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First Nation History

Reconstructed_Iroquoian_Longhouse_and_Village_at_Crawford_Lake_Ontario.jpg
Reconstructed Iroquoian Longhouse and
Village at Crawford Lake, Ontario.


First_Nation_Arrow_heads_spear_heads_and_artifacts_from_Russ_Reesor_s_collection_1990s.jpg
First Nation Arrow heads, spear heads and
artifacts from a Rouge farmer's collection.

Early Hunter Gatherers

Prior to 1000 A.D., the inhabitants of the Rouge River watershed were small nomadic groups of hunters and gatherers, attracted by the abundance of fish, wildlife and plants nearby.

Iroquoian Villages and Farms

By 1000 A.D., corn was traded into southern Ontario after earlier domestication in Mexico.

Between 1300 and 1500 A.D., Iroquoian (Huron, Petun, Nuetral) villages flourished within the Rouge watershed. These villages were located near streams for access to water for drinking, cooking, fishing and farming. On the larger streams, water also allowed travel by canoe for hunting and trading trips.

The Iroquoians grew maize, beans and squash - the three sisters. Beans have root nodules with bacteria which take nitrogen dioxide from the air and create ammonia through nitrogen fixation. The beans thereby create a soil fertilizer, which increases crop production.

Maize was grown in large (several acres or more) forest clearings on hundreds of small soil mounds surrounded by the beans and squash. Forest clearings were made by girdling and burning trees and brush, sometimes years in advance.

Iroquoian Villages and Longhouses

Iroquoian villages were surrounded by a fence of tall wooden poles (palisades) anchored in the ground. The palisades protected the villagers and their stored maize from attacks by other tribes or animals.

The Iroquoians lived in longhouses made of wooden posts, poles, curved branches and bark. Longhouses were approximately 22 feet wide and between 50 and 100 feet long . An extended family of 50 or more lived in each longhouse and Villages contained a few hundred to several hundred people.

Mayer et al. (1989) documents several Iroquoian villages on tablelands within and around the Rouge Park. The village sites vary in area from 0.4 hectare (almost one soccer field in size) to almost 2.5 ha (five soccer fields in size). Several hundred people would have lived in the larger village sites.

From about 1500 to 1665, the Rouge Park, south of Steeles, shows fewer signs of occupation. Tribal conflicts, perhaps aggravated by French and English rivalries, may have created a no-man's land near the rivers leading north from Lake Ontario.

Historic Seneca Village on the Rouge

From 1665 to around 1670, the Senecas, and other Iroquoian tribes from south of Lake Ontario, occupied a large village on a knoll near the confluence of the Little Rouge Creek and Rouge River (Mayer et al. 1989). This was probably the village of Ganestiquiagon, referenced in Jesuit records and visited by explorers Pere and Joliet in 1669.

This Seneca Village site had many advantages:

  • it was on high ground, with a good view and few angles of attack, for easier defense;
  • it was close to Lake Ontario, overlooking the first Rouge River rapids where spawning runs of trout and other fish could be caught;
  • it was strategically located in terms of the fur trade, as it was at the start of a long portage that followed the high ground between the two Rouge Rivers and eventually lead to Lake Simcoe and the Upper Great Lakes;
  • it was close to good farming soils and the moderating influence of nearby lake Ontario extended the growing season.

During this time, there were regular clashes between the French and English and their respective native allies. Around 1687, the Village was abandoned and the Seneca relocated to south of Lake Ontario again.

Mississauga and Chippewa

In the early 1700s, the Chippewa and Mississauga established several camps in or near the Rouge Valley system. Their river names and old fields are noted on the first British surveys of the area (Fig. 3, 4). When the early European settlers arrived around 1800, stands of large pine and oak were found on many Rouge tablelands. Pine and oak regenerate best on cleared sites with direct sunlight and exposed mineral soil, therefore, these old growth stands probably owed their presence to earlier First Nation farming activities.

Toronto Purchase and Treaty Issues

On September 23, 1787, at the Bay of Quinte carrying place, Deputy Surveyor General Collins, acting for the Crown, bought from three Mississauga Chieftains, a tract later known as the "Toronto Purchase". The Crown paid 1700 British pounds, powder, guns, tobacco, fish-hooks, blankets, 96 gallons of rum and various other supplies.

The Toronto Purchase included land stretching seven miles east and west on either side of Yonge Street and 20 miles north-south. This tract does not include most of the Rouge watershed, leading to the following comments in a September 13, 1794 letter from D.W. Smith, acting Surveyor General:

"The whole of the tract ordered to be surveyed for Mr. Berczy may not have been purchased from the Indians. Should you find this to be the case you will, of course, not extend your survey beyond the limits of the Toronto purchase as no grounds for jealousy must exist between us and the Indians, nor any of their lands taken, but what was purchased."

Eight Mississauga Chieftains and British officials met beside the Credit River in 1805. It is thought that the transfer of the Rouge (Markham) lands may have been addressed at this meeting, however, the matter was not resolved.

In 1923, the Williams Commission attempted to resolve this issue through investigation and negotiation. After this negotiation, the Mississauga were said, by the Crown, to have agreed to surrender their land east of the Toronto Purchase from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe.

However, the Mississauga of New Credit have a different perspective which is outlined at www.newcreditfirstnation.com/topur2.htm.

A local farmer, Russ Reesor, has indicated (personal Communication, 1990) that some Mississauga family groups continued to camp and hunt in the Rouge until around 1918.

Since the New Credit did not sign the 1923 Williams Treaty, they may still claim Aboriginal title and interest in some eastern GTA lands.