Special places

There are special places at Georgian Bay that we should leave alone. Particularly if they are on private or First Nations land. We may not understand why, but to someone, somewhere, these places have a deep meaning.

Long before Europeans came to Georgian Bay indigenous people had remote locations where they rested the remains of their deceased members. In their ignorance of native ways, white men sometimes desecrated these places. Here’s an example:

Dead Island – Ojibway on the mainland brought their dead wrapped with some of their belongings and placed high up in trees or under heavy piles of rocks on the island. In the late 1800’s this native burial ground was robbed of its Indian burial artifacts, including its mummified remains and shipped to Chicago for display at the 1893 Worlds Columbia Exposition. Presently local First Nations are negotiating with the Chicago museum to send back what few artifacts are still in their possession. (source: White Squall Outdoor Store. Author: Graham Kecheson).

In its description of the artifacts the Field Museum refers to “Birch Island, Georgian Bay”. Dead Island, outside Key Harbour, is Dokis First Nation land. The band, located along the upper French River, has erected a sign asking visitors to respect the sanctity of their island.

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At another island owned by a large extended family are memorials to members who have passed on, each of whom had deep affection for Georgian Bay. The island has a high rock that, back in the lumbering days, was a sheltered mooring for tugs and small boats when wind and seas kicked up on the outer Bay.

Nowadays, one family member says, “yahoos” land on the island without permission, step through the memorials, and blithely dive off the cliff for fun as if it was public land. Well it isn’t, and respecting the sanctity of the island should not require posting signs on it. The memorials should make it obvious, even to yahoos.

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In a crevice of rock overlooking a portage in the southeastern part of the Bay for many years was a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It may still be there. It was erected nearly 90 years ago by Ted Becker of Buffalo, NY, in gratitude for a life-saving event in the rapids below.

In June, 1930, Becker and his wife had brought their six-year-old daughter to the Bay in hopes the clean fresh air would help heal her whooping cough. They planned to camp on the lake above the portage in a vacant log cabin. Less than a week after their arrival, a large animal tried to break into the cabin during the night.

Becker had a 22 rifle and tried to scare the creature off by swinging the gunstock at it. In the close quarters the gun discharged into his abdomen. In a story of courage, endurance, faith, good luck, and kindness of strangers, Becker, his wife, daughter and dog in a tiny outboard motorboat ran those rapids safely in the dark and wended their way among the islands until finding help at one of the few cottages occupied that early in the season.

He was taken to Midland where at 1:30 a.m. four doctors and six nurses at St. Andrews Hospital, Becker wrote later, were “ready to serve and save a stranger! Not one person had seen or heard of me before this early hour of the morning.”

A year later Becker had his “Madonna of Georgian Bay” erected above the portage. Many years later, one black night we were at that same portage during the early spring run-off catching smelts. But that’s another story.

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