Rock art tours offer window to the past at Saskatchewan petroglyph park

Tours of the St. Victor Petroglyph Provincial Park offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of North American indigenous people.

Carvings depict grizzly bear tracks, buffalo

Carvings of animal prints offer historical clues at St. Victor Petroglyph Provincial Park. (Submitted by Tim Jones )

Tours of ancient rock carvings are being held at St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Park today, offering a fascinating glimpse into the history of Saskatchewan's Indigenous people. 

The spectacular rock landscape, about 200 kilometres southwest of Regina, is home to more than 300 historical carvings, some of which depict grizzly bear tracks and buffalo. 

Archeologist Tim Jones said the park's sandstone bedrock outcropping, which is about 70 million-years-old, acted as a "horizontal canvas" for North American Aboriginal people. 

"It's one of Saskatchewan's most unique and important sites," said Jones.

"One of the main reasons why it is so significant and important is that it really is the most striking site in Saskatchewan that symbolizes the native people's interest in buffalo or bison over thousands of years."

The St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Park is about 200 kilometres southwest of Regina. (Submitted by Tim Jones)

Jones, who is recognized internationally for his knowledge of rock art, said the site also provided some of the only physical evidence that grizzly bears had lived in southern Saskatchewan. 

"There's about a dozen carvings of tracks of the grizzly bear at St. Victor, which are really pretty spectacular in terms of their significance," he told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend program. 

"The grizzly bear in historic times, among all the northern plains Indigenous peoples, was a tremendously important figure in the ceremony and spirituality of the plains peoples, and it represented great power."

Jones said the grizzly bear was considered to have powers in both warfare and healing, leading shamans and medicine people to adopt them as a guise during ceremonies. 

Archeologist Tim Jones says more work is needed to prevent the rocky landscape from deteriorating. (Submitted by Tim Jones )

Despite the archeological significance of the site, the park risks losing some of its rock art to deterioration. 

Jones said the area was neglected for decades due to a lack of interest in preserving it, but more recently measures were taken to ensure the carvings remained intact. 

A hollow was constructed to redirect water away from the petroglyphs, and some moulds of the carvings have been made, but Jones said more work was needed. 

"One of the rocks that fell quite a few years ago now, over 10 years ago, and is down below, is being affected very severely by weathering and there doesn't seem to be much will to take steps to preserve it," he said. 

The grizzly bear was a powerful figure in early North American Indigenous culture. (Submitted by Tim Jones )

For Jones and other members of the Friends of the St. Victor Petroglyphs, Saturday's tours are a chance to raise awareness about the need to preserve the ancient petroglyphs long into the future.

Tours of the site will be held in both the afternoon and the evening, but Jones said the petroglyphs were best viewed at night, when guides could use artificial light to make the carvings pop. 

For more information, visit the Friends of the St. Victor Petroglyphs Facebook page. 

There are more than 300 rock carvings at the St. Victor Petroglyph Provincial Park. (Submitted by Tim Jones )
Erosion of rocky cliffs is putting some of the St. Victor rock at risk. (Submitted by Tim Jones )
Tours of the St. Victor petroglyphs will leave from Monarch Lodge.