Friday, May 4, 2012

re-rediscovering the bedford petroglyphs

it's amazing what you find if you take a wander out your front door. i moved to bedford 18 months ago and we live in what appears to be an ordinary suburb - and then i heard about the 'bedford petroglyphs' - mi'kmaq rock art that could be as old as 500 years and hidden off a dead-end street five minutes from my front door.

it took several weeks of research to find out more about them, and then several attempts to actually find the rock art. you can find maps online that seem pretty specific, but once you get to the end of the road, finding the path is tricky. 

the circled star shown in this photo is not super obvious in my picture - you need the right lighting conditions to really see it pop out. my article in bedford/southender magazine has a better shot. pick up a copy to see it in the flesh. 

By Jon Tattrie

Hidden within a Bedford subdivision is a 35-acre refuge of wild scrubland containing two rock carvings that illuminate the ancient history of the area. The Bedford Petroglyphs are a National Historic Site, but the path to them is unmarked and the exact location not published. Parks Canada lists it as a “spiritually significant” site, but they have been largely left alone since their re-discovery 30 years ago.

The age of the Bedford Petroglyphs, located in the Bedford Barrens near Rutledge Street, is not known. Experts have said they are from at least the early 1900s and could be more than 500 years old. One depicts an eight-pointed star and the second a human figure. Both pieces of rock art are cut into a quartzite ridge lying flat on the ground. The meaning of the art is up for interpretation – it might have been a guide post, or a representation of the sky at a certain time of the year, or something not yet realized.

The petroglyphs were rediscovered in the early 1980s. Locals concerned about the advancing suburbs fought to protect the area. Development was stopped when province bought the land in 1993 and 1994. 

In 1994, it was declared a National Historic Site. In 1997, the Tripartite Forum began to address how the area could be preserved. The forum brings together 13 Mi’kmaq chiefs in Nova Scotia, plus representatives of the provincial and federal governments.

Tim Bernard, co-chair of the Tripartite Culture and Heritage Committee, says a decision was made in November to create a footpath that diverts walkers away from the petroglyphs. That would prevent casual hikers from walking on the carvings and keep the trail open while other conservation approaches are explored.

“We’re still looking for some funds to go ahead and begin the small parkland development,” he says.

Once that basic protection is in place, the site could be developed. First step would be installing a bronze National Heritage Site plaque to explain the rock carvings and an interpretive board or even centre to share the Mi’kmaq history of the area. Peterborough Petroglyph Park in Ontario, for example, is enclosed in an interpretive centre, an option being considered in Bedford.

“No longer can we pretend that the petroglyphs are not there,” Bernard says. “It’s sacred and significant to the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia.”

The rock art points to the 13,000-year human history in the area that has largely been deliberately forgotten in favour of the more recent European-Nova Scotian history. Mi’kmaq people arrived here about the same time the original Britons migrated to Great Britain. The area is called Kjipuktuk or 
Chibookt in Mi’kmaw and was traditionally part of the Eskikwea’kik or Sipekne’katik districts. The rivers today called the Sackville and the Shubenacadie were water highways for Mi’kmaq travelling into Chibookt from other territories. Bedford was a traditional stopping place. “If you were paddling from Windsor, you stayed over and camped,” Bernard says. “There are probably other areas in and around. God knows how many were destroyed.”

In 1746, there were two Mi’kmaq camps in the area – one on the shore of the Sackville River and the other where St. Peter’s Church stands today. Citadel Hill sits in the middle of what was moose-hunting territory and Northwest Arm and Point Pleasant Park area, also known as Amtoukati, was the annual site of a spring festival held seven days after May’s first new moon.  It is a rich, fascinating history, but one that has been pushed out of the provincial story.

The province has 27 museums – none are about Mi’kmaq history. The province is awash in tartan and bagpipers great you at the border, but tourism and educational material contains little mention of the Mi’kmaq. Europeans arrived 400 years ago – a period of time that represents three per cent of human history in this land. The other 97 per cent is Mi’kmaq history. Groups like Tripartite are trying to counter that imbalance. 

“It’s about properly representing Mi’kmaq culture and history in the province,” Bernard says.
His group is developing an interpretive centre in Debert on a 13,000-year-old archeological site and the Bedford Petroglyphs are coming out of the shadows. “The answer is not to dig it up and put it in a museum – that’s not why it was put there,” he says.

“From a Mi’kmaw perspective, we’re going to celebrate what’s there; we’re going to share what’s there. It points to inclusion – that’s all we’re asking for, just to be included in the bigger picture. We want to tell our own story.”

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