The York University Magazine

Fall 2015

The alumni magazine of York University

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Toronto's Indigenous History I F YO U'R E A Toronto resident, you may not realize that there's a rich indig- enous history right under your feet – or maybe even in your own backyard. According to York PhD candidate Jon Johnson, if you're a fan of strolling up Spadina Avenue, along Davenport Road or up Yonge Street, you're walking in the footsteps of established native trails that could date back 11,000 years. In fact, the city's name is derived from the Mohawk term "tkaronto." Johnson's research focuses on First Nations cultural traditions and the connections among cultural integrity, environmental integrity and health for native groups living in both reserve and urban communities. His TPL talk centred around the indigenous envi - ronmental history of Toronto, based on work he conducted in collaboration with the city's aboriginal community. Johnson is also involved with First Story Toronto tours based out of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto at 16 Spadina Rd. (the road's name itself comes from the indigenous word "ishspadeena," Ojibwa for hill). "Because of my involvement with the tours, I learned a great deal about Toron - to's native heritage, including the stories about all the places across the [Greater Toronto Area] that featured indigenous history, and I eventually began leading many of the tours myself," he says. Some of the well-documented aborig - inal burial sites in Toronto include Baby Point and Tabor Hill Park in Scarborough. Johnson points out that Davenport Road follows an important portage trail east and west along the bluffs (the prehistoric shoreline of Lake Ontario) from Spadina, connecting to a native trail that roughly followed the Don River (in the east) and the Humber River (in the west). "Baby Point was the site of a prominent indigenous settlement," he says. "It was a Seneca village that was established during the 17th century to take advan - tage of the burgeoning fur trade in the area. Toronto was really unique in that respect – many of the major rivers and their mouths were important routes in the development of the fur trade. Before the Seneca, routes like the Carrying Place were used by the Wendat for travel and trade, and they predate Euro - pean arrival." Johnson's talk was held at 10 Spadina Rd., just south of the Native Canadian Centre. Why there? "The Native Canadian Centre is a great place to stop and it's certainly the heart of the city's contemporary indigenous community," he says. "Indigenous people began migrating back to the city beginning in the first half of the 20th century, after being pushed out. After a critical mass of native peoples returned to the city in the post-war years, the centre, along with other native initiatives, developed. "I think [these stories of Toronto's aboriginal history] are more important than ever for many different reasons. Historically, there's the notion that somehow native people don't belong in the city. So part of my academic and per - sonal mission is to make people aware of Toronto's indigenous heritage and that there's a vibrant, contemporary native community in the city that has contin - ued that tradition." Johnson says that more awareness of First Nations people's history in and around Toronto is also very healing for the community itself. "To know your ancestors have been here from the ice age to the present is a very deep thing," he says. "You know, I continually hear people in the city say they've never seen a native person in Toronto. I guess they think native people should be walking around in buckskins and feathers. They don't realize they probably see native people every day in their neighbour - hoods, workplaces and on the subway. There's a lot of evidence of First Nations people's long presence still extant on the land and in the historical record, and it's time to reconnect to that." To know your ancestors have been here from the ice age to the present is a very deep thing 30 The York University Magazine Fall 2015

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