is National Aboriginal History Month! Within the borders of what today is
designated Simcoe County, there is a long history of different Indigenous
nations coming together at gathering places, trading, farming, fishing,
hunting, crafting and, in general, creating and participating in communities in times of both
peace and upheaval. The Simcoe County Archives is a repository of information
from all across the County and holds some items of interest to students of
local Indigenous history.
Figure 1: Bok-Ka-Ha-Ka, resident of Simcoe County; photograph part of the
Andrew F. Hunter collection (975-10).
"Huronia" is an anecdotal name for much of Simcoe County, particularly the area around Midland and Penetanguishene. The name commemorates the history of the Huron/Ouendat people that made this area their home for a long time. This population was a confederacy of five Iroquoian speaking nations: the Attinniaenten ("people of the bear"), Hatingeenoniahak ("makers of cords for nets"), Arendaenronnon ("people of the lying rock"), Atahonaenrat ("two white ears" i.e., "deer people" and Ataronchronon ("people of the bog"). The Ouendat had close alliances with the Petun, Neutral, Odawa, Nipissing and the Algonquin nations. Archaeology across the county has revealed several villages, the locations of which are shown on a map at the Simcoe County Archives that was drawn by E.H Thomas of Collingwood called "Missions to the Hurons." The Hurons/Ouendat encountered the French in the seventeenth century and, as the name implies, this map also charts the location of several of the missions the French sent into the area. These missions were middle ground areas between North American and European cultures.
The Ouendat populations were decimated by disease in the middle of the seventeenth century and remaining populations were dispersed by war with the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois nations. Archaeology has helped supplement accounts found in the Jesuit Relations, documenting this period of upheaval. At the Archives, researchers can peruse archaeological records in the Ross Channen collection, the Kenneth Kidd collection, the Paul Delaney collection and the Huronia Historic Association collection. The Archives houses archaeological surveys, maps of the region, drawing of archaeological material and archaeological reports published in reputable journals.
Figure 2: Chief John Big Wind was chief in Rama in the late 19th century, into the first half of the twentieth. Photograph is part of the Leslie Frost Scrapbooks collection, donated to the Simcoe County Archives by the Orillia Public Library (989-21).
Today there are several native communities who reside in Simcoe County. The Beausoleil First Nation is located on Christian, Beckwith and Hope Islands at the south end of Georgian Bay. The Chippewas of Rama First Nation, or Mnjikaning First Nation, are located on the eastern side of Lake Couchiching. Both are communities of mostly Ojibwe peoples, though that is a simplification of the complex political identities of the people who settled in the region in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century after the dispersal of the Ouendats. Chief William Yellowhead was one of the "Chiefs of the Lake Simcoe and Huron Chippewa Indians" who lived in the Georgian Bay Islands community, which at one point included Beausoleil Island. After he served with the British in the War of 1812 he settled with his people around Orillia. This group was the foundation of the current community at Rama. John Wallace, visiting the Ojibwe communities during the 1890s and early 1900s, documented some Ojibwe language and customs in his notebooks, kept in the Simcoe County Archives.
At the Archives you can look at photographs and documents related to Native life in Simcoe County. For instance, the Archives has a copy of an agreement between the "Chiefs of the Lake Simcoe and Huron Chippewas Indians" and the crown, establishing a Grist Mill at Coldwater for native use, dated to 1834. Farms on the west side of Lake Couchiching, before the land was re-claimed by the crown, could use the mill for their agricultural purposes. Because of their extensive local knowledge, native men and women have long been employed in the tourism industry, often as guides or as craftspeople. The Christian Island newsletter "Smoke Signals" for 1967 is housed at the Simcoe County Archives. The Archives also has copies of Coraid News, including the initial edition of the paper in May 1973 up until December 1974. This newspaper, printed in Orillia, was for Native People of Central Ontario and was edited by Alan Simcoe. Library and Archives Canada, with funding from the Aboriginal Digital Collections Program, has archived the website "Welcome to the Aboriginal Communities and Business of Simcoe Region." This is a great resource for anyone wondering about aboriginal businesses in the county at the start of the digital age.
Figure 4: Two Native guides fishing off Copperhead Dock, early twentieth century;
part of the Hanly-Clark photograph collection (978-23).
The Barrie Native Friendship Centre and the Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre are a few of the institutions in Simcoe County that offer resources to Native communities and promote indigenous heritage and culture. In addition, the Georgian Bay Métis Council, in Midland Ontario, represents the largest concentration of self-identified Métis in Ontario.
Native heritage in the county has interesting resonances from the past into today. Christian Island was once the site of a French mission to the Huron/Ouendat people and the name of the island is derived from this history. The Mnijkaning First Nation help preserve the fishing weirs found at Atherley Narrows, a man-made construction, attributed to the Ouendat people that is approximately 5000 years old. The past and the present come together in many different ways all over the county. To find out more information about Simcoe County Archives's holdings concerning the history of local Indigenous peoples and communities, old and new and everything in between, come visit us, Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 4:00.
Beausoleil First Nation: Pride Unity Strength Vision. Beausoleil First Nation, 2017,
http://www.chimnissing.ca/index.html Accessed May 31, 2017.
Chippewas of Rama First Nation. Chippewas of Rama First Nation, 2015, http://www.mnjikaning.ca/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed May 31, 2017
Georgian Bay Métis Council. Métis Nation of Ontario, 2014,
http://www.georgianbaymetiscouncil.com/. Accessed May 31, 2017.
Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre. Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre,
http://www.gbnfc.com/. Accessed May 31, 2017.
Heidenreich, C.E. "Huron-Wendat." Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 2015, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/huron/. Accessed May 31, 2017.
Hunter, Andrew F. A History of Simcoe County. Barrie: City Council, 1909. Rptd 1998.
"Welcome to the Aboriginal Communities and Businesses of Simcoe region." Library and Archives Canada, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/205/301/ic/cdc/simcoeregion/index.htm. Accessed May 31, 2017.
White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.