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Mazinaw Rock pictographs

This is the site's first anniversary, and this week and next week we have some special posts! I've added a time lapse of Mazinaw Lake (called The Turtle) to the Adventure page, so paddle on over after you read this blog.

Now, have you ever taken a road trip and ended up somewhere totally unexpected but totally worth it? That's what happened to me this summer. We were heading from Prince Edward County up to Bonnechere Caves, and we decided to stop for lunch at Bon Echo Provincial Park. We'd heard about the pictographs, but weren't really sure where they were or what they looked like. The lake was so beautiful that we took the kayak off the car and set out across the lagoon to the Rock, which rises out of the province's deepest lake (apart from the Great Lakes), a 300-foot striated granite escarpment dotted with dwarf cedars protruding at crazy angles.

The sky was grey and the lake was still as we paddled over the lagoon toward the narrows dividing North and South Mazinaw lakes. It began to rain and we had the water to ourselves.

Bon Echo Provincial Park was opened in 1965, but the area has been a holiday destination since the turn of the last century. For years, there was a hotel on the north shore of the lake, opposite the Rock. It was built by Dr and Mrs Weston Price, dedicated Methodists who populated the inn with ministers and required guests to attend Sunday services. Price eventually sold the hotel to Howard and Flora MacDonald Dennison, whose tastes were more artistic. They turfed out the resident clergy and made Bon Echo a retreat for artists, poets, and writers.

Flora MacDonald Dennison's artistic tastes were responsible for a questionable addition to Mazinaw Rock. In 1919, she hired a team of stonemasons from Aberdeen, Scotland, to carve a verse "dedicated to the democratic ideals" of Walt Whitman onto the face of the rock opposite the narrows. We will never know if any pictographs were destroyed by Flora's project, but "Old Walt"s rock face is being allowed to be worn down by the weather.

We paddled past "Old Walt," and past the "Silent Witness," a dead cedar clinging to the face of the rock. Scientists believe the tree was at least 1,000 years old when it died, in approximately 1070 A.D. The lake was quiet and the raindrops were pitting the surface of the water. We were fine, protected by good rain gear and a spirit of adventure. We couldn't see anything that looked like pictographs, though. Another paddler was approaching, and told us to get closer to the Rock and explained what to look for.

Once we knew, the red ochre images emerged.... Painted at roughly eye level, they must have been made by people standing or sitting in canoes, held close to the face of the Rock. There are dozens of individual pictures: Nanabush, the trickster; animals; hunting scenes; marks that might represent trade transactions; and over and over, the turtle, the sacred creature upon whose back our world is believed to rest. Partway along the rock face, a formation protrudes that resembles the head of a turtle. We paddled underneath and left an offering for the spirits that we could sense all around us in the quiet spattering of the rain and the splashing of the waves.

The First Nations around this lake believed they could hear the voice of a Manitou, or spirit, in the "glubbing" noise the water makes flowing in and out of fissures in the rock. We were lucky enough to hear it too.... It was haunting and beautiful and peaceful, and we knew we'd be back.

We didn't know we'd be back a week later, but we couldn't resist another paddle, this time on a hot, sunny day. The atmosphere was completely different and, although still lovely, couldn't compare to what we'd seen in the rain. We did see climbers scaling the rock face, the resident Peregrine falcons were flying overhead, and the water was choppy from passing motorboats (yes, they are allowed on the lake), but for the most part it was still fun. We returned again one day in autumn and although it was too rough to paddle, the colours of the trees were spectacular and we had a great hike through another part of the park. There is much more to see in this park and we will return soon.

There was a suggestion in 2005 that the name of the rock and the lake should be changed from "Mazinaw" to "Bon Echo." But, the combined efforts of the local historical society and the Pikwakinagan First Nation pointed out that the word "Mazinaw" in Algonquian, Ojibway, and Chippewa refers to "handiwork of human agency," "reading," "making marks," and finally, an idea of debit or credit. Clearly, it's a significant term, which must continue to be associated with this site and its images.

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