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Explore a towering monadnock with Back Roads Bill

The landscape anomaly was shaped by glaciers and, say legends, the lake at the top was created and filled with fish by the Thunder Bird

It is one of the most striking physical features on our northern landscape.

When you are in the little village of Kearns, east of Virginiatown the natural anomaly seems to be growing straight up and out of Highway 66. It is also mysterious.

When you first see the massive, bulbous shape from a distance you wonder about climbing to the top? It is not Mount Everest, but the climb to 500 m above sea level is worth it.  An expanse of land in all directions is worth the effort.  

For early native inhabitants, Mount Cheminis was a spiritual place, a place that was close to the gods. 

The geological form almost straddling the Ontario-Québec border is known as Mont Chaudron, Mount Cheminis and Sugar-Loaf Mountain.  

From a geology perspective, it's called a “monadnock” and it's a remnant of the last ice age. A monadnock or inselberg is an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. That describes Mount Cheminis.  

As the last glaciers moved southward the ice sheets would occasionally run into resistance in the form of these rounded mounds of sedimentary rock that couldn't be scraped away by the relentless advance of the ice. 

Seen from the topographical map and Google Earth there is an indication that the glacial movement was diverted at Cheminis - the mountain itself sits at the point of a V-shaped line of ridges, left intact as the ice was diverted to the east and the west.  At the base of Mount Cheminis is a wonderful talus slope of rock.  

Indigenous Values

“Rock formations like Mount Cheminis are important to Indigenous spirituality,” said Dr. Jonathan Pitt. 

His family is comprised of Ojibway and Algonquin First Nations, his heritage also includes Huron and Cree ancestry. 

He is currently a part-time instructor in Nipissing University's Schulich School of Education Aboriginal Education Programs and a full-time school teacher with the Near North District School Board.  

“Elders tell us were done with purpose by the ancestors and of profound importance, as these spiritual places are interconnected so-to-speak as they acted as portals and it is understood that our Medicine Men (Shamans) could communicate at these sites through the smoke like a spiritual cellphone, as it has been told that these Shamans wore feathers that acted like transmitters or receivers of power during ceremony,” Dr. Pitt said. 

“Since time immemorial the indigenous peoples of the area used the site for rituals.

“In most cases, sacred purposes included ceremonies, fasting and vision questing at these sites. These locations are known amongst the Indigenous inhabitants of the local First Nation.

“As Indigenous peoples, we have a strong spiritual connection with the land, our Mother Earth. 

“The land is sacred and some sites also hold special spiritual significance. Vision questing at rock sites and others were important to finding purpose in life, to understand one’s place. 

“This was especially true for males as Native writers such as Basil Johnston have been telling us for a long time, although females could vision quest, their path as givers of life (sacred feminine) was recognized spiritually as well as at a basic level for survival in the harsh conditions.”

“Our Grandfather Rocks, we understand that they have been here longer than us like the ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and have seen more and experienced more than our physical bodies can endure; they have what is commonly understood as a memory of the earth’s past,” he said. 

“So much of our knowledge has been lost, my sense is the rocks and formations with features that might resemble an obelisk or have unique tall features may have been used for ceremony (vision/cleansing) or to communicate with the spirit world. 

“The composition or type of the rocks themselves at sites might also have been a factor in site selection and are just a few examples at sites we know of that have been used since time immemorial. Mount Cheminis is a good example.”


The following is an Indigenous story about Mount Cheminis, collected by geologist-explorer Robert Bell during his survey trip to Lake Temiskaming in 1887. It is about the high place.

On the height of land between Lake Temiskaming and Lake Abitibi a short distance west of the canoe route between these lakes, there is a high mountain that can be seen for forty miles around. 

On top of this mountain is a small lake (you can see the lake on your ascent, to the south) full of fish which was formed by the Great Spirit the night he delivered a party of good Outchipwais out of the hands of the wicked Nottawais.  

One summer, a war party of Nottawais (Iroquois) on their annual invasion of our country had come north. All the Outchipwais were fleeing before them with their canoes and go to this mountain. 

Our people have taken little food with them were nearly starved and there was no water. 

The Great Spirit sent the Thunder Bird to our relief. He hovered over the mountain. At last, he flapped his wings and opened both his eyes at once.  

There was a tremendous crash and our people knew that something extraordinary had happened but it was too dark to see. 

The rain came down like a waterfall and the next day the people discovered the lightning had made a hollow to capture the rain. This water was found to alive with fine fish and it has evident the Great Spirit had put them there for the Indians to eat as they were starving.  

The Thunder Bird had frightened the Nottawais very much. 

Our warriors now having eaten and well-fed drove them away killing many.

And from another account, in 1955, the Northern Daily News, a Kirkland Lake newspaper, reported that "the body of a man, minus a head, two hands and a right foot was found on the top of Mount Cheminis. Nearby was (sic) a shotgun and an empty cartridge in the chamber. The clothes were 'city clothes,' not bush clothing. There was absolutely no identification and nobody has been reported missing in the area since July, 1954." 

When you arrive at the clearing on the gravel road off of Highway 66 and look up, you really start to wonder how you will get to the flat top. 

You will want to see this from near or afar, here is the map.  

At the clearing, you are facing north-east, but the trail and the ascent are in the far south-east corner of Mount Cheminis.   

There are a couple of switchbacks on the way to the top. The trail is well worn and very discernible. There was a tragedy there in July of 2019, 17-year old Brennan Goulding died when he slipped and fell while hiking with friends. The last 20-30 m of the steep pitch is more like a rock scramble or “stair-master” type of workout, be careful.



Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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