The Story Behind Penetanguishene’s Kitchikewana

Photo credit: Patti Foley

At the foot of Main Street in Penetanguishene stands a statue to the legendary Huron Indian Giant Kitchikewana, celebrating the indigenous heritage of the Town. It carries a circle above its head symbolizing eternity and perfect unity, and feathers indicating courage, peace and fidelity.

Those of us modern thinkers who are aware of the geology and the origin of the Great Lakes through the forces of inland oceans, advancing and receding ice ages, and perhaps even meteors, will find it difficult to comprehend the views of the aboriginal inhabitants about how they and everything around them was created.

They had no scientists and no sophisticated instruments to guide them. Their gods created everything, a view which even today is held by most existing religions, no matter how much information they now have available about our universe and others next to it.

Manitou was one of the greatest of the aboriginal gods, called different names by different tribes. He was the Great Spirit of the Sky People, who lived up in the sky, high above the clouds. The Sky People created the world and controlled everything in it. Kitchikewana was one of Manitou’s sons. No one knows how many sons and daughters he had.

When his mother, Geezhigo-Quae, also known as Nokomis or the Skywoman, grew heavy with child, she came down to the earth to deliver it. But there was no safe place for her because most of the world, down to Muzzu-Kumik-Quae, the original earth, was covered with water, but she wanted her own place on earth.

The great turtle allowed her to rest upon her back. She told the other water animals to bring earth to the surface and to spread it on her back. Only the muskrat and the beaver succeeded in doing so, and she used their handfuls of earth to make it grow until it covered her entire back, forming Turtle Island. She made trees to grow on it, to provide her with good shelter to deliver her child. In doing so she also made it into a place for all people to come.

Kitchikewana was a born a god, whose purpose was to guard all of Georgian Bay. Through an arrangement by the other gods he met a woman named Wanakita, whom he decided he wanted to marry as soon as he saw her.

He started planning the wedding, but soon found out she was already engaged to another warrier god. Kitchikewana, known for his bad temper, was so angry at this news that he grabbed a large ball of land and threw it into the Great Lakes.

The massive ball of land exploded into thousands of small chunks, forming the 30,000 islands! Exhausted from his fit of rage, Kitchikewana needed to take a little nap and laid down at Giants Tomb Island, where he’s still snoozing away today! Giant’s Tomb actually got its name because it resembles the sleeping giant, who the aboriginal people believe to be the god Kitchikewana!

However, the cottage residents, through their Association, recognize the indigenous tribes of the Michi Saagiig, the Mississauga Anishinaabeg, who are the original inhabitants of southern Ontario and have lived in a sustainable relationship with the lands and waters for thousands of years.

Kitchikewana’s love for Wanakita is remembered by the name of a 1,000-acre large YMCA Summer Camp Wanakita on Koshlong Lake in Haliburton, Ontario. I am not certain whether the attending children are familiarized with the legends of Kitchikewana and Wanakita, but they should be, because it gives them the knowledge of the ancient history of the place.


Written by

Peter Iden is a resident of Wasaga Beach and a Naturalist and Photographer who has a broad range of knowledge of the natural world. Peter is also a volunteer Warden for the Piping Plover Recovery Programme with the Friends of Nancy Island.


Latest comments
  • Surprised that you didn’t mention the artist who created this masterpiece. Tone Jemec, from Lafontaine, a noted sculptor in our area.

  • I did not run into Tone Jemec’s name in my research, which concerned itself primarily with the indigenous meaning of the statues. Also, Tome and Jemec are typical Slovenian names, and may have esscpaed my attention for that reason As far as I am aware, there is no sign crediting the sculptures in the Arboretum to him, although if there are, I may have missed them because I have a walking problem and by the time I got to them I was pretty exhausted. I value constructive criticism, and your comment was certainly constructive in that it added to my knowledge and that of the readers.
    Thank you, Don.