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The Great Spirit petroglyph at Petroglyphs Park Woodview

Petroglyphs Park Woodview in Ontario, Canada Has Over 1,000 Petroglyphs


The First Nation peoples of Canada have left many remains of their long and varied history on the Canadian landscape. In the Peterborough Park Woodview, Ontario there is a series of their petroglyphs that are from approximately 900 - 1400 AD.  They are remarkable and provide visitors with a unique experience in an area of astounding natural beauty. The famous Ontario rock carvings are recognized as an important part of the heritage of Canada. Petroglyphs Provincial Park was created by the government to protect these precious works. The Park is situated in Woodview, Ontario, Canada, northeast of the city Peterborough.

A Specially Designed Centre Protects the Petroglyphs

The Peterborough Petroglyphs are images that have been hand carved onto crystalline limestone which measures 180 feet (55 meters) in length and 102 feet (30 meters) in width. The petroglyphs are housed in a specially designed visitor center to conserve them and to allow as many people as possible to view these remarkable images.  The building at Petroglyphs Park Woodview is of a modern design and is seven-sided and completely encloses the rock. A raised walkway surrounds the rock and allows visitors to view the petroglyphs.  The building is a glass and steel structure and is designed to allow the sun to fall below, to keep the rocks dry and this is important in the conservation of the Peterborough Petroglyphs.

The building constructed around the petroglyph (Public domain)

The building constructed around the petroglyph (Public domain)

In the visitor center it is possible to learn more about the carvings and their significance to the First Nations.  The site is managed by representatives of the Curve Lake First Nation. 

The petroglyphs were formed by chipping off the surface of limestone rock and thereby creating images. These images are usually of great ritual or religious significance to the First Nations. The images at Peterborough are of humans, animals and the figure of a head, which is believed to represent the sun.  There are also images of female figures, possibly a fertility goddess and canoes that were very important in First Nation people material culture.  Some of the glyphs seem to indicate shamans. These petroglyphs were originally two- to three inches deep but over time the images have faded somewhat.

A spirit boat petroglyph (CC BY 2.0)

A spirit boat petroglyph (CC BY 2.0)

There are up to 1200 images at Peterborough and they were carved over centuries.  At present only 300 of these can be seen and the majority of them have been so badly weathered that they are barely visible.  It seems that the rare crystalline limestone outcrop was selected because it was ideal for carving. The First Peoples call the stone the ‘teaching stone’ and it is known in one of their languages as Kinomagewapkong, meaning ‘the rocks that teach.’ They are seen as an important part of the heritage of the First Nation peoples.

Believed To Have Been Carved By an Early Algonkian People

The petroglyphs became covered by moss over time but they were not forgotten by the First Nation peoples and they continued to play a role in their rituals. They were brought to the attention of Canadian scholars by an intrepid historian, Charles Kingam, in 1924.  However, little was done to study and preserve the images. They were ‘rediscovered’ once more in the 1950s by prospectors, and since the 1970s they have been recognized as an important historical site. It was widely feared that acid rain would destroy the images and this led to the foundation of the Petroglyphs Park Woodview in 1976.

Cast of solar boat (Public Domain)

Cast of solar boat (Public Domain)

The Ontario rock carvings are believed to have been made by an early Algonkian people, who inhabited a large area of Canada and the north-eastern United States. The petroglyphs express the mythology and the history of these people. There is some controversy over the age of the petroglyphs. There are those who claim that they are even older than 900 AD, which is the consensus view of their date of origin.  Some experts point to the canoe or boat drawings - they seem to indicate solar boats and this is similar to beliefs that are found among the indigenous people of Scandinavia and Siberia. It is believed that the rock outcrop was an important ritual center for many hundreds of years. There is much that is mysterious about the Ontario rock carvings. There are those who claim that the glyphs are actually Norse, but this is rejected by the majority of scholars and experts.

Visiting Petroglyphs Park Woodview

The Petroglyphs Park Woodview opening time is from 10 am to 5 pm daily from May to Thanksgiving. However, it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter and fall. There is plenty of accommodation near Petroglyphs Park Woodview. In the city of Peterborough, there are many excellent hotels and guesthouses. It is very easy to access the park from Peterborough.

Top image: The Great Spirit petroglyph at Petroglyphs Park Woodview          Source: (CC BY 2.0)

By Ed Whelan


Kulchyski, P. 2016. Bush Sites/Bush Stories: Politics of Place and Memory in Indigenous Northern Canada. Profession.
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Lenik, E.J. 2010. Mythic creatures: serpents, dragons, and sea monsters in north-eastern rock art. Archaeology of Eastern North America, pp.17-37.
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Vastokas, J.M. and Romas, K. 1973. Vastokas: Sacred Art of the Algonkians. A Study of the Peterborough Petroglyphs. Peterborough, Ontario.

Zawadzka, D. 2008. The Peterborough Petroglyphs/Kinoomaagewaabkong: Confining the Spirit of Place. 
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Barry Fell in his book "Bronze Age America" describes the Ogham script on the Peterborough rock which is intermixed with later native additions. Worth a read.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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