________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 1999

cover Superior: Under the Shadow of the Gods.

Barbara Chisholm & Andrea Gutsche (Directors). Russell Floren & Barbara Chisholm (Producers).
Toronto, ON: Lynx Images, Inc., 1998.
72 min., VHS, $29.95.

Subject Heading:
Superior, Lake, Region-History.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Ian Stewart.

***.5 /4


Lake Superior is a place of awe and mystery in the legends of the First Peoples. The Ojibwa believe the spirit of mighty Nana'b'ozoo rests in Sleeping Giant Mountain near Thunder Bay. After his long sleep, he will return the world to the old ways. Modern civilization believes that we can control and exploit Superior, but the lake will turn on us and reveal its destructive wrath. If we do not respect the lake's power, the ancient spirits of the Manitous who still live in and around the lake will demonstrate the foolishness of our feeble endeavors.
The film's producers evidently believe in the truth of this aged message. A soft melancholy pervades this sweeping panoramic history of Lake Superior's magnificent north shore. Awesome Superior overwhelms and must ultimately defeat modern human efforts to control and exploit it. Wise persons see that they must live within the tentative boundaries the lake allows us. Western civilization cannot seem to understand this; so we have a simple tale of humanity's hubris and finitude.
     Lake Superior is a graveyard for ships; calm water can suddenly turn into a roiling cauldron that can sink even ocean going vessels. A captain who is not constantly on guard will see his ship at the bottom of this inland sea. Ironically, the lake even took the ship, Lambert, that was carrying Lake Superior's lighthouse keepers in the early 20th century. The film documents the hardships of early fur-traders at Fort William, the railroad workers who tried to find a way across the muskeg swamps to complete the CPR rail line, and the often doomed attempts of 19th century miners to dig out the hidden mineral wealth. It visits once vital fishing and railroad communities that are now ghost towns. Soon there will be only the ever crashing waves, harsh rocky shoreline and intractable forests waiting for Nana'b'ozoo to wake from his long sleep.
     As the film eloquently demonstrates, since the industrial revolution of the 19th century, humanity has rushed to control the natural world and arrogantly assert dominion over it. However, as we see, nature has a way of getting its own back. This excellent film offers educators a realistic starting place to explore the symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature.


Ian Stewart is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364