SCARS ON THE FACE OF MOTHER EARTH

BY

J. BRUCE DAY

(An article published in the ‘Manitoba Teacher’ in 1925)

The evolution of the earth from its nebulous form to its present general shape and characteristics is a subject which has been treated somewhat extensively by scientific writers of many decades.  The rising of land from the ocean and the formation of continents have received elaborate exposition; so, too, have the building of mountain ranges and the tremendous effects of water upon the geological features of the best known lands.

While, however, these subjects have received attention by numerous writers, there are many comparatively small scars upon the ever-deepening complexion of Mother Earth which have received no publicity.  Here, in Manitoba, these disfigurations and beauty marks are to be found caused by all of three effects:  minute nature-action, man-work of pre-civilization, modern human’s labour.  In point of time the causes mentioned are meant to be successive, and because in this new country of ours the last named has resulted in growth within the memory of most of us, this essay will concern itself with stating facts of an expository nature about the two first-named causes.

In the course of time a comparatively few years would take us back to the period when most of Manitoba was covered with the water of what we now refer to as Lake Aggasiz.  The western shores of this lake extended in an irregular line from the eastern slope of the Pembina Hills to the Riding and Duck Mountains.  The northern and eastern shores can not be located, for they melted away!  It indeed sounds strange; but was it not the remaining part of the great glacier itself which formed this boundary?

When the great lake had come to these limits and tossed its water over multitudes of  stones brought from the north by the ice-sheet and had lapped the sands of the western shore, there appeared for the first time on the newly-formed beach a splendid type of Humanity.  These seven-foot giants were the second cause of minor geological features.

At first, the great lake drained off to the south into the Gulf of Mexico; but as the ice wall at the north melted, the level of the water was not above the central height of land, and an equilibrium was reached.  The inland sea maintained its level long enough to throw up on its western shore a sandy beach, where, without doubt, the first children of the prairies built sand-castles and uncovered imaginary lairs.  That ridge of sand is still in evidence; so also are the signs of the inhabitants – but of them, later.  In course of time, as the water drained away at intervals, several beaches were formed, some larger than others; but the average height now, after many years of exposure, is probably three or four feet.  These natural highways can be seen clearly at many places in the Province of Manitoba, and a few miles west of Morden seven can be found.  Without thought of the origin, our white pioneers used the ridges for wagon-roads; railways have been built on them for miles;  but our stiff, checker-board survey system prohibits the use of Nature’s gift as public highways.

Those people who first inhabited the shores of Lake Agassiz, and those who found hunting grounds further inland to the west, have left us signs of their presence.  How fortunate that there were no obituary notices written in those days to say ‘last resting place’!  Our irreverent scientists have plundered their burial grounds – ‘mounds’ we call them.  As the term suggests, these are knolls; and they vary in size and height from barely noticeable elevations to the gigantic heap at Pilot Mound.

Approximately twelve miles south of Melita, within an irregular area, are several mounds, which on being excavated revealed the fact – corroborated by disclosures at Arden and elsewhere – that the dead were buried in a sitting posture surrounded by personal belongings such as spears and arrows tipped with flint, stone hammers, axes, and beads.  The presence also of earthern pottery explains the origin of the custom of some tribes of southern Indians (descendants of the mound-builders) of placing food and water in the grave for the journey to the Happy Hunting Ground.

Many things have not been explained satisfactorily:  for example, the presence of a ridge one or two feet high and six feet wide joining four mounds on Section 10, 2, 27W in Manitoba.  An angle of about 110 degrees is made by perfectly straight ridges, both tipped and joined by mounds with an extra mound for the longer arm. 

Less than a mile north-east of Thornhill, a peculiar mound has been excavated.  Fourteen skeletons of seven-foot braves with fractured skulls, arranged in a circle and surrounded by a ring of red clay not common to the vicinity, have been found.  The presence of ashes and of a stone hammer probably explains the arrangement of the skeletons, as well as suggesting the cause of the similarly fractured skulls!  Conjecture labels such a mound as a sacrificial one; but who knows?

Manitoba is a new country, all agree; but do not these signs show that such a hasty conclusion is erroneous?  There is a history behind some of our most unpretentious land features.  Every day of their lives many of the inhabitants of Manitoba see or tread underfoot precious historic manuscripts!


John Bruce Day

Thornhill, Manitoba

copied from a hand-written manuscript by his son,

The Reverend Dr. Barry Day, July 2007)