Trip to the Ochre Mine

Trip to the Ochre Mine
A Column by former NBMCA Board Member Jane Lagassie

In August of 2020, Jane Lagassie went on both a spiritual and practical journey to the Ochre mine on the Mattawa River. Excerpted here is an entry from her journal recording details from her trip. 

Canoe Trip to the Ochre Mine

 Jane Lagassie Journal Entry – August 25, 26, 2020

 I finally went for my canoe trip that I’ve been planning for a few years. This year was special as I wanted to get a piece of Ochre to put in a birch bark container, I made for Mom’s ashes to take back to Manitoulin Island (Mindemoya) where she was born. I also wanted a couple of pieces for the Algonquin communities and a couple of extra pieces for medicine, so I asked the community Chief for permission, which he granted.


Started in Pimisi Bay, camped out on a point near Elm’s point as it was already taken, and our trip ended at Champlain Park…….

I went with a seasoned and accomplished river guide who teaches survival at an education camp just south of here. I can only describe Pete as a happy go lucky person, content with floating down the river… yes, like a page from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. He knew the river and as he taught me how to navigate each portage (often letting me walk as the water was so low) I would recount some of the history of the places I had only read about. I have never felt so connected and free as we paddled the river like kids exploring the wonders of all it had to share……fresh air, fishing, waterfalls, camping under the stars and exploring hiding treasures in caves….. a step back in time….

I couldn’t wait the next morning to paddle back to the Ochre mine and as we pushed off, I could hear a loud shriek very similar to the Cooper hawk I have at camp. With my eyes peeled on the trees, I finally spotted the Bald Eagle watching us and as our eyes met, she gracefully flies upstream around the bend as her mate flies high above watching us. With great delight we pick up little white down feathers she left floating on the river; we could spot them easy as they glimmered in the sunlight on the calm surface. She flies ahead of us again always landing in a big white pine and this time she is across from the Ochre mine and stays there until we climbed inside the cave, almost like she granted us permission….

Pete climbs up ahead and ties a guideline to help with my climb and warn me to stay clear of the poison ivy plants that I have noticed at other sacred sites. Words cannot describe the feeling upon entering the dark red cave…. there is a strong presence and although many described the cave as the opening of “Hell’s Gate” or the home of the Wendigo, I feel welcomed and comforted, and my fear of heights dissipates. We rested for a while and did our tobacco offering and ask to bring the precious pieces home. The feeling continued on top of the cave where I carefully removed moss from the top of some of the rocks that Tyyskä describes in his report. It wasn’t hard to imagine our ancestors working pulling up the mineral from the ledge and refining the Ochre to take with them in their birch bark baskets. I could see that they had placed some rocks near the edge on each side of the entrance, perhaps to protect the young children from falling. We did find the indentation mentioned in Tyyskä’s report as maybe another Ochre source and a stream that the report doesn’t mention about 200 feet North of the mine’s entrance.

We left this historical site with our precious pieces reluctantly with a promise to return someday to go back in time…….

Last Fall November 18, 2022, I completed a journey with my Mom’s ashes including the ochre to Manitoulin Island, but that’s another entry…..

Jane Lagassie holds an Avocational Archaeologist License with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport


Jane Lagassie honours the traditions of her family and takes part in a self-sustaining lifestyle as Huntress, Angler and Forager and trapper. Her passion is learning and sharing the knowledge of traditional plants and medicines. Jane volunteers her time hosting guided tours, including the Eau Claire Gorge for the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority (NBMCA) as well as at the Ecology Centres, schools and among the many Algonquin First Nation communities. She holds an Avocational Archaeologist License with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

 She recently retired from her municipal role of three terms as Councillor for the Township of Bonfield to allow more time for adventurous explorations of forgotten historical cultural sites ….

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