America’s Great Lakes are many things: they provide an immense
inland waterway; they provide a link to ocean commerce through the
St. Lawrence Seaway; they form part of the longest ‘undefended’
border in the world, if you ignore the armed patrol boats and
gunnery ranges. It is not difficult to believe that these legendary
lakes have always been as they are today, but it would be wrong.
Lake Huron today, when seen on a map, has the shape of a human
being, hunched forward, and carrying a pack or bundle on its back.
This often invokes the image of a Native person on a portage, and
indeed, the entire Great Lakes Basin has been home to many Native
communities for many thousands of years.
Now, if you
look at the ‘pack’ on the ‘back’ of Lake Huron, the long bit of land
jutting North between the ‘pack’ and the ‘back’ is the Bruce
Peninsula, an area of great beauty and great history. The Chippewa
Nation has long roots in the area; today there are two Chippewa
reserves, at Saugeen and at Cape Croker (pronounced Croaker).
Near the town
of Wiarton, Ontario Historical Plaque #6 tells of the Bruce
Peninsula Portage route used by Natives to avoid the long canoe
route around the Bruce Peninsula. (http://www.ontarioplaques.com/Plaque_Bruce03.html
elders of the Cape Croker reserve have long repeated ‘legends’ of
their ancestors being able to walk from Tobermory, at the Northern
tip of the Bruce Peninsula, to Manitoulin Island, an area that,
today, is covered by 90 km of water, and is a scuba diver’s
paradise, with many shipwrecks to dive. The only way across today is
the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which makes the crossing in 90 minutes.
legends tell that, in ancient times, the Chippewa people could walk
North for a long, long time, through a great tunnel, and they
eventually met unfamiliar people walking South, people who wore
strange clothes and carried strange weapons. There were many rivers
and waterfalls on the route.
scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada have mapped the
underwater topology (shape) of this area, and discovered that much
of the submerged land of today was once dry. One feature, which
prompted further underwater research, is a ridge of rock situated
roughly between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island; the ridge is 1750
metres long, and up to 5 metres high. Evidence of running water and
waterfalls was found, as were roots and remains of cedar trees more
than 9000 years old. Obviously, the ridge was once dry land.
It is now
clear that, indeed, a land bridge existed between Tobermory and
Manitoulin Island in the ancient times when the glaciers were gone
and the Great Lakes were beginning to fill. And is also clear that
we have so much to learn from the legends and stories of this great