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“Big Rock” Erratic

Okotoks, Near

Other Names:
Big Rock
Big Rock (Okotoks Erratic)
Big Stone
Okotoks "Big Rock"
Okotoks Erratic
The Big Rock, Erratic

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The “Big Rock” Erratic is a prominent massive glacial erratic split into two rocks located approximately 135 meters off Highway 7, 10 kilometres southwest of Okotoks, Alberta. The large quartzite rock, deposited here at the end of the Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene periods approximately ten thousand years ago, is nine metres high, forty-one metres long and eighteen metres wide. The rock is situated on a flat, grassed site surrounded by a cable fence.

Heritage Value
The “Big Rock” Erratic is geologically significant as one of the largest glacial erratics in North America. It is further significant as a site of tremendous spiritual importance to the region’s First Nations people. Finally, the “Big Rock” is significant as an important site of Aboriginal rock art.

Prominently sited on a grassed field, visible from Highway 7, southwest of Okotoks, the erratic was deposited at this location during the retreat of the Cordilleran ice sheet at the end of the Late Pleistocene to early Holocene periods. The massive quartzite rock is sourced from an area close to Mount Edith Cavell, south of Jasper National Park at the present day Athabasca River. A rockslide sometime after 30,000 years ago resulted in the rock’s deposition on the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. The rock was carried by the glacier to this location approximately 10,000 years ago. The site marks the eastern-most extent of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and is a component of the Foothills Erratics Train, a long line of unusual rocks stretching 580 kilometres from beyond the McLeod River north and west of Jasper National Park south into northern Montana. All of the rocks in this chain came from the Rocky Mountains and were moved many kilometres to their present location by glacial ice.

The “Big Rock” Erratic is further valued as a site of tremendous spiritual significance for the region’s Blackfoot people. Blackfoot oral tradition attributes the erratic to the supernatural trickster, Napi, who rested on the rock one warm summer day. Napi gifted his robe to the rock, but when the weather changed, Napi asked for the return of his robe. The rock refused and Napi took back his robe, angering the rock. The rock rolled after him and Napi called on several animals to assist him; a bat succeeded in hitting the rock, breaking it into two pieces. In short, the site is a sacred space to the Blackfoot people and is still visited for ceremonial purposes.

Finally, the “Big Rock” is culturally significant as an important site of Aboriginal rock art. The site has multiple panels of red ochre pictographs, located primarily on vertical surfaces with some on horizontal overhangs on the rocks. All of the panels face to the south and include handprints, small circles, inverted ‘v’s, dots, crosses and anthropomorphic figures. Rock art served a variety of functions for First Nations people, from simple communication to ceremonial ritual. There are six major variants of rock art in Alberta, and the “Big Rock” yields important examples of two of them. The first is the Vertical Series Tradition, thought by ethnographers to represent a type of communication. The second is Foothills Abstract Tradition, characterized by handprints, animals and stylized humans that may have held religious significance. The rock art on the “Big Rock” offers rare and crucial evidence of Aboriginal history, spirituality and culture.

Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 682)

Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage character of the “Big Rock” Erratic site include features such as its:
- prominent location on a flat, open grassed field southwest of Okotoks, Alberta
- original location of quartzite rocks; and
- red-ochre pictograph panels on the south faces of the rocks depicting rock art motifs from the Foothills Abstract and Vertical Series cultural traditions.


Street Address:
Community: Okotoks, Near
Boundaries: Block 1, Plan 8711359
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 10
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
1 (ptn.)
2 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.70583 -114.07626 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1978/10/04

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)
Theme(s) Peopling the Land : Canada's Earliest Inhabitants
Historic Function(s): Environment : Nature Element
Current Function(s): Environment : Nature Element
Context: N/A

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0081
Designation File: DES 0682
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 32420
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 682)
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