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.

About FirstStoryTO

A mobile app that invites users to explore Toronto’s Indigenous history. This is a community project that is a work in progress. For those interested, we encourage you to email us at: firststory@ncct.on.ca with suggestions for possible sites and/or stories you would like to share on First Story. This blog will be up while we work on creating a permanent website for First Story. View all posts by FirstStoryTO

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