First Nations in the Pringle Creek Valley Area
Contributed by: David A. Cook, a Colony Scouter with 15th Whitby Beavers
About 13,000 years ago, the glaciers of the last ice age receded northwards from southern Ontario leaving behind large melt-water lakes. One of the largest of those lakes is referred to by geologists as “Lake Iroquois.” It encompassed an area much larger than current Lake Ontario with a water level about 40 metres higher than today's lake. The shoreline was, therefore, farther north and much higher.
Around 11,700 years ago, a new outlet formed for Lake Iroquois. While it used to empty into the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River, the shift resulted in the St. Lawrence becoming the drainage route. The change resulted in a drop in the lake’s level over a 300 year period down to 100 metres below that of today's Lake Ontario. The shoreline also shifted as a result and was far to the south of the modern one.
About 11,000 years ago, a few small groups of people moved into cold, sub-arctic, ancient Ontario from the south following the herds of large game animals. Because their campsites now lie under modern Lake Ontario, little detail is known of these people. From other archaeological sites across southern Ontario, we know that these early people relied on fishing and gathering. For large game, there was caribou, mastodons and mammoths. The landscape consisted mainly of tundra and these small families needed to travel great distances to sustain themselves.
Over the next few thousand years, the climate warmed and the landscape changed to temperate forests much like those we enjoy today.
By about 8,000 years ago, much of the big game had become extinct, the caribou migrated north, and white-tailed deer moved in to take their place.
While Pringle Creek was unlikely to ever have been navigable, The Humber and Rouge rivers to the west became convenient routes north across the Oak Ridges Moraine, into the Lake Simcoe drainage basin and beyond to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. This became known to archaeologists as the “Toronto Passage.” The Trent River to the east afforded access to Rice Lake and beyond to the Kawarthas.
As societies became more complex, related family groups began to come together in late spring and early summer near the mouth of rivers to catch fish, trade, and engage in social and spiritual events around 3,000 years ago. Pottery and more advanced hunting weapons were developed in this same time. Trade expanded to include items from far away. Corn, beans, squash, tobacco, and sunflowers were introduced to this area from trade with families farther south. Dependence on these new crops became more important and the people migrated toward a agriculture-based society. About 1,100 years ago, these people spoke a similar language, referred to by archaeologists as Iroquoian group. These people foreshadowed the Iroquois culture to follow and were made up of two similar cultures; the Glen Mayer culture in western Ontario and the Pickering culture, here and to the east. The other main indigenous language group in Southern Ontario was Algonkian.
The shift from a hunting and gathering culture to an agricultural society resulted in much less mobility and the development of semi-permanent villages. Hunting and gathering continued to supplement their farming.
About 700 years ago, these communities consisting of longhouses, often surrounded by stockades for defence. The villages overlooked their cultivated fields. Each village was inhabited from 10 to 20 years until the soil quality deteriorated and fire wood became depleted.
By 1550, goods from across the Atlantic had reached Natives in this area as a result of trade. There had been no direct contact with Europeans, but the goods had arrived with Native traders who had, in turn, received the goods from other Native intermediaries.
In the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, the Iroquoians of this area slowly moved north to the Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe region to join the developing Wyandot (Huron) confederacy in Huronia. Some also may have helped form the Tionnontaté (Petun) in the Nottawasaga area and Atiouandaronk (Neutral ) on the Niagara Peninsula. As their homeland moved north, the new Huron confederacy used the Toronto Passage as a convenient route south to use this area as a place for hunting and other purposes. The migration north may have been due to the excellent fishing and extensive trade opportunities created by the great network of northern rivers. Additionally, they came into more frequent conflict with the Hodenosaunee (Iroquois) from modern New York state.
First contact with Europeans occurred some time in the 17th century. While it is unlikely that Étienne Brűlé, the protégé of Samuel de Champlain, or Champlain himself ever came directly to this area, they did pass at the west end of Lake Ontario on their way to fight the Wyandot 's Hodenosaunee enemies in New York. Champlain also travelled southeast from Huronia to the Bay of Quinte before crossing Lake Ontario to attack the Iroquois in 1615.
The increasing European presence helped to escalate warfare amongst native peoples. The Huron received Roman Catholic missionaries to their communities. Their beliefs and social structures began to suffer and serious divisions began to grow. Between 1634 and 1640, more than half of the native population of Southern Ontario died of terrible diseases introduced, inadvertently, from across that Atlantic. War escalated as the people tried to capture and adopt outsiders to replace their lost community members. During this period, the Hodenosaunee confederacy from New York defeated and destroyed their enemies from Southern Ontario (Wyandot, Tionnontaté, Atiouandaronk). The Hodenosaunee confederacy consisted of five nations – the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The Tuscorora moved north in 1722 to join the confederacy, making it the Six Nations.
Roman Catholic missionaries worked at a Seneca village named Ganatsekwyagon (at the mouth of the Rouge river) in the 1660s and 70s, providing verification of an early European presence in this area other than that of seasonal traders. The Seneca occupation of this area lasted for about two decades.
Towards the end of the 17th century, Algonkian speakers from central Ontario replaced the Senecas in the Toronto area. Some of these individuals of the larger Anishnaabe (Ojibway) society came to be known as the Mississaugas who dominated the history of this area to the end of the 18th century.
Oral tradition indicates that the shift from Hodenosaunee to Anishnaabe settlement came about as a result of negotiations between the two peoples. The Hodenosaunee thought that they had to abandon southern Ontario because of the pressure exercised by their French and Native enemies but they wanted to encourage people to move into southern Ontario who would form an alliance with them. The Anishnaabe did just that when they arrived here.
Unlike Iroquoians such as the Wyandot and Hodenosaunee, the Algonkian Anishnaabe (Mississaugas) did little farming beyond establishing small garden plots in southern Ontario. Instead, they followed the more northerly hunter-gatherer lifestyles that they were accustomed to before their migration south. They lived in seasonal settlements, and travelled through their new territory to use different available resources during the course of the year, such as through catching salmon on the Pringle Creek and other rivers that flowed into Lake Ontario during the spring and autumn salmon runs.
The 18th century, marked by three major wars: Spanish Succession (1702-13), Austrian Succession (1744-48), and Seven Years (1754-63 in North America, 1756-63 in Europe). During these great struggles this area sat within territory claimed by France, and played a modest role in alliance-building (diplomacy, personal relationships, trade, and gift-giving) between whites and Natives.
The Anishnaabe remained largely undisturbed in their ownership of this part of the north shore of Lake Ontario until the late 18th century. In the space of forty years, thousands of newcomers arrived to colonize. The first invasion occurred during and after the American Revolutionary War. By 1812, native peoples found themselves pushed north away from large areas of waterfront. The second influx followed the War of 1812 to provide land for settlers the British began to make treaties with the native residents.
At the end of the Seven Years War, a special proclamation issued by King George III in October 1763 outlined the boundaries of England’s colony in North America as well as details of the rights of aboriginal people. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade non-Indians to enter this area, if they were already here, to leave, and denied anyone except the Crown to purchase any portion of the land. Treaties were the only way in which lands could be purchased from Native peoples and was the procedure followed for the next 200 years. The procedure was to hold public councils between representatives of the Crown and the particular Native people whose land was involved.
The large tract of land between the Etobicoke River in the west and the Trent River in the east reaching all the way north to Lake Simcoe was “surrendered” by the Anishnaabe in 1787 when senior officials of the Indian Department (Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler net with Native bands at the Carrying Place on the Bay of Quinte and Toronto. In 1794 Governor Simcoe declared the document invalid as there were no descriptions of lands that were surrendered. Under the procedures of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the land was, therefore, legally, unsurrendered. The matter lay dormant for over 100 years until 1916 when and inquiry revealed the unceded lands. The provincial government quickly arranged for three treaties to be signed, referred to as the Williams Treaties after the chief negotiator for the government). The Crown finally purchased the region from the Mississaugas for $500,000 to be divided between the bands and a further $25 per capita - in 1923.
Today, the Mississaugas live on land reserved for their exclusive use (Reserves or First Nations) the closest to our community are: Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, north of Port Perry; Beausoleil, on Christian Island; Curve Lake First Nation, on Chemong Lake; Alderville First Nation and Ojibways of Hiawatha First Nation, both near Rice Lake; and Chippewas of Rama and Chippewas of Georgina Island both on Lake Simcoe.
In spite of organized attempts to extinguish Native people throughout history the Anishnaabe people are very much alive and well, living in strong communities, speaking their language, and maintaining their culture and traditions.