Whenever you take a trip to Northern Ontario, the main hub is Thunder Bay. This city is made out of two older cities: Fort William and Port Arthur, amalgamated in the 1970s. Fort William is one of the oldest and first fur trading posts in Canada and North America, and it has only grown since that time. Before colonization began, Thunder Bay was home to many tribes of Algonquin people.
Sitting at the most Northern part of Lake Superior, it serves a beautiful view of the largest Great Lake. The most impressive sight that can be seen from any hill in Thunder Bay it that of The Sleeping Giant. A formation of land that looks like a giant who laid down in the water and fell asleep. Now, rocks, trees and other life live upon this giant who has never gotten up. It is a wonderful sight to behold.
The tale of this giant is old and if one has been to Thunder Bay, they have likely heard of Nanabijou and the silver mine resting at his feet. There are variations to the tale but this is one of the popular ones. The legend tells how this particular formation of land came to be.
There was a powerful and benevolent god, Nanabijou (or Nanna Bijou or Nanabozho) who loved the Ojibwa tribe of the Great Lakes region. He watched over them and helped them in their times of need. One of these times was the arrival of Europeans, whitemen, in the area who had begun setting up trading posts and seeing what resources could be gleaned from the land. With them, the Europeans, brought disease and alcohol, both having long-lasting and detrimental effects to the native population of Canada. It was during this difficult time that Nanabijou offered a gift to the Ojibwa tribe, a gift that the Europeans must never learn about or it would turn to a curse and Nanabijou would turn it to stone.
The gift was silver.
The Ojibwa people began mining the silver. They produced such finely crafted items with the silver better than all of the Algonquin tribes in the area. Others began to be envious of this. The ones who were the most envious were the Sioux.
The Sioux went to the Ojibwa camp and began to torture and kill the Ojibwa but the Ojibwa refused to give up Nanabijou’s gift. Figuring that they could not get the information by force, the Sioux decided on a different tactic. They sent a scout, disguised as an Ojibwa tribesman, into the camp. He sat and listened, finally learning the location of the mine. Once he had found out what he had come for, he left, stopping at a trading post on his way.
Having nothing to pay with, the scout traded a piece of silver which excited the two Europeans working the trading post. To find out where the scout had gotten the silver, and where they could get more, the Europeans gave him alcohol. Once drunk, the Sioux scout divulged all of the secrets and immediately the two Europeans set off to find the silver mine.
Nanabijou was not blind and he knew exactly what was happening. As soon as the Europeans knew where his gift was located he sprang into action. Angry and disappointed Nanabijou created a massive storm from Lake Superior. Waves became taller than hills and the wind whipped trees from the ground. Water filled the Europeans boat, killing them. Then, Nanabijou laid down, arms crossed over his chest and the mine under his feet away from everyone. There, Nanabijou lays to this day, protecting his gift.
The Ojibwa knew what had happened instantly and gave their thanks at being allowed to access what silver they had. The “whitemen,” however, still try mining to this day.
To mine Silver Islet is a massive undertaking as the mine is 384 metres deep and beneath the dangerous and cold waters of Lake Superior.
In 1870 the Montreal Mining Company sold it to Alexander Sibley of Silver Islet Mining Company. They had a rough start but once William B. Frue became lead engineer they knew to build a breakwall to protect the islet and had pumps that were to continue running at all times, pumping water out of the mine.
The mine became so deep that the timber supports could not handle the rock weight and they had to leave a thick silver vein running down the mine leading to the roof to help drag the rocks up. After thirteen years mining came to a halt. The mine needed coal badly to keep the pumps going and a shipment of coal needed did not arrive. The pumps ceased and the mine flooded. After that, other attempts were never really made to reopen the mine. So, the mine closed and Nanabijou still rests with the mine at his feet.
While this legend also holds some fact to it and artifacts from this tribe have had silver, there does not seem to be any from the stated islands themselves. The story of The Sleeping Giant is possibly just a version of a much older story that can no longer be traced to its origins. It is an incredibly important tale of the area and it is part of the history. There is no denying that the Sleeping Giant is a beautiful sight and it lays protecting a silver mine and the tribes of Lake Superior.
Kerry, Sullivan. “The Native American Legend of the Sleeping Giant and the Whiteman.” Ancient Origins: Reconstructing the Story of Humanity’s Past (July 19, 2016). Accessed March 25, 2019. www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/native-american-legend-sleeping-giant-and-whiteman-006302
Oades, Will. “The Surprising, Shocking, Startling, Astonishing Story of Silver Islet.” Ontario Parks (August 30, 2018). Accessed March 25, 2019. www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/sleeping-giant-silver-islet-mine/
Reid, Stephanie. “Nanabijou – The Sleeping Giant.” Northern Ontario Travel (March 24, 2017). Accessed March 25, 2019. www.northernontario.travel/thunder-bay/legend-of-the-sleeping-giant
“Sleeping Giant (Ontario).” Wikipedia. Accessed March 25, 2019. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_Giant_(Ontario)
“The Sleeping Giant: An Ojibwa Legend.” First People – The Legends (2016). Accessed March 25, 2019. www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheSleepingGiant-Ojibwa.html