Free First Story bus tour this Saturday, to “Maadaadizi / Summer Journeys” celebration at Rouge Beach

We’ve had a fun summer collaborating with the Pan Am Path folks. In June we hosted a full week of guided tours along the waterfront and our exciting TALKING TORONTO TREATIES event.

Now, we’re helping with the Grand Finale of the 14-week-long Pan Am Path ART RELAY.

We’re offering free bus shuttles on Saturday to the Grand Finale event at beautiful Rouge Beach, where the Rouge River meets Lake Ontario (Kanadario). A full afternoon of family entertainments wil be followed by a stunning evening presentation.

Please join us for a wonderful celebration of Indigenous arts and the natural beauty of a historic place. See details below about how to book seats on one of our 7 free bus shuttles leaving the Native Centre Saturday afternoon, Aug. 15. One of our tour guides will share Tkaronto stories with you on the trip to Rouge Beach.

Maadaadizi / Summer Journeys
the Grand Finale of the Pan Am Path’s Art Relay

At Maadaadizi (“begin a journey,” in Ojibwe),  and spend a perfect summer day being inspired by Indigenous art in a beautiful area of Tkaronto, Scarborough’s Rouge Beach

The featured sunset event, ‘The Great Chief Star’ is an original 45 minute journey into Indigenous cosmology. This original work is led by visual artist Jason Baerg and includes Santee Smith, Erin Fortier, J-S Gauthier, Michael Red and Tanya Tagaq on a futuristic mission to heal water.

Afternoon family activities include the All Our Relations Métis Women’s Drum Circle, Nimkii Osawamick and hoop dancing, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Parks Canada Environmental talks and Lantern Making with Red Pepper Spectacle Arts. Culinary arts by: Tea N Bannock.

Maadaadizi:Summer Journeys_Aug15

FREE. Spend the day at the Beach.

Bring sunscreen, a swimsuit, water and a light coat for the evening. Light your lantern creation and be a part of the Sunset Performance! 

First Story Toronto Tour / Free Shuttle Service:

Explore the Indigenous history of Tkaronto with First Story’s storytellers on a FREE shuttle bus to the event.
Pickup location, Saturday afternoon:
Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, 16 Spadina Road (across from Spadina subway stn.)
Free tour shuttle service (buses depart every hour) from 1pm to 7pm.
RESERVE your seat on one of our hourly departures:

For more information:
There will be return shuttle buses leaving Rouge Beach between 10:15pm-11pm.

Indigenous Food Vendors Featuring:

Tea N Bannock:

Directions / Google Map & Parking:

195 Rouge Hills Dr., Toronto ON, M5H 2N2

Parking at Rouge Hill GO Station & West Rouge Community Centre (270 Rouge Hills Drive)

Program Schedule:

Noon to 3:30 PM – Environmental Talks, Parks Canada
Noon to 4:45 PM – Drumming, Singing and Hoop Dance Workshops
2:00 PM – 7:30 PM – Lantern Making Workshop
8:00 to 8:30 PM – Opening Songs with Cheryl L’HIrondelle & Friends and Special Guests
8:30 PM to 9:00 PM – Music Composition, Michael Red
9:00 to 9:45 PM – “The Great Chief Star” ~ Featured Sunset Presentation featuring Tanya Tagaq and Santee Smith. Maadaadizi:Summer Journeys_Aug15_cover

Explore Toronto Through The Pan Am Path

More Videos / Path TV:

Full Event Map & Calendar:
Path Music & Map App:
Hashtags: #PanAmPath #ArtRelay

Download the free FIRST STORY TORONTO APP here:



Amazing Events not to be missed this summer!

This is an amazing summer in Toronto for experiencing Indigenous cultures at multiple events! We don’t think there’s ever been a greater opportunity to meet more creative people from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada.

Last month, First Story Toronto hosted daily tours of Indigenous Toronto for an entire week, and capped it by hosting an unprecedented TALKING TORONTO TREATIES event.

On Monday, July 20, you can attend another Talking Toronto Treaties event – the premiere of our video covering our treaty history from 1649 to the present! Our treaty historians Jesse Thistle and Zach Smith will be on hand to introduce their video and answer questions afterward:

“We identify the relevant communities, touch upon their histories of interaction and conflict, and the diplomatic means – treaties – by which they managed to forge relations of peace between themselves and later, with European powers. Included among these are the Peace of Montreal and Dish with One Spoon (1701), the Treaty of Niagara and the Covenant Chain – where we made peace with the British  – (1764), the treaties made with the British by the Mississauga (1787-88, 1805-06), the Williams Treaties (1923) and finally, the conclusion of the Mississauga’s of the New Credit Toronto land claim (2010).”

WHERE: The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, 16 Spadina Road (1 block N. of Bloor)

WHEN: Monday July 20, 6pm


And elsewhere, the ABORIGINAL PAVILION is in full swing on the grounds of Fort York and and later at Harbourfront Centre. This 19-day Indigenous arts, culture and sports festival runs concurrent to the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am games from July 10-26 and August 7-9 this year. From Main Stage musical performances to dance, theatre and family programming on the Small Stage, from visual arts and traditional crafts workshops to artist talks, film screenings, a curated exhibition, there’s much to see and do!

Check out the Aboriginal Pavilion’s SCHEDULE here:   And it’s all FREE!

And then comes Planet IndigenUS 2015: 300 artists over 10 days from from July 30-August 9, co-hosted by Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford. Planet IndigenUS is a global exploration of contemporary Indigenous civilizations. Since 2004, this bi-annual festival has been raising public awareness, breaking stereotypes and fostering a cross-cultural dialogue between Canadians. Enjoy music, art, food and ideas from First Nations communities across Canada and Indigenous peoples around the world.

Check out the Planet IndigenUS’s SCHEDULE here:

Let’s all support these incredible opportunities to enjoy and learn this summer, so we’ll encourage the artists and producers to return in the future!

Did we ever talk treaties!

If you weren’t one of the nearly 100 people who enjoyed yesterday’s superb afternoon of talks, music and discussion at Toronto’s first TALKING TORONTO TREATIES, we’ll soon have more photos and video to share with you. In the meanwhile, here are the opening remarks by First Story Toronto member Victoria Freeman, providing an overview of what we hope TALKING TORONTO TREATIES will help accomplish for Toronto. Let this be the first of many TTTs!


Talking Toronto Treaties / Introductory Remarks by Victoria Freeman, June 26, 2015

Good afternoon. My name is Victoria Freeman and I’m a historian and member of First Story Toronto. First Story is a volunteer committee at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous community-members, knowledge-keepers, scholars, artists, and others with various skills and knowledges. Formerly known as the Toronto Native Community History Project, it was founded in 1995 by the late Rodney Bobiwash and Heather Howard with the following vision:

“To hold faith with our ancestors. To speak our memory. To preserve and promote the history of Aboriginal people in the Toronto area from time immemorial to the present, and for the future. To teach and share in the spirit of friendship, and with the goal of eliminating racism and prejudice.”

First Story Toronto shares information on the Indigenous history of Toronto through bus, bike and walking tours and through the First Story smartphone app, available for free download on iPhones and Android smartphones, and produced in partnership with the Centre for Community Mapping, University of Waterloo. The app maps stories of Indigenous history onto a Google-style map of Toronto, and includes text, photos, archival documents, oral history interviews, audiovisual materials, and links to other online resources. First Story also undertakes various forms of community-based research, such as last year’s Indigenous Women, Memory and Power in Toronto project, and our new ongoing project, Talking Toronto Treaties.

Today’s event is the culmination of First Story Toronto’s week of activities as host organization of the Pan Am Path for the downtown waterfront. The project was further expanded by generous funding from the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, which kick-started a very fruitful collaboration between First Story Toronto, Jumblies Theatre, and elders Pauline Shirt and Ed Sackaney and the staff of Aboriginal Student Services at George Brown College.

From the beginning, this project has been predicated on the belief that understanding our treaty relationships is not just a matter of mental or historical understanding, though that is crucially important, but also requires engagement with imagination, heart, spirit, and physicality (the land we live on and our physical bodies); hence this project brings together historical researchers, artists, elders, and the community.


From the First Story side, this project has involved coordination by myself and Brian MacLean; administrative support from the Native Canadian Centre, especially Rozella Johnston; the sharing of historical knowledge with Jumblies artists; and the hiring and supervision of two wonderful Indigenous historians in training. These are: Jesse Thistle, an award-winning Metis undergraduate student of history at York University, who will begin master’s level studies in the fall, and Zachary Smith, an Anishinaabe PhD student in history at the University of Toronto, whose focus is on pre-Confederation Ontario treaties. Jesse and Zach reviewed the existing historical writing about treaties affecting the Toronto area and conducted interviews with elders, Indigenous scholars and historians, and in particular with members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation who were involved in the 2010 Toronto Purchase land claim. These interviews, most of which were both videotaped and audiotaped, are being edited into a video for public education purposes; they will also inform First Story’s various tours, and excerpts will be posted on the First Story app. The full interviews constitute an invaluable record of how local treaties are understood in Toronto in 2015, a record that will be available for future researchers in the First Story/NCCT archives.

Our aim today is to help each other broaden and deepen our understandings of our treaty relationships as Torontonians. I think it’s safe to say most Torontonians are unaware that they are even in a treaty relationship, that we are, in fact, treaty people. Or we think there is only one relevant treaty, the Toronto Purchase, which is often regarded as a one-time land purchase. Understanding the Toronto Purchase and the subsequent land claim is indeed crucial to understanding treaty relationships in Toronto, but we have come to realize that there are several treaties that link local Indigenous peoples – and Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – in a web of ongoing relationships. Understanding who we are as treaty people involves understanding what these various treaties meant in the past, how they’ve shaped our present, and what they could mean for the future in guiding us to a just, healthy, and respectful relationship between our peoples.

Another thing we’ve learned through this project is that there is no single way to view treaties: this project explores many perspectives on their significance and utility.


Why learn about treaties today? Many people believe there is a link between treaties and reconciliation, but as Leanne Simpson said in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, talk of reconciliation is far from new and Indigenous peoples have already attempted to reconcile their differences with settler peoples in countless treaty negotiations, “which categorically have not produced the kinds of relationships Indigenous peoples intended.” That’s a sobering comment – but it does seem that understanding treaties is the place to start.

Today’s event is therefore only the beginning of a necessary dialogue on what we need to learn to help us honour the words of the ancestors and live together in peace, respect, and friendship in the present and for future generations.


– Victoria Freeman

Talking Toronto Treaties

at George Brown College Waterfront Campus, 51 Dockside Drive, Toronto / June 26, 2015

– Photos by Brian MacLean

Talking Toronto Treaties

TalkingTreatiesTreatiesTorontonians tend to think that “treaties” concern other parts of Canada, whether in western Canada or northern Ontario.

But how did the British come to displace the residents Mississaugas of the Credit? Did they simply “purchase” the land as we purchase a house today? That’s how most of our history books relate the so-called “Toronto Purchase,” as a peaceful, non-controversial transaction.

But we know different today. Over two hundred years of complaints and petitions by Mississaugas stating that their understanding of the agreement was not being honoured finally led to a new settlement in 2010. Never heard of it? Didn’t realize that almost all of us were, in effect, squatters up until 5 years ago?

The First Story Toronto team has renewed research into that original British-Mississaugas transaction of 1787, “renewed” in 1805. But we’ve also learned about the treaties that shaped this area’s history BEFORE European settlers began arriving, treaties among the First Nations of this area.And now, we’d like to invite all of our followers to attend a historic event that will review our Toronto treaty history, and help share the huge part of our area’s history that has been erased, denied or simply ignored for two hundred years.

Join us for TALKING TORONTO TREATIES a (free) event on Friday, June 26th at the beautiful waterfront campus of George Brown College, from 1-5:30pm. Reserve your space here:

We have invited experts on Indigenous diplomacy and history to help us all become literate in the full history of our area, and how the Mississaugas’ offer to share this land and its waters was not honoured for a very long time. Today, through education and solidarity, we can all promote our ongoing treaty obligations to each other – WE ARE ALL TREATY PEOPLE!

First Story Toronto has partnered with Jumblies Theatre to present these great speakers from the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Six Nations of the Grand River and Georgina Island First Nation, and Jumblies has commissioned some original music and audio installations to inspire and entertain us. Our brand new teepee is up and will host some smaller group learning sessions.

This is an event not to be missed. Please join us this Friday for TALKING TORONTO TREATIES.

Here’s the program:

Talking Toronto Treaties_Program June26,2015_lowres

If you have any questions, please contact us at

First Story Video Launch

Preparing for the video launch event, August 29, 2014

Preparing for the video launch event, August 29, 2014

With support from The History Education Network, the First Story Toronto program at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto was able to host an 8-week summer project that provided the opportunity for four Indigenous youth living in Toronto to engage in learning about Toronto’s Indigenous history and to contribute to our collaborative community project, the First Story App.The four youth participants each independently created videos to be featured on the First Story App. Their task was to share stories relevant to the history of Indigenous communities in the region through creative and engaging video storytelling.

The videos were revealed on August 29, 2014 at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. They are now available for viewing on the First Story App.


Watch the new First Story videos:


Parsons Site by Samuel Kloetstra


High Park by Bella McWatch


Wandering Spirit Survival School by Joseph Harper


Each Standing in the Other’s Light by Michael Roderick Keshane





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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:

Lake Ontario

Written by Jennie Fiddes

When walking or driving along the lakeshore of Toronto, Lake Ontario seems to spread out as far as the eye can see. Although it is the smallest of the Great Lakes, it has been enormously influential in our past and continues to impact our present. During the summer, we can often see boats coming into the harbor and pedestrians strolling along the lakeshore. Yet few people are aware of how integral the lake has been to the history of Toronto, beginning with its very formation. The Lake has been a source of food, a source of transportation and a source of conflict for millennia.

Lake Ontario: Early Geology

For thousands of years, most of Ontario was covered in ice. The Great Lakes were created by the passage of these glaciers. When glaciers move, they can drastically alter the land around them, creating heaps of earth in front of them and trailing debris behind them. They also pick up and incorporate material from the ground as they pass, becoming giant blocks of gritty ice that scour all surfaces. As they melt, this load of large rocks, pebbles, sand, clay and silt drop out of the ice to cover the ground, creating a layer know as “glacial till” as well as leaving behind the natural landscape we see today.

These glaciers also captured an enormous quantity of water in the form of ice. The volume of water was so significant that the earth’s crust sank beneath weight of the glaciers. After they melted, the earth began to rebound and continues to do so today, at a slow pace of a few centimeters every hundred years.

As the ice age ended and the vast walls of ice retreated around 12, 500 years ago, the gouged out basins left behind began to fill with water, thus creating the Great Lakes. The Lakes deepened significantly as ice melted and they expanded their basins, becoming much larger than they appear today. Lake Ontario at this stage is known as “glacial Lake Iroquois”. Around 12,000 years ago, the waters receded significantly and initially fell back to sea level. Nearby landscape changes meant that water from the upper Great Lakes bypassed Lake Ontario entirely, heading directly to the St Laurence river via the Ottawa valley. This meant that for a few thousand years, the lake water levels were actually significantly lower than they are now. By 5,000 years ago, however, water was flowing though the lower Great Lakes again and Lake Ontario reached near its current level. This means that the earliest evidence of people in this area is now mostly underwater. Lakes were still being formed when the first peoples began to become established as a significant presence in the area.

Glacial Great Lakes Map of South Western Ontario

Glacial Great Lakes Map of South Western Ontario


Early Settlement History: Trading, Exploring, and Living

People have been living in the Great Lakes region for thousands of years. Lake Ontario, in particular, has been an important source of fish, as well as being a central point for transportation. Small groups of hunter-gatherers used the shore as a part of a major canoe route that extended laterally along the major river systems.

The earliest physical evidence of human hunters in the Great Lakes region dates to approximately 11,000 years ago, soon after the glacier retreated. They were mainly small bands of nomadic hunters who were pursuing animals such as caribou, mastodon and mammoth. Although evidence is limited, we know that multiple groups often camped near the elevated shorelines of the Great Lakes (See Fig. 8). Unfortunately, many of these settlements now lie underwater, some more than a kilometer into the lake, since the water levels of Lake Ontario have changed significantly since then. These invaluable sites are fragile and non-renewable. They have suffered staggering losses during the past two centuries due to deforestation, cultivation and urban growth. This has caused hundreds of sites to be irrevocably destroyed, leaving behind an incomplete record and many unanswered questions.

Early Paleolithic sites in the Great Lakes region

Early Paleolithic sites in the Great Lakes region

Lake Ontario As a Trading Route

Lake Ontario was a center point for travelling. The north shoreline of Lake Ontario (aka Toronto) was a crucial junction for several important trade routes. The Lake has been vital means of transportation from the St. Lawrence to the interior of continent, as well as acting as a natural border between the north and the south. The rivers leading out of Lake Ontario (Credit, Rouge, Don Valley, and Humber) attracted people to the shores for fishing (mostly salmon) and linked inland communities to lakeside ones. The Rouge River and the Humber River in particular became important inland trading routes to the Holland River, Lake Simcoe, or the Georgian Bay. The waterways flowing from Lake Ontario acted as main thoroughfares, connecting many communities through a pattern of land trails. Portage points and river junctures were often important locations and became sites with popular trading posts, small towns and eventually forts.

Native drawn map on birchbark, showing parts of a portage route (1841)

Native drawn map on birchbark, showing parts of a portage route (1841)

Traders would canoe as far as possible, and then continue on foot along these routes. The Toronto Carrying Place Trail (also known as the Toronto passage) was the main route, following the Humber River Valley northward to the west branch of the Holland River. This route connected populations throughout the Great Lakes area. Many of these trails have since evolved into modern roads, such as Davenport.

The most striking shoreline feature on Lake Ontario itself was the southern peninsula (which later became Toronto Island). It helped create a sheltered harbor, and therefore a hospitable stopping place for those travelling by canoe along the hundreds of miles of coastlines along the north shore of Lake Ontario.

Encampments and temporary villages were situated along river valleys and lakeshore for over ten millennia. Although there is no written record of their lives, their legacy exists in oral histories and traditions passed down through many generations, as well as through traces of the settlements that exist today.
Lake Ontario as a Boundary
Lake Ontario acted as a boundary line between different groups of First Nation peoples. At the time of European contact, the resident peoples spoke several languages and dialects under three main linguistic groupings – Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan. At the time, there were two main regions of the eastern woodlands inhabited by Iroquoian speaking peoples. Most lived in the northern region and were known as the Hurons, Neutrals, Wenros, Petuns, and Eries. The lands south and east of lake Ontario were the core homelands of five founding nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, who later moved into the Toronto area during the 17th century.

Map drawn in 1675, depicting early settlements on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. This is the first reference to Toronto on any map

Map drawn in 1675, depicting early settlements on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. This is the first reference to Toronto on any map

Lake Ontario: Toronto Bay and Fort York

The Toronto Bay (or Toronto harbour) was an important location in terms defense during the late 18th century. The British authorities began to examine Toronto’s potential as a possible military settlement in the 1780s. By 1793, tensions were rising with the Americans and Simcoe was ordered to establish a new military post. Toronto was an excellent location from military perspective. It was removed from the immediate border region with the United States, deliberately distancing them from a nascent enemy. It was also enclosed within a sheltered harbor with only a single entrance, which protected them from sudden assault and could be easily defended against a naval attack. Currently, there are two channels into the harbor, at the east and west ends of the Toronto Islands. However, there was no eastern passage in 1793, because the “island” was actually a peninsula attached to the mainland. The harbor region was also strategic because it provided access to many inland locations. The roads could provide an alternative for transporting troops and supplies if the Americans took over the Lake, a looming threat as the war of 1812-14 approached.

Lieutenant Governor Simcoe ordered the construction of Fort York in 1793. He wanted to establish a naval base in Toronto in order to maintain control of Lake Ontario. At the same time, he also moved the capital from Niagara to Toronto, and renamed the area “York”, a decision that was not popular with the local inhabitants. The name was ultimately reconfirmed as Toronto when the city was incorporated in 1834.

In May of 1793, the Queen’s Rangers arrived and established the first military camp on the site of Fort York by the shore of Lake Ontario. Now, the Fort is actually hundreds of meters north of the shoreline due to efforts to fill the waterfront south of the fort between 1850s and 1920s but in 1793, the fort site was on the north shore of the harbour entrance. This brought a permanent military presence into the Lake Ontario region and effectively founded modern Toronto, as the army became the primary purchaser of goods and services in the area for many years and greatly impacted its economic development.

Fort York, August, 1839. Philip John Bainbridge (1817-1881)

Fort York, August, 1839. Philip John Bainbridge (1817-1881)


Fort York was a focal point of action during war of 1812 (the Battle of York, April 1813). Ultimately, Simcoe failed to make York a strong, fortified naval base in Lake Ontario and Kingston eventually displaced it as the main headquarters.

The harbourfront was also a site of controversy and tragedy, including the murder of Wabakinine, a Mississauga chief who had signed the Toronto purchase, the major treaty that involved the transfer of land ownership of the Toronto region to the British. In August 1796, Charles McCuen, a soldier in the Queen’s Rangers, murdered Wabakinine and his wife on the waterfront at York. This initiated a potentially explosive situation as the Mississaugas, already frustrated by the failed promises of the Toronto Purchase, considered a counter attack, either on the capital itself or on nearby pioneer farms. The colony tried to appease the situation by bringing soldier to trial for murder but due to multiple misunderstandings, witnesses stayed away from the trial and the soldier was ultimately acquitted due to lack of evidence. In the end, an uprising did not occur at this time. Joseph Brant, an interpreter, guide and important diplomat, worked to preserve relations and a cautious peace was eventually achieved.

Lake Ontario: Changing Hands, Changing History

Lake Ontario has had many faces over the years. It has been a source of food, a meeting place and a travel location. It has been a source of conflict and a venue for creating friendships. It has seen battles, treaties, wars, bargains and betrayals. Lake Ontario has been an essential part of Toronto’s history and, for better or for worse, it has been integral to the formation of the city as we know it today.

2014 marks one hundred years of the extinction of the passenger pigeon.

Written by Karyne Belanger

The passenger pigeon. Photo by Jack Fletcher, Source: National Geographic

The passenger pigeon. Photo by Jack Fletcher, Source: National Geographic

At the time of European settlement in Toronto, the Mississaugas   were the occupants of the land, and had already given names to the area’s rivers and streams. “Mimico” the name of Toronto’s waterfront neighbourhood and its nearby creek, is an adaptation of its Ojibway name Omiimiikaa, which means “place of the wild pigeon.”

 The wild pigeons, known as passenger pigeons, were once a thriving bird species.It is estimated that at the peak of their population, there were five billion passenger pigeons in Turtle Island, consisting of forty percent of the continent’s entire bird population.

 In the Winter they would live in the southern hardwood forests of the United States. In Spring they would migrate to Ontario in flocks so great they would reportedly block the sun and darken the sky. Upon their arrival, the mass flights would break up into separate flocks, and each flock would return to the same nesting places year after year.

 The diversified hardwood and evergreen forest bordering Mimico Creek was a preferred and busy nesting place for the birds because of its abundance of seeds, nuts, berries and roots. Sometimes a flock would occupy over a square kilometer within the forest. Every tree would have so many nests that their branches often broke under the weight of the multiple young birds.  

 Sadly, such an iconic member of our ecosystem’s history is now hardly known today. The passenger pigeon species became extinct in a stunningly short period of time. As settlement progressed, so many birds were killed every season that their numbers became fewer year after year.

 The passenger pigeon had been a significant part of the Aboriginal peoples’ diet. Their bodies were smoked and dried to be preserved for Winter.  Unfortunately, at the time of settlement, they began to be hunted in excess to feed the growing population. Just as lethal as their hunting was the destruction of forests, as the deforestation removed their nesting grounds. The birds were then attracted to the crops that replaced the forests, and were further killed in significant numbers when the crops were mowed.

 The recognition of their endangered state came too late and the efforts to save the species were unsuccessful. The passenger pigeon was officially announced extinct in 1914.

 In Toronto, you can see a stuffed passenger pigeon at the Royal Ontario Museum.


 1.  Read 10 Interesting Facts About the Passenger Pigeon

 2.  Get involved! Project Passenger Pigeon: Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future



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