Ten Thousand Years
of First Nations Culture
Reduced to the most general of terms, the
history of the First Nations in the Lake
Ontario region is the history of the Iroquoian
culture. But with just a few exceptions,
the shoreline of the Lake itself was not
the cradle of aboriginal civilization. Most
native population centres developed inland,
in the shelter of the smaller lakes, rivers
The 14th, 15th and early 16th centuries
were the glory days of the southern Ontario
First Nations, with the great farm lands
of the Huron stretching to the north, and
the bountiful Mohawk Valley of the Six Nations
Confederacy extending to the south. In the
16th and 17th centuries, as the Iroquois
people struggled with the French over trade
and territory, the Algonkian Missisaugas
took over the northern shores of Lake Ontario,
extending their range from the Thousand
Islands to Niagara, and frequently shifting
both their European and First Nations alliances.
Their sale and surrender of lands to post-Revolutionary
Loyalists in the late 18th century paved
the way for a new Lake Ontario First Nation,
the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
In 1975, the Archaeological
Survey of Canada rushed to excavate
the site of a 15th-16th century
Huron village that was about
to be destroyed by the construction
of a new airport just 35 kilometres
east of Toronto. The Pickering
airport project was subsequently
cancelled, but not before 5
acres of the Draper Site - named
after the family who owned the
farm on which the site was located
- was thoroughly investigated.
The Draper excavation revealed
that in A.D. 1500, a thriving
agricultural community existed
on the north shore of Lake Ontario.
The village had undergone at
least 6 expansions, beginning
with about 10 houses, 600 people
and 2 acres. By the time it
was abandoned, the village contained
45-50 longhouses and 2,000-2,500
people, and covered 15 acres
surrounded by 3 rows of palisades.
While the Draper site proved
to be rich in pottery fragments
and bone and stone artifacts,
researchers were surprised to
find 4 copper beads and a copper
ring of European origin. Did
the Huron have access to trade
goods much earlier than recorded
10000 - 11000 B.C. - Initial
Paleo-Indian occupation of the Great Lakes
region after the retreat of the glaciers.
5000 B.C. - 1000 A.D. - Laurentian
culture of the Archaic Period in southern
Ontario and Quebec, characterized by hunting,
fish and gathering of wild plant foods.
Use of stone tools and spears, and presence
of copper and shell tools and ornaments,
indicating an extensive trade network that
extended from south from Lake Superior,
east to the Atlantic Ocean, and south to
the Gulf of Mexico
1000 B. C. - 1000 A.D. - Initial
Woodland Period, marking the introduction
of pottery and the creation of burial mounds
in the southernmost region of Ontario. Development
of the Point Peninsula culture in southern
Quebec and southern Ontario north of Toronto,
and the Saugeen culture, distributed throughout
southwestern Ontario. Displacement in final
centuries of the Saugeen by the Princess
Point culture in southernmost Ontario. Introduction
of corn agriculture.
1000 A.D. - 1300 A.D. - Terminal
Woodland Period, with emergence of direct
ancestors of historic Iroquois. Development
of 2 distinct Iroquoian cultures, the Glen
Meyer north of Lake Erie, the Pickering
branch across southern Ontario and the St.
Lawrence Valley (later known as the St.
Lawrence Iroquoians). Economy based on corn
agriculture, supplemented by fishing and
hunting. Dwellings in the form of longhouses
clustered into small, pallisaded villages.
1300 A.D. - Amalgamation of
Glen Meyer and Pickering cultures across
southern Ontario, introduction of tobacco
smoking, and sunflower oil.
1300 A.D. - 1500 A.D. - Development
of 2 branches of Iroquoian culture, the
Huron and Petun to the north and the Neutral
and Erie to the southwest. Addition of beans
and squash to agriculture, lessening reliance
on hunting and fishing, and contributing
to a sharp population increase.