Archaeology in Ontario

I’ll be heading to Quebec next week for a conference in Wendake, organized by the Wendat community that lives there. I’m quite excited and nervous about the conference, but I’ll blog about that later. Tonight, I just wanted to post some pictures from Ontario and talk about some of the time I’ve spent there.

The tribe(s) that I focus my research on lived in Ontario in the first half of the Seventeenth Century.   In the 1640s various Hodenosaunee (Iroquois) war parties attacked several of these villages, eventually leading these groups to flee and disperse in several directions.  So part of my research involves studying the historical documents and archaeological collections associated with these communities that were once in Ontario.

Many people have heard of the Huron; there were other communities in Southern Ontario as well, including the Petun (Tionontate), Neutral (including the Wenro) and the Erie.  Some scholars consider all of these groups Wendat/Wyandot.  They lived in different areas and were a little more distinct from one another prior to the epidemics, famines and war parties of the 1630s-40s.  To survive these tragedies though, various villages moved in together, and moved around the midwest and northeast of North America. More on that some other time.

The Huron lives on the southeast shore of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron.  The Petun lived on the southwest side of the same bay — a trip that was shorter in the winter since you could walk right across the ice. There were also several Odawa (Ottawa) communities that spent part of the year in the area, and more that lived on the Bruce Peninnsula.  Often, because we travel by car, people thing of Georgian Bay as fairly distant from Michigan, but if you follow the Bruce Peninsula up, you reach Manitoulin Island and several smaller islands, and eventually the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. These are outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment. By canoe it is actually a fairly direct route.  So while people are often surprised to hear that in 1649 some of the Wendat ended up in St. Ignace Michigan they think of this as a big trip. Really though, it is not too bad.

Great Lakes Map

If you look at this map you can see how easy it is to canoe Northwest from the Petun homeland, following the Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island, and eventually arriving on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Crummy Paint job based on

Georgian Bay is a GORGEOUS area and I can’t wait to visit again. The Bruce Peninsula has excellent hiking. And the water is a gorgeous blue like the Caribbean. Only instead of white sand beaches, you have fossiliferous shale you can go exploring. And pine trees.

Picture of Georgian Bay looking northwest

Photo taken from the Southeast side of Georgian Bay, where the Petun villages were located, looking across the water towards modern day Midland, where the Huron lived in the early Seventeenth Century. Photo by Megan McCullen

My friend Charlie Garrad is the primary scholar on the Petun.  He doesn’t have a degree in anthropology, he got his training on-the-ground and through programs offered by the Ontario Archaeological Society. This means some folks refer to him as an avocational archaeologist. I’m not sure what to call him – his methods are fairly formalized and he probably knows more about the archaeology and history of the region than anyone else.  At the same time, he and I do not always agree about the primacy of certain types of data and the level of evidence necessary to say that something happened in a certain way.  He knows the material so well that sometimes he has what I’d call a gut instinct about something – but since I’m newer at it, sometimes I say I can’t agree simply because I don’t think we have enough evidence to support the argument.  But the man knows more about the archaeology of the region than most others, has decades of time spent in the field there, and he is one of the most generous scholars I’ve met.

Sadly Charlie will be out of the country when I drive through -so I won’t get one of the great Charlie tours of Petunia (yep, they call it Petunia). Here are some photos from my last trip in 2008:

Charlie Garrad and Ray Heimbecker

Charlie explaining the significance of an archaeology site to his friend Ray.

Since he has been in Collingwood for so long, Charlie knows everyone. This is extremely helpful for a new scholar, but it also means we couldn’t even go to the grocery store without stopping to talk to someone.  One of the great opportunities I had, thanks to Charlie, was to meet Ray Heimbecker.  Dr. Heimbecker was a cardiologist, and was on the first heart transplant team in Canada.  He did amazing research on cows (and woodchucks) to understand how the heart and blood flow works, so they could determine how to remove a heart and keep a patient alive while replacing it.  Ray is an officer in the Order of Canada. He also used to do volunteer surgery in the Bahamas, on islands where they did not have access to doctors (and where he vacationed and painted). He is a wonderful and amazing person. What an unexpected opportunity!

Ray used to own a farm with some archaeological sites on it (this is where the cows came to recover and retire after surgery in Toronto!).  He eventually sold it and it was turned into a country club, but Charlies worked with them to protect the archaeological sites, including a burial ground.  We visited the country club so Charlie could show me the sites.

Megan and Charlie in a golf cart

This is a self portrait I took to distract myself from the terror I felt from how fast Charlie was driving that golf cart.

Megan and Charlie in front of Stone Monument at Ossuary

Rock Bottom Ossuary with Charlie.

Charlie has done a lot of work to protect and document Petun sites in and around Craigleith and Collingwood Ontario.  This is a stone monument that’s been erected at the site of the Rock Bottom Ossuary.  Ossuary’s are burial sites. The Petun, like the Huron, would hold a burial ceremony about once a decade, in which they would take the bones of everyone who had died in the past decade and bury them together in one large pit.  One explanation I have heard for this is that it reinforces a sense of equality – all people are equal, and a vast number of ceremonies are held as part of the mourning feast.  These ceremonies bring the community together, redistribute goods throughout the community, and help the dead move on to the village of the dead.

I’m sad I will not get to see Charlie while I’m in Canada, but boy am I looking forward to heading back to this beautiful piece of country.

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One Response to Archaeology in Ontario

  1. Wendy says:

    I have enjoyed your blog immensely.
    I have over the years done much research on the Petuns of 1650s an up to Wyandots.
    It all started with my finding a stone with a drilled hole in it just inside the Meaford Ont. Canada line.We lived on a farm and i was gardening with my daughter an ching the tine brought up this stone it was found in 1993.the large hole was plugged with dirt an now i know sinew piece, which i threw away dumb! I asked allot of people what it was,no one knew so like all other strange shaped an color rocks i found there i kept.Few years passed an a little hole below the larger hole presented itself.So i really got intrigued so i google ,found a man by name of Ralph Salier.his credits all his life es on site.i told him of my finds an this large 2 holed stone sent pictures.his reply es its a Chiefs gorget.
    I now know that the area had pre Crees years before the Petuns but the Petuns lived in my area the deer tribe,wolf tribe lived over a bit .
    Ralph believes i have found a ( Petun) Wyandot Chiefs Gorget.
    Ralph an i are are going to exchange where i found this an nearly 30 items i had found not realizing they were all native artifacts.
    Reason i wrote you here is i have been trying to find Charlie Garrad email so as to tell him i think i stumbled on an old village or encampment just inside the Meaford area.Could u please help me.all other attempts tried i can never get to him.iI think Charlie would be interested in this an wait till he sees the area hell see why i say so.
    thank you

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