||June 18, 2004
The aboriginal connection to the
Manitous goes back centuries
I wrote about the fascinating
Manitou Islands SW of North Bay on Lake Nipissing recently and have received
more information from various sources. I went on the Chief Commanda Manitou
Island Cruise and was disappointed that the “commentary” about the islands was
about 1 minute long in a 90-minute cruise. The islands close up appeared to be
back in their natural state with only the head frame and a couple of storage
tanks remaining on Newman Island.
Going back geologically, the
sedimentary limestone is a major factor in the islands’ history. It was mined
and hauled to build the bridges on the CPR in the 1880’s and probably for other
projects. A lime kiln on Little Manitou where limestone was heated to make
lime, an ingredient in mortar, for the masons laying the limestone. The kiln
complete with roof and fire box is shown in the photo. (Dr. Kevin O’Grady
1970). The building on the left is apparently an old explosives shed, probably
moved there from a limestone blasting site. The kiln has been destroyed by
heavy ice over the years.
|| The lime kiln on Little Manitou in 1970 and since destroyed by
ice. Dr. K. O’Grady photo.
Geologically the island is the
way it is today because of glaciation grinding the surface of the islands down
and leaving deposits of sand and till.
Champlain liked the islands
The till formed the base for
future growth of the wide variety of trees and shrubs. Champlain in July 1613
commented in his journal during a 2 day visit with 7-800 aboriginal Nipissings
that “offshore there are pretty islands…(one with) 3 or 4 ponds…surrounded by
meadows and thick woods”. Those ponds are the base of nesting sites of the
great blue herons who like the protection of the water from predators.
There are apparently some
interesting fossils in the limestone that have been studied but have been
relatively unexplored. Geology had an impact on the naming of Calder Island.
As mentioned in the previous article the Young family who owned the island until
recently did not know the source of the name.
Reason for name
Dr. Kevin O’Grady drew my
attention to the fact that geologists call a formation where there is a circular
ring with a sunken core that at one time was alive with molten material, a
caldera - a derivation of the word caldron or cauldron (a boiling pot). It
would be reasonable that surveyors would name an island Calder or as it says in
one reference Caulder.
In terms of names some names
are still ambiguous. One interesting reference by F.E. Carter in her book Place
Names of Ontario (on microfiche at the North Bay Library) gives some background
on the Manitou name. She states that Akentouton is a Huron Indian name from
1651 that evolved into Manitoualin and eventually Manitou Island.
Campers on the beach on the isthmus on the Great Manitou Island.
There are some 50 birds
identified on the Manitous. There are several Osprey nests but the most
important guest is the Great Blue Heron. Their grey-blue plumage and long white
feathers around their head and their 2-meter wing span create a beautiful
image. They build nests of sticks on dead trees in swampy areas and lay 3-5
eggs. Over several days within a couple of months they are flying and they join
their parents on the trip south in the fall. They eat snakes, salamanders,
grasshoppers, mice etc. most of which are not on the islands and require long
trips to find.
Natives find island mysterious
The aboriginal connection with
the islands goes back for centuries and is reflected in the name Manitou. Some
references suggest that native people have found the islands mysterious and the
name Devil or Ghost Islands have apparently been used by native people. One
myth has a native Nipissing maiden in love with an enemy Iroquois brave who is
caught and burned at the stake on one of the islands. The maiden jumps into the
fire and dies also. Wayne Bliss who wrote a book Islands in the Sky 1991 about
the Manitous. tells this story and includes a drawing of the event. Another
legend also cites that has a fasting maiden sees her people turned in to snakes
and disappear. Some have suggested that the curse may be a factor in the mines
failings. The settlement by cottagers failing and the sinking of the John
I was given a couple of Nugget
articles with lots of photos about the uranium mine on Newman Island by Ray
Muttart of Chisholm Township.
Third article planned
I also have several other
photos of the mine. I will use these in a third article on the Manitou in the
near future providing a closer look at the mine.
Some other notes of interest.
The WKP Kennedy book on North Bay has an interesting footnote that falls in with
the curse idea. He writes that on August 23, 1904 2 men left North Bay to
travel to the French River in a 12 foot birchbark canoe. A storm drove them
ashore on one of the Manitous where the Steamer “Hazel B” found them and rescued
Speaking of Lake Nipissing
boats there was one called the Manitou Island I, a 15 meter World War II vintage
landing craft used to haul supplies to logging camps and tourist lodges after
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