Northern Wilds Magazine
Kakabeka Falls on the Kaministiquia River. | GARY WALLINGA

Kakabeka Falls: Historic Wilderness Jewel

If you can’t get to Niagara Falls this summer, come and visit another of the world’s best natural waterfalls, Northwestern Ontario’s spectacular Kakabeka Falls, only a 20-minute drive west from Thunder Bay on Highway 11-17. Known as the Niagara of the North (it’s the second largest waterfall in Ontario), it has a distinctive landscape that is steeped in legends and history.

When you stand on the boardwalks around Kakabeka Falls and look down on the mighty Kaministiquia (Kam) River, you can almost ‘’see’‘ the fur trade canoe brigades with its hardy voyagers paddling up the river from Lake Superior (about 30 miles away) on their way to Canada’s hinterland. Take the 1.24 mile (2 km) Mountain Portage Trail along the rim of the river gorge and you’ll be on the same portage route used by fur traders, explorers, soldiers, settlers and missionaries to bypass the Falls. Back then it was an arduous, difficult portage; today it’s a barrier-free wooden boardwalk.

Legend of Green Mantle

Look above the Falls and imagine a young Ojibway woman with long jet black hair coming down the Kam River in a canoe surrounded by a flotilla of Sioux warriors; all are on a deadly course right over the Falls. According to legend, the woman was the beautiful Green Mantle, the brown-eyed daughter of Ogama Eagle, a powerful Ojibwa chief in the Thunder Bay area. The story goes that on her 17th birthday, Green Mantle was kidnapped by the dreaded Sioux Chief Ogama Dog – but she soon had devised an escape plan. As the war party entered the swirling waters just above the Falls (the Sioux were unaware of the danger ahead), Green Mantle suddenly paddled a few short rapid strokes to bring her canoe close to the west bank…..then, she jumped in the water, swam swiftly to shore and hid in the bush. The Sioux warriors were caught off-guard, and before they could chase Green Mantle, their canoes had plummeted over Kakabeka Falls to their deaths.

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