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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 and streams.

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.

Deciphering the Draper Site
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 history indicates?

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.

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