fasted, moose killed. Or maybe  levels of attainment within the world of the Midewiwin? Who can say for sure?

We paddled on and came to the main site as pictured below.

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake

looking back up to the Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake

getting closer to Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake

checking out the Dewdney sketch of the Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake

We had with us selected bits of the writings of Selwyn Dewdney, whose visits to the many pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield in the 1960’s had initiated the systematic recording and analysis of these mostly Anishinaabe cultural expressions. Of this particular site, he wrote in a pamphlet  [Stone Age Painting click on title to access)]  published by Manitoba’s Department of Mines and Natural Resources in 1965 –

dewdney on Bushey Lake site:Stone Age Painting. 1965.

Bloodvein rock paintings below Bushey Lake - close up on panel

Bloodvein rock paintings below Bushey Lake – close up on face A on the left and face B on the right

Dewdney -  sketch of site below  Bushey Lake

the sketch that Dewdney refers to as Figure 14 in the quote above

Dewdney makes an interesting point about the image he names “the bow and arrow on Face B” (but note – according to his own sketch he meant Face A). The point is that it might be used to date the painting to pre-contact times since it depicts the bow as symbol of power.  This assumes, of course, that it actually is a bow. It could be a turtle!

Dewdney's "bow and Arrow on Face A"  at the site below Bushey Lake

Dewdney’s “bow and Arrow on Face A” at the site below Bushey Lake

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- - different angle of rock face

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- – different angle of rock face

Tramping Lake, MB picto of human figure

Dewdney refers to the human figure below as “the bird man”  and compares it to a similar image from Tramping Lake that   you can see on the right.  Its colour is not the same as that of the other pictographs, probably because a different     formulation of ochre and fish oil was used in its making.

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- human figure with outstretched arms

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- human figure with outstretched arms

For some reason Dewdney does not comment on the two crude figures at the bottom of Face A.  A cross and a thunderbird perhaps?

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- cross and thunderbird figures

Bloodvein pictograph site below Bushey Lake- cross and thunderbird figures

That was it for the site.  We continued on, totally taken in by the beauty of the river and the day itself.

Bloodvein River paddling - truly beautiful

Bloodvein River paddling – truly beautiful

a stretch of the Bloodvein before Stonehouse Lake

a stretch of the Bloodvein before Stonehouse Lake

Shortly before entering Stonehouse Lake we passed yet another pictograph site – our eighth since Red Lake.  While none of them are as awesome as the one at the east end of Artery Lake with its shaman and bison figures, they all elicit a sense of wonder and an appreciation to be able to paddle by and  see them.

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake

pictograph site just above Stonehouse Lake on the Bloodvein

pictograph site just above Stonehouse Lake on the Bloodvein

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake - detail

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake – detail

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake - different angle

Bloodvein Pictograph Site – different angle

essential reading                                                                   Perhaps more time spent with Grace Rajnovitch’s book  will help me make some sense of what we were looking at here. The white granite face certainly provides a striking “canvas”. On the left is what seems to be a thunderbird; the H figure with the line across the top could be a version of the “bird man” that Dewdney identified at the  site a few kilometres upriver.

pictograph site at the north end of Stonehouse Lake

site at the north end of Stonehouse Lake

Next up was what should have been our ninth pictograph site –  it is apparently located at the bottom (ie. the north end)  of Stonehouse Lake.  We paddled down the right side of the lake all the way to where we thought we’d see some ochre.  No luck.  We continued another 200 meters but came up empty.  Turning south and rounding the point to enter the channel leading to our next portage, we figured lunch was in order. After all, it was 2 o’clock! An hour later we got back to work, and over the next four hours we dealt with five portages that brought us to our campsite at “X-Rock” Rapids.

chart of Bloodvein portages before X-Rock

the bottom of Bloodvein Rapids #21

the bottom of Bloodvein Rapids #21 – See Wilson’s drawing for the rock on the middle left edge!

Max firing up the ol' Etrex Legend at the put-in at Bloodvein W23

Max firing up the ol’ Etrex Legend at the put-in at Bloodvein W23

W24 portage

W24 portage

W25 P255

W25 P255

W24P180 C3

W24P180 C3

looking down from W25 portage trail

looking down from W25 portage trail – dramatic! It reminded us of the Bad Medcine Lake portage on the Pikitigushi.

x-rock-island and rapids

X-Rock-island and rapids

Shortly before seven we floated down a Class 1 set of rapids and approached  the island. It sits in the middle of the river with a set of Class V rapids on either side.  What we found is a site that could host a canoe trippers’ convention! There is room up on the flat top of the island for fifty tents. Of course, we had the entire site to ourselves and made ourselves at home.

W26 campsite

our campsite on the island at X-Rock Rapids.

It had been a long day and the 32 km we had knocked off were more than double the distance we had done the day before – even with the two hours added to deal with the portages.  Still, it had been an A+ day of scenic river paddling with a couple of bonus pictograph sites thrown in.

W26 camp set up

W26 camp set up

As luck would have it, a few days later during our  flight from Bloodvein First Nation  on Lake Winnipeg to Red Lake, our de Havilland Beaver flew over the island and I got this shot –

X-Rock Rapids and Island campsite

X-Rock Rapids /Island campsite – the view from our de Havilland Beaver – upriver is at the top

Wilson and Aykroyd attached nicknames to some of the rapids they sketched and described in their guide-book.  We did puzzle over the name “X-Rock” for this location but had that “Aha” moment during our post-supper ramble around the perimeter of the island.  Down below at the start of the river right set of rapids we saw this –

The X-Rock at W26 - where the name comes from!

The X-Rock at the top of the right channel of W26!

The campsite capped off a terrific day on the Bloodvein.  We counted ourselves fortunate to be there.  The next day would present us with another great day which would make us question our grading system.  Where do you go after A+?

W26 falls on river left

W26 – the falls on river left

Looking down the Bloodvein from  X-Rock Island

Looking down the Bloodvein from X-Rock Island

Next Post: Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 9 – X-Rock Island to just before Goose Rapids

Canoeing the Bloodvein Day 7 – Artery Lake to “Moosebone” Rapids

FIRST POST: Canoeing The Bloodvein River System: Introduction, Planning, and Map Resources.

PREVIOUS POST: Bloodvein Headwaters Day 6: Barclay Lake to Artery Lake

Artery Lake – the ultimate pictograph lake – sits on the Ontario side of the border in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park with just a bit of it in Atikaki Park on the Manitoba side.  For canoe trippers doing the entire length of the Bloodvein, it represents both an end and a beginning.

our route from Douglas Lake off Red Lake  to Bloodvein First Nations village on Lake Winnipeg

our route from Douglas Lake off Red Lake to Bloodvein First Nations village on Lake Winnipeg – Artery Lake sits right on the Manitoba-Ontario border. Click on the image to enlarge!

It is the end of the headwaters section of the Bloodvein River.  We had spent almost a week paddling across Woodland Caribou Provincial Park from Douglas Lake. The six kilometers or so of portaging in the first three days and a wind that was often blowing east meant we had paid some dues to get to Artery. The hours spent on some very scenic flat water stretches had been our reward and paddling by two major pictograph sites of the entire Canadian Shield was an appreciated bonus.  But now we were in for a different trip.

Bloodvein - looking down W27 rapids

All images enlarge with a click; all blue text leads to more info with a click.

Artery Lake is also where the Bloodvein as a river, as opposed to a series of lakes joined by the occasional narrow channel,  begins. From Artery Lake to Bloodvein Village there are 80 sets of rapids to deal with.  Sloping or vertical granite rock face lines the shoreline – sometimes on one side and occasionally on both –  and creates that closed-in feeling that makes river paddling special. As for portages, we would do half as much during the ten days from Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg  as the six kilometres we did in the first two and a half days of the trip through the headwaters. We were looking forward to the change!

DAY 7 BASICS:

distance: 15 kilometers

weather: cloudy with a wind from the NW in the  morning with a bit of sun later on

rapids/portages: W10 (the marine railway!)  through W14 (“Moosebone” Rapids)

campsite: above W14.  We called it the Fineview; it was our best campsite so far.

Artery Lake to %22Moosebone%22 Rapids (W14) In the original plan Day 7 had been set aside as a spare/rest day on Artery Lake.  We decided that instead of sitting around for the day on Artery we would put in a leisurely day on the water and see how far we got.

Before we headed downriver we had one more Artery Lake pictograph site to visit. We paddled up the north arm of the lake about two kilometers, passing a battered cabin on the east shore –

cabin on north arm of Artery LakeAs we looked up the lake shoreline we were not seeing much of that essential ingredient of any pictograph site – a bit of a rock face!