Monday, April 22, 2013

A sacred place on the Ottawa River

A British-Canadian friend has lent me a book of his––nearly 500 pages long––by Peter Ackroyd, entitled Thames, Sacred River. I'm looking forward to reading it. Although Canada doesn't have such a wealth of history as does England, it strikes me that the Ottawa River could also be given a title like that.

There is a site on the Ottawa, known as Oiseau Rock, or, in French, Rocher à l'Oiseau, a 150m high cliff (opposite Chalk River's atomic energy research labs, west of Petawawa and Pembroke) that is specifically sacred to the aboriginal people from this area. The First Nation calls it Migizi Kiishkaabikaan (bird rock) and apparently the locals pronounce its French name "Weeso Rock." Ancient pictographs are painted on the rocks which have unfortunately been defaced by modern graffiti; it would be sad to see this at close quarters.

We have seen this dramatic stretch of river from the air but not from ground /water level. In the 19th century, steam boats used to sail up these upper reaches of the Ottawa upstream of Portage-du-Fort as far as Rapides-des-Joachims, and if their whistles were blown, the sound would echo off the face of Oiseau Rock.

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