Saturday, 20 July 2013

A SUMMER VACATION - part 5 - St. Ignace Island


Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

Lamb Island and Light

Next morning we left for St. Ignace Island.  Lake Superior is famed for its precious stones, and Luke had told me of one of Nanna-Bijou's treasure houses where I might find some agates. Passing Otter Island we encountered a strong south-west wind and headed into it until well out in the lake.  Changing our course for Lamb Island we encountered a heavy sea on our quarter aft, the combers picking us up and sending us forward in long intoxicating bounds. In two hours we were in full view of St. Ignace, and, crossing the blind channel, we ran for Green-Mantle -Bay, where we cast anchor.

St. Ignace Island is the second largest island on Lake Superior.  It is the granite king-pin of the archipelago of islands, being a breakwater which shelters Nepigon Bay from the fury of the lake.  It is a huge rock and has an area of about 160 square miles and is rich in Indian Legends.

Without a pilot one would never find Green-Mantle-Bay.  Yet this bay is situated on the south side of St. Ignace Island.  It is a crystal basin almost oval, and one could not but marvel at the beautiful transparent water which at a depth of about two fathoms seemed clearer than the atmosphere, the pebbles in the bottom sparkling like opals.  There are many such bays on Lake Superior, but none more bewitching than Green-Mantle.


There is also an inner bay which is called the death chamber, deriving its name from the following legend:  About two hundred and fifty years ago a Nepigon Chief with his handsome daughter visited at Kaministquia. The dark-eyed beauty won at first sight the heart of a young Kaministiquia brave. She was a true child of nature, passionate and impulsive. For six weeks Green-Mantle and her young brave were constant companions, and parted with the understanding that they would meet soon again.  But Fate decided otherwise.  Shortly after the Chief's return to Nepigon war was declared on the Sioux. Among the Otchipaway warriors killed, Green-Mantle's lover was numbered among the slain, though the battle ended in a great victory for the Otchipaways. A great festival and dance was afterward held at Rustibou to celebrate the event. The Chief dearly loved his daughter and had presented her with a beautiful shawl which she wore on that occasion, expecting to meet her lover, but on arriving she soon learned the truth. Her heart was crushed and bleeding from the cruel blow. Vainly she strove to rally, but life seemed but an empty blank to her and the merry dance knew her no more.  Upon the second night, when the festival was at its height, she quietly disappeared and was not missed until morning. Her canoe was also missing - she had gone to bear her sorrow alone.  Two days later a search party found her body lying on the shore in this little bay, rolled in her green shawl, her canoe drawn out of the water.  This had been one of her favorite camping grounds. When the lake was calm and the moon shone bright a party of her friends started with her body for Porphyry Island cemetery and laid her by the side of her lover.

They journieyed there in the dead of night,
With their loved one o're the deep,
That she might be laid
In this sacred place
Where parted spirits meet.

_W. S. P.

The next wo days we spent looking for agates.  They were all in the solid rock, and the best of them were under water, but I succeeded in getting quite a number of these handsome stones, one of them being a rare gem resembling a human eye, blue in color, with a small tree of gold growing through it.  The next day as I stood on the shore of that beautiful bay and looked out on the blue and whiteness of the sky and water, the lure of the sport got me again. Calling Luke, he prescribed Nepigon Straits, and we were soon on our way, casting anchor in the Eagle's Nest, one of Superior's safest harbors.

At Eagle's Nest, Nepigon Straits

While at supper we had a call from an Indian and his son.  He had some fine speckled trout in the bottom of his canoe that he wanted to trade for pork and tea. I traded with him and gave him some tobacco, although trout were so plentiful now they began to be almost a bore.

After supper I went over to his tepee, as I wanted to hire him and his canoe to take us to a lake on St. Ignace Island that we might troll in the lake and explore same. He refused, however, telling me that he had seen marks on the shore there of a strange animal, one foot being the foot of a man while the other was the foot of something else. I suggested that he show me those marks on our way. After a desultory conversation with the Indian, carried on almost by himself, while he stared into the fire shaking his head, what he did not know about a windigo, or evil spirit, I did when I got through with that interview. Apparently a windigo is the male witch, probably a witch's husband. Getting a description of the place, I visited the shore where the tracks were. He was correct - one foot was that of a man. It was the marks of one who had suffered and offered all that he had that freedom may not die; that the accident of birth shall not give men license to trample over the rights of their fellows. The marks were those of a soldier who had lost a foot.

That afternoon a splendid yacht came down the Nepigon Straits flying the American flag and cast anchor in the Eagle's Nest about a hundred yards from where we lay. We saluted them and was immediately saluted in return. Late I rowed over to call on them and soon felt quite at home with the owner and his party.   The owner, by the way, was a true boat lover and was got up regardless of appearance in a suit of blue jeans.  After showing me all through his magnificent yacht, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to tell a wealthy American's Bradstreet rating by his clothes. I soon learned they were from Cleveland and were cruising Lake Superior in a leisurely way for the benefit of the owner's wife who was subject to a severe form of hay-fever. She laughingly informed me that she had not had a sneeze since entering Lake Superior, which was certainly remarkable, for among her friends in Ohio she was known as the "seventeen times sneezer."  They were anxious to go trout fishing, so I invited them over to my cruiser and presented them with about ten pounds of speckled trout with which they were delighted. We spent three delightful days fishing and cruising and visiting the Wana-Wana Falls, Duncan's Cove, and the reefs of St. Ignace Island.  In the evening we were entertained with their splendid phonograph. But I must see Lake Nepigon, and it was with a feeling of regret that we pulled anchor and bid good-bye to our friends. As we sailed down the Nepigon Straits they played that beautiful song:

"I'll take you home again Kathleen,
Across the ocean wild and wide."

TO BE CONCLUDED - The Nepigon adventure

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