Kakabeka Falls is located in the Kakabeka Falls
Provincial Park, on Hwy 11/17 west of Thunder Bay. It was as
spectacular as a falls can be, short of Niagara Falls. As the
Kaministiquia River meanders from Lake Michigan on its way west
to the Pacific Ocean, it passes over a 128 foot drop off onto a
slate riverbed cut out over the eons, and exposing a history of
the surrounding land for over a billion years. Some of the oldest
fossils in existence were found at the base of the falls.
For centuries, the Kaministiquia River served as part of a major travel route to the west; it was the first link in a chain of lakes and rivers that led from Lake Superior into the heart of the continent, reaching Rainy River, the Athabasca country and, ultimately, the Pacific Ocean.
The first travelers of the water highway were the native peoples of Canada, plying the wild rivers in fragile birchbark canoes. The Ojibwa, also called Chippewa or Saulteaux, have long been associated with the Lake Superior region. As the Ojibwa moved westward, they came into conflict with neighbouring Sioux; it was this traditional rivalry which inspired the legend of Greenmantle. The Ojibwa used the Kaministiquia (also called the Kam) for their own travels, and later acted as skilled guides and canoeists for the European traders who followed in their footsteps.
Daniel Greysolon, ennobled as Sieur Dulhut, was the first of these traders to set up a post at the mouth of the Kam. It is believed that his Fort Kaministiquia may have been established as early as 1678 or 1679, but as Dulhut's own journals from these years have been lost, it may never be known for certain. What is certain is that in 1688, Pierre-Jacques Payen de Noyan became the first European to ascend the Kaministiquia River and reach the Lake of the Woods. He was also the first to be confronted with the formidable 1349 m (1475 yard) long Mountain Portage which bypasses Kakabeka Falls. For the next four decades, voyageurs would use de Noyan's route to carry trade goods west and valuable furs east.
It was not an easy journey as the Kaministiquia River drops 199 m (654 feet) between Dog Lake and the base of Kakabeka Falls, a linear distance of only 56 km (35 miles). Dissatisfied with the Kam's 13 portages, five sets of rapids and very strong current, explorers eagerly sought an easier route to the rich trapping areas of the West.
THE LEGEND OF GREENMANTLE
Ogama Eagle, the powerful
Chief of the Ojibwa Indians in the Thunder Bay region, had one
child - a daughter named Greenmantle. The princess was tall and
graceful, with dark eyes and jet black hair. This child of the
woodland was much loved by her people and renowned as a dancer.
When Greenmantle had passed her seventeenth summer, the traditional Ojibwa territory along the shore of Lake Superior was invaded by the neighboring Sioux. The enemy warriors captured Greenmantle, and held her captive in their camp on Dog Mountain. After a time, the Sioux forced her to guide them down the Kaministiquia so that they might launch a surprise attack on an unsuspective Ojibwa camp.
Pretending to betray her people, Greenmantle led the war canoes down river, toward Kakabeka Falls. Skillfully, she paddled her lead canoe through turbulent white water, with the Sioux in breathless pursuit. She was determined to foil the enemy's planes, even at the cost of her own life.
Just as Greenmantle was about to enter the swirling waters above the falls, she swerved toward the west bank, leaped from her canoe and swam to shore. This unexpected maneuver so caught the Sioux flotilla by surprise, they were quickly drawn into the rapids. Many were swept over the falls to the jagged rocks below.
Greenmantle fled in triumph down the portage trail to alert her people, and the Ojibwa were able to hold back the remaining Sioux forces. A last battle was fought on the Welcome Islands, near Thunder Bay, where the Sioux were decisively defeated.
Another version of the legend states that Greenmantle, too, perished over the falls when she tricked the Sioux. Her spirit, it is said, lingers in the mist as a rainbow, while the voices of the angry Sioux cry continuously from the roaring waters below.
Besides the Falls, the Provincial Park offers camping, hiking and picnicking areas for the whole family. There is a charge to go into the park, but was well worth the price.