Monthly Archives: February 2013

Dr. Oronhytekha


‘Deseronto Archives – flickr’

Oronhytekha (Burning Cloud), baptized Peter Martin, was born into a Mohawk family on the Grand River. He attended a residential school for children of Six Nations where he was trained as a cobbler and perfected his English. At the age of 14, a phrenologist traveling through the reserve deemed Oronhytekha educable. He then convinced his parents and the Church of England’s agent to let him accompany the phrenologist out of the community to Wilbraham, Massachusetts to attended the Wesleyan Academy where he graduated from a missionary studies program in 1856. He then continued his religious studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio where he completed a four-year degree in three years graduating at the top of his class in 1860.

After completing college and returning home, Oronhytekha was chosen by the chiefs of Six Nations Council to give a welcoming address to the Prince of Wales upon his visit in 1860. The prince was so impressed with his presentation that he invited Oronhytekha to study at the University of Oxford in England. Later in that year, he traveled to England to begin his studies at Oxford, and was only able to complete one semester, as he had not obtained permission from the Church of England’s agent to leave the reserve and was forced to return. He continued his studies at the University of Toronto and received his medical degree in 1867, being one of the first Aboriginal people to graduate as a medical doctor.

In 1867, Dr. O settled in Frankford, ON close to the Tyendinega Reserve where he maintained a thriving medical practise advertising the use of “Indian cures and herbal medicine. Soon Sir John A. MacDonald recommended his appointment as consulting physician for the Mohawks at Tyendinaga, Dr. O took the position and moved to Napanee. There he built a large house for his family, but his salary of five hundred dollars a year could not keep his lifestyle afloat. In an attempt to generate more income, Oronhytekha purchased a half interest in a general store. He was soon bankrupt as a result of extending credit too abundantly. He then mortgaged all of his property and moved to London Ontario where he began a new practice in 1874.

While in London, Dr. O established many connections by promoting that he was an Oxford trained physician and former government official. There he joined various temperance, fraternal and masonic orders including the Orange Order. Through these connections he joined the American based fraternal order of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF). Their constitution stated that it was open to ‘white males’ only, but because of the status that Oronhytekha had obtained amongst the Orange Men, the IOF granted him admission. At that time the IOF was struggling with dwindling membership rates and massive debts. Oronhytekha managed to gather enough members, from the lodges that remained in Ontario at that time, in Ottawa to reconstitute the IOF in 1881. He was then elected the IOF’s first Supreme Chief Ranger.

Throughout Oronhytekha’s time as Supreme Chief Ranger he extended insurance benefits, previously accessible only to the wealthy, to the general population at a practical rate. He was successful at leading the organization to accept women as full members in 1891, and later expanded benefits to the children of deceased members. The IOF had a member base of 369 people and a debt of $4000 when Oronhytekha took up his new position. By 1907, at the time of his death, the IOF’s membership had grown to over a quarter of a million people across the world, as well as an impressive $11 million in liquid assets.

Temple Buliding

As the IOF grew, Oronhyatekha recognized a need for an equally fitting and representative building to house the head office in Toronto. One of Toronto’s first skyscrapers, a 10 story high state-of-the-art building, dubbed the Temple Building was erected from 1895-97 on the corner of Bay and Richmond Streets. A life size bronze statue of Oronhyatekha was commissioned to memorialize the opening of the building and the efforts of Oronhytekha. The statue is still located the lobby of the current head office of the IOF on Don Mills Road Today.

Oronhytekha’s position as chief ranger for the IOF had required him to spend a significant amount of time traveling the world to begin new lodges and increase membership. Throughout his travels Dr. O accumulated a collection of over 800 artifacts. With enough artifacts to establish a small museum, the Oronhytekha Historical Rooms displayed the collection at IOF headquarters in the Temple Building. In 1911, the IOF donated Oronhytekha’s historical collection to the Royal Ontario Museum where the artifacts were divided into smaller collections based on their region or origin. Much of his collection included Indigenous artifacts and items related to the connection between Indigenous people and the Crown.

‘Toronto Public Library Special Collections’ – flickr

When Oronhyatekha passed away in 1907, his body lay in state at Massey Hall in Toronto for the public to pay tribute. On March 6, over 10,000 people came to pay their respects to Dr. Oronhyatekha and the next day a train was specially commissioned, to carry his body to Tyendinaga Reserve for a family service. Oronhyatekha achieved great success in Victorian society, and has many more accomplishments to show for it. He did all of this while maintaining strong ties to his Mohawk heritage and culture, leaving behind a legacy within the IOF, and a small museum worth of artifacts that were representative of the man who traveled around building this collection.

Dr. O Furneral on Tyendinaga Reserve

‘Deseronto Archives – Flickr’

To learn more about Oronhytekha and his collection go to the Woodland Cultural Centre’s website

A plaque in memory of Dr. O is located in Allen Gardens Park.



“The Good Works of Dr Oronhyatekha.” Medical Post 32.2 (1996): 41-. CBCA Complete; CBCA Reference & Current Events; ProQuest Business Collection; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.

Comeau-Vasilopoulos, Gayle M. “Oronhytekha.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 1901-1910 (Volume XIII). Web. 4 Oct. 2012.

Jamieson, Keith A. “Oronhyatekha: in the 19th century, he was a prominent MD and CEO who held sway with cabinet ministers and belonged to secret societies …” Rotunda Fall 2000: 32-7. Canadian Periodicals Index Quarterly. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.

St. Laurence Market and the story of Chief Wabakinine.

St. Laurence Market

St. Laurence Market

The St. Laurence market area has been a place where Aboriginal people have traded with Europeans for many years before the official market block. The first permanent structure was established here in 1803 by Lieutenant  Governor Peter Hunter; it was constructed of wood and was built at the North end of the market block, between King and Front Streets. It is in this area where an important but unfortunate event began.

St Laurence Market North Building

St Laurence Market North Building

Wabakinine was a warrior and chief of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, as well as an important signatory on several land surrenders including the Toronto Purchase in 1787. Author and Professor Donald Smith notes that the “most important story in his life was his death” which eliminates the popular notion that the connections between Aboriginal people and Europeans were amicable.

In August of 1797 Chief Wabakinine, his wife and his sister traveled from the Credit River to York, where St. Laurence Market now stands, to sell salmon. According to accounts from early settlers in the area, the Credit River was once so full of atlantic salmon that people were able to cross the river by walking on their backs. By the end of the 1800s the salmon were gone due to damming, overfishing and water pollution. They did not return for over 100 years. In the 1960s Chinook and Coho salmon from the pacific were imported to Lake Ontario.

After the chief, his wife and sister sold their salmon, they went to Berry’s Tavern. That day the Wabakaninie’s sister was approached by a soldier by the name of Charles McCuen. He propositioned her to grant him ‘certain favors’ in exchange for a dollar and some rum. That night, Wabakinine and his family camped under their canoes’ on the waterfront near Berry’s Tavern in York. Wabakinine’s wife woke up to McCuen and some accomplices infiltrating their camp and grabbing the chief’s sister from under her canoe.

She woke her husband, concerned that they were going to kill his sister and he stumbled out from under his canoe. A scuffle took place and Wabakinine was repeatedly struck with a rock and left unconscious. his attackers then violently attacked Wabakaninie’s wife. Other members of his band were camped out nearby on the peninsula (the strip of land that then connected the Toronto Islands with the main land of Toronto), and they heard Wabakinine’s wife’s cries and hurried to their camp. When the other members of the band arrived, McCuen and his accomplices had already left.

Wabakinine was carried back to the peninsula and the band left for the Credit River early the next day. Sadly, the Chief passed away during their travel home. Wabakinine’s wife passed away shortly after him due to the injuries she sustained during the incident. She was the sister of another influential Chief, and when the Mississaugas who were away hunting found out about her death, they demanded retribution. This led to them stopping a provincial surveyor from continuing his work in the Grand River area.

These murders came at an unfortunate time for Upper Canada authorities who were anticipating an attack from French and Spanish forces. With a Native uprising looming, there was much fear and speculation that Joseph Brant of Six Nations would lead the Natives in an attack. It was thanks to Joseph Brant that the attack did not occur, for when he was approached by the Mississaugas to join them in attacking the British garrison at York and Newark, he advised them against it.

McCuen was put on trail, but, as is usual in these cases, was released due to a lack of evidence.

By Amber Sandy

The NCCT’s Totem Pole

Photographer: Jon Johnson

Photographer: Jon Johnson

Much more than an identifying symbol, the Native Canadian Centre’s totem pole represents the strength, pride and power of the urban Native Community in Toronto. The 12m high totem pole was donated in 1980 by artist Don McLeay, born in Saskatchewan in 1940, of Plains Cree origin.

'antefixus21 - Flickr'

‘antefixus21 – Flickr’

On September 13, 1980 a pole rising ceremony was conducted on the front lawn of the NCCT. Using several tones of Red Cedar, the pole was designed with the use of clan systems from this part of the country to represent the coming together of people from different nations at the NCCT. Some totems presented are a bear with a salmon in its paws, a wolf with a human in its paws, raven, thunderbird, weasel, turtle, and a frog.

By Amber Sandy

'antefixus21 - Flickr'

‘antefixus21 – Flickr’

'antefixus21 - Flickr'

‘antefixus21 – Flickr’

The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT): A brief outline of the NCCT’s history.

The NCCT's Current Location On Spadina.

The NCCT’s Current Location On Spadina.

The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto has been a social, recreational, spiritual and cultural hub for Aboriginal people living and working in Toronto for many years. By offering a wide range of programs and events to community members, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto is a successful gathering place for Aboriginal people and agencies in Toronto. The Centre’s programs and events include: indigenous language classes, beading workshops, children’s arts and crafts, weekly big drum socials, martial arts, youth and cultural programming, and the Toronto Native Community History Program. The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto as we know it today is the product of years of work by dedicated individuals who have truly succeeded in creating a meeting place for Aboriginal people in Toronto.

NCCT’s History
After WWII, many Aboriginal people were migrating to urban centers in search of better opportunities such as employment. Aboriginal people who enlisted in the military, opened up off reserve businesses, traveled outside of the country, sought out higher education, and women who married non-Native men lost their status and were largely forced to move off reserve. Due to the nature of most jobs available to Aboriginal people in the city such as factory or private residence work, many were isolated from other Aboriginal people.

The North American Indian Club of Toronto was founded by a group of dedicated volunteers. The goal was to bring together Native people in the city to eliminate the isolation that many individuals felt. The Club’s first space was at the YMCA at Yonge and College streets in the 1950s providing them with a space for social, cultural and recreational activities. The North American Indian Club of Toronto hosted meetings for Aboriginal people in the city at the YMCA and began fundamental programming such as the annual Children’s Christmas event that still runs each year. By 1962, club members felt the need to have a community centre of their own. On April 4 of that year, the Canadian Indian Centre of Toronto received its patent letters of incorporation in preparation for finding a space and continuing on the NCCT traditions.

NCCT's Church Street Open House Invitation

NCCT’s Church Street Open House Invitation

In January of 1963, the Centre’s first location was rented at 603 Church Street. The Department of Citizenship and Metropolitan Toronto provided limited funding and the Centre relied on donations from churches, individuals, foundations and their own fundraising activities. To sustain themselves a Ladies Auxiliary was formed by the volunteers who became essential in much of the clubs fundraising as well as organizing many of its social services such as hospital visits, translation services, prison inmate visiting, and craft making and selling. On October 12, 1963, the centre opened for its first all day operation, which has continued ever since. During this first year of operation the logbook showed that over 6,000 Native people had passed though the Centre. By 1964-1965 the logbook had 10,000 people partaking in the Centre’s programs and activities followed by 16,000 the next year.
It was obvious that the Centre had outgrown its first facilities. As a result, the board members set out some new goals: to purchase a new building for the Centre’s evolving programs and staff and to find a more stable source of funding. The Centre was able to purchase their next location at 210 Beverly Street, a three-story home, with the help of generous donations from citizens. The Centre relocated to Beverly Street in March of 1966; that same year they joined the United Way, officially becoming a registered charity in 1967.

The NCCT's Beverly Street Location.

The NCCT’s Beverly Street Location.

During the Centre’s expansion, it was found that there was a need for the Aboriginal community to have access to cultural specific services through the Centre, rather than the Centre acting as a referral agency for the city’s services. The Centre became an incubator for many of Toronto’s Aboriginal Resources that are still growing and helping the community today, such as Anishnawbe Health, Aboriginal Legal services of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services, Wigwamen Housing Corporation and more.

In February of 1972, the Centre underwent an official name change to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The same year the Centre had again outgrown its facilities at the Beverly Street location, and with the Toronto Aboriginal population reaching an estimated 25,000 people, there was a need for a space to host larger social, recreational, and cultural events. After a three-year search was conducted, the Centre, along with Wigwamen Housing Corporation, purchased the Toronto Bible College as a joint venture. An important fundraising campaign secured the funds for the purchase of the Bible College located at 10-16 Spadina Road in 1976. In 1979 Wigwamen Housing opened up a 120-unit Native Seniors complex on the property. By 1980, the Centre was able to retire the mortgage on the properties by selling 10 Spadina Road to the Toronto Public Library. The library continues to house a large Native collection at this location.

The Native Canadian Centre is one of the oldest urban Native community centres in Canada. This non-profit, community based centre has been offering programs and services to Aboriginal people for over 50 years with the help of dedicated individuals and agencies. For more information on the history of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, “The Meeting Place Aboriginal Life In Toronto” book is available for purchase at the Centre’s gift shop, the Cedar Basket.

By: Amber Sandy

Click here to go to the NCCT website.

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