Manitoba is known as the heart of Turtle Island, the universally recognized name for North America among the continent's aboriginal people. Manitoba is historically called Manitowapow, the voice of the Creator.
Out of all the words written about this province, perhaps the most evocative is a newly revealed but ancestral passage about aboriginal feelings for this place. It is written in the introduction to the 2012 anthology Manitowapow edited by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Warren Cariou:
"The most common explanation of the name is drawn from the Cree words Manitou (Great Spirit) and wapow (sacred water) or in Ojibway, Manito-bau: From the Narrows of Lake Manitoba where the waves dashed against the rocky shores of Manitou Island these sounds were thought to be sacred beats that rumbled through Creation and created beauty, definition and meaning. This is the voice of the Great Spirit, Manitowapow."
There are hundred of locations in this province known as historic landmarks dating back thousands of years and many of them known only to oral traditions to this day. Here are a few of the more familiar ones:
1. MANITO ABEE the place where Creator sits
The Bannock Point petroforms located at Whiteshell Provincial Park is probably the best known landmark in southern Manitoba: a series of rock clusters in the shapes of turtles, thunderbirds, snakes and other figures with spiritual and cultural significance to Anishinaabe and other First Nations. They date back millennia and for those with the knowledge to read them, they are a history book laid out on bedrock.
2. TURTLE MOUNTAIN
To the Buffalo Peoples, this glacial moraine laced with hidden caves and hot springs was the main refuge for people and wildlife during the Ice Age. Archeological evidence dates human remains back 12,000 years. The International Peace Garden was once the site of sacred sun dances and the location of a forum for an aboriginal United Nations for First Nations.
3. WHITE HORSE PLAINS
Located at St. Frances Xavier on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg. Cree and Assiniboine legend tells the story of star-crossed lovers. A sioux chief and his warriors chased the couple, a Cree man and an Assiniboine woman, across the plains, catchingthem on the banks of the Assiniboine River several miles west of Saint Frances and killed them. Their white horse escaped and in memory of the couple was given the freedom of the plains.
4. THUNDER HILL
Located on the north side of the Swan River Valley, near the Saskatchewan border, this was known as Thunderbird Mountain to the Cree. The Anishinaabe referred to storm clouds here as thunderbirds and early settlers reported changes in weather from warm air around the hill that caused sounds like thunder.
5. WEKUSKO FALLS AND TRAMPING LAKE
Located off Provincial Road 392, west of Wekusko Falls Provincial Park, this is the site of arguably the most dramatic set of aboriginal pictographs in Manitoba. The only way to see the drawings of birds, mammals, snakes and human figure in ochre is from the water, rising up on the rock face on the northern channel of this narrow lake.
6. PISEW FALLS
Located on Highway 6, about 40 kilometres northeast of Wabowden. Named for the Cree word for lynx, this site on the Grass River rises to a height of 13 metres and it stands out as a natural wonder, even -30C temperatures can't freeze the flow.
7. PILOT MOUND
Mepawaquomoshin, meaning little dance hill in one of the aboriginal languages. A town located west of Morden that is dominated by an ancient ceremonial burial mound that dates back to the period of Manitoba's millennial mound builders.
8. SPIRIT SANDS
A bald spot with famous moving sand dunes surrounded by the green belt of Spruce Woods Provincial Park just off of Highway 5 between the Trans-Canada and Highway 2. Also the location of the Devil's Punchbowl, an amazing mutli-coloured shifting sinkhole. One early legend said spirits set the sand dunes in motion to keep the place for themselves.
Ojibway trapper Duncan Twohearts (Sagkeeng First Nation) discovered a nugget of gold here in 1911. It was the first documented gold discovery in Manitoba, and sparked a mining industry that had mined an estimated $45 million worth of gold by the turn of the century.
10. THE FORKS
Confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, famed gathering spot for trade going back 6,000 years. More than just a place for trade goods, the Forks served as a hub for information and a forum for trading stories and knowledge.
Site of ancient Sioux burial mounds located on the Souris River east of Provincial Highways 83 and 3. This location is part of a complex of sites that also includes a nearby ancient buffalo jump. Dakota and other nations among the Buffalo Peoples continue to use this site for ceremonies.
14. LIMESTONE CAVES
Located within the traditional territory of the Grand Rapids Cree Nation on the northern shores of Lake Winnipeg, off Highway 6. This proposed protected site is filled with naturally formed subterranean kivas and best known to tourists as the home of Manitoba's brown bats.
Located on the shores of Hudson Bay, known in aboriginal history as the destination of the four main river systems that flow east of the Rockies and the ultimate opening to the sea for the heart of Turtle Island. The oldest known name is Missinipi, a Cree word for great waters or big waters that refers to the spreading of waters, perhaps from the Prairie rivers that empty here.
Sources: Geographical Place Names of Manitoba, Manitoba Conservation website, A Day Trippers Guild to Manitoba, Manitowapow
-- Compiled by Alexandra Paul