Susan Bryan (volunteer Chair of the Nature Reserves Committee of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists)

Someone has passed this way before

I’m standing on the deck of a small boat, riding the swells of the Nipigon River where it widens into Lake Superior. In front of me, a rock cliff rises straight out of the water. On this cliff are a series of pictographs – lines, circles and other symbols – as well as some more recognizable images – a canoe and the near-human shape of Maymaygwayshi, the water sprite.

These pictographs have likely been here for some centuries, although no one is quite sure of their age. The artist used red ochre – a durable mixture of iron-rich rock and fish oil – but time and weather have taken a toll. Some of the figures are now faded or obscured by lichens and seepage from the cliff above. Others have flaked away in a process known as exfoliation. Eventually, all will be lost, although that won’t happen for a very long time.

Today, from my perch on that bobbing boat, I can still distinguish dozens of shapes on the rock wall above me. In the vastness of northern Ontario, pictographs are testimony that someone has passed this way before and left a lasting mark upon the land.

Photos courtesy of Susan Bryan

This story's themes