Most of us feel like we know our own country. Then we go out to pay it a visit, and find fascinating things we never knew existed. I had heard of Grand Falls, New Brunswick, before. But that was about the extent of my knowledge — until this week, when my friend Dennis and I made a stop on our journey to Canada’s east coast. So I wasn’t expecting what we found: a truly impressive natural wonder, an Indian legend, and a mysterious face in the stone.
Compared to Niagara, Grand Falls is a minor player in the world of waterfalls. But in fact, it’s a cascade that manages to be both amazingly powerful and beautiful at the same time. During the spring run-off, the falls are a fearsome force; almost the entire volume of Niagara Falls flows over its crest every second. That’s more than enough to drive a generator that supplies electricity to most of the town. In fall, however, that flow drops so low that the entire water course is diverted to the power plant.
At this time of year, it’s still an impressive sight. The water flows down over the rocks in a dozen rushing streams, to merge into a surging white maelstrom at the bottom. It’s a force that few could survive — which brings me to the Indian legend.
The Grand Falls site is dedicated to the story of Malabeam, a Maliseet Indian maiden who became a local hero by saving her people with a clever act of sabotage. Malabeam and her father, Sacobie, were on an island in the St. John River when a Mohawk war party captured them. They killed Sacobie, but promised to let Malabeam live if she showed them where her village was. She agreed to take them there after dark. When the hour came, they got into their canoes, and she led them straight over the falls, killing the whole party, including herself. Her body was never found.
Malabeam is immortalized by a statue in front of the Grand Falls interpretation centre, which is named after her. Not the greatest work of commemorative art I’ve seen, but at least the thought is well conceived. However, there is a masterful piece of art on the Grand Falls site, this one executed by Mother Nature.
While looking at my photos of the gorge below the waterfalls, I was startled to see a strong, chiselled face — perhaps that of an Indian — staring out at me from the rock wall across the river. It’s turned sideways, but still unmistakably human. Is it the guardian spirit of the Maliseet, or the soul of one of the Mohawks who met their violent death in the torrent? We’ll never know. But there it was, hiding in plain sight, staring out stoically as people whizzed by on a zip line overhead.
Another fascinating piece of Canada, in a place I never expected it. But there’s more to come, in places both famous and unknown. The wonders of Canada — stay tuned.