Noted photographer to publish a lavishly illustrated book on the Niagara Escarpment

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

September 4th, 2017



Later this month Mark Zelinski will launch his book on the Escarpment. It is a large format publication with loads of pictures – Zelinski is a photographer with an eye for the outdoors.

zelinski Mark

Mark Zelinski, graduate of both Sheridan College and OCAD and the recipient of several awards for his work.

However, it would be a mistake to see the book as a collection of really nice pictures in between hard covers – the kind of thing that sits on a coffee table or in an office reception room where people flip through the pages.

It is one of the first books of this type that I have read that recognizes the place of the Indigenous community in the geography of our community.

Zelinski let the Indigenous people tell their story – his use of the a wonderful piece by Richard Hill about the: The Great Escarpment In Haudenosaunee Oral History is so powerful that we have included it in this review.

“The Haudenosaunee Confederacy consists of the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora First Nations. Our Creation Story is a road map to our underlying values, beliefs and customary practices. It sets in motion our way of life, and the annual cycles of nature that impact on our lives. It also tells of the re-shaping of Mother Earth that was created on the back of a giant turtle.

Turtle_LOGO_ON_MAP-©[1]“Oral history tells of giant serpents that lived underground and emerged into the deep Great Lakes, only to surface from time to time to seek out human flesh. One huge cavern behind Niagara Falls soon became the home of the Thunder Beings. These powerful spirits rode the skies behind the dark storm clouds. When they saw one of those giant serpents trying to make its way to this world, the Thunder Beings would fly into action, shooting flint-tipped arrows that turned into lightning bolts, hoping to strike down the serpents and keep the land safe for humans.

“Our oral history also tells of a time when the Sun, Our Elder Brother, also known as the Great Warrior, while making his daily round of overseeing the Great Turtle Island, would notice that humans are fighting and hurting one another. As the story continues, our Elder Brother will pause, directly overhead when he sees such chaos. He will turn up his heat, hoping that the humans will pause and look skyward.

“In doing so, the people can recall the sacred origins of this land, and of humans of the clay from the back of the Great Turtle. His hope is that if we recall our Original Instructions to look after one another, humans just might stop fighting and return to the way of life that was intended for them – peace on Mother Earth. If humans refused to reconsider their actions, the Elder Brother said he would transform himself, becoming the Spirit of the Earthquake and shake the Earth so much that all that was made by humans would be destroyed, including the humans.

“This universal struggle between the serpents below and the Thunder Beings above is a metaphor for our own existence. We live in the middle of these two zones. While walking on the earth, we experience one aspect of life. When we die and are placed in the loving arms of our mother, we may experience another aspect of life. We can be like warriors who sneak up on others to do harm, or we can live in peace so that when our Great Elder Brother looks upon us, he will smile, knowing that we remember our Original Instructions. Life can flourish in this beautiful world we call home. Or, we can lose it all if we do not heed to wisdom of our ancestors and be thankful for all that has been provided.

“To me, The Niagara Escarpment represents the jagged edge of our existence. a place that has had a profound impact on the Indigenous people who live on or near it. It remains a place of power, a reminder of the original battle over this land, and an ongoing threshold between the goodness of our Mother the Earth, and the mysterious forces that are above and that lie below.”

Like many people I took the short boat ride when I last toured the falls at Niagara aboard the Maid Of The Mist. I never asked where the name of the boat came from – I recall more vividly how close we got to the falls and how wet we were when we returned.

Chezney Martin tells the story of the creation of the Niagara Escarpment and Maid of the Mist. It begins with a battle that involved the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee.

“The Thunder Beings are considered the supernatural grandfathers and protectors of the earth. They make appearances in many Haudenosaunee stories and tales. The duties of the Thunder Beings flow from the creation story to the belief that they keep dinosaurs underground with strikes of lightening.

“In this particular story we meet a monstrous snake-like beast conjured by witchcraft that decided to live within the Niagara waterways to kill and eat the Haudenosaunee people.

“Enraged by this, the Thunder Beings sought to dispel the snake with force. This battle raged on for days as thunder rumbled in the sky and lightening struck the serpent until it dissipated into a huge crevice in the earth, the same crevice we call the Niagara Gorge today.

“The Thunder Beings were suspicious as to whether or not the snake had truly been defeated. Rather than leaving the earth they sought shelter behind the waterfall that had been created by the serpent. The Thunder Beings natural rumbles were covered by the sound of falling water, as they awaited any sign that the snake had survived.

niagara-escarpment-turtle-island-©[1]“Shortly after this battle, the clouds in the sky cleared to a beautiful day. The sunshine attracted a young woman to lie near the water. She was soon to be wed and wouldn’t have much time to enjoy her alone time once she had children.

“As she closed her eyes, the snake that was shrunken by the strikes of the Thunder Beings slithered out of the water. It is said that the snake entered her body during her rest.

“The young woman was later married and after the first night spent with her new husband, he died. She mourned and decided to try marriage again with the same result. She tried once more to marry, desperately craving a family. Her third husband died.

“Distraught with grief and guilt the young woman decided to end her life. She entered a canoe up stream and allowed the current to carry her to the waterfall.

“Just as her canoe was going to tip over the edge and to the sharp rocks below, the Thunder Beings heard her weeping. They caught her mid-fall, and brought her into their cave behind the water.

“Once inside, the Thunder Beings taught the young woman how to dispel witchcraft as they alleviated her of the snake and destroyed it.

“It is said that the Thunder Beings returned to the clouds. The knowledge passed on to the young woman was brought back to the Haudenosaunee and has been used ever since.

“This is the story of The Maid of the Mist from the Original People.”

The care and preservation of the Escarpment is now in the hands of the public that is represented by the Niagara Escarpment Commission and Conservation Halton.

Robert Edmondson was with Conservation Halton for 38 years, starting his career as a biologist in 1974 and retiring as the director, watershed management services at the end of 2012. He describes and explains the huge stretch of land that he oversaw that extended through the world’s largest freshwater island, Manitoulin, and emerging from the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay surrounding Flower Pot Island, follows a 740 kilometre journey from the tip of the Bruce Peninsula to Queenston Heights.

“Visual highlights along the Niagara Escarpment include dramatic views at vistas such as Lion’s Head, Colpoy’s Lookout, Nottawasaga Lookout, Rattlesnake Point, Mount Nemo, Spencer Gorge, and featuring creeks and streams flowing over such outstanding features as Inglis Falls, Eugenia Falls, Hilton Falls, Webster Falls and Balls Falls.


The Escarpment is our backyard.

“All these natural wonders are found on publically owned lands that make up the Niagara Escarpment Parks and Open Space System (NEPOSS). Over 44,300 hectares of land, representing close to 23% of the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area is part of the park system. For the most part, these lands are connected by the Bruce Trail as it winds its way some 855 kilometres from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula to Queenston on the Niagara River. Manitoulin Island, which is outside of the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area, cherishes its own incredible parks, such as Misery Bay Provincial Park; a 1000 hectare coastal alvar sanctuary, with the largest wetland in the eco-district. The Cup and Saucer trail on the islands east end, possesses one of the most exhilarating views in the province.

“The NEPOSS is administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and governed by a council with representatives from the park owners and the Niagara Escarpment Commission. The main objectives of the park system are to protect the unique ecological and historical areas; maintain and enhance the natural environment of the Niagara Escarpment while providing for outdoor education, recreation, and public access to the Bruce Trail; and promote the principles of the Niagara Escarpment’s UNESCO World Biosphere Designation.

“There are over 147 parks within the system that are maintained by a mix of public bodies and conservation organizations including seven conservation authorities: the Ministry of Natural Re-sources, Ontario Parks, Parks Canada, Ontario Heritage Trust, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, Niagara Parks Commission, Royal Botanical Gardens, Bruce Trail Conservancy as well as a number of municipalities and organizations such as the Hamilton Naturalists Club, Nature Conservancy and Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy. The Conservation Authorities of Grey Sauble, Nottawasaga, Credit Valley, Toronto, Halton, Hamilton and Niagara maintain more than half of the lands and 60% of the parks in the system.[1]“All Escarpment parks are classified according to their attributes and ecological significance: such as Nature Reserve, Natural Environment, Recreation, Historical, Escarpment Access and Resource Management Area.

The Parks provide a wide range of experiences: visits to preserved historical sites, walking or cycling to vistas with their breath-taking views; tumbling waterfalls; quiet strolls along hiking trails meandering through mature forests; and observing the active life of the wetlands, or the enjoyment of cross country and down-hill skiing. The fundamental responsibility of the park system is to preserve the legacy of the Escarpment, all the wonders of its ecological diversity and outstanding features.”

These three people set the table on which Zelinski places the several hundred photographs that capture what it is that we see, feel and experience when we spend time in this vast stretch of land.  For those of us who have to spend time in sometimes stop and go traffic on six lane highways – an understanding and appreciation of this collection of land that has been preserved becomes close to poignant.

The book – title will be launched at an RBG reception September 20th at the RBG Rock Garden 7:00 to 8:30 pm.

The Heart of Turtle Island retails for $50.  It is available for a limited time at a discount at

It is also available at: A Different Drummer Books, Royal Botanical Gardens,,  and Indigo Books for the full retail price.

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1 comment to Noted photographer to publish a lavishly illustrated book on the Niagara Escarpment

  • lyn holton

    … Pity Burlington City Elders succumbed to the glitter of geld, and transformed this once revered UNESCO Biosphere into a plastic wasteland. For those who dont know, the UNESCO Biosphere encompasses City View Park, on the Escarpment, just over the ridge from Kerncliff Park. City dumped tons of plastic grass on top of non-biodegradable rubber tire substrates in there, paid for by the Pan Am Games org & the Feds. Meanwhile, the proposed Bruce Trail ‘lookout’ that truly honours the land & view languishes.

    FYI. Plastic grass, by law, has to be disposed of in a ‘hazardous waste facility’ because of its known toxicity.
    The 5-8 year expiration time-frame for the ‘rotation’ of that crud is fast approaching …

    Will City Council finally LISTEN & LEARN from indigenous Elders (and others who have long advocated for ‘natural grass’ and multi-use unfenced playfields) that defiling the land for future generations is NOT the way to go? We’ll see.

    In the meantime, watch your tax dollars hard at work to maintain the NEW ‘status quo’, supporting a downtown soccer club’s preferential access to this up-town escarpment ‘sporting facility’ … (Has anyone ever heard one Councillor, or the Mayor, express a sensible and sustainable point of view about this tragic & toxic on-going ‘issue’? In a word, NO.)

    Future generations will judge.