A recent road trip through Southern Saskatchewan brought us to the village of St. Victor, best known for the nearby St. Victor Petroglyphs. The following is a photo essay based on my research and a personal sunset tour of the ancient historic site.
Monarch Lodge in the village of St. Victor serves as the official interpretive center for the “Friends of St. Victor’s Petroglyphs.” Located at the road junction approximately 2 km from the park it houses informative displays documenting archeological finds from pottery shards to arrow heads as well as photo documentation surrounding the petroglyphs.
The petroglyph site is situated approximately 2,800’ above sea level, 1,000‘ above the village of St. Victor. Overlooking vast pasture land, it bears witness to glacier activity from 17,000 years ago. The concentration of petroglyphs are found on the horizontal sandstone slab beyond the fence. In the mid-afternoon light the markings on the rock are barely visible. The St. Victor Petroglyphs are one of Canada’s mysteries. Not much is known about the peoples who carved them, why they were left in this location or when exactly they were created. All one can be certain of is that these petroglyphs provide clues to the peoples who lived on Saskatchewan’s plains and beyond hundreds of years ago at a time predating written records.
The carvings were made by artists from a number of succeeding Northern Plains cultures over a period between 1,800 and 250 years ago. Comparative archaeological, historical and ethnological research suggests that many of the motifs seen here represent Eastern American Woodlands artistic and cultural influences. These were associated with ceremonies carried out to ensure the propagation and fertility of both bison and humans. Some of the human face figures may represent imagery connected with funerary practices of 900-1400 AD.
One hour before sunset David Munro, a “Friends of St. Victor’s Petroglyphs” guide, unlocked the gate and led the way onto the site for a closer inspection. The sandstone is covered with a combination of natural molds and lichen which aids in locating the individual carvings. The petroglyphs are best viewed just after sunrise or before sunset when shadows cast the light at a particular angle to intensify the markings.
The outline of a human hand created in a “pecked style” became clearly visible when the light first began to change. Orange colored lichens the size of a dollar coin are speculated to date back approximately 1,000 years. The smaller specks of the same lichen located in the outline of the hand would date between 200 to 400 years.
This glyph resembles a young child’s drawing and it was not until David pointed out eroded lines to suggest a head dress and ears that it captured my attention. The carving has been deemed genuine and it is speculated that it depicts “little people.” Descriptions of “little people” have been shared among aboriginals across north America. The simplicity of the face was something these early people imagined. The stories tell that all they ever saw was the back of the head when one of these little people helped them escape a tricky situation.
The elongated figure with head dress is holding a drum. This carving is reminiscent in appearance of imagery from the southern plains in the US, leading the speculation further to the possibility that the sandstone slab high above the prairies was a sacred gathering place for Indian nations from all directions.
The initial human foot print has been transformed into a grizzly’s paw through the addition of long claws. Such change in a carving supports the speculation that more than one native group frequented the petroglyph site. Adding and overlapping markings was a way to leave a mark for generations that followed.
Grizzly paw petroglyphs are unique to this sandstone slab site in Saskatchewan. Black bear paws have been identified in the Woodlands Region of Northern Saskatchewan. The St. Victor site remains the only site on the plains that bears witness to a grizzly bear population.
This glyph has puzzled visitors, guides and archeologists alike. The triangle shape is believed to depict a tipi, the circular shape marks the fire circle or hearth in the center of the dwelling. The simple figure placed directly above the hearth has an outstretched hand holding a bow and arrow. Why was this hunter placed above the the tipi? Was he the protector and provider of the the family? What other significance could this combination of glyphs communicate? Or was the figure carved by someone not connected to the tipi?
Another lichen encrusted area of the sandstone slab depicts a bird in flight placed just below the cloven hoof imprint. Both of these carvings are deep and were much easier to detect in the golden light of the sunset. Cloven hoof markings depicting elk, deer and particularly buffalo tracks are prominent on the St. Victor Petroglyph site, paying tribute to the hunter gatherer societies roaming the prairies long before the first European settlers arrived and claimed their stake.
Some of the images overlap and reflect varying styles. It is speculated that they were created at different times by different artists. Some were made by the ancestors of present-day Dakota (Sioux) peoples. One of the largest and most prominent is this face that seems similar to those observed in artifacts from northern plains burial mounds. The mounds are believed to be 300 to 600 years old. At more than a foot diameter, this stylized human face is one of the largest figures at the site.
In closing David Munro shared that several native people who visited the site asked that it be left alone to disappear naturally. The Government of Saskatchewan, responsible for the provincial historic site, has adopted this wish as policy.
To find out more about the St. Victor Petroglyphs visit check out the website at <http://stvictor.sasktelwebsite.net/>. To check out recent news or to book a tour visit The Friends of St. Victor Petroglyphs FaceBook page <https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-St-Victor-Petroglyphs/146272314727>