Lake Simcoe was part of the territory called Wendake, home to the Wendat Nation. The French called it Huronia and it was a part of the territory the French called Pays d’en Haut. The Wendat name for Lake Simcoe was Ouentarionk, meaning big beautiful lake. Their names for Georgina and Thorah Island were Haskaont and Anatari, meaning ‘the place where meat and fish were stored’ and ‘the dry firewood island’. Lake Simcoe and Cook’s Bay were both parts of the Toronto and Scugog Carrying Place (trade routes), and the Narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching were important fishing grounds.
The French and the Jesuits were active in Wendake, as part of the fur trade and missionary attempts. Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons is the most famous site of Jesuit and Wendat co-existence. The Jesuits however, were not popular with other neighbouring nations, and in 1649 the Kanyen’keha Nation – commonly known as the Mohawk Nation – attacked Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, and in 1650 Wendake fell. Contrary to common belief the Jesuits of the Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons mission were not killed explicitly for their role as missionaries or men of the faith, they were killed for a role they played in the world view of the Kanyen’keha and Wendat peoples. With the fall of Wendake, even neighbouring nations such as the Petun and the Nipissing fled the area, travelling west and north respectfully. The area was now Kanyen’keha territory, and they waged war on anyone who tried to cross it.
Unfortunately for the Kanyen’keha the French did not choose to work with them as they had the Wendat, and the Kanyen’keha sought out to defeat the remaining indigenous allies of the French. They travelled eastwards into the heart of New France and terrorized the Algonkin of the Ottawa River/valley, and the Wendat who had fled to New France. They also travelled north, which is one of the reasons that the Nipissing had fled further north to live with the Cree of James Bay. The north however, was territory of the Anishinaabe Nation, and while the Kanyen’keha were able to pick off some hunting parties, for the most part the Anishinaabe Nation out matched the invading nation. After a few attempts of the Kanyen’keha to destroy the Anishinaabe Nation in the heart of their nation at Bawating – Sault Ste Marie – the Anishinaabe went on the offensive and gathered a war council. With their relations the Potawatomi, the Odawa and the exiled Petun, as well as the survivors of the Wendat Nation, the Anishinaabe moved south, and met with the Kanyen’keha in battle on the Saugeen River, and at Penatanguishene. After being defeated at the Battle of Blue Mountain in Penatanguishene the Kanyen’keha fled east, to the narrows of Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiging. A group of Anishinaabe followed them – another group travelled south, down the Holland River through the Toronto Carrying Place, to attack the Kanyen’keha villages along Lake Ontario. The war party that followed the fleeing Kanyen’keha attacked them at the narrows, and as the Kanyen’keha continued to flee east, through the Scugog Carrying Place, and along the Trent River, the Anishinaabe continued to attack and lessen their numbers. In the end, the Kanyen’keha fled back into Haudenosaunee territory, leaving what would become Southern Ontario to be – for the most part – Anishinaabe territory.
For 80 years the territory of between Lake Huron and Lake Erie was Anishinaabe territory. In 1784, the British government bought land from the Anishinaabe known as the Mohawk Tract, which was 950,000 acres, for their Kanyen’keha allies after their defeat in the American Revolution. In 1793, Joseph Brant led his band of Kanyen’keha to the Bay of Quinte to settle Tyendinaga, the official land deed however bears the date of 1804. The Wahta Mohawk Nation was the last Kanyen’keha band to relocate back into Ontario in 1880 from Kanesatake, Oka, Quebec into the Muskoka area.
The Anishinaabe peoples who would later be known as the Chippewas of Lake Simcoe and Huron settled in and around the area between Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. From approximately 1780 to 1820 these Anishinaabe were largely two separate groups with three different chiefs. Chief Mesquakie – also known as Chief Yellowhead – and Chief Snake occupied the southern region of the territory, while Chief Aisance occupied the northern region, stretching from Kempenfelt Bay to Georgina Bay.In 1811, the Chippewas of Lake Simcoe sold 100,000 hectares between Lake Simcoe and Nottawasaga Bay on Lake Huron. The purchase was largely for the portage routes through the Toronto Carrying Place, Lake Simcoe and Penetanguishene Bay, and to also develop a road connecting Lake Simcoe to Penetanguishene. Penetanguishene was also prized for its excellent harbour. However due to the War of 1812 this purchase was not complete until 1815, when the British could supply the Anishinaabe with the goods they were owed.
In the War of 1812, Chief Mesquakie, Chief Snake and Chief Aissance are have said to participated; with all three bands being credited for their aid in defending Fort York at the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. The Anishinaabe warriors were led by a Major Givins, and were the front line of the defense against the American landing party. Though the Fort was lost to the Americans, the Chippewas of Georgina Island are said to have gone on to participate in the Siege of Fort Meigs in Ohio, where they were led by Tecumseh in surrounding the fort. Here, despite their withdrawal, the Americans had great losses, with May 5, 1813 said to have been the bloodiest day of the siege.
In 1816 – 1817, the British sought to purchase the portage route from Kempenfelt Bay to Nottawasaga Bay. When the purchase was made on October 17, 1818, near Holland River, 636,800 hectares of land were sold, which included the original desired plot and much more. With the money acquired from this sale, Chief Snake bought Fox, Snake, and Georgina Island for his people to live on.
In the 1820s the Methodist Church has started establishing missions in Upper Canada amongst the Anishinaabe peoples. It is reported that the first missionary arrived on Snake Island in 1928. By the 1830s the Methodists claimed to have converted over 1,000 Anishinaabe to Christianity, from a population of 1,300 in total. They also claimed to have established 9 missions and 11 day schools in this time.
In 1830, Lt. Governor of Upper Canada, Sir John Colborne established the Coldwater-Narrows Reserves as a social experiment hoping to create a self-sustaining farming community amongst the Anishinaabe peoples. The Chippewas of Lake Simcoe and Huron were relocated to the tract of land set aside for this project, with Chiefs Mesquakie and Snake settling on the Narrows and Chief Aissance settling in Coldwater. The Anishinaabe built a road connecting the two villages, and cleared the land for farming. They also built schools, houses, barns and mills. The Anishinaabe lobbied for the title deeds to the land and for self-management of their lands, and while they were unsuccessful in obtaining deeds, management and ownership transfer arrangements were in the works in 1836, when a surrender of land was allegedly signed November 1836. Reports vary on whether or not the Anishinaabe were successful or not, but it is likely that they were, and that was one of the concerns that led to the unfortunate loss of the reserve. The Anishinaabe relocated and split up into three separate bands: the Chippewas of Rama who purchased their land with the money they had made during the 6 years on the reserve, Beausoleil First Nation, who settled on Christian Island and also own Beckwith and Hope Islands, and the Chippewas of Georgina Island who moved back to Snake and later Georgina Island. Today there is an island called Chippewa Island, where all three bands are reunited again.
By the 1840s the Upper Canadian government had come to the conclusion that the best way to assimilate the indigenous peoples of Upper Canada would be through educating their children. Religious orders had already been operating industrial schools throughout British North America for a while by this time, with the first official residential school opening in 1828; the Mohawk Institute. In 1846, a large meeting was held with indigenous chiefs and Upper Canadian representatives in Orillia, to discuss the education of their children; this was called the Conference of the Narrows. Most of the chiefs in attendance approved of educating their young members, and of funding the schools with one quarter of their annuities for the next 25 years; Chief Snake was one of these chiefs. While the goal of the Upper Canadian government was to assimilate the indigenous peoples, the goal of the chiefs was to ensure the survival of their people, by acquiring a European education. Most of the chiefs were not for the idea of sending their children away to industrial schools, nor did they wish to give up their land and move to these locations. Both Chief Mesquakie and Aissance spoke out against moving their people to the locations of these schools, Aissance said it best when he said “I do not wish to remove. I have already removed four times, and I am too old to remove again.” The chiefs wanted schools to be established on their land, to keep their children with them, and for the schools to eventually become run by their own people once they had gone through the system. As a result of these dreams not being initially realised, many bands refused to send their children to the residential schools at Alderville (Alnwick Industrial School est. 1838), Muncey Town (Mount Elgin Indian Residential School est. 1848).
In the 1850s the children of the Chippewas of Lake Simcoe and Huron were sent to a school in Alderville, On; it is quite likely that they were sent to Alnwick Industrial School. When some parents, unhappy with the poor quality of the school, pulled their children out, they were threatened with their annuities being taken away from them.
While the exact date is unsure, the Methodist Church opened two day schools, one at Rama and one on Georgina Island. It is possible these schools were opened in the 1830s, two of the eleven the Methodists had boasted of, or they could have been established to accommodate the children of these reserves once the Alnwick Industrial School shut down in 1859. On Christian Island both the United Church and Roman Catholic Church had their own day schools.
About the Author:
Meghan Caveen is an Anishinaabekwe, who grew up in Georgina. She has worked the past two summers as a summer student at the Georgina Pioneer Village, and is now a summer student here at the Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum. Having graduated with a (Hons)BA in History at Algoma University, Meghan is turning her sights on achieving an MA in Public History at Carleton University in the Fall.