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Nanabijou - The Sleeping Giant

Sleeping Giant as seen from the water in the Thunder Bay Harbour
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Nanabijou - The Sleeping Giant

Discover the Legends of Thunder Bay's Natural Wonders

Part 3 of 3 - Legends and Lore in Thunder Bay

The Thunder Bay area is home to many stunning, natural wonders. With evidence of a history of human habitation dating back over 9,000 years, many of the natural wonders Northwest Ontario is famous for are accompanied by some very interesting legends.

The adventures to be had at these locations are many, but paired with the knowledge of the traditional legends, your journey will become even more exciting.

This installment of Legends and Lore in Thunder Bay  features the legend of the Sleeping Giant.

The Sleeping Giant - Nanabijou

Visible from many places in Thunder Bay, the Sleeping Giant is the city's most well-known natural wonder. The landmass itself is an Ontario Park with hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails and campsites to enjoy.

Thousands of locals and visitors alike marvel at the wonder of the Sleeping Giant each year, but what is the legend surrounding this Giant? 

The legend goes as follows...

Standing on the shores of Thunder Bay at the head of the great Lake Superior, one can perceive, on looking out across the waters of Thunder Bay, a great land formation situated directly in the mouth of the Bay.
It requires no imagination whatever to see that this form resembles the sleeping body of a giant, arms folded across his massive chest as in the majesty of death.
Mystery and legend surround the origin of this strange phenomenon of nature and down through the ages the following story seems to have survived.
On an island just outside Thunder Bay, now known as "Isle Royale," once lived a great tribe of Ojibway Natives.

America Unearthed ~ Great Lakes Copper Heist  - A Documentary about Prehistoric Copper Mining on Isle Royale
Because of their loyalty to their Gods, and their peaceful and industrious mode of living, Nanabijou, the Spirit of the Deep Sea Water, decided to reward them.
One day he called their Chief to his great Thunder Temple on the mountain and warned him that if he told the secret to the white man, that he, Nanabijou would be turned to stone and the Ojibway tribe perish.
The Chief gave his promise, and Nanabijou told him of the rich silver mine, now known as "Silver Islet." The Great Spirit told him to go to the highest point on Thunder Cape, and here he would find the entrance to a tunnel that would lead him to the centre of the mine.
Apparently the Chief and his people found the mine, for the Ojibway became famous for their beautiful silver ornaments. So beautiful indeed were they, that the Sioux warriors on seeing them upon their wounded enemies, strove to wrest their secret from them.
However, torture and even death failed to make the gallant Ojibway divulge their secret and the Sioux chieftains had to devise another scheme to find the source of the Ojibway silver.
One day they summoned their most cunning scout to a pow-wow and a plan was formed. The scout was to enter the Ojibway camp disguised as one of them. This he did and in a few days succeeded in learning the secret of the island of silver.
Going to the mine at night he took several large pieces of the precious metal in order to prove to his chieftain that he had fulfilled his mission.
The scout however never returned to his camp, for on his way back he stopped at a white traders post to purchase some food. Having no furs or money with which to pay for the goods, he used a piece of the silver.
Upon seeing such a large piece of the gleaming metal, two white men sought to obtain the whereabouts of its source, in order to make themselves fabulously rich. After filling the Sioux scout with liquor they persuaded him to show them the way to the mine.
When almost in sight of "Silver Islet" a terrific storm broke over the Cape. The white men were drowned and the Native was found in a crazed condition floating aimlessly in his canoe, but the most extraordinary thing that had happened during the storm, was that where once was a wide opening to the bay, now lay what appeared to be a great sleeping figure of a man. The Great Spirit's warning had been fulfilled and he had been turned to stone.
On a little island at the foot of the Sleeping Giant, can still be seen the partly submerged shafts of what was once the richest silver mine in the northwest. White men have tried again and again to pump out the water that keeps flooding it from Lake Superior but without success. Is it still under the curse of Nanabijou, Spirit of the Deep Sea Water... perhaps... who can tell?

There are numerous versions of the Legend of the Sleeping Giant and one is not necessarily more valid than another. This particular one was published in a booklet entitled Tales of The Tom Tom, written probably in the 1950s or 1960s, by Hubert Limbrick, a former Fort William City Councillor (1951-58 and '60-65).

Actual Ojibway legends are stories about Nanabijou printed in local 19th-century newspapers. These stories reportedly came directly from Ojibway elders interviewed at the time, but there's no way of verifying that today. The earliest dates from 1882, while another version dates from somewhat later. These versions are completely different from Limbrick's rather simplistic and fanciful one, and neither makes direct mention of the Sleeping Giant. They talk about how Nanabijou created the world, including the lakes, rivers and islands.

Limbrick's story seems to be connected with Silver Islet and, as such, must be of relatively recent origin as the mine was not discovered until the late 19th century.

There is also a version in W.S. Piper's The Eagle of Thunder Cape (1924) that mentions the creation of the Sleeping Giant (pages 117-119 in the 2001 reprint by the Thunder Bay Historical Museum) but it also bears no resemblance to Limbrick's.

Now that you know the "legend" of the Sleeping Giant, plan your trip to visit him (and Thunder Bay) today!

Legend originally found on visitthunderbay.com

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