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First Nations peoples had led a nomadic existence in the Okotoks area for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The First Nations people left us with a legacy in the word of Okotoks, which is derived from the Blackfoot word "Okatoks", which means "rock".
Plains Tribes did not use rivers as a means of transportation, instead they were often an impediment to travel and a good river crossing was important. There were safe river crossings at the present day Town of Okotoks. "Okatoks" may refer to the “Big Rock” as a reference marker in their journeys. The Sarcee called the place "chachosika" meaning valley of the big rock. The Stoney name is "ipabitunga-ingay", meaning "where the big rock is". Others believe "Okatoks" refers to the rocky river crossing, as the stones at the Okotoks crossing were noted by early teamsters.
How did the Big Rock get where it is?
The Blackfoot Legend of the Big Rock
One hot summer day, Napi, the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, rested on the rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there. Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and just took the clothing. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life. The deer, the bison and the pronghorn were Napi's friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi's last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed neighbours, and by diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces. Not only does this story explain why the rock is in two pieces, but also why bats have squashed-looking faces. The tale provides helpful caution against taking back what you have given away.
The scientific explanation tells us - the “Big Rock” is a glacial erratic (boulder) left following retreat of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Erratics are rocks that are not native to the area where they are found, but were transported in the ice of a glacier during the ice age. Big Rock comes from the Wisconsin glacier (Jasper area).
Big Rock is located 7 km west of Okotoks. It measures 40 metres by 18 metres by 9 metres, and weighs 18,000 tons. It is North America's largest glacial erratic. Big Rock is the biggest among thousands in a 644 km chain called the Foothills Erratic Train. The depression around the rock was created by Plains Bison, that used the rock as a rubbing stone. The Stitt family, who once farmed on the Big Rock property, had to fence a crevice of the Big Rock after finding the bones of their lost cows there. On May 16, 1978, the Big Rock was the first "natural feature" to become an official Provincial Historic Site under the Alberta Historical Resources Act.