Documentingthousands of years of human history in the Highlands
By Jenn Watt
Published Feb. 20 2018
Canadaand Dysart et al both celebrated 150 years since establishment lastyear spurring special projects parties and a renewed interest inlocal and national history.
Onthe national stage the celebration of the country also triggeredconversation about history that stretched back thousands nothundreds of years – that of the Indigenous Peoples of what is nowNorth America.
InHaliburton County relatively little is known about the people whoused this area for hunting and travel routes. There are few recordsbut also few archaeological specimens from that time which makesdocumenting history more difficult.
Howeverwork is underway to better understand the history of the region andthe people who have been here for thousands of years.
DavidBeaucage Johnson a student at Trent University and a resident ofCurve Lake First Nation is working on a project with the HaliburtonHighlands Museum to enhance local knowledge of the area’sIndigenous history.
Hesaid it can be hard to find tangible evidence of the Mississaugapeople in what is now the Haliburton Highlands because of the waythey lived.
“Youmight come across a Mississauga that’s hunter/gatherer encampmentand you would have real trouble finding any evidence that they’dbeen there for any length of time” he said. “Like it might be acamp that’s used every summer for hundreds of years but you wouldstill not find much. What you might find is a place where [animal]bones were burned.”
Hunter/gatherersociety lived lightly on the land. Beaucage Johnson referenced thework of archaeologist Gary Warrick who found that differentsocieties leave a different amount behind. For the Mississaugapeople that would be perhaps two to six elements per square metre.
Haudenosaunee or Iroquois would leave between 200 to 300 elements.A modern house would leave 5000 elements.
BeaucageJohnson said the lack of physical evidence renders the group almostinvisible which is an exciting prospect for him.
“Thewhole idea of an invisible people is cool” he said noting itdemonstrated their respect for nature.
DougWilliams an elder and knowledge keeper at the Curve Lake FirstNation said this area is part of the northern territory of theMississauga part of the larger Ojibwe culture.
Upuntil the introduction of reserves Williams said the Mississaugalived in family units and were interspersed across vast areasincluding the Haliburton Highlands.
TheMississauga did not typically live in large permanent settlements.
“Toask a First Nation person where are you from [their response] islike I don’t know. I was there last night. Tomorrow maybe I’llbe over there” he said. “To the French they go what? You’rea wanderer. Even the modern settler doesn’t understand that we hadan area [we lived in].”
Williams’speople summered on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and would movenorth during the winter.
“Wewould disperse into small family groups because it was easier to livein harsh Canadian winters that way” he said. “You would probablyonly hit the Haliburton area in the wintertime in small familygroups.”
BeaucageJohnson has found a map dating back to before the Williams Treatiesof 1923 when the government was speaking with different nations incentral Ontario about use of the land.
Themap shows large patches of territory throughout the Kawartha Lakesand Peterborough areas and into Haliburton County.
“Theyinterviewed all the hunters in Curve Lake Rama Beausoleil GeorginaIsland Hiawatha Alderville” Beaucage Johnson said.
“Ifa pioneer was coming in they would need to – this is back in theearly 1800s – … they would have to get permission from thehunting family to settle” he said.
Laterwhen the land was settled primarily by European immigrants someIndigenous people would stay longer in the region likely working asguides for travelling anglers or in homes as maids or other staff.
“It’sinteresting how some of our people show up in censuses” Williamssaid. There might be one Indigenous person recorded in one year andthen never again.
TheHaliburton Highlands Museum has a display of artifacts found in thearea which help create a picture but museum director Kate Butlersaid she wishes she had more.
“Agreat deal of what we know about Haliburton County’s early historycomes from the archaeological record. A large number of excavationshave been undertaken throughout the county but of course suchexcavations are very particular in terms of what they can tell us”Butler said in response to questions submitted by the Echo.
“Forinstance a site might reveal the presence of lithics (stone tools)or pottery but it is much more difficult to determine the presenceof organic materials which decay and degrade. … It is also vital toremember that we are learning more about the archaeology of this areaall the time. Excavations thus far have revealed mostly campsiteswhich were used seasonally with a few larger sites having also beenrevealed.”
Butlersaid the Highlands region is the traditional lands of “theAlgonquian speaking peoples the Mississauga the Nipissing theOjibwa and the Algonquin.”
Atdifferent times in history the groups would take up various regionsthat include the Highlands.
Williamssaid at around 800 AD the Hurons moved into the region.
“There’sa lot of evidence of Huron in the area. Just north and west ofLindsay is huge Huron villages” he said. Their population wasgreatly reduced by disease and war.
Europeanculture favoured groups that formed similar social structures hesaid and the Huron were an agrarian and village-based culture.However when diseases swept through villages the Ojibwe were lessaffected as they did not congregate as much.
“Thereason we survived is because the pandemics didn’t affect us asmuch. They lived in closed houses while we were moving around andabout” he said.
Atone point the Mississauga people moved farther north this timeavoiding the Haudenosaunee.
Thebook Muskoka and Haliburton: 1615-1875 notes the Haudenosauneein this way: “Inevitably the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee] looked to therich fur lands to the north and to the profits which were fallinginto Algonkin and Huron hands. At first they attempted to gain ashare by treaty but when that failed they resorted to war. Athousand Iroquois spent the winter of 1648-9 north of Lake Ontariosome of them probably in the Haliburton area and in the springdestroyed the Huron nation and massacred many Nipissings and othersof the Algonkian tongue … Soon however the land was abandoned tothe Iroquois as far north as Lake Nipissing.”
Accordingto Ojibwe history the Haudenosaunee left the area by 1700.
Theoriginal name for the Haliburton area is (o)gidaaki BeaucageJohnson said. Gidaa means upwards and ki means earth –literally the high lands.
“That’sthe old name for here. Because all the rivers come together here”he said. That also makes the region a meeting place.
Beforehighways were carved through the landscape the rivers were thethoroughfares with the Mattawa River and Trent Severn as the twomajor routes. Smaller trails spread out from the waterways over theland. These trails are called mikan Beaucage Johnson said.
Whatis now Chemong Road for example was once a mikan.
Toknow where the trail was marker trees would be created by bending ayoung tree and tying it to the ground.
Oftenall of the branches would be clipped off with one remaining.
Asthe tree grew the trunk assumed a distinctive zigzag and the singlebranch would grow straight up in the air. The result would be a treethat looks more like the number 4.
Theseare called mikan-tig with tig meaning tree.
Aquick Google search can unearth plenty of photographic examples ofthese trees which are still standing all over North America.
Butlersaid she was thinking of using these trees as a way to teachIndigenous history. It’s possible there are some mikan-tig examplesin the Highlands. Those who spend a lot of time in the woods may haveseen them and could document their location.
BeaucageJohnson’s work is part of a partnership fostered by U-Links Centrefor Community Based Research which connects university students withHaliburton County groups in need of researchers.
Thisis the last semester for Beaucage Johnson who will graduate with anundergraduate degree in geography. He will be presenting his work onthe history of the region at the Celebration of Research on SaturdayMarch 24. The event takes place in auditorium at the Minden hospitalfrom 1 to 4 p.m.
Butlersaid the research provided through the project will be integratedinto the offerings of the museum.
“We want to share thisinformation” she said. “We want to increase understanding.”