Today’s post comes from Will Oades, with the Discovery Program staff at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
As we approach the end of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park’s 75th anniversary, it’s hard not to remember all the rich natural and cultural history that has made the park the place we know and love today.
Filled with world-class hiking, biking and skiing trails, Sleeping Giant offers a recreational paradise for thrill-seekers and amateur adventurers alike.
Our forests are serene and home to some of the most elusive flora and fauna in North America. Although there are many wonders that call Sleeping Giant Provincial Park home, it hasn’t always been that way.
From its cultural heritage to its intriguing natural history, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has a diverse background that has made it the place it is today. Let’s take a quick look at all the things that have created our affectionately named “Sleepy Gee” into the park it is today.
A spectacular start
Believe it or not, Sleeping Giant has a great geological history. Now, for those of you who think geology is boring, bear with me. By the end of this, you’ll really realize how cool it is! (Get it? It’s a geology joke!)
About 1.1 billion years ago, around where the Sibley Peninsula now lies, hot magma rose through nooks and crannies in the sedimentary rock and was deposited in a horizontal layer called a diabase sill.
This magma solidified into a super strong igneous rock that is quite hard and difficult to erode, while the sedimentary rock surrounding it is relatively soft and quite easy to erode.
Moving forward in time to about 31,500 years ago, the Wisconsin Glacier crossed the area and entered it. The glacier picked up rocks and soil. In fact, it was the erosive habits of this glacier that shaped the physical landscape of Sleeping Giant.
In the distance you can see the five mesas left by the glacier.
As the glacier picked up and eroded all the soft sedimentary rock, the harder igneous diabase was deposited and acted as a layer that protected all the rock beneath it. All that remained after the Wisconsin Glacier retreated were the five mesas that make up the Sleeping Giant formation itself, as well as some remains of sedimentary rock. As the glacier retreated about 9,000 years ago, the diverse sediments it left behind created the fertile soils that support the rich plant and animal life that surrounds us today.
The beginning of a small mining community
Looking back to 1868, the next major event in the history of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is the Silver Islet Mine. The mine was first opened and managed by the Montreal Mining Company for two years until it was sold to Alexander H. Sibley of the Silver Islet Mining Company.
With Chief Engineer and Superintendent William B. Frue leading the operation, the mine was able to extract approximately $3.8 million worth of silver during the 13 years it was active.
As mining operations began to develop, a small community was established along the adjacent coastline to provide life for the miners’ families, as well as creating a refuge and escape from the hardships of the mine.
A church, a shop, a school, a hotel, a bar and a library were built. He helped create a comprehensive life on the continent. While the miners toiled nearly 1,200 feet beneath the raging seas of Lake Superior, the miners’ wives, children, and family members were able to go to church, school, hunt, and fish.
Among the women of Silver Islet, séances became very popular as a means of speaking with deceased loved ones. In addition to those conducting the sessions, some notable people are rumored to have participated in them, including: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (British writer and creator of the Sherlock Holmes character), as well as Winston Churchill (former British Prime Minister).
These sessions were often held at the Silver Islet Cemetery. However, several seances also took place in houses along the coast and because of this, many buildings on the coast are claimed to be haunted, even to this day.
After the mine was closed, the buildings on the islet were left to deteriorate while the buildings on land continued to be used. Today, the Silver Islet community thrives in the summer with the shoreline lined with some of the original miners’ homes, converted into private cabins.
Did you know that without the development of the community of Silver Islet, at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula, roads may not have been built here and Sleeping Giant would not be the same as it is today?
Life after the mine
Next, imagine this. It’s the winter holiday season. You decorate your house completely and get together with your family to choose the perfect tree. But this year is different. This year you decide to go out to your backyard to look for a tree from the forest that surrounds your house!
You spend almost an entire hour stomping through deep snow and getting completely soaked before you finally find the perfect tree. The ax comes out and the tree falls. “WOOD!” Except, instead of a six-foot balsam fir, it’s an 80-foot black spruce, and you’re working for the Port Arthur Pulp and Paper Company as the best sawyer in your camp.
Photo credit: Linda Dukta.
This is what life was like on the Sibley Peninsula about 100 years ago. The sawyers (loggers) worked all year round cutting pulpwood and pine trees in the forests of the Peninsula. Throughout the history of logging on the peninsula, a total of 31,299.75 cords of wood were cut, most of which was pulpwood. The large pines scattered around the peninsula were also harvested, but the company was more interested in the peninsula’s pulpwood.
The logging camps that spread across the peninsula and the logging techniques of the time caused changes in the local ecosystem. The felled trees served as protection, food and homes for many organisms and species. In fact, the caribou population that once called the peninsula home left the area and has not been seen there since 1946.
Logging operations finally stopped on the peninsula in 1937 while plans were made to protect the land and open a provincial park in the area.
Historical artifacts may be just inches from your feet
Nowadays, if you play on the park land, you can find all kinds of interesting things! Colorful rocks, wriggling insects, and sometimes even animal remains are scattered throughout the ground and can be found with even minimal exploration.
A farmer in the nearby Pass Lake area community, just north of the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park boundary, discovered something quite unusual while tilling his land.
In the mid-20th century, Jorgen Brohm discovered some interesting rocks. He quickly realized that these were no ordinary rocks, and eventually Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Canada, learned that something special had been discovered in the Port Arthur area. MacNeish came to investigate Brohm’s finds and upon excavating the 51 m2 area, he discovered 82 artifacts and hundreds of artifact fragments.
The artifacts were buried in about nine inches of beach gravel under a layer of soil about six inches deep. MacNeish brought back 30 artifacts to study and, using radiocarbon dating, he was able to date them to about 8,000-9,000 years ago, when the first people to inhabit the peninsula lived here.
In fact, it was determined that the group of Aqua-Plano indigenous peoples were the first to inhabit the peninsula after the retreat of the glacier. As the glacier retreated, there was a strip of land between the glacier and the lake. This served as the only corridor to get from one side to the other, and indigenous hunters used this corridor to trap caribou from both sides.
The Brohm site is the oldest known site in the Lake Superior basin and generated much interest from the rest of the peninsula to see what could be just inches below our feet.
What’s in a name?
Moving forward in time to 75 years ago, we come to the time when the park first opened. The park was originally called Sibley Provincial Park.
In 1988, to recognize the iconic geographic formation and tourist attraction known as the “Sleeping Giant,” the park was renamed Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
Today the park features over 100 km of hiking trails, 40 backcountry campsites, Camp Marie Louise with its visitor center and Discovery staff offering a suite of interpretive educational programs and day-use areas for Let friends and families enjoy the natural beauty the park has to offer.
Memories continue to be made and connections are built as people come together through the wonderful experiences Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has to offer throughout its rich history.
Happy 75th Anniversary to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park!
Here’s to the next 75 years!
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is located about an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay.