Category Archives: People

Indigenous Women, Memory & Power

By Krystine Abel

 iwmpThe Indigenous Women, Memory and Power project was a seven-month project that began in September of 2013 at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The project was developed from a collective of Indigenous women and non-Indigenous relatives concerned with lifting up and moving forward the powerful oratorical continuum of Aboriginal women who give and sustain life through teaching, role-modeling, and storytelling across generations. Amber Sandy and Victoria Freeman developed the proposal based on a number of meetings with various members of the collective of Indigenous women and it was then founded by Canadian Heritage, Aboriginal Peoples Program. The project aimed to capture the lived experiences of Indigenous women who made contributions to local and national political movements, education, and community building in Toronto from the 1960’s on to the early 1990’s. The concept of the ‘oratorical continuum’ in the project was coined by Dawnis Kennedy, and contributed to bringing Indigenous women’s voices forward through merging the Oral tradition with today’s contemporary styles of storytelling.

 Three young women were hired as Documentarians on the project. Krystine Abel, a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, Caitlin Lameman, a first year student at Tyndale University College and Seminary and Cairo Latisha Reddick als a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, facilitated a number of sharing circles with Indigenous women from across Turtle Island alongside Tania Carter, the Coordinator on the project.

 The women shared their life experiences in the sharing circles and individual interviews. Community members were invited to witness the sharing circles that were centered on individual resistance from the government and other patriarchal and colonial powers, which affected all Indigenous peoples on a collective level. On a localized level these same women contributed to building the Indigenous community and presence in Toronto by developing and affirming their leadership roles in Toronto’s Aboriginal organizations and academic institutions. Most importantly was how all these women were able to maintain their family life, raise their children and support one another through holding close their traditional knowledge and teachings.

 A selection of audio clips from the sharing circles and interviews will be uploaded to the First Story App this summer. For people interested in accessing the full audio, please make an appointment to go to the First Story office and meet with Karyne Belanger at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. 416-964-9087 ext 320.

See and hear more about this project:

Verna Patronella Johnston

From 1966 to 1972 this heritage home on Blythwood Road was    occupied by Verna Patronella Johnston, who used it to provide housing for several Native youth who moved to Toronto to pursue post-secondary studies.

From 1966 to 1972 this heritage home on Blythwood Road was occupied by Verna Patronella Johnston, who used it to provide housing for several Native youth who moved to Toronto to pursue post-secondary studies. Photo Credit: Bob Krawczyk

 About Verna Patronella Johnston

Verna Patronella Johnston (1909-1996) was an Ojibway author, mother, grandmother, and mentor, known for her work in helping Native youth adapt to urban life. She exhibited a strong presence in both her community of Cape Croker and the city of Toronto.

 When one of Verna’s granddaughters expressed interest in taking a secretarial course, Verna insisted she attend Shaw’s Business College in Toronto. The prospective student was interested in moving but was intimidated by the city, and being away from home. Verna decided to relocate to Toronto with two of her granddaughters and provided a comfortable and safe home for them within a small third floor apartment. The girls enrolled in business courses and had the support necessary to face new experiences with more ease. They knew of other Native students in boarding homes, who struggled with social acceptance by their boarding families, and so, felt disconnected within the city. But Verna’s granddaughters’ experiences were not free from difficulties. Verna insisted that the girls invite non-Native students to the house, as she believed that part of living in the city was to make positive relations. However, this effort was thwarted as the girls faced several rejected invitations.

Eventually, three more of Verna’s granddaughters came to Toronto to attend school. The apartment wasn’t big enough so in 1966 Verna rented a large house in North Toronto, in a nice residential area close to public transportation. The home featured a big yard, cherry tree, raspberry bushes, and garden space.  This was not the first time Verna had opened her home and heart to multiple youth. Before moving to Toronto with her granddaughters, she worked as a foster mother for many years. This new home on Blythwood Road was the first boarding house for Native students run by a Native person and Verna ran it for several years. By 1972, the boarding house moved to a new location on McGill Street, before it closed in 1973. During this period of her life in Toronto, Verna wrote and published a book, Tales of Nokomis, which features stories of teachings by Nokomis (Ojibway word, meaning  grandmother) that were passed down orally to her in her own youth.

After the boarding home closed, Verna moved back to her home in Cape Croker where she was approached by the community priest Father Lebel, who was concerned about the placement of children from the reserve into white homes by the Chidren’s Aid Society.  Verna and Father Lebel worked together to convert the old missionary house into a foster home that would be run by Verna. Acceptance by Children’s Aid officials was a challenge but a success, and CAS agreed to pay Verna to run the foster home. Tragically, the home was engulfed and destroyed by fire just a day before the children’s arrival, and Verna lost everything. However, she was resilient and soon after Verna managed to gain possession of a cottage and barn on a farm property. Within four months she renovated the cottage into a five bedroom home.  Once again, Verna created a gathering place for youth, her grandchildren, foster children, and friends.

Unfortunately Verna’s health declined, as she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease a few years prior, and her doctor advised her to slow down. She made the painful decision to stop fostering, and once again moved to Toronto.

 Once back in Toronto Verna was enraged to discover that white foster homes were paid double the amount she was given. Verna publicly protested against CAS; she wrote to newspapers, gave radio interviews, and made speeches in which she accused CAS of discrimination. Her work was effectual; it was reported soon after that foster parents on the reserve were now paid equally.

Verna moved back to Cape Croker for retirement, but found this decision disappointing. She noticed the reserve had changed for the worse and had lost its sense of community. Even worse, she felt held back by friends and family who insisted she must relax and enjoy retirement. She felt restricted of the ability to speak her mind and be involved in the community.  Restless, she went to Toronto once again to be respected and independent. She found her place as a housekeeper at Anduhyaun House, a hostel for women, and became a mentor for the residents.

 In 1976, Verna Patronella Johnston was awarded the title of Indian Woman of the Year by the Native Women’s Association. In 1976, her inspirational life story was written and presented in I am Nokomis, Too, by R.M. Vanderburgh. 


Read an Interview with Verna Johnston, April 5th, 1982.



Drawing of Riel by artist Irma Council for the Indian Hall of Fame exhibition.

Drawing of Riel by artist Irma Council for the Indian Hall of Fame exhibition.

Louis Riel was Métis, born in St. Boniface in the Red River Settlement area, now Winnipeg in 1844. He went to school in the area and later attended Sepulcian College in Montreal. Between 1868-1869 the transfer of lands from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada sparked an uproar with the Metis people who lived in this territory. Riel led the movement to stop the surveyors in the territory, and form a Metis political military party. They took control of Fort Garry and Riel became the president of their provisional government.

Riel retained a position in the Canadian government several times until he was thrown out of the House of Commons and exiled from Canada for five years in 1874. With the coming of westward expansion, Riel returned to Canada and again established a provisional government along with the support of other First Nations groups. In 1885 a second rebellion began, but Riel was overthrown by the Canadian Government. Riel was then convicted of treason, and in 1885, was executed in Regina.

Louis Riel Day in Toronto 2013

Every year, Métis from across the Homeland, honour the anniversary of the unjust execution of Louis Riel by holding Louis Riel Day events. Although Louis Riel Day commemorates one of the great tragedies of Canadian history, it is also a day to celebrate Métis culture and the continuing progress the Métis people are making in fulfilling Louis Riel’s dream of the Métis taking their rightful place within Confederation.

Provincial Louis Riel Day ceremonies will be held at Queen’s Park in Toronto on November 15, 2013 at 11:00am

This year’s provincial Louis Riel Day events are especially poignant because they will also recognize the landmark tenth anniversary of the historic R. v. Powley decision. As has happened for the 12 previous years, this Louis Riel Day the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and the Law Society of Upper Canada are partnering on an event to highlight key developments in Métis law, research and self-government. In honour of R. v. Powley, this year’s event features a panel of distinguished lawyers and MNO President Gary Lipinski who will discuss the significance of the Powley case; past, present and future

Agenda for MNO/Law Society Event

The MNO Toronto-York Métis Council is also holding at Métis Flag Raising at Toronto City Hall.

Anuual Métis Flag Raising Agenda

Thomas Longboat, Cogwagee


Charles Aylett, Library and Archives Canada [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cogwagee (Thomas Charles Longboat), Haudenosaunee from Six Nations of Grand River First Nation, born on July 4, 1886 was an accomplished distance runner.
During his teen years, Longboat began running for sport and hobby on his reserve. His first competitive victory was a 5-mile Victoria Day race at Caledon, Ontario in 1905. Longboat’s talent was unquestionable, and it was there that he caught the attention of Bill Davis, a Six Nations runner who had placed second at the Boston Marathon in 1901. He was impressed with Longboat’s athleticism and they began training together in preparation for Hamilton, Ontario’s Around The Bay marathon in 1906.

Longboat won the Hamilton event and had placed first over three minutes ahead of the runner-up. His win thrust him into the spotlight, and trainers began to recognize his talent. Longboat’s career was then in the hands of trainer Tom Flanagan. That same year, Thomas Longboat took first place in three 15-mile marathons on Ward’s Island in Toronto. His career really took off in 1907 when he won the Boston Marathon. Longboat beat the previous record time by an astonishing four minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Tom Longboat’s goal and focus then switched to the 1908 London Olympics. Getting to the Olympics was no easy feat for him as American officials contested his entry as an amateur athlete by stating that he had trained and competed as a professional. Shockingly, even the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union backed up the American officials, but the public demanded to see Canada’s best marathon runner compete in the 1908 London Olympics.


Charles A. Aylett/Library and Archives Canada/C-014090

Tom Longboat made it to the Olympics but during his race he and another competitor collapsed for unknown reasons and were unable to complete the race on their own. Many rumours were tossed around after the Olympic fallout including sabotage by his trainers, and being administered illegal medication. After this, Longboat boldly bought out his contract and took control of his own career and training. Many people thought it would be the demise of his career following this move, but the Olympic controversy had given him international fame and he had beaten his previous record time. That same year Tom Longboat met and married Lauretta Maracle, a school teacher on the Tyendinaga Reserve. The ceremony was held on December 28 on stage at Massey Hall in Toronto.
[Embed: Photo]{Massey Hall| Massey Hall}

The following year, Longboat competed in the Madison Square Gardens Marathon against other notable contenders of the time and took home the title of Professional Champion of the World. In 1912 Longboat and his foremost rival, Alf Shrubb from Britain, held 10 head to head races in cities such as Toronto and New York for crowds of over 20,000 people. Longboat’s signature skill to save enough energy for a final kick at the end of a race enabled him to out perform Shrubb in every race that exceeded 20 miles.

At the age of 27, Thomas Longboat enlisted in the First World War. He was stationed with the 107th Pioneer Battalion where he served as a dispatch runner in France and Flanders with distinction. There he kept up his competitive racing by competing in as many inter-battalion races as he could. He was wounded twice during service and was once mistakenly reported as dead. Upon returning home from the war, Longboat discovered that Lauretta had remarried in 1918 after receiving news of his death. Lauretta remained married to her new husband and Longboat later married Martha Silversmith with whom he had four children. Thomas longboat retired from racing and lived in Toronto working for the city before retiring back to his reserve. He passed away of pneumonia in January of 1949.


Library and Archives Canada RG 150, accession 1992-93/166, box 5730-27, #862805, Thomas Longboat

Thomas Longboat is a significant member of Toronto’s, even Canada’s, Aboriginal history. Living in a colonially dominated society, he persevered and shone in the spotlight. It was never an easy road for Thomas Longboat, as he continually faced stigmas and racial attacks during and after his career. His collapse at the London Olympics perpetuated much speculation in the media, but after buying out his own contract he proved his talent to the world by improving his time.

Today, Tom Longboat is still considered to be one of Canada’s greatest athletes and his legacy lives on through the Tom Longboat Award, which was created in 1951 to reward excellence among First Nations athletes. A memorial display in Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame, a public school and a street in Toronto were named in his honour.


Granatstein, J. L. “Tom Longboat.” Maclean’s Jul 01 1998: 49-. ABI/INFORM Global; CBCA Business; CBCA Complete; CBCA Reference & Current Events; ProQuest Business Collection; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2012 .
Hill, Amanda. “A local love story.” Deseronto Archives., January 16, 2008. Web. October 20. 2012

Newhouse, David, Cora Voyageur, and Daniel Beavon. “Hidden in Plain Sight – Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Petten, Cheryl. “Tom Longboat: Athlete continues to inspire.” Footprints. Windspeaker., Web. October 20. 2012.

“Tom Longboat”. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. n.p., n.d. Web. 24 October. 2012.

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’

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