Bon Echo Provincial Park – pictographs

Bon Echo Provincial Park – pictographs

When we arrived at Bon Echo Provincial Park (location) this time around, the first bit of news that greeted us was the news that a “Boil water” advisory was in effect. It was  a precautionary warning since they had done some pump repairs and, under such circumstances, post the warning until water testing results come back.  The second bit of news was that a fire ban was in effect with open fires only allowed between the hours of 7PM and midnight. We hadn’t planned on doing any significant cooking so didn’t have our stove equipment with us and hadn’t brought any water either. With no water and no way to boil water and no grocery store on-site in the park, these two bits of news necessitated a trip to the nearby marina to pick up a jug of water as soon as we got the tent set up. For this trip, we had brought along our TNF Talus 33 tent since it is a 3-season tent and somewhat cooler to sleep in than our 4-season TNF Mountain 25 tent. The rest of the evening was uneventful and, come morning, we began our exploration of the campground area.

The land for Bon Echo Provincial Park was donated to the province by the author Merrill Denison and his wife in memory of Flora MacDonald Denison (suffragist, journalist) and Muriel Goggin Denison (author of children’s books).

It was about 10AM when we arrived at the South Beach.  Still a bit too early for beach lovers, I guess :-). Although there is a Bon Echo Lake within the boundaries of the park, the main activities and the primary campground are located on the shores of Lower Mazinaw Lake. Although, at over 400 feet deep,  Mazinaw Lake is one of the deepest lakes in Ontario, the South Beach itself is a sandy shelf which drops off very slowly and provides an excellent location for swimming for both young and old. For the very young there is a buoy line close to shore and for the more adventurous there is a buoy line further out where the water is still only about waist deep. Outside of that buoy line the water drops off more rapidly. The warmest water is in the shallow part!

The Lagoon is adjacent to the beach area and does a very brisk business in canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals.  The famous mile and a half long Mazinaw Rock with its many pictographs is in easy reach of the lagoon so plenty of manual-powered craft in the area of the lagoon and in the area of the rock. Power boats are permitted on the Upper and Lower Mazinaw Lakes but are normally outnumbered by the canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.

I hadn’t seen many of the pictographs when Graeme and I had visited Bon Echo Provincial Park a few weeks earlier so I was happy to see that the weather conditions were perfect for taking our kayak off of the top of the car and paddling out to the rock face. First though, I wanted more information about where to look for the pictographs so off we went to the Greystones Cottage information center where Naythan provided me with all of the information that I needed while Colin answered Adell’s questions about the geology of the Mazinaw Rock. The building itself was the summer home of author, Merrill Denison and is set up as a mini museum as well as offering educational exhibits about the flora and fauna of the area and, of course, the rock and the pictographs.

Mazinaw Rock is about a mile and a half long and rises over 300 feet from the surface of Upper Mazinaw Lake. Although it is the visible rock that gets most of the attention, what is often overlooked is the fact that the lake itself is over 450 feet deep not too far from the face of the rock. According to geologists, the visible rocks provide a window into the many changes over time from a period billion or so years ago when the Grenville Mountain Range was the predominant feature stretching from what is now Eastern Canada southward into what is now South America while the great depth of the lake stems from a large chunk of glacier that fell from the cliff and imbedded itself in the bottom ooze of the time.


The name of the park (Bon Echo) is derived from the excellent echo qualities of this large rock face and with that thought in mind, off we went in our Necky tandem kayak for a closer look at the 200+ pictographs that have been identified along the face of the Mazinaw Rock. As we were getting the a kayak ready to go into the water, I had discovered a rather sturdy tree branch with a good bite to go along with its bark and had to pull some wood out of my forehead, staunch the bleeding, and tolerate a bit of pain as we paddled along.  Adell insisted on doing most of the paddling! My aching head didn’t object too strongly to that strategy :-).

More images will be added to this post when I have a bit more time after traveling to Massena for their Civil War Reenactment.

July 28th – Back from an interesting trip to Massena, NY  – time to add the pictograph images and a few more shots of the Mazinaw Rock.

When you are sitting at water level in a kayak, a big rock face that towers 300+feet above your head is certainly pretty impressive. The portion in the image below is just a small part of the total mile and a half long rockface.

When Graeme and I had been here a few weeks earlier, the water was a bit rougher and we were looking for the pictographs to be both larger and higher off the water.  Also, since we had been looking at published images from many years earlier, we were expecting them to be much clearer and brighter. With some effort and care, Adell and I began to find a few of the 200+ examples of pictographs. Many, perhaps all, of the pictographs have been studied thoroughly and some bear descriptions and names in the more detailed studies but I personally have no idea which of these is older or newer or more important.  Any clarification or additional information would be welcome.  Please feel free to comment.

In addition to the fading of the symbols that may have occurred over the years, there is also the impact of various fungi and lichens that add to the colour of the rockface.

The pictographs were painted by persons in canoes and therefore are only an arm’s length above the surface of the lake.

In addition to the many pictographs, the other part of the rockface which is on the list of things to see is the tribute to Walt Whitman, an American poet who never visited the area but whose democratic ideals were shared with the Bon Echo lodge owner Flora MacDonald Denison, herself a strong leader for the Canadian suffrage movement.  For me, it is an interesting twist, that Walt Whitman, in addition to publishing his poetry, was a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War and I’m adding these images to this blog just hours after attending an American Civil War reenactment.

Light wasn’t great for photographing the Walt Whitman inscription so we continued along the rock in search of more of the pictographs.

This next set of markings appeared to be much like the paint test strips that one finds on modern day highways so I suspect that it might be an example of researchers trying to replicate the various ‘paints’ used for the pictographs.

Turtle Rock is an interesting  outcrop and a popular spot to jump into the cool waters of Mazinaw Lake.

Although the pictographs were the focus of our attention on this outing, it would have been very difficult to not look at the many convoluted surfaces of the rock towering above our heads.

We didn’t find all of the 200+ pictographs but the search was an interesting thing to do on a beautiful day.  As the wind began to pick up a bit, we headed back towards the narrows and back toward our car.




Camping tents available from Amazon


About Ron

Ron has long had an interest in photography and traveling and, in recent years, has had more time to devote to both activities. Long a Pentax user, Ron switched to Nikon gear when he went digital. The advent of the digital SLR camera, and the ease of the internet blogging process, has provided a venue for sharing his photography and travel experience at the local, national and international level. More about Ron
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