Pukaskwa National Park’s Pukasu and Perilous Waters

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Pukaskwa National Park’s Pukasu and Perilous Waters

Pukaskwa National Park is Ontario, Canada’s largest National Park.  Established in 1978 on Lake Superior features boreal forests over seven hundred square miles and is home to black bears, moose, falcons, lynx, caribou and wolves.  Courageous hikers can take the four to eight day hike from Hattie Cove to North Swallow River and take in the beautiful sights of the National Park.  Widely untouched, the huge expanse is only visited by about ten thousand annual visitors.

Pukasu and Perilous Waters

Pukaskwa River

Although only open to the public since 1983, aboriginals lived in the area for thousands of years.  It was a profitable area for resource extraction including fur, timber, mining, and hydroelectricity.  The front country expanse primarily caters to visitors, housing the Anishinaabe Camp and the Hattie Cove Visitor’s Center and campground.  The back country is the untouched beauty of the remote wilderness.  It features hiking trails, paddling routes and river routes.

While Pakaskwa sounds beautiful, the name itself it rather gruesome in nature.  The name is speculated to come from the word “pukasu”.  The word refers to the process of throwing an animal carcass on an open fire and roasting it until all the meat is burned away.  The end goal is to remove all the meat, leaving the bones in order for the eater to extract the bone marrow.

The gruesome name follows with a gruesome history.  Native American legend has it that a well-known tribesman got into a horrible fight with his wife at the mouth of the Pukaskwa River.  After fiercely knocking her unconscious, he burned her body in a fire until only her bones were left.  After he was finished, he gathered up her bones and threw them into the mouth of the river.  After returning to his tribe, he was given the name Opakasu, which means cooker of marrow.  While he did not eat the marrow, the river was named Pakasu because of what he did to his wife at the mouth of the river.  Hikers claim to hear the sounds of a woman struggling near the river and describe feeling an ominous presence.

Unfortunately, she is not the only woman to have met an unfortunate end in the Pukaskwa National Park.  A young Native woman was stolen by a marauder from her father’s lodge.  The pirate came from the lodge, Michipicoten, meaning “big bluffs”.  Unfortunately, after being carried off, she was slain.  Visitors report seeing a white doe wandering the area.  Native Americans warn visitors not to get too close as the doe is seeking revenge for her untimely and gruesome death.

Pukasu and Perilous Waters

Otter Island

Women were not the only ones victim to the waters of Pukaskwa.  Nearby Otter Island, was home to some of the highest numbers of accidents and shipwrecks.  In 1975, the nearby lighthouse keepers watched in horror as the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior during a November storm.  The wreck took the lives of all twenty nine crew members.  The waters in the area are so bad they are nicknamed the “Witch of November.”  Even today people witness ghost ships on the water, including the Edmund Fitzgerald.  The apparitions look real until travelers approach and they disappear.

The lighthouse keepers also faced their own trouble as the keepers house assistant fell to death after tumbling down the stairs.  The lighthouse keeper arrived in the morning for his shift and found the body of his assistant.  The lighthouse keeper kept the body of his assistant in a room outside the house until a boat came to pick it up.  In order to keep the body frozen, the lighthouse keeper had to live with no fire for over five weeks.  Lighthouse visitors describe hearing screams and seeing the apparition of a man, appearing to continue to keep watch over passing ships.

Megan Borchert
Megan Borchert
Lover of all things unusual, Megan is a staff attorney for the state of South Dakota. When she's not stuffed in an office writing case synopses, you can find her at home with her army of Schnauzers, snuggled up with some strong wine and a good book.

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