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Bon Echo Provincial Park: A Case Study of Canadian History, Heritage, Landscape, and Identity

Posted by HPOC Staff on

By Dr. Jordan A.S. Chase

Commissioned by Heritage Properties of Canada

1.5 hour read

Audio Version


Table of Contents


Part I – The Land of Bon Echo

Part II – The Indigenous History and Heritage of Bon Echo

Part III – The Built History of Bon Echo

Part IV – The People of Bon Echo

Part V – The Art of Bon Echo

Part VI – Bon Echo Today


Bibliography and Sources Used in the Text

Further Reading - Other Sources, Helpful, Informative, or Interesting Source Material



     It must have really been something special to behold. An area and a series of views that would make anyone feel small, feel as just one minor cog in the vast machinery of the cosmos. Pushing through the trees to gaze upon wind-swept outcroppings of rock, including the massive rock face jutting out of the deep, dark Lake Mazinaw, surrounded by ancient trees, some millennia old, to see this area would have been imposing indeed. Today this area is known as Bon Echo, reputedly named for the acoustic properties of the rock surrounding the Lake, which produced a robust echo, hemmed in as the area was by dense forest and allowing for the reverberation of sound off the abundant Precambrian rock.

     Bon Echo Provincial Park is still a special place today, though not as secluded or pristine as it once was. The Rock on Lake Mazinaw, and the surrounding area, also had and continues to have special significance for the region’s Indigenous Peoples, as evidenced by the more than 250 pictographs still found there. It is unknown today whether the Rock and Lake Mazinaw were actively sought out by these Indigenous Peoples for its spiritual significance and natural beauty, or whether the area acquired its importance over time, after travellers, traders, scouts, or even individuals on vision quests saw the area on their way elsewhere or as part of a separate undertaking. What is known is that several Algonquin peoples, nations, and tribes, including the Huron and Ojibwa, and later the Iroquois, held this place in high importance for its spiritual, cultural, and environmental importance. The pictographs found in the park today are complex, numerous, hand-painted, and not confined to a single area, suggesting recurring additions over time.

One pictograph on the Mazinaw Rock (photo by HPoC)

     And as it was then, so today also the Rock, Lake Mazinaw, and the entire surrounding area impresses all who venture there to this rugged patch of forest on the southern fringes of the Canadian Shield. The entire area today is, of course, within the confines of Bon Echo Provincial Park, which provides the opportunity for all to appreciate the various strands of Canadian history, heritage, landscape, culture, Indigenous art and spirituality, and architecture that intersect there.

     For many of us in southern Ontario, Bon Echo Provincial Park is well within driving distance, only hours from both Ottawa and Toronto, and is linked to the large urban areas of the Golden Horseshoe by modern communications like the highway and rail[1] system. In this way, the area is accessible, yet unique, close by geographically, but worlds away in terms of the ancient history and heritage centred there. And this perhaps is the large appeal of national and provincial parks and other such areas of Canada, the fact that this untamed wilderness is still within our reach. It seems to be a way to blur the lines between the past and present, to diminish the sometimes vast gulf separating the urban and rural.

     This article on Bon Echo will examine the land itself; the Indigenous connections to the area; the architectural, built, and physical significance of the Park; the various people associated with Bon Echo; the art and cultural importance of the region; and the story of the Provincial Park to the present day. It is only with much background reading and research of both firsthand accounts and later studies of the area that it has become clear to me that Bon Echo presents a great case study of the Canadian experience, which includes the Indigenous experience in this area, the colonial period prior to Confederation, and the growth and development of modern Canada. Bon Echo also provides the opportunity to link history (the past) with heritage (the stories, decisions we make, and importance placed on the past), as well as between the land and the people who have interacted with it, for good or ill. For the interpretation of the past and the stories passed down through history allows us to better understand that time period, but also our own time period.[2] The stories and evidence that survive to the present day are crucial, but so too is our interpretation of them – the stories we choose to tell our children and tourists, and those we choose to hide, open up avenues for contested and contradictory interpretations.

     In many ways, Canada “defies definition,”[3] and encompasses far too many stories, histories, cultures, and peoples to fit into a neat package and identity. A straightforward linear narrative is out of the question. And just as Canada is complex and multifaceted, so too is Bon Echo. The Park has a varied history with cultural milestones and colourful characters, just as Canada does. And though one cannot write a definitive account of such a vast land, nor even a small area of it in Ontario, as Bon Echo is, I hope to provide a snapshot of this place and the peoples who have encountered it. Through this picture of Bon Echo I hope to highlight the intersection of Indigenous history and culture, Canadian art and imagination, the built history of the area, and the natural landscape itself. And these intellectual and historical snapshots are designed to complement the images and videos of this beautiful corner of our shared heritage and landscape as presented through the Canadian Vistas Ambient Nature Video Series (see also the Heritage Properties of Canada website). I hope you enjoy reading about this fascinating and stunning part of our country as much as I enjoyed learning about it.

Part I – The Land of Bon Echo

The Mazinaw Rock at sunset (photo by HPoC)

     As in so much of the writing on the lived experience of Canadian history, the story of Bon Echo Provincial Park begins with the land itself. The Park is situated in the Canadian Shield region, a vast and varied geological reality of the North American continent, undergoing formation for billions of years and leaving its mark across the country in terms of landscape, geology, ecosystems, weather patterns, economic opportunity, and cultural impact. The Shield was formed by “massive change[s]” over billions of years as mountains rose and fell, volcanism shaped the land, and the advance and retreat of glaciers all left their mark.[4] The Canadian Shield itself is composed of Precambrian rock, formed in the Precambrian geological era which ended roughly 544 million years ago, and covers nearly five million square kilometres, almost half of all of modern Canada.[5] The movement of glaciers and ice sheets formed the great lakes and waterways Canada is known for, such as Great Bear Lake, Lakes Huron and Superior, and the northern shore of the St. Lawrence.[6] The Canadian Shield is massive, and thus holds a massive place in the Canadian imagination and consciousness. The Canadian Shield has only pockets of arable land, and thus much of Canadian settlement, economic development, and political interaction focussed on areas further to the south, as expanded upon in Harold Innes’ ground-breaking The Fur Trade in Canada (published in 1930), which then expanded into a much larger Laurentian thesis.[7]

     The Canadian Shield has also given Canadians the opportunity to enjoy plentiful fresh water, especially in terms of lakes, of which there are over 30,000 that exceed three square kilometers alone. One such lake is the aforementioned Lake Mazinaw, one of an estimated 250,000 in Ontario.[8] Mazinaw is a deep lake as well, with a maximum depth of 137 metres,[9] and tends to be clear and cold, due to its stone bottom and thus minimal sand and vegetation. And yet the most impressive aspect of Lake Mazinaw is undoubtedly the massive granite rocks and cliffs that emerge from the water, rising to 100 metres over the surface of the lake. According to travel writers and various guests, the Rock is the “centrepiece”[10] of the entire Park, further supported by the fact that it is here that the Indigenous pictographs are found. The Rock has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada for its cultural and historical significance pertaining to its Indigenous past, and atop it and all around it there are spectacular views. One of the future owners of the Bon Echo Inn, Merrill Denison, wrote that it was “impossible to describe the magnificence of this scene when the great cliff is battered in the rays of the setting sun…[or the] serene majesty under a full moon.”[11] And the views are no less magnificent today.

     The Canadian Shield and Bon Echo in particular also boasts impressive and timeworn trees. Although Bon Echo contains both new and old-growth forests, the old growth cedars are especially remarkable, some reaching a thousand years old. One might not think these old Eastern White cedar trees much to look at, but these “twisted, dwarf evergreens survive in tiny pockets of soil in cracks and ledges on the rock,”[12] the latter of which were formed by the shifting of massive glaciers and ice sheets. The Park also boasts a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as an impressive range of flora and fauna species, including deer, moose, bear, fox, beaver, racoon, rabbits, loons, peregrine falcons, vultures, kestrels and hawks.[13] The majestic lakes and rock formations of Bon Echo represent a geological time frame that dwarfs the Indigenous history and their time in the area, and Indigenous Peoples themselves were familiar with Lake Mazinaw and its impressive Rock hundreds if not thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans on the shores of what would become Canada. It was this setting of the Canadian Shield that set the stage for the next chapter of Bon Echo, the Indigenous period that would see the creation of the remarkable pictographs that helps make the Park so unique.

Part II – The Indigenous History and Heritage of Bon Echo

Bon Echo Park (photo by HPoC)

     Canada’s Indigenous Peoples (in addition to Inuit and Métis) played an essential role in the development of the country. These original inhabitants have contributed throughout the years to the political, economic, educational, cultural, social, intellectual, constitutional, and environmental reality of life in Canada. Any history or study of the Canadian past that denigrates or downplays the role of the first inhabitants is misleading and limited at best. Proper historical studies must move beyond simplistic, racist, or stereotypical views of Indigenous Peoples, and the “layers of misunderstanding and presumed knowledge” that exist, as well as recognise them as “important players in the pageant of the past”[14] that continues today. These peoples were not merely victims and passive observers, but were dynamic participants with agency and individuality, played active and decisive roles, and made decisions based on the assessment of norms, priorities, values, and strategies. Certainly we cannot understand the Canadian past or present without this full appreciation. And the influence is everywhere; even the name Canada, along with a multitude of other proper nouns for lakes, rivers, parks, provinces, territories, and regions are derived from Indigenous words and names.[15] This is just one example of how Indigenous history and identity is tied up with wider Canadian history and identity, and how both are linked to the land and environment of Canada.

     Indigenous Peoples inhabited, and to a lesser extent continue to inhabit, nearly every region, ecosystem, and corner of this vast land, proving remarkably resilient to the often-harsh environment and excelling in adaptation.[16] And the history of Indigenous settlement and movement was determined in large measure by the shifting landscape and changing weather patterns, the natural ebb and flow of species, and large geological and climatic forces like glaciers, ice sheets, and other natural phenomenon associated with the Ice Age(s). There is clear evidence that Indigenous groups spent time in and around Lake Mazinaw, and left traces of such presence for all to see. Our story here begins with the different nations that occupied and travelled through this southern region of the Canadian Shield, using the area for hunting grounds, as an area to gather foodstuffs and materials, as a zone of interaction and trade, as an important spiritual and cultural area, and as a waypoint for travels elsewhere.

     The history of the Indigenous Peoples of what is today southern Ontario generally, and Bon Echo specifically, is a complex tale of shifting alliances, demographic pressures, moving groups, interactions with the land and people, hostility, contact, and cooperation. Maps of the Indigenous Peoples of Ontario identify tribes, nations, and groups such as the Algonquin, Ojibwa, Odawa (Ottawa), Nipissing, Petun, Cree, and others.[17] And as such, this section will provide but a brief overview of this story and how it pertains to modern-day Bon Echo Provincial Park. This region, in the rugged land north and west of the St. Lawrence Seaway,[18] was home to Algonquin-speaking peoples like the Cree and Ojibwa, as well Iroquoian-speaking peoples, such as the Wyandot (Huron), Erie, Oneida, and Neutral. Further complicating the story is the fact that the area that is now Bon Echo changed hands over the course of centuries, as Iroquoian-speaking peoples drove out Algonquin-speaking peoples, before the area was re-taken by Ojibwa and other Algonquin nations.[19]

     The Indigenous Peoples of Canada have inhabited this land before there even was a Canada to speak of. Prior to contact with Europeans, these Indigenous groups boasted complex societies, with permanent settlements, agriculture and food cultivation, modes of transportation and travel routes, mixed economies, sophisticated art, folklore, and cultural traditions. These societies also included spirituality, knowledge of the medicinal uses of various species, hunting, trapping, and fishing, social organisation, formal systems of diplomacy, and war, and a vast trading network.[20] Indeed, archaeological research and evidence illustrates this vast network of trade and interconnectedness, uncovering trade items, minerals, and materials from Lake Superior (copper), modern-day Manitoba and Wyoming (shells and obsidian), the Ohio River valley, northern Ontario (ochre from Sudbury) and as far afield as the Gulf of Mexico (conch shells) discovered on the north shore region of Lake Ontario.[21] This Canadian Indigenous presence, importance, and ancestry goes back before the Hudson’s Bay Company, before Shakespeare, before Christ, before even the written word was set down. For many of the Indigenous nations, tribes, and groups of Canada today, there is a legitimate claim to being present here since “time immemorial.”[22] The evidence for the presence in what would become Canada is various, widespread, and convincing. In Ontario, for example, there is evidence and traces of habitation on the Eramosa River in Wellington County by Indigenous Peoples dating to circa 9,000 BCE; in other areas Iroquoian clay pottery dates from 900 CE; and near Bon Echo itself, evidence has been unearthed of camps, fire pits, stone ceramics, and animal bones dating from 800 BCE.[23] These are, of course, in addition to the magnificent Indigenous pictographs[24] that adorn Mazinaw Rock at the Park today.

     Because of the longevity of these groups and the emphasis placed on oral culture, there are fewer written records of Indigenous Peoples that capture these early years. It must be understood that for oral cultures, important information was passed down the generations in ways beyond the written word. The use of Wampum Belts, for example, allowed for a record of an agreement or important decision made between different groups. This was a way for cultures to record and represent something done verbally, such as an agreement, in a physical, tangible, visual way. Many Algonquin-speaking Indigenous groups also placed much importance on story-telling and folklore to transmit important information, share fables, exchange news, and provide humour or entertainment. One historian, for example, has argued that many Indigenous cultures maintained a strong oral tradition, emphasising the reputation of the story-teller, the genealogy of the story itself, and that there were rules regarding embellishment and personal risks for mistakes or mis-telling.[25] In this way, a level of credibility and legitimacy can be preserved. And just as people can express stories verbally, Indigenous pictograms (images carved into rock) and the pictographs of Bon Echo were also a means of “writing” or communication and expression in a visual way.[26] And to better understand the pictographs, context is important, as is discarding anachronistic or counterproductive later interpretations by non-Indigenous people.[27]

     Yet despite the lack of written source material of the Indigenous experience prior to European contact, there is plenty of evidence to tell the stories of these peoples and their achievements. For example, archaeology is important in the study and appreciation of the diversity and extent of pre and post-contact Indigenous groups, uncovering pottery, pipes, stone tools, artistic creations, and other artifacts.[28] But there are other ways to capture glimpses of these cultures and to get a sense of beliefs, worldview, activities, languages, and other features of life. Historical linguistics can help scholars appreciate the development of languages and the interaction between seemingly disparate groups, explaining how geographically distant peoples became associated and connected over time. Ethnology, ethnohistorical methodologies, anthropology, research into oral stories and traditions, and social and cultural studies can all assist in this process.[29] The pictograph rock paintings in Bon Echo Park are but one example of this widespread evidence that helps tell the story of Indigenous Peoples, their beliefs, priorities, history, art, links to nature, and spirituality.

Pictographs on Mazinaw Rock. (By D. Gordon E. Robertson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

     The pictographs themselves are quite impressive, as is the location where they are found. It seems unlikely that such a substantial collection of Indigenous symbols would be concentrated in this location if it did not hold some special meaning. Bon Echo and its famous Mazinaw Rock where these pictographs are found are “positioned at a place that has special visual and acoustic properties,”[30] reinforcing the view that it did have special meaning for Indigenous Peoples of the area. The author of The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo and Beyond, for example, has speculated that the Bon Echo cliff was a place where spirits or the Great Spirit (Gitchi Manitou) could communicate to Algonquin peoples in dreams, or was a site of ritual and prayer.[31] Others have suggested that sites of rock art might have been part of broader expression, such as used in conjunction with stories, dance, music, or oration. Nevertheless, these places certainly represented “concentrated spiritual power and [were] places of ceremonial practice,”[32] hence their markings and recurring visitation over time. Furthermore, the word Mazinaw (sometimes also written as Massanoga or Mishinog) itself translates from Algonquin as “place of meeting,” “picture,” “painting,” or perhaps even “painted image lake.”[33] The latter definition suggests the Lake was named in a later Indigenous period after the pictographs were discovered there, apparently created by some earlier Indigenous visitors. It should also be noted that though it is difficult and problematic to generalise about Native North American beliefs and spiritual practices, much Indigenous mythology emphasises the “sacredness of nature,” the importance of animals, and the interconnectedness of all things. Thus it is no surprise that many of the pictographs represent animals or other features representing nature in some way, such as the seasons.[34]

     There are over 250 pictographs painted on the rocks at Mazinaw Lake, found on 65 different rock faces, along a stretch of cliff over two kilometres long. In fact, for its sheer variety, “size and complexity, this site has no rivals.”[35] These pictographs contain different representations and symbols, and are scattered on the rock surfaces near the waterline, suggesting they were painted from boats on the lake.[36] To understand the origin and significance of these pictographs, it is crucial to get some insight into the history, mythology, and cultural beliefs of the people who created them. And although there are various symbols and representations in the pictographs, many of them feature spiritual and cultural elements that held meaning for Indigenous Peoples. Nearly all cultures create artistic or physical artifacts which explain and unify communities, and also point to complex imaginative and spiritual lives[37] that can be difficult if not impossible for an outsider to comprehend. One such subject of these pictographs were the aforementioned animals and other natural symbols, in part because of the important role played by animals in Algonquin culture and spirituality. One important animal was the turtle, which featured in origin stories of the Ojibwa people, and there is even a rock outcropping on Mazinaw Lake that is roughly shaped like a turtle.[38]

     The pictographs also represent tangible and material human figures and animal figures, including “deer drawing sleds” and hunting scenes, but also ideas, objects, and abstract concepts like geometric shapes, in addition to diverse subjects such as mythical forms, “direction signals, [and perhaps even] news bulletins, or their own dreams and nightmares.”[39] The pictographs were drawn on the rock in red ochre, sometimes mixed in with animal fats or oils[40] to ensure it adhered properly to the rock surfaces. Red ochre is noteworthy because it is a natural pigment, used since antiquity by Indigenous Peoples from the Beothuk of Newfoundland to tribes around the world.[41] And despite the passage of time, weathering from the elements, and erosion due to wave splashes, these pictographs remain visible on Mazinaw Rock, though many are faded. The pictographs themselves are spectacular, but the age of these Indigenous creations are equally impressive. And yet, it is difficult to get an accurate reading of their age, and it is also likely that they were created over many years, rather than just during one season, for example. Rock art is notoriously resistant to traditional radiocarbon dating techniques, but anecdotal evidence suggests the pictographs were present at Bon Echo prior to the cultural and historical memory of the modern Algonquin peoples. A government surveyor of the area was told by local Indigenous Peoples in 1847, for instance, that these rock paintings were “executed before any Indians existed, probably by the presiding spirit of the rock” itself.[42] Nevertheless, the pictographs have been studied by archaeologists, geologists, artists, and scientists from the 19th Century right down to the present day. By the 1880s, for example, the pictographs had been described in publications from the Smithsonian Institute and the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs. And in 1892 David Boyle of the Royal Ontario Museum conducted studies there, and professional tracing and their capture by light-sensitive photographic techniques continued in the following century, as well as work by the Canadian Rock Art Research Association and Canadian Conservation Institute.[43]

     One of the most prominent aspects of the pictographs at Bon Echo is the representation of and reference to Indigenous mythology, spiritual, and cultural beliefs. The symbols and images represented on the rock serve to give “tangible form to cultural concepts and ideas,”[44] in a visual and enduring way. And Indigenous spiritual beliefs and representations were often very spatially focussed – emphasising a particular rock, mountain, lake, or other natural feature of the landscape. In this way, clear connections were made between places, names, stories, and memories associated with them;[45] a way to link the spiritual realm with the physical world. One such spiritual figure represented in the pictographs is Nanabozho (also sometimes spelt as Nanabush or Wisakedjak), a shape-shifting culture hero important to Algonquin and especially Ojibwa peoples, who played a role in creation and the transfer of knowledge to early humans.[46] Nanabozho is depicted in some of the pictographs as a rabbit or hare-like creature, and the prominence of it as a subject illustrates the Indigenous belief in animism (how spirits imbue even natural phenomenon) and role of the shaman, whose job it was to bridge the divide between the spiritual and material worlds. Nanabozho as depicted at Bon Echo might also represent a manifestation of the ‘Trickster’ creature, prominent in many Indigenous cultures.[47]

     The pictographs at Bon Echo provide but a snapshot of the depth and breadth of Indigenous history, spiritual and cultural experience. It is for this reason that the heritage of Indigenous Peoples needs to be respected and incorporated into the modern political, intellectual, and economic landscape of Canada. Proper education about and reconciliation for the Residential School system, appropriation and assimilation policies, forced transfers and removal of peoples, denigration of cultures, disrespect for belief systems, and the sheer violence directed at Indigenous Peoples is essential. But this is not enough – it is also crucial to have a better appreciation for the richness of Indigenous cultures and the very real contributions made to Canadian development. A more balanced and holistic Canadian history that incorporates these Indigenous contributions points to the universality of human experience, but also recognises and respects each group’s specific role and historical context. In this way, the story of Bon Echo can play a part in this. And only by having this more balanced understanding can we as Canadians seek a path forward that will “widen sympathies…[with people] of all periods of human history and…demonstrate a unity in the hopes and aspirations of all mankind.”[48]

     Unfortunately, the contact period and subsequent interactions between Indigenous Peoples and the British Crown and ultimately the Canadian state proved detrimental to this rich heritage over time. The introduction of European diseases, harmful influences, and dangerous technology began even before the first Europeans penetrated into the interior hinterland of what became Canada. Government policies, environmental changes, certain attitudes, and the behaviour of settlers and citizens further eroded the Indigenous way of life.[49] Cultures faded away, languages were lost, communities were torn asunder, and people lost connection to their ancestral homelands. Though there were attempts to reconcile the competing values and priorities of the different groups that came to inhabit Canada,[50] these efforts proved insufficient over time. But the story is not yet complete. Indigenous experiences are part of the Canadian fabric and cultural mosaic, and can further be interwoven into Canadian history and education, as can an increased autonomy regarding treaty rights and respect for diversity and culture for all Canadians.[51] More resources, attention, and action toward initiatives such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,[52] the reports on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ongoing land claims, and legal and cultural battles will pay dividends.

     The landscape and location surrounding Mazinaw Lake and Bon Echo is stunning on its own, but was only made more beautiful and interesting by the additions of the various Indigenous groups that travelled and stayed in the area. And though there is little evidence of permanent long-term Indigenous settlement and habitation in the Bon Echo region, there certainly is substantial indication that seasonal settlements were established there. It would take many years, changes in perception, the harnessing of modern technology, and notions of land possession and “ownership” before permanent settlements and structures were built at Bon Echo. And it is to the physical and built history of the Park that we will now turn.

Part III – The Built History of Bon Echo

Close-up on Historical Plaque at the site of the original Bon Echo Inn, by the Friends of Bon Echo Park

     The work of Indigenous artists, spiritualists, and leaders on Mazinaw Rock and in the area was the first, but certainly not the last, impact people would have on the region of Bon Echo. The architectural, physical, and built history of the region is also notable, as it reflects the priorities and decision-making of those who chose to spend time in the area. The structures, habitations, and infrastructure connected to the early farming, settler, mining, and lumber companies of the 19th Century played an important role in opening up the area both physically and intellectually (and thus artistically). By the 1860s, for example, a school and hotel had been built to serve the settlers, and there were several churches by the 1870s.[53] This section, however, will focus more on the Bon Echo Inn and other structures built in the area that now forms the central part of the Provincial Park.

     Perhaps the most important building to be erected after the park was transferred to private ownership was the Bon Echo Inn, built by Dr. Weston Price. Before Price bought the land most of it was Crown land, with some plots set aside for settlers and some had been transferred to individual ownership. After purchase of the land, Price and his wife had the Inn built on the narrow patch of land that separates the north and south parts of Lake Mazinaw. Construction began in 1899, and by 1901 it was completed – certainly a testament to the vision, commitment, and wealth of Price. By the time Price sold the property and the Inn to Flora MacDonald Denison in 1910, it contained several buildings to service and support the main hotel. These structures included several cottages, a boathouse, two docks, tent platforms, service buildings, a laundry, icehouse, workshop, staff quarters, a water tower, and even a portable saw mill was established to aid in construction and maintenance. And to better serve the guests staying and visiting the Inn and park, Price had a diving platform installed at the lake and bridge to the Rock and stairs to reach the top.[54] Clearly the natural beauty of the Park was being emphasised by Price. He had a unique and beautiful piece of land, and he knew enough to make it accessible for his visitors.

The historical 'Dollywood Cottage', now the Park Visitor Centre (photo by HPoC)

     Flora Denison and then her son Merrill and daughter-in-law Muriel continued the construction, adding one cottage, for example, that came to be known as Dollywood. Today it acts as the Park Visitor Centre (currently closed). Another addition was the Greystones building, which became a cottage and now serves as the Friends of Bon Echo gift shop.[55] The Denison family also oversaw the addition of horse stables, tennis and badminton courts.[56]

The historical 'Greystones Building', now the Friends of Bon Echo Gift Shop (photo by HPoC) 

     The Denisons sought to create a hospitable environment in an idyllic location, close enough for city-dwellers to travel to, yet far enough away from the ordinary vacation. A contemporary American newspaper boasted of all that was on offer, including accommodations featuring “hot and cold running water, attractive porches commanding glorious views, and a cozy living-room with a fire place”[57] for cooler evenings. A series of vegetable gardens helped feed the Inn’s guests, and an outdoor theatre was created to take advantage of the natural setting and hold plays and other productions.[58] This outdoor amphitheatre continues to be a prominent feature of the Park today.

            In 1936, however, the Inn burnt down after being struck by lightning. The fire that raged could not be contained and there was little remaining of perhaps the most important built structure on the property. It was never re-built. The original structure that drew such fascinating characters and contained the beautiful birch furniture, built right on the property,[59] were lost to the blaze. But even with the loss of the famous Inn, guests continued to visit the Park, staying nearby, camping in the vast woods, or staying in the many other cabins and cottages on the property. So despite the setback, guests continued to visit Bon Echo throughout the war years and into the modern Provincial Park era. Another important historical structure that has survived is the Cabin on the Hill, now a beautiful wooden building that can be rented out to Park visitors as overnight accommodation. Interestingly enough, this structure, originally known as Manager’s House, was in another area, but was taken down and re-built within the grounds of the Provincial Park.[60]  


The historical 'Cabin on the Hill', now a Park cottage rental (photo by HPoC)

     And yet it was at the Bon Echo Inn, the resort and hotel that attracted guests from across North America, that served as the focal point of the park for so many years. The Inn on beautiful Lake Mazinaw, within sight of the spectacular Rock of Bon Echo, were additions to the story that began with the landscape itself and augmented by Indigenous Peoples down the ages. It was the Inn, moreover, that attracted a wide range of interesting characters, and it was these individuals that enriched the story of Bon Echo that we will explore now.

Part IV – The People of Bon Echo

Close-up on Historical Plaque at the site of the original Inn, by the Friends of Bon Echo Park (individuals are not identified)

     One of the most interesting aspects of the story of Bon Echo surrounds the amazing cast of characters that either called the Park their home, seasonally or year-round, as well as the visitors that contributed to its story. Following the contribution of Indigenous Peoples and even fur traders[61] who frequented the area of Bon Echo, there was a diverse range of individuals and groups that used the land and the bounty it provided. After the Indigenous Peoples of the area had since moved to other parts of the region, had “sold” off parcels of land to government purchasers,[62] or had been pushed out of the area, there were efforts in the 19th Century to open up the area of Bon Echo for resource extraction and exploitation, as well as for (admittedly limited) settlement.[63] Despite the “vastness of the Precambrian [Canadian] Shield”[64] and the dangers it contained, once its potential for profit was discovered, there were individuals and businesses that felt the remoteness and inhospitable nature of the area could be balanced by the richness it provided. There was no doubt, for example, that the Shield held much potential in terms of its mineral resources, forests, lakes and streams. And much like the rest of Canadian historical, political, and economic development, it was the rich resources of the land that shaped settlement and trade.[65]

     By the second half of the 19th Century the lands and waterways containing and surrounding what is now Bon Echo Provincial Park had been exposed to limited and not completely successful agriculture and farming, owing to the rocky and thin soils of the Canadian Shield. The most successful farming took place in the few fertile pockets scattered around the area. The lumber companies also took advantage of the centuries-old great pines and other tree species that grew there, some over 35 metres in height, and over a metre in diameter. As early as 1820, for example, there was a military survey of the area to assess its lumber potential, and by the next decade lumbering on the Skootamatta River grew dramatically. By the 1850s lumber tramways, settlements, sheds, trails, and even a dam on Lake Mazinaw were built. There is also evidence that steamboats and other means of transportation were used in the area. These operations continued into the 20th Century, with the last log drive down the Skootamatta in 1906. These operations proved unsustainable, and left a blight on the land. Disorganised and heavy tree-felling as well as poor fire-control measures created serious problems. In addition to the activity related to forestry products (pulp, lumber, paper), there were also mining operations, with companies seeking nickel, gold, iron ore, and other metals.[66]

     And with the economic potential and resource extraction of the area there came settlers and those seeking a plot of land to call their own. In terms of the first legal ownership of the land (beyond the Indigenous Peoples, of course), Ebenezer Perry surveyed and oversaw the construction of the Addington Colonisation Road (built between 1854 and 1867). This was designed to open up the area to settlement and provide easier access for the merchant and business carts and wagons going into and out of the area. The Road, however, even when completed was far from smooth, though it did cut a path through the dense forests. In 1858, the property containing Mazinaw Lake was “patented” to W.H. Elmer, who in turn conveyed the land to Robert Gray in 1864.[67] And in 1859, 179 free land grants were given to settlers along the Addington Road. Settlers jumped at the opportunity, with people coming to the area from Canada West (modern-day Ontario), Canada East (Quebec), Ireland, Prussia, the United States, Cape Breton, England, Scotland, and Denmark.[68] Yet despite this support and the tenacity of these individuals, many of the settlers had departed after a generation. The fields were filled with stones, some of the tree roots were too deep, and the soil was often quite shallow before it hit rock. The Canadian Shield could be unforgiving, and the insects, dense forests, rocky soils, difficulty in travel, and cold winters deterred all but the hardiest of settlers.

     The first person of the Bon Echo area of which we have much information is Dr. Weston Price (1870-1948). An accomplished dentist in his own right, Price had been born in Belleville but practised dentistry across the Great Lakes in the US. Price had first been introduced to the area when he camped near modern-day Bon Echo as a child. Returning to the area on his honeymoon with his wife, they were “taken with the majesty of the Rock,” absolutely fell in love with the area, and decided to purchase a tract of land from the original settlers adjacent to Lake Mazinaw in 1899.[69] Price oversaw the construction of the Bon Echo Inn, purchased boats and canoes for the lake, and began inviting guests to stay in the park. A firmly religious man (a Methodist), Price insisted on all his guests being teetotallers and attending a mandatory church service on the Sabbath – likely not an issue given he only seemed to invite like-minded people to his Inn.[70] After suffering from the death of his son, Price sold the Bon Echo Inn and the land affiliated with it to Howard and Flora MacDonald Denison in 1910, for $13,000,[71] no small sum in those days.

     The next owners of Bon Echo Inn and the surrounding park were responsible for its further growth and development as a summer destination spot. Although Flora and her husband Howard operated the resort together, they soon divorced and it was Flora (1867-1921) who was perhaps the most colourful character associated with Bon Echo. Flora was born in Ontario, and travelled to Bon Echo in her early adult years, staying there regularly by 1901. Through these trips she became exposed to the beautiful lake and surrounding areas, and eventually the imposing Inn. Flora was certainly an interesting character that did not fit neatly into the early 20th Century mould; she was not the submissive wife and mother that was expected of her,[72] and she forged out on her own, making a life for herself in Toronto. A successful teacher, dressmaker, and ultimately writer/journalist, she found her true calling as an activist, feminist, and political agitator. Flora avidly supported women’s suffrage in both Canada and the United States, met and worked with Emiline Pankhurst, Susan B. Anthony, and Charlotte Gilman[73] and helped secure the vote for women in Ontario and New York State. Flora was elected president of the Canadian Suffrage Assembly in 1912, and worked for the Women’s Suffrage campaign in New York in 1917. And her views on religion, marriage, birth control, and social class, as expounded upon in her weekly column in the Toronto Sunday World (1909-1913) and later in her own publication the Sunset of Bon Echo (1916-1920) were “more radical than those of most Canadian suffragists.”[74] Flora also believed in social and spiritual reformation, humanism, the theosophist movement – and her respect and reverence for nature also linked her with the Indigenous Peoples that had visited Bon Echo –  was a reader of Nietzsche, and even wrote a book on her sister’s psychic powers.[75] To say that she was a character would be an understatement.

OLD WALT carving as it appears on July 24, 2014, almost 95 years after completion. (By Mariusz S. Cybulski - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

     The ideals of American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), including equality, brotherhood, and democracy, were particularly attractive to Flora Denison. So much so that in 1919 she had an enormous tribute to Whitman, taken from Leaves of Grass, carved in massive letters into the Mazinaw Rock.[76] It took nearly an entire summer to complete, and she had brought in expert stonemasons and carvers from Europe especially for the job. The letters on ‘Old Walt,’ as this section of the rock is colloquially known now, can still be seen in the Park today, though it is faded. Although Whitman himself never visited Bon Echo, Flora made friends with his official biographer Horace Traubel, who she invited to the ceremony. In fact, one story has it that Traubel died soon after seeing the ghost of Whitman at the unveiling ceremony![77]

Bon Echo - OLD WALT carving, photo published in Canada in 1919 (public domain record found on

Note that Flora MacDonald Denison is under the "P" in "amplitude", and her son Merrill Denison is under "know"

     Yet aside from her personal attributes and beliefs, Flora Denison was also known for the guests she invited to Bon Echo. As a progressive and contemporary woman seeking refuge from the modern world, she sought to surround herself with like-minded people, especially artists, poets, and writers. Perhaps the most famous and influential Canadians to visit Bon Echo during Flora’s tenure as owner there were the members of the Group of Seven. One member of the Group, A.Y. Jackson, for example, first travelled to Bon Echo to capitalise on the desire for commercial art to advertise the business. One such poster by Jackson referred to the Bon Echo Inn, on Mazinaw Lake, as accessible by the Canadian Pacific Railway, certainly an attractive feature for those in southern Ontario, and boasted of the Inn’s “good fishing, boating, and other outdoor sports.”[78]

     Other guests who visited the Bon Echo Inn and resort were humourist and cartoonist James Thurber (1894-1961), artists C.W. Jefferys (1869-1951), J.W. Beatty (1869-1941), Alice Innes (1890-1970), novelist Morley Callaghan (1903-1990), and architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), as well as other spiritualists, socialists, and believers in free love.

     The cast of characters continued after the death of Flora (d. 1921), as the Inn passed to her son Merrill and daughter-in-law Muriel. These guests of the later period included more Group of Seven members, the photographer Yousef Karsh (1908-2002), and writer W.O. Mitchell (1914-1998).[79] Merrill and Muriel, also famous writers,[80] continued the traditions laid down by Flora, and invited free-thinking and open-minded people to the Inn and park. In fact, so committed to these principles was Merrill that even when he faced financial trouble and was contemplating selling the Inn to remain solvent, he would not diverge from these ideals. One such story was recounted by Mary Savigny, Merrill’s long-time secretary who lived at Bon Echo. On one sunny Sunday afternoon, a guest of the Denison’s had had too much to drink, and proceeded to pass out on the diving platform, fully naked. Although this scene was apparently not too out of the ordinary at the Inn, there just happened to be a couple on the property that were considering purchasing it from Merrill. In the words of Mary:

When they saw the scene on the beach with little children playing in the sand and adults sitting there obviously unconcerned about the naked man in their midst, they were shocked and left immediately. The Fosters didn’t buy Bon Echo.[81]

     Financial troubles continued to plague Merrill, however, and the rising costs of maintaining the Inn, the Stock Market Crash, and onset of the Great Depression in 1929 forced the closure of Bon Echo. Not wanting the property and beautiful setting to go to waste, Merrill felt compelled to lease the property of Bon Echo to the Leavens Brothers,[82] who ran an aviation company. The Leavens rented out the Inn and its affiliated buildings as a summer hotel, and maintained a summer camp on the property. But the 1936 fire that destroyed the original building, the historic Bon Echo Inn, further compromised Merrill’s ability to reinvigorate the property and build lasting success. Despite the best efforts of Merrill, plans for the property as the future home of a forestry college, an educational or cultural centre, an Anglican Church conference facility, or other establishment came to naught.[83] Though the property continued to be used as a camping area and campground, Merrill Denison ultimately handed the property over to the Province of Ontario (The Ontario Department of Lands and Forests) in 1959 for use in the capacity of education, recreation, and conservation. The new Bon Echo Provincial Park duly opened its gates on 21 July, 1965.[84] Merrill had decided not to keep the property within his own hands if it could not be properly maintained, and rather than divide it up into smaller plots and selling for a profit, he ensured it entered the public trust. Merrill, who died in June 1975, had stayed true to the vision of Indigenous Peoples who had occupied the area and the other owners of the property like Price and his own mother Flora, right until the end of his life. Bon Echo and its beautiful surrounding areas would be a place for the meeting of peoples and ideas – a place where one could enjoy the gifts of nature.

Part V – The Art of Bon Echo

     Bon Echo seems to hold a somewhat unique position amongst Canadian provincial parks in that it both contains important artwork within the park itself, as well as serves as the setting for the artwork of others. The Indigenous pictographs found on Mazinaw Rock are impressive, to say the least. They also create a tangible link between the past and present, and between art and science – for we can appreciate the pictographs for their aesthetic value, but also attempt to understand them using modern tools and research methods. It seems likely that the modern definition of art used in a Western context is insufficient to apply to the Indigenous pictographs at Mazinaw Lake, as these drawings served a purpose beyond mere storytelling, fiction, and aesthetic beauty. Nevertheless, even if the primary purpose of the pictographs was spiritual, instructional, educational, or religious and was not art in the traditional Western sense of the word, they are still intriguing, pleasing to look at, and can be appreciated for their aesthetic value.[85] In this sense, they are works of art, part of a long tradition of rock art found around the world that dates back millennia.[86] This is akin to how medieval or Renaissance-era European creations, such as stained-glass windows, the Notre Dame cathedral, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were designed primarily with a religious or theological purpose, but they are still spectacular works of art.

     If we understand art in a more modern or Western-sense as a personal or emotional projection of individual interpretation and experience, there is much that pertains to Bon Echo. The beautiful setting of Bon Echo, and the Canadian Shield more generally, has served as inspiration and acted as the setting for generations of Canadian (and other) artists. The rugged wilderness and landscape has inspired poets and playwrights, authors, painters, musicians, travellers, and other cultural actors. From Farley Mowat (1921-2014) and Glen Gould (1932-1982) to Neil Young (b. 1945) and Gord Downie (1964-2017), the nature and wilderness of Canada seems to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration and awe. Emily Carr, another famous Canadian artist, wrote of the Group of Seven member Lawren Harris and his work as a glimpse into “the soul of Canada…into the vast, lovely soul of Canada, plumbing her depths, climbing her heights, floating in her spaces”[87] but captured on canvas. Even to the present day, Canadian literary culture encounters and engages with the landscape, and “raw nature continues to be an important motif”[88] in all manner of artistic expression.

     And Bon Echo itself, including the pictographs, has been the setting for and subject of dozens of paintings and other artwork over the years.[89] The first known modern painting of Bon Echo was by R.J. Drummond in 1895, who depicted Mazinaw Rock in watercolour.[90] And artwork that captured Bon Echo moved beyond the canvas. Artist David Hlynsky, for example, photographed the pictographs extensively and used them as the basis of two “pictomyths,”[91] using the Indigenous paintings as inspiration for multimedia artwork. Indeed, as the technology and artistic trends have evolved, Bon Echo has served as a source of inspiration and setting for artists as varied as painters, photographers, playwrights, poets, filmmakers, eulogists, and ethnographers. Poet Stuart MacKinnon named a collection of his work Mazinaw (published in 1980),[92] and the visual artwork of Bon Echo includes important work by the famous Group of Seven.

     The Group of Seven[93] holds an important place in the 20th Century Canadian art world, which both includes and transcends Bon Echo. They brought energy and originality to Canadian art, and created a group around which artists could find inspiration and support. The Group created a distinct Canadian style of painting and artwork that celebrated and respected the wilderness, and played a decisive role in the creation and nurturing of a Canadian identity. Of the original seven members of the Group, five spent time at Bon Echo, with some returning regularly for years. One such member who visited Bon Echo was Arthur Lismer, who seems to have been rendered speechless upon seeing the Rock for the first time, only able to look and “gurgle uneffectual [sic] nothings” at the sight.[94] Lismer ended up spending more than one summer at Bon Echo.

     Another member of the Group of Seven who spent time at Bon Echo was A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974), who also created art for the Bon Echo Inn itself. Jackson and the other Group artists eschewed convention and the artistic traditions of Europe, as well as the conservative and imitative nature of Canadian art to that point,[95] to forge a new path for Canadian art. A path that provided originality and a better reflection of the vast wilderness that constituted Canada. Jackson ventured to most corners of Canada, and insisted on sketching outdoors, even in the winter, and completed travels and paintings of the Arctic, the coasts, and the interior, especially Ontario and Quebec. His interaction with nature and the rugged wilderness illustrated what the environment had to offer, and that “the painter’s encounter with its brutal power is a battle, rather than the polite and banal observation of a visitor from abroad,”[96] just as the formation of Canada itself was a struggle against a hostile landscape for those that actually lived there. As Jackson explained in his autobiography, it was important for the Group to (attempt to) strike a balance between the beauty, advantages, and potential of the wilderness, with the danger, responsibility, and isolation it contained.[97] Though most Canadians lived in urban areas or those tamed by agriculture, and far from the rugged Canadian Shield, Jackson was obsessed with the vastness of the landscape, was “thrilled by the force of its overwhelming scale”[98] which he sought to capture in his art. Most of Canada was, and still is, after all, dominated by the vast wilderness and sheer power and scale of nature.

Title image from Canadian Landscape featuring A.Y. Jackson (Crawley, R. (Director), 1941. Canadian Landscape [Film]. National Film Board of Canada;

     Jackson created numerous paintings with Bon Echo as the setting, as he was captivated by its striking splendour. Jackson’s Birches, Bon Echo (1924), Winter, Bon Echo (1924), and Bon Echo, Lake Mazinaw, Ontario (1924)[99] reinforced the perception of Bon Echo as a special setting for art and inspiration. And yet his creation of commercial art and advertising material commissioned by Merrill Denison provide his most immediate connection to Bon Echo, the Inn, and the Park. He ultimately provided a poster, letterhead, and two brochures that advertised the Inn and its amenities, capturing the beauty of the area in colour. Indeed, it has been argued that Jackson’s poster of Bon Echo is “one of the finest Canadian artist-produced posters from any period,”[100] but it was not the last one created by Group members for the Inn. Frank Carmichael and A.J. Casson also created artwork commissioned by the Bon Echo Inn, and Arthur Heming, Doris Mills, Charles Comfort, Frederick Hagan, and Eric Alwinckle found inspiration in the area for their artwork throughout the years. Jackson and the other Group painters, along with landscape artists since then, served to teach “Canadians to perceive the peculiar beauty of their own country,”[101] and to embrace and find pride in nature, rather than shame or fear.

     The real influence of the Group of Seven was in the capture of the Canadian wilderness and an articulation of an identity based on the landscape. It must be remembered that when the Group were creating their artwork Canada was still a relatively young nation, uncertain of itself and feeling pressure from larger societies. This made their achievements all the more impressive and important.[102] The Group were able to latch onto something that most Canadians could relate to, if only tangentially or indirectly, and provide an “intellectual framework for a country struggling to free itself of imperial ties while fighting off American domination.”[103] In many ways, this is a struggle that continues to this very day, as Canada tries to juggle multiple Indigenous, British, French, American, regional, provincial, international, and multicultural sources of identity. The members of the Group of Seven were unabashedly nationalist and embraced a new vision for Canadian character, even if this vision was not completely inclusive, not giving sufficient space for Indigenous, French Canadian, or the immigrant experience, for example, and even if their artwork was not without detrimental effects.[104] But the Group did attempt to highlight the country’s uniqueness and the “grandeur and immensity of the North,”[105] in clear distinction to the consciousness of Europeans, in art as in other aspects of life. The Group’s links to the National [Art] Gallery of Canada, and the contributions of Group artwork in international shows and exhibitions only solidified this perception. It seems the real contribution of the Group to Canadian history and identity was that by emphasising the vastness of the Canadian wilderness, they actively connected this to the unlimited potential of imagination and opportunity. Canada as a whole and Canadians as individuals were limited only by their self-imposed restrictions. Imagination could be limitless.

     Though the Group of Seven were not the first artists or public figures to articulate an idea of the wilderness as a defining characteristic of Canada, they certainly helped this project along. The Indigenous Peoples of Canada embraced an identity and organised their societies in accordance with the dictates of nature, acknowledging its power, benefits, and drawbacks. The Group of Seven moved in a somewhat different but connected direction, and painted and promoted a very “specific aesthetic,” which contributed to the Canadianisation of the idea of the “North,” of “Northernness,” or even the “cult of the North.”[106] Just as Indigenous culture, history, art, and heritage were and continue to be central to Canadian society and its development, Bon Echo is a place where these pathways intersect. Canadian artists began to appreciate and articulate the growing “depth, richness, and diversity of the Canadian imagination,”[107] just as Indigenous cultures appreciated the diversity and richness of the land and its species.

Part VI – Bon Echo Today

Bon Echo Park (photo by HPoC)    

     The Bon Echo of today is still a special place that continues to embrace its history and heritage. The Provincial Park, though more crowded, certainly, than it was in the days of the Denisons, still offers spectacular views and a wide variety of activities, species, and environments to enjoy. Bon Echo is one of the most popular Provincial parks in Ontario, and is a veritable outdoor playground that happens to combine important Indigenous art and history with a modern provincially-funded and operated park. In normal (in other words, non-COVID) years, Canada greets millions of tourists annually, Ontario millions of campers between the spring and autumn months, and Bon Echo welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.[108] Just as urban folk saw the appeal in travelling to Bon Echo to relax by lamplight, night fires, and cooking on wood stoves in Flora Denison’s day, so today also do many relish the opportunity to experience (largely) unspoilt nature and “escape from the cities,” if only for a short while.[109] One need only be stuck in traffic dozens of cars long on a one-lane highway in a remote part of Ontario at the end of a long-weekend to understand this widespread appeal.

     The Park was opened in 1965,[110] and as with the development and expansion of Canada’s National Parks, these provincial parks represented a more concerted effort to recognise, explain, and protect Canada’s natural inheritance.[111] Canada’s first national and provincial parks were established in the 19th Century, and the Commission of Conservation was established under Prime Minister Laurier in 1909 to continue these efforts. But resource extraction, pollution, and the unsustainable exploitation of the land continued alongside new research, surveys, and efforts at resource management. There came to be a growing appreciation and study of the need for equilibrium and harmony between people and the environment, and the “interrelationships and ecological balances of the various resources”[112] of Canada, a lesson known by the Indigenous Peoples all too well.

     The Indigenous pictographs on the famous Mazinaw Rock are still one of the main attractions of Bon Echo, and there is an informative and interpretive boat tour of the area aboard the Wanderer Ferry.[113] This area is so important, in fact, that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board has officially designated the pictographs of Mazinaw a National Historic Site, as it is deemed to provide a “tangible link” to the past and has meaning in a larger historical context. The pictographs attest to the importance of Bon Echo for spiritual and cultural reasons, and also the “storytelling techniques of the ancient Aboriginal peoples.”[114] Its importance was further reinforced and celebrated when in 1993 the Ontario Heritage Foundation erected a plaque honouring the artists and writers who “helped put the place on the cultural map.”[115] And for more cultural and educational opportunities at the Park, there is also the interactive Discovery Program, an annual art exhibition and sale, weekly plays and theatre productions, and a Visitor Centre (all on hiatus due to COVID-19).[116] And the long history and close connection between Bon Echo and art is preserved by the Friends of Bon Echo, an organisation that oversees the aforementioned art show and sponsors an artist-in-residence program.[117]

Rock climbers enjoying the sunset (photo by HPoC)

     Bon Echo Provincial Park also has activities for the avid outdoor enthusiast or the casual day-tripper in from the city. There is rock-climbing,[118] which has made Bon Echo famous since at least the 1970s.[119] There are also many different types of watersports, hiking trails ranging from beginner (1 kilometre) to difficult (the 17 kilometre Abes Loop) levels,[120] and all types of camping, including backcountry, trailer and RV sites, camping sites only accessible by canoe, and more family-friendly camping with access to showers and washrooms. And because of the lakes and abundant water there are lots of opportunities for swimming, and other activities include cycling, bird-watching, and some even scuba dive in Lake Mazinaw and surrounding lakes. Other amenities and features of the Park include sandy beaches, backcountry access points, docks, boat rentals and launches, historic buildings, the amphitheatre, a gift shop, trail guides, the stairs leading to the top of Mazinaw Rock. The Mugwump Ferry connects different parts of the Park, and the Wanderer vessel offers interpretive boat tours.[121] There is certainly something for everyone at Bon Echo.

Canoeists on Mazinaw Lake (photo by HPoC)

     Of all the flora and fauna of the Park, there are some interesting, rare, and beautiful animal, bird, and plant species. There are, for example, roughly 40 different tree species in and around Bon Echo, including pine, maple, ash, spruce, fir, and oak. There are areas of old and new-growth forest, and a nice mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, along with a variety of shrub and smaller plant species. The region’s wetlands and water systems, which contain both fast and slow-moving waters, also boast a variety of vegetation and plant species, which attracts many different insects and herbivores. The fish species include trout, herring, sunfish, bass, perch, pike and walleye – a fisher’s delight. There are also over 180 kinds of birds, and Bon Echo even contains snakes, salamanders, and Ontario’s only native lizard, the Five-Lined Skink.[122]

A small snake in Bon Echo Park (photo by HPoC)

     The natural beauty of Bon Echo Provincial Park today simply reminds us of the duty we have as Canadians, and as citizens of the world, to protect and cherish our natural environments. Only through the concerted efforts of all who hike and camp in Bon Echo can we ensure the wilderness has a chance to continue to thrive, despite the presence of so many people.


     Though it perhaps sounds cliché, Bon Echo Provincial Park is truly something special. Aside from being a provincial park that has great hiking, canoeing, and immersive camping, the history of the park and the Indigenous connection to the area makes it unique. This is just one reason why the pictographs on the rocks at Lake Mazinaw have been named a National Historic Site of Canada,[123] a place that is especially special as one can interact with and experience it, rather than just read a plaque or wander in a museum. The Indigenous pictographs that adorn the imposing Mazinaw Rock that soars out of the lake of the same name makes Bon Echo important for historical and archaeological reasons. Aside from the tourists and campers on summer vacation, the Park also invites academics and scientists, artists and photographers, seeking answers to questions asked for centuries. For just as the Indigenous Peoples acknowledged, Bon Echo is a place of beauty, a place of power – even if it is only the power of imagination. And the number of legends, stories, and myths associated with Bon Echo attest to this power.[124] For Bon Echo has long been a place of art, of spiritual significance, of cultural importance and the focus of story-telling, imagination, perhaps even hope. Hope that a beautiful place such as Bon Echo can be brought back from the point of excessive resource extraction and protected in such a way that all who wish to can enjoy it. The lumber and mining companies, had they been given free reign and stayed in the area, might have done irreparable damage to Bon Echo and the surrounding ecosystem. And it was fortuitous that Merrill Denison decided to bequeath the land to the province, and people, of Ontario rather than sell it to private developers or those seeking to profit from the land’s bounty or development. This also speaks to the increasing focus on, and interest in, the Canadian environment, conservation, and the links between nature, identity, and the economy, including tourism and recreation.

     And yet the links between nature and society are precarious. Despite the increasing technological sophistication of modern society, much evidence of hubris remains. Over-pollution and resource extraction beyond a sustainable level or that does irreparable damage to the environment are counterproductive at best. The creation of Bon Echo Provincial Park has been beneficial in many ways, providing funding and protection for native species of plants and animals. But drawbacks might exist, however, if in promoting national and provincial parks and influx of people has unintended consequences for delicate ecosystems or endangered species. It must be emphasised, moreover, that despite our modern technology, nature and the landscape remains dangerous. Deaths at Bon Echo and other parks are not unheard of, and can be attributed to drowning,[125] exposure to the elements, or unfortunate encounters with hostile wildlife. The danger inherent in the environment only reinforces the requirement for respect, and despite all of humanity’s efforts to understand, control, or tame nature and the landscape, and our urbanisation and technological advancement, we are still beholden to nature. For these reasons alone it is our responsibility as a society to embrace conservation, live within our environmental and ecological means,[126] and take seriously the threats to our planet. Simply by being aware of the rich history and heritage found at Bon Echo, for example, and by being respectful, and doing your own small part can go a long way in ensuring the Park is able to be enjoyed for generations to come.

     Bon Echo Provincial Park provides all who visit the opportunity to appreciate the contributions that all groups have made to the development of Canada, including but not limited to Indigenous Peoples, entrepreneurs and business owners like Dr. Weston Price and Flora Denison, and thinkers and artists like A.Y. Jackson. Just as during the contact, exploration, and settlement period Europeans required assistance from Indigenous individuals and groups, those same groups relied upon nature and the environment for their livelihood and existence. And as rapacious groups moved further into the North American continent, local cultures and peoples came under attack, some to the point of extermination.[127] This was then connected to the attacks on the land and its species. So there are strong connections between peoples and ideas, throughout Canadian history, both positive and negative. And it is certainly not hyperbole to suggest that these connections have influence – for without the Indigenous Peoples and the expansion of the fur trade, Canada would not be what it is today.[128] Bon Echo illustrates the power of art, individuals, and ideas, and the interaction of people and the land around them. An appreciation for these developments and contributions, so evident at Bon Echo, provides us with a way to chart a path forward.

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Leeming, David, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

“Letters to the Editor,” The Vancouver Daily World, 12 June 1920,

Lutz, John Sutton, ed., Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact (Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007).

“Mazinaw Pictographs National Historic Site of Canada,” Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations,

“Mazinaw Rock,” Summit Post, 2021,

McKillop, A. Brian, “Laurentian Thesis,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 March 2015,

McPherson, Hugo, “Painting and Sculpture” in Careless, J.M.S. and Robert Craig Brown, eds., The Canadians: 1867-1967 (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1967).

Morse, Bradford W., ed., Aboriginal Peoples and the Law: Indian, Métis and Inuit Rights in Canada (Ottawa: Carlton University Press, 1985).

“Ontario Parks,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2021,

Reid, Dennis, Alberta Rhythm: The Later Works of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982).

Roberts, J.M. and Odd Arne Westad, The Penguin History of the World – Sixth Edition (London: Penguin Books, 2014).

Savigny, Mary, Bon Echo: The Denison Years (Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, 1997).

Stacey, Robert, and Stan McMullin, Massanoga: The Art of Bon Echo (Newcastle: Penumbra Press, 1998).

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Bon Echo Provincial Park (Toronto: The Division of Parks, 1992).

Trigger, Bruce G., Natives and Newcomers: Canada’s ‘Heroic Age’ Reconsidered (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986).

Unknown Author, “Algonquin Legends, Myths, and Stories,” 2020,

---------------------, High Pines Trail Guide: Bon Echo Provincial Park (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1988).

--------------------, Kiskebus Canoe Trail: Bon echo Provincial Park (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1987).

---------------------, The Canadian Desk Companion (Toronto: Strathearn Books Limited, 2003).

Various Authors, The Canadian Encyclopedia: Year 2000 Edition (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1999).

Vastokas, Joan M., “Pictographs and Petroglyphs,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (Online), 4 March 2015,

Woodcock, Krysta-Lee, “Bon Echo Art Show Keeping Tradition Alive,” The Nappanee Guide, 16 July 2015.

Further Reading - Other Sources, Helpful, Informative, or Interesting Source Material

Axtell, James, ed., The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

Berger, Carl, The Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914 – Second Edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).

Boldt, Menno and J. Anthony Lond, eds., The Quest for Justice: Aboriginal Peoples and Aboriginal Rights (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985).

Bridle, Augustus, The Story of the Club (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1945).

Buchanan, Donald, Canadian Painters: From Paul Kane to the Group of Seven (London: The Phaidon Press, 1945).

----------------------, “A.Y. Jackson: The Development of Nationalism in Canadian Painting,” Canadian Geographic Journal 32, June 1946: 284-285.

Conway, Tom, Painted Dreams: Native American Rock Art (Unknown City of Publication: Creative Publishing, 1993).

Cook, Ramsay, The Maple Leaf Forever: Essays on Nationalism and Politics in Canada (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1971).

Dupuy, Michel, “A.Y. Jackson a 90 ans,” Le Droit (Ottawa), 7 October, 1972).

Gilles, Toupin, “La Mort de Jackson,” La Presse (Montreal), 11 April 1974.

Gladstone, Bill, “Awesome Bon Echo Provincial Park,” Bill Gladstone Genealogy, 21 December 2011,

------------------, “Stunning Precipice Marks Bon Echo,” The Globe and Mail, 22 May 1998, 29.

Government of Canada, “Canadian Landscape,” The National Film Board of Canada, 1941.

Halfpenny, A.J.B., “The Massanog Rock,” The Canadian Antiquarian & Numismatic Journal 7 (April 1879): 145-148.

Hill, Charles, Canadian Painting in the Thirties (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1975).

---------------, The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1995).

Kent, Norman, “Two Canadian Masters of Landscape,” American Artist 233, Vol. 24, No. 3 (March 1960).

Ketchum, W.Q., “A.Y. Jackson Heads out with Friends to Paint Rugged North,” Ottawa Journal, 30 August 1957.

King, Ross, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010).

Krech, Shephard, Native Canadian Anthropology and History: A Selected Bibliography (Winnipeg: Rupert’s Land Research Centre, 1986).

Kritzwiser, Kay, “A.Y. Jackson, Lively Old Master Sees Gallery of His Works Opened,” The Globe and Mail, 23 September 1968.

Magner, Brian, “The Artist Who Captured Canada,” Parts I and II, The Globe Magazine, 27 August 1960 and 3 September 1960.

Morrison, R. Bruce and C. Roderick Wilson, Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986).

O’Brian, John and Peter White, eds., Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007).

Reid, Dennis, Bibliography of the Group of Seven (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1971).

---------------, The Group of Seven (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1970).

Reid, John, “A.Y. Jackson: Landscape Painter at Large,” Saturday Night, 18 April 1942: 4-5.

Sabbath, Lawrence, “A.Y. Jackson,” Canadian Art 69, Vol. XVII, No. 4 (July 1960).

Salinger, Jehanne Biétry, “Group of Seven Begins Expansion,” Toronto Mail and Empire, 7 December 1931.

Tasker, John Paul, “Governor General Apologizes for Saying Indigenous People were Immigrants,” CBC News (Online), 19 June 2017,

Tyrwhitt, J., “A.Y. Jackson: All Canada for his Canvas,” Reader’s Digest (Canada), 112, April 1978: 43-48.

Unknown Author, “Have to Substitute Pines for Models: Canadian Artists Must Turn to Nature for Inspiration Jackson Says” Toronto Star, 8 November 1927.

--------------------, “The Memories of a Great Canadian Painter: A.Y. Jackson,” Maclean’s Magazine, 11 October 1958, 18-19 and 77-84.

---------------------, “Why We Say ‘Indigenous” Instead of ‘Aboriginal,” Indigenous Innovation, 17 June 2020,


[1] As Gray has pointed out, it was the establishment and expansion of Canada’s railway network that allowed for artists like Tom Thompson to become “infected…[with] passion for the magnificent countryside within a short train ride of Toronto.” See Charlotte Gray, The Promise of Canada: People and Ideas that have Shaped our Country (Toronto: Simon and Schuster Canada, 2016), 91.

[2] John Sutton Lutz, ed., Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact (Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 6.

[3] Gray, People and Ideas, xvi.

[4] John Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo and Beyond (Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 2000), xi.

[5] Gerald Hallowell, ed., The Oxford Companion to Canadian History (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2004), 110-111.

[6] Various Authors, The Canadian Encyclopedia: Year 2000 Edition (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1999), 2152.

[7] The Laurentian was an historical theory and set of arguments developed primarily by English-speaking Canadian historians in the years prior to and following the Second World War. Its main proponent might very well have been Donald Creighton, in such works as The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence (published in 1937). This thesis both built upon and in many ways replaced the Staple Theory of Canadian history and economic development as outlined by Harold Innis and others. The Laurentian Thesis made a persuasive if somewhat geographically limited argument that explained Canadian development in terms of resource exploration and exploitation, the growth attributed to the fur trade, and the trading and financing by merchants in emerging urbans along the St. Lawrence River area. These urban areas in the Canadian heartland were thus also connected to Europe and the transatlantic shipping and exchange of ideas, goods, and services that came with it. For an overview, see Carl Berger, The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing Since 1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 208-237 and A. Brian McKillop, “Laurentian Thesis,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 March 2015,

[8] Unknown Author, The Canadian Desk Companion (Toronto: Strathearn Books Limited, 2003), 7.

[9] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 126 and Stacey, Massanoga, 11.

[10] Carolyn Heller, Ontario (Berkely: Perseus Books Group, 2015), 230. One author of travel books has even referred to the rock at Bon Echo as “Canada’s Gibraltor,” somewhat nonsensically. See Ron Brown, The Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Ontario (Boston: Boston Mills Press, 2016), 72).

[11] Mary Savigny, Bon Echo: The Denison Years (Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, 1997), 18.

[12] Marion Harrison and Peter Thompson, Explore Canada: The Adventurer’s Guide – Revised Edition (Buffalo: Firefly Books Inc., 2004), 190.

[13] “Ontario Parks,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2021,

[14] Robin Fisher and Kenneth Coates, eds., Out of the Background: Readings on Canadian Native History (Toronto: Copp Clark and Pitman Ltd., 1988), 1-14.

[15] The examples are nearly endless, including: Nunavut, Ottawa, Algonquin, Huron, Athabasca, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Kananaskis, Chilliwak, Kelowna, Winnipeg, Nanaimo, Miramichi, Pictou, Napanee, Niagara, etc. J.M.S. Careless and Robert Craig Brown, eds., The Canadians: 1867-1967 (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1967), 625

[16] One need only think of the ingenious tools and implements designed to overcome the difficulties presented to various Canadian environments to appreciate this resiliency. Such examples include snowshoes, the dog-sled, kayak and canoe, longhouse and other wooden dwellings, wigwams, igloos, inuksuk, bowls for boiling water, etc.

[17] Hallowell, Canadian History, 685.

[18] Maps and map-making from the 17th and 18th Century in France extended to their colonies and possessions in the new world. The French Royal Academy of Sciences (Académie des sciences), for example, created cartographic representations of the vastness of North America based on reports, surveys, and accounts of missionaries, fur traders, and soldiers. By 1703, the Carte du Canada proved a big advance in map-making for the St. Lawrence region. This map, furthermore, has the area inhabited by “Algonquins.” See Ralph E. Ehrenberg, Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography (Washington: National Geographic Society, 2006), 126-127.

[19] See, for example, Trigger, Natives and Newcomers, 7; Fisher, Canadian Native History; Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 4 and Hallowell, Canadian History, 193.

[20] The Canadian Desk Companion, 13; John Sutton Lutz, ed., Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact (Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 196 and Stephen Leacock, The Dawn of Canadian History: A Chronicle of Aboriginal Canada (Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1920), 26-34.

[21] Hallowell, Canadian History, 194 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 7.

[22] J.M. Roberts and Odd Arne Westad, The Penguin History of the World – Sixth Edition (London: Penguin Books, 2014), 475.

[23] The Canadian Desk Companion, 63; Hallowell, Canadian History, 4 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, xiii and 7.

[24] It should also be noted here that these Pictographs are themselves difficult to date. See, for example, Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 12 and Heller, Ontario, 230.

[25] Lutz, Myth and Memory, 6.

[26] Roberts, History of the World, 53 and Hallowell, Canadian History, 7.

[27] As Bruce Trigger has pointed out, Indigenous religions and spiritual traditions were largely admirable, yet their cultures were often “badly misunderstood.” He also argued that to study Indigenous Peoples historically allows us to fill out the story of Canadian history, and by doing so we can overcome simplistic, ethnocentric, or racist views. This will create a more complete and objective Canadian history. Trigger, Natives and Newcomers, 43 and 48-49.

[28] Trigger, Natives and Newcomers, 8.

[29] Ibid, 55; Fisher, Canadian Native History, 1 and The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1573-1574

[30] Government of Canada – Parks Canada, “Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario,” 16 July 2019,

[31] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, xi and Unknown Author, “Algonquin Legends, Myths, and Stories,” 2020, The author of the latter source explains that the Gichi Manitou (or Kichi Manido) is viewed as the Creator, but has no “human form or attributes,” such as gender.

[32] Hallowell, Canadian History, 4.

[33] Savigny, Bon Echo, 68; Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 1; “Mazinaw Pictographs National Historic Site of Canada,” Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations, and Atlas Obscura, “Mazinaw Rock,” 2021,

[34] David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 19 and 279 and Roberts, History of the World, 115.

[35] “Mazinaw Pictographs National Historic Site of Canada,” Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations,

[36] Government of Canada – Parks Canada, “Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario,” 16 July 2019,

[37] Lutz, Myth and Memory, 16.

[38] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 16; Leeming, World Mythology, 19 and Government of Canada – Parks Canada, “Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario,” 16 July 2019,

[39] These pictographs created by Algonquin peoples no doubt “documented pieces of their lives” for posterity and expression. But Parks Canada sources have admitted that their original meanings are “lost in time” and their age unknown. See Bradford W. Morse, ed., Aboriginal Peoples and the Law: Indian, Métis and Inuit Rights in Canada (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1985); Stacey, Massanoga, 25 and 93; Atlas Obscura, “Mazinaw Rock,” 2021, and Government of Canada – Parks Canada, “Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario,” 16 July 2019,

[40] Atlas Obscura, “Mazinaw Rock,” 2021,

[41] Red ochre could also be augmented by adding black, white, or yellow dyes. Joan M. Vastokas, “Pictographs and Petroglyphs,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (Online), 4 March 2015,   

[42] Stacey, Massanoga, 25. It has also been argued that rock art might very well be the “oldest and most widespread art tradition” found in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1822.

[43] In 1958 Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd began extensive tracing and categorisation of the pictographs, and photographic analysis began in the 1970s, especially by Gail McKnight. See Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 10; Stacey, Massanoga, 99 and The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1822.

[44] Hallowell, Canadian History, 3.

[45] Ibid, 13.

[46] “Algonquin Legends, Myths, and Stories,” 2020,

[47] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 11-19 and Leeming, World Mythology, 8, 16,19, 27, 83, and 279.

[48] And Indigenous art, for example, illustrates common archetypes and “universal psychic tendencies,” which are given expression by both individuals and cultures. These are found in myths, stories, as well as artwork, and contain “universally familiar human motifs” that connect us all. Trigger, Natives and Newcomers, 42 and 163 and Leeming, World Mythology, 27.

[49] The establishment of federal treaties and categorisation of peoples as “Indians” (and later Métis and Inuit) was a mixed blessing at best. And the establishment of reserves, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, Canadian Pacific Railroad, and land surveys all increased the presence of the British Crown and Canadian state in traditional Indigenous lands. Careless, The Canadians, 61 and 142.

[50] See, for example, the British Terms of Capitulation presented to the French after the Seven Year’s War (also known in North America as the French and Indian War), the Royal Proclamation, the Constitution Act, and perhaps most controversially, the Indian Act. See Steven Chadwick, “A History of Occupation: Canada and the Algonquin Land Claim,” 15 May 2014, NATO Association of Canada,; Roberts, History of the World, 657, 724 and 813 and William B. Henderson, “The Indian Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 February 2006,

[51] Historians have argued, for example, that “as is common with occupied territories, Canada’s aboriginal tribes had almost no influence on the structure of government, except in the indirect production of the machinery necessary to the administration of their affairs by others.” These deficiencies can be addressed with careful consultation, legal procedures, consensus-building, respect, education, and understanding. And there has been some successes, though perhaps modest. The creation of Nunavut, for instance, may point the way forward, by illustrating the “acceptance of partnership and common goals between modern Canadians and the descendants of its early inhabitants.” See Careless, The Canadians, 715 and 399 and The Canadian Desk Companion, 16.

[52] Hallowell, Canadian History, 9.

[53] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 36.

[54] Robert Stacey and Stan McMullin, Massanoga: The Art of Bon Echo (Newcastle: Penumbra Press, 1998), 31 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 80 and 86.

[55] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 96.

[56] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 96-97 and

[57] “Bon Echo Where the Big Black Bass Give Battle,” Tulsa Daily Register, 22 June 1927,

[58] Savigny, Bon Echo, 18-22.

[59] Savigny, Bon Echo, 6.

[60] Ibid, 98.

[61] There is evidence, for example, dating from 1670. See Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, xi.

[62] Derek Hayes, Canada: An Illustrated History (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004), 88.

[63] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 36.

[64] Careless, The Canadians, xv.

[65] Robert Haig-Brown, “The Land’s Wealth,” in J.M.S. Careless and Robert Craig Brown, eds., The Canadians: 1867-1967 (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1967), 410.

[66] The Gilmore Brothers Lumber Company, for example, was one of the earliest lumber groups to operate in the area. See Hallowell, Canadian History, 111; Stacey, Massanoga, 28 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, xi and 24-26.

[67] Stacey, Massanoga, 96-97 and Harrison, Explore Canada, 190.

[68] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 36-40.

[69] Stacey, Massanoga, 12 and 28.

[70] Freson, Michelle, “Bon Echo Provincial Park: Shaped by Three Diverse Personalities and an Ojibwe Trickster,” Ancient Origins, 10 September 2018, and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 85 and 87.

[71] Savigny, Bon Echo, 49 and Stacey, Massanoga, 97.

[72] Savigny, Bon Echo, 47.

[73] Savigny, Bon Echo, 47 and Stacey, Massanoga, 12

[74] The Sunset of Bon Echo had a widespread impact. See, for example, “Letters to the Editor,” The Vancouver Daily World, 12 June 1920, and  The Canadian Encyclopedia, 650.

[75] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 90.

[76] Stacey, Massanoga, 12, 33; Savigny, Bon Echo, viii and Atlas Obscura, “Walt Whitman Monument,” 2021,

[77] Stacey, Massanoga, 97.

[78] In January of 1924 Jackson wrote in a letter to J.E.H. MacDonald that he was soon to “leave here 24th January to go to Bon Echo. Expect to find myself in a very exclusive literary circle with Merrill Denison and Artie Heming.” A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd. 1958), 61-62 and Savigny, Bon Echo, 18-19. And advertising for Bon Echo often emphasised its close proximity to the rail line and the excellent fishing found there. “Bon Echo, Where Indian Answers Indian in Ontario,” The Kane Republican, 25 September 1928, page 5,

[79] Stacey, Massanoga, 13, 50 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, xii.

[80] Muriel Denison, Merril’s wife and daughter-in-law to Flora, wrote the successful Susannah book series, perhaps most famous for a film adaptation that starred Shirley Temple. Merrill Denison was an important 20th Century Canadian writer, playwright, poet, and historian. He wrote Brothers in Arms (1921), Klondike Mike (1943), and corporate histories for Massey-Harris (Harvest Triumphant), Molson (The Barley and the Stream), Ontario Hydro (The Power to Go), and the Bank of Montreal. Freson, “Bon Echo Provincial Park;” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 650; Savigny, Bon Echo, 9-13, 30, and 55; Brown, Unusual Things, 72; Stacey, Massanoga, 15 and 33 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 81.

[81] Savigny, Bon Echo, 40.

[82] Stacey, Massanoga, 34.

[83] Freson, “Bon Echo Provincial Park;” Savigny, Bon Echo, 32, 69, 86 and Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 98, 101-102.

[84] Savigny, Bon Echo, 98.

[85] As some have pointed out, art can straddle the line between reality and imagination, is a negotiation or conversation between creator and audience, and balances the “facts of experience” which are individual and internal, and the “formalities of expression.” Art and cultural representations, moreover, can be complemented by science. See Lutz, Myth and Memory, 18 and 27-29 and Hallowell, Canadian History, 3.

[86] Joan M. Vastokas, “Pictographs and Petroglyphs,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (Online), 4 March 2015, and Stacey, Massanoga, 24.

[87] Gray, People and Ideas, 96-97.

[88] Gray, People and Ideas, 115 and199.

[89] Savigny, Bon Echo, 113 and The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2152.

[90] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 36 and Stacey, Massanoga, 26-27.

[91] Stacey, Massanoga, 22.

[92] Stacey, Massanoga, 9.

[93] The original Group of Seven was formed in 1920 and lasted until 1930, when it was eclipsed by other art schools and groups. The Group created striking paintings of the Canadian wilderness, and acted as “aggressive propagandists” for Canadian arts, including visual arts, literature, music, and theatre. See Hallowell, Canadian History, 110, 48, 272. There is much literature that explores the Group of Seven and its contributions to Canadian art and identity. See, for example, Charles Hill, Canadian Painting in the Thirties (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1975) and The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1995); Dennis Reid, The Group of Seven (Ottawa: the National Gallery of Canada, 1970); and the autobiographies of its members, including A.Y. Jackson, A Painter's Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd., 1958) and Lawren S. Harris, The Story of the Group of Seven (Toronto: Rous & Mann Press Ltd., 1964).

[94] Stacey, Massanoga, 58.

[95] Jackson sought, for example, to overcome the “restraining hand of convention” that was holding Canadian art back. See Jackson, Autobiography, xiii and The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1022

[96] Hugo McPherson, “Painting and Sculpture” in Careless, The Canadians, 704.

[97] Jackson, A Painter’s Country.

[98] Dennis Reid, Alberta Rhythm: The Later Work of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982).

[99] Stacey, Massanoga, 64-67.

[100] Ibid, 63.

[101] Jackson, Autobiography, ix.

[102] Careless, The Canadians, 705.

[103] Gray, People and Ideas, 131.

[104] Some argued, for instance, that the dominance of the Group had a “paralysing effect on the visual arts in Canada” for at least 25 years. Others saw the Group as producing overly “derivative and romantic” art. See Careless, The Canadians, 226 and 705-706 and H.F. Gadsby, “The Hot Mush School,” Toronto Star, 12 December 1913.

[105] Ibid, 92.

[106] Hallowell, Canadian History, 48 and 450; Stacey, Massanoga, 26-27 and 93 and Michèle Lacombe, “‘Songs of the Open Road:’ Bon Echo, Urban Utopians and the Cult of Nature” Journal of Canadian Studies 33, No. 2 (1998): 152-167.

[107] Careless, The Canadians, 705.

[108] The Canadian Desk Companion, 28; Careless, The Canadians, 443 and Harrison, Explore Canada, 190.

[109] Savigny, Bon Echo, 39 and Haig-Brown, “The Land’s Wealth,” 440.

[110] Stacey, Massanoga, 93.

[111] One historian described the establishment of Canada’s national and provincial parks as the “first stirrings of Canadian thought for the natural beauties of the land.” Haig-Brown, “The Land’s Wealth,” 411.

[112] Ibid, 412.

[113] “Ontario Parks,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2021, and Heller, Ontario, 230.

[114] The Historic Sites and Monuments Board decides on the people, places, and events of national historic significance, and draw their mandate from the Historic Sites and Monuments Act of 1953. See Hallowell, Canadian History. 286; The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1080 and “Mazinaw Pictographs National Historic Site of Canada,” Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations,

[115] Stacey, Massanoga, 19.

[116] Stacey, Massanoga, 9 and Krysta-Lee Woodcock, “Bon Echo Art Show Keeping Tradition Alive,” The Nappanee Guide, 16 July 2015.

[117] Stacey, Massanoga, 22.

[118] The rock climbing in Bon Echo Park, including on the famous granite cliffs around Lake Mazinaw, is considered some of the best in Ontario. See “Mazinaw Rock,” Summit Post, 2021,; “Bon Echo Hut – Toronto Section,” Alpine Club of Canada, 2020, and “Bon Echo,” Alpine Club of Canada – Toronto Section, no date, https//

[119] See, for example, the following newspaper article from 1970. Pat Johnson, “Mountaineering Akin to Religion,” The Argus, 22 December 1970, Page 5,

[120] Heller, Ontario, 231 and “Ontario Parks,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2021,

[121] Campbell, The Mazinaw Experience, 104-120 and “Ontario Parks,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2021,

[122] Ibid, 134.

[123] Indeed, Bon Echo illustrates the power of “cultural energy,” and the fact that cultural significance can start small. The pictographs at Mazinaw are on one lake in one park in one province, but have grown to national and even international significance. Stacey, Massanoga, 94.

[124] Some Ojibwa and Algonquin groups, for example, sought to offer powerful spirits (such as Mishiganiebig/ Mishipeshu, Mishipashoo, and Mishibijiw, the Great Serpent, Great Water Lynx, and Water Panther) an offering of tobacco prior to attempts to cross Lake Mazinaw in canoes. And other legends refer to a supposed “Indian treasure cave” and battles between Algonquin and Iroquois warriors on the rocks overlooking the Lake. See “Algonquin Legends, Myths, and Stories,” 2020,; Stacey, Massanoga, 11; Harrison, Explore Canada, 190 and Joan M. Vastokas, “Pictographs and Petroglyphs,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (Online), 4 March 2015,  

[125] Kristin Endemann, “Man Dies after Found in Water at Bon Echo Park,” The Ottawa Sun (Online), 31 July 2016.

[126] Gray, People and Ideas, 297 and 301.

[127] Roberts, World History, 659 and 674.

[128] Hallowell, Canadian History, 193.

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