Stone Man Points The Way

by Ralph Martone
September 2005

It was Denise that saw him first, standing along the side of the road, arms spread wide as cars and trucks whizzed by. A few miles down the road we saw him again. He was taller and his arms spread wider but there was no mistaking him now. Mile after mile along the beautiful Canadian highway there he was, marking our progress north, showing us the way.

Inukshuk (pronounced IN-OOK-SHOOK) is an Inuit term meaning "stone man that points the way". Most Inukshuks are simple, consisting of just six to eight rocks. Two rocks create the legs and a larger rock or two form the body. A long narrow rock creating the arms is a key to forming an Inukshuk. A small round rock for a head finishes the stone figure.

Although we had been traveling through Ontario on fishing vacations for years, we had never taken notice of these informal rock sculptures along many northern highways. But, on the way to Ontario's French River, the formations finally attracted Denise's attention. Mile after mile the small rock piles appeared along the rocky outcroppings lining the highways north of Barrie, Ontario.

Our research revealed that unlike the rolling hills and valleys of western Pennsylvania, the northern Canadian landscape is flat and dotted with lakes of all shapes and sizes. In addition, in such level landscape many Canadian rivers are not confined to narrow valleys and instead spread over the land covering huge areas. In fact, many rivers, like the French and Severn Rivers resemble large lakes rather than traditional flowing rivers. In these vast featureless areas, crisscrossed by lakes and rivers, travel proved difficult. Out of necessity, markers were erected to help guide travelers.

Stone markers in the shape of man have been used for centuries to help travelers navigate the vast featureless northern lakes and rivers. The tradition continues into modern times where Inukshuks are erected along highways to greet and guide travelers.

While Inukshuks can be seen along many highways in northern Canada, many of the most interesting of the stone man figures are found among the many islands and channels used by fishermen and recreational boaters. From stone men the size of a table lamp to large imposing figures up to eight feet high, the Inkshuk is a welcome signpost wherever it is found.

Before leaving the French River's Lunge Lodge, Denise collected an odd assortment of rocks, storing them in one of our boat compartments. A few weeks later I was surprised to see an Inukshuk mysteriously appear among the perennials along our sidewalk.

Later in August while staying at the Pennsylvania Club in Georgian Bay, Denise and Bill Devido lead an energetic group in building an impressive Inukshuk. Overlooking the main channel as it passes Pennsylvania Island, the nearly three-foot tall stone man points the way for travelers.

Later, I saw Denise once again collecting rocks from the shallow water near the lodge. This time I had an idea what would appear once we arrived home. It took a couple of days, but eventually the small figure of a stone man emerged in our flower garden.

I must admit I have grown attached to our two new Inukshuks. Walking down the sidewalk, I look at them and immediately flash back to the clear, green water and small rocky islands of northern Ontario. Later in the evening, sitting on the deck, I glance at the small stone figures and swear I can once again hear the clear, lonesome call of a loon. Maybe that is the secret of the Inukshuk, it not only points the way for travelers, but also tells you to enjoy the journey.