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.
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