The Anishinaabe Legends

Anishinaabe author Josie Cormier relates her grandmother's stories of The Crying Woman of Manitou Falls and the Little People of Doghead Mountain.

Growing up as an Anishinaabe from Nipigon, Northern Ontario, I have come to know this area in a much different light. It is a place full of mystery, wonder, legend, and history. How did I come to know the land like this, you ask? Well, I grew up with my Grandmother telling my brother and I stories about different areas around home and the legends that live there. These stories are very important to our culture as they reflect the certain spot of land where the story comes from, and they are important to me because they are a way I can learn about where I come from and how much I am connected to it.

My Grandmother (left) with her mother (middle) and her sister (right) 

There are many stories that I wish to share with you, but for now I will leave you with a couple of my favourite ones. I hope they give you the same amazement and thrill as they did me, and allow you to look at this area through my eyes. So on that note, sit back, relax, and enjoy these Anishinaabe tales of Nipigon, Northern Ontario.      

The Little People of Doghead Mountain

This is a story passed down from my great Grandmother, to my Grandmother, to me, and now I would love to pass it down to you.

There is a mountain that lies just outside of Nipigon, you can actually see it from town, specifically from the highest street, on top of the highest hill, Mckirdy Avenue. The mountain is called Doghead Mountain because it looks like the outline of a dog's head. I didn’t always know the mountain this way. The way I knew it was by the name Memegwesiwijiw, which translates to “mountain of the little people.”

Abstract rendering of Doghead Mountain

My Grandmother and I always seem to find our way to talking about these little people. She says they live just at the base of the mountain, and that when she was younger she always wanted to go and find them, to see them for herself. I'd love to see these little people too, see if they look like what I’ve pictured in my head over the many years of being told this story. But, sadly, I’ve never gotten the chance, and neither has my Grandmother. She always used to ask her Grandmother if she could go see Memegwesiwijiw, but she was never allowed to, because these little people are tricksters, and they’ll try to tease you every chance they get.

Pictographs on the Nipigon River may depict images of the Little People of Doghead Mountain

When I asked her about what kind of tricks they play, she said they love to do things like tip your water over if you leave it out on the ground open and unattended. She then told me about someone she knew who had a trap line over there, and whenever they trapped something, the little people would let it go! Each time I hear her tell this story, I always get so amazed that something like this happened right here, in a place I get to call home.

If I do ever get the chance to go try and see these little people, maybe I’ll bring my own bottle of water so they can play one of their tricks on me, because that would be pretty cool. And if I do end up going, I will treat the land with respect and care, because it is their home after all.

The Crying Woman of Manitou Falls

Another story I would like to share with you is a story about a waterfall that cries. This falls was called Manitou Falls, and the word manitou in Ojibwe means spirit, so when translated to english, it means “spirit falls.” She told me that the people who lived by the falls said they heard a woman crying, and she would cry and cry every night. My Grandmother said

They used to see a picture, like a shadow of a woman in the falls, in the mist, and she was crying and they never knew why, why this woman was crying.

So the woman they saw was actually the falls, or the spirit of the falls, within the mist of the water. Like my Grandmother said, the reason this woman was so sad and crying every night was unknown. Then one day, these other people came and built a dam where Manitou Falls once lives, and Manitou Falls disappeared.

Manitou, the woman whose cries echoed throughout the forest, the misty shadow the people saw within the falling water, and whose tears fell into her flowing river, was never heard from again after the dam was put up. Maybe once in a while, I hope, she returns to her waters, or where her water used to be. This story reminds me of how important nature is. I always end up thinking twice when I’m walking among the trees or near the water, thinking maybe a spirit lives here too, and I am merely a lucky visitor who gets to walk alongside them in their home.

My Grandmother (in the front) with her siblings at her childhood home. 

I hope you have enjoyed these stories, and I hope you will pass them along, too. I hope you have come to see the land around here in a different way, a way that is more than just what meets the eye. The forest, water, the land as a whole around this area has wonders like you’ve never seen or experienced before. You just have to take a closer look!

About Josie Cormier

Josie Cormier grew up in Nipigon, Northern Ontario, and is part of the Red Rock Indian Band. She is passionate about sharing the love she has for her home with everyone she meets. You can always find her looking for new adventures by kayaking, hiking, and exploring the beautiful area she's lucky to call home. Josie is currently a student at York University in Toronto and hopes to start a career as a writer. 

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