Blog originally posted June 2, 2017
Updated: June 15, 2021
June is National Indigenous History Month! Within the borders of what today is designated Simcoe County, there is a long history of different Indigenous communities coming together at gathering places, trading, farming, fishing, hunting, crafting, and in general participating in community life. 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).
Image copyright: Public domain
"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-Wendat 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 Huron-Wendat 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 Huron-Wendat 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 Wendat people were decimated by newly introduced diseases in the middle of the seventeenth century and their remaining populations were dispersed by conflict 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 Frost Scrapbooks collection, donated to the Simcoe County Archives by the Orillia Public Library
Image copyright: Public domain. Credit to Simcoe County Archives and Orillia Public Library is required for re-use.
Today there are several First Nation 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 Wendats. 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 Indigenous life in Simcoe County. For instance, the Archives has a copy of an agreement between the "Chiefs of the Lake Simcoe and Huron Chippewa 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, Indigenous 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 Indigenous guides fishing off Copperhead Dock, early twentieth century;
part of the Hanly-Clark photograph collection (978-23).
Image copyright: Public domain
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-Wendat people and the name of the island is derived from this history. The Mnjikaning First Nation help preserve the fishing weirs found at Atherley Narrows, a man-made construction, attributed to the Wendat 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' 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.
The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes
Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Images on this page marked as public domain are free to re-use. If you do re-use public domain images, please credit the Simcoe County Archives as the source and link back to this page.
June 15, 2020. The citation for the Chippewas of Rama First Nation's website is correct for when the site was accessed May 31, 2017. The URL has changed since then, however, and the broken link to the website has been repaired. The website can be accessed at http://www.mnjikaning.ca/Pages/home.aspx