We’re rolling along the rails through massive rock cuts and mystery-shrouded forests, past moosey swamps and sunlit ponds. We’re leaving the city; it’s time to get away. Let’s rock and roll.
This is the Canadian Shield, the geological core of North America. The granite rock cuts we are rolling through contain some of the oldest rock in the world. Four billion years old! Well, not all of it, the Canadian Shield is made up of rocks of all ages.
About 3 billion years ago, the earth’s plates started shifting these old rocks around and piled them into a huge mountain range. We’re talking big mountains—Himalayan-sized. Apparently this went on for a long time, and didn’t subside until 800 million years ago. The Agawa Canyon was formed in the middle of all this, about 1.2 billion years ago, through faulting (but who’s laying blame?). The Shield was then flooded and eroded numerous times and the mountains knocked down to size, leaving behind huge deposits of rock and soil.
Imagine what that looked like. Now imagine lots of ice. Rocks on the rocks. Ice over a mile thick, covering most of North America, pushing all that rock and soil around like a massive bulldozer and then retreating. Sculpting the Canadian Shield with icy fingers and unimaginable pressure over a period of 1.5 million years. That part of the project wasn’t finished until about 10,000 years ago. The Shield was getting ready for company; the first people arrived within a few thousand years.
Try to see what they saw. Sensuous slabs of grey and pink granite that seem to flow like water. White quartz intrusions shine in the evening sun. Hold on—that’s pretty much what we’re seeing today; rocks don’t change a lot over a few thousand years.
The towering granite faces attracted the Anishnawbe, Ontario’s first people and became their stony canvas. The first painters of Algoma left their red ochre art at Agawa Bay and throughout the Shield.
Rocks are subtle chameleons revealing their hidden hues on damp mornings or under the soft rays of the sinking sun. Pearly greys suddenly show pink in the early morning sun and the same rocks flash hints of blue at midday. The pink is from feldspar, one of many minerals in these rocks. Silver, gold, iron, nickel, and copper are also abundant in these hills and add their own tint to rock.
These mineral and visual riches enticed miners, geologists, sightseers, photographers and artists. Artists like Frederick Henry Brigden, who painted The Grey Canyon in 1930 and showed us a different shade of grey; artists like David McEown, Chris Cooper and Dominic Modlinski share their contemporary vision of the Shield in watercolours, oils and acrylics; artists like the Group of Seven who painted the Shield in the sun, snow and the rain. Look below the gnarled roots of those iconic windblown white pines. Look at that stony face in J.E.H. MacDonald’s Solemn Land. Look at Algoma Rocks by A.Y Jackson. He was right—Algoma does rock.
Written By Rick Vosper