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Bon Echo Provincial Park

Bon Echo Provincial Park: Shaped By Three Diverse Personalities and an Ojibwe Trickster

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Bon Echo Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, is well known for Mazinaw Lake, the seventh-deepest lake in Ontario. The southeastern shore of the lake features the massive 100 m (330 ft) high Mazinaw Rock rising out of the water which is adorned with native art. Mazinaw was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1982.

Nanabozho, The Ojibwe trickster

The unofficial mascot of the park is Nanabozho, who is depicted amongst the 260 plus Bon Echo pictographs (rock paintings rather than rock carvings).

Nanabozho Pictograph (Robertson, G.E / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nanabozho Pictograph (Robertson, G.E / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Nanabozho is a spirit and culture hero who figures prominently in traditional Ojibwe storytelling, including the story of the world's conception of which he is co-creator. He was sent to Earth by the Great Spirit, Gitche Manitou, to instruct the Ojibwe and one of his first tasks was to name all the plants and animals. He is the inventor of fishing and Ojibwe hieroglyphs of which not much is known as they are considered sacred. Several Ojibwe elders are said to still know the meanings, but very little information has been revealed.

Nanabozho is a shapeshifter and most often appears in the form of a rabbit. He is also considered to be the founder of  Midewiwin or the Grand Medicine Society which is a secretive religion of some of the indigenous peoples in regions of North America. Its practitioners are called  Midew, which can be translated as ‘medicine man’.

History of Bon Echo Provincial Park

The Bon Echo region – after lumber companies and farming communities moved out – was purchased in 1889 by Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist known primarily for his theories on the relationship between nutrition, dental and physical health.  He, along with his wife, was inspired by Mazinaw Rock and the surrounding area. They named the area "Bon Echo" because of the acoustical properties across Mazinaw Lake.

Bon Echo Inn postcard (Public Domain)

Bon Echo Inn postcard ( Public Domain )

The Prices built the Bon Echo Inn as a health retreat catering to the wealthy. Due to his strong religious beliefs, alcohol was banned on the premises and the inn primarily attracted like-minded people. It was also occupied by a group of Methodist pastors and attendance at church on Sundays was mandatory.

After several years at the inn, Dr. Price sold Bon Echo to Flora MacDonald Denison, a feminist, and her husband Howard following a personal tragedy. After obtaining the property, they sent the pastors away and when they divorced two years later, Flora turned Bon Echo Inn into a haven for artists, poets, and writers, most notably the members of the ‘Group of Seven’ which was a group of Canadian landscape painters who initiated the first major Canadian national art movement from 1920 to 1933.

The Group of Seven (Public Domain)

The Group of Seven ( Public Domain )

Merrill Denison, a Canadian playwright, inherited the property in 1921 and continued to operate the inn along with his wife, Muriel Denison - a famous author - until the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.

After the depression, the inn was leased to the Leavens Brothers who operated it as a summer hotel, but in 1936 the inn and many outbuildings were destroyed by fire when lightning struck. The inn was never rebuilt. Denison continued to spend his summers at Bon Echo and for years some of the remaining cottages were used as summer getaways.  

Financially, the Bon Echo was a burden on the Denison. He sold off some land, keeping less than 100 acres for themselves and he donated the property to the province in 1959. In 1965, Bon Echo Provincial Park officially opened.  

What to see and do, and where to stay at Bon Echo

Bon Echo Provincial Park is north of Cloyne on Highway 41 and there all manner of activities, amongst them camping, hiking, boating, swimming and rock climbing . Accommodation is plentiful with 500 plus campsites, many of which can accommodate RVs, although for those who prefer bit more shelter, there are cabins and heated yurts.

Due to the length and difficulty of some of the hiking trails, they are not recommended for the ill-prepared camper, nor the unfit or inexperienced day-hiker. Less strenuous hiking trails include the Clifftop Trail that leads up to top of the Mazinaw Rock, providing a stunning view across the narrows of Mazinaw Lake.

Bon Echo Lagoon ((Robertson, G.E / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bon Echo Lagoon (Robertson, G.E / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

For those who love the water, it is possible to rent boats to explore the lakes and waterways. Several of the lakes are stone-bottomed, carved by glacial procession. They are relatively free of debris and sand, and as such, the water is clear and cold. The waters are generally at their warmest in August and Bon Echo Provincial Park has a few beaches along Mazinaw Lake. 

Commonly seen mammals include rabbits, eastern chipmunks, squirrels, and voles. In the more secluded areas white-tailed deer, moose, black bear, red fox, beaver, and raccoons are visible.

Top image: Bon Echo Provincial Park Source: ( Pavel Cheiko / Fotolia)

By Michelle Freson

References

Official Site: Bon Echo
Available at: http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/bonecho

2015. 50 Years of Bon Echo. Ontario Parks
Available at: http://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/50-years-of-bon-echo/

Druker, J. 2015. The Big Three who shaped Bon Echo Park. Frontenac News
Available at: http://www.frontenacnews.ca/

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