Monthly Archives: March 2012

Then Came the French

The French were, of course, the first Europeans to settle in what eventually became Upper Canada.

The history of French exploration and settlement in this area is a vast subject and I simply can’t be bothered to get sidetracked. And I could… but I won’t.

In 1610, the young Etienne Brule (1592 – 1633) was the first European to see the Great Lakes and at the request of Samuel de Champlain was sent to live with the Hurons. (not Huorns, the malicious, sentient trees of Middle Earth, a long, long way from Upper Canada). Around this time, adventurous fur traders would begin to work their way across the continent. Not much is known of their early pursuits.

Champlain followed suit in 1613 taking the Ottawa river and crossing over to Georgian Bay and south to Lake Simcoe (also to stay with Hurons).  The alliance between the Huron and French against the Iroquois and British would last for the next 150 years until Wolfe defeated Montcalm in 1759 and all of what is now Canada became British.

Just a few highlights…

The Jesuits arrived in 1626 and built Sainte Marie among the Hurons in 1639. It was the largest European settlement west of Montreal. The mission lasted until 1649 when the Iroquois raid became too much. The mission was burned and the Hurons were eventually displaced to the west. A well-known Christmascarol was written there.

In 1673 the first fort on Lake Ontario was built at the present site of Kingston. Fort Frontenac was the first in a chain of forts stretching to the eastern prairies and the Mississippi, supporting the growing fur trade. Among them were Fort Niagara (1678), Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit (Detroit  1701), Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island1715), and Fort Rouillé ( Toronto  1750)… they all played a part in the war of 1812.

Le Griffon

In 1679  René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the first large sailing ship to sail the upper great lakes in search of the passage to China. Just south of Niagara Falls, NY, La Salle’s men built Le Griffon, a two-masted 45 ton Barque. La Salle set out on August 7, 1679, picked up some men on the 10th near Detroit, finally arriving in Green Bay, WI on September 14.  La Salle and his men stayed behind while a few departed for Niagara on the 18th. It was never seen again.

Until just recently, that is.  Explorers may have found the wreck but lawyers live in a world all their own doing things that, unfortunately make life difficult for many. So we may never know… there can be no announcement.

This part of the continent that we call Ontario did not have thriving settlements, a local government or even a name. Ontario was a lake. Canada was the French colony along the St Lawrence.  This area was called the Pays d’en Haut.

The first settlement

Eventually there was a farming community established on the Deroit River, across from Ft Detroit called Petite Côte.  It was in an area just south of Windsor called the Ojibway Prairie, which thankfully, did not have to be cleared.  Read more here

This is getting rather boring, and has very little to do with the War of 1812. Except that the French settlements and forts became the sites of some major engagements in the War of 1812.

In 1759, the nearly constant war between the British and French was over, as far as Canada was concerned.

Not too long after, the British made a few political gestures to agitate some of her colonies. And a little later, this constant fighting with the French (this time Bonaparte) had an unintended consequence.

The War of 1812.

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Canadian Geographic?


Looks impressive, no?

The cover of this issue really interested me (big surprise there). Useful map inside, too.

It turns out to be a story of War of 1812 reenactors, and it is the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm…. which they claim is the decisive battle of the war.


Pull the other one.




We’ll see more in about 18 months, but the Americans lost that campaign before they even started.

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Our Home and Native Land

The original inhabitants of Upper Canada are no more.

Actually, there is a little more to it than that. In fact, there is a fairly detailed and complicated history on this, but ultimately the original Iroquoian peoples of Western Ontario were attacked and displaced long before any Europeans settled in the area.

The Huron or Wyandot lived on the southeast coast of Georgian Bay and the Lake Simcoe area. These were the guys with the cool haircuts. Traditionally they were opponents of the 5 Nations Iroquois Confederacy to the east in the Finger Lakes area of NY State. The Petun lived just to the west of the Huron and were into tobacco.

The Neutrals or Chonnonton lived north of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and at one time were the largest aboriginal nation in the northeast. Pretty much the only Neutral word that has survived to the present day is “Niagara”. The excelled at agriculture pursuits (growing corn, beans and squash together is highly recommended) and even had a thriving deer industry, likely attempting to domesticate them. They were not exactly pacifists as their name suggests, they simply remained neutral in the power struggle between the Huron and the 5 Nations Iroquois. Much like the Swiss, sans cheese and chocolate.

All were on friendly terms with the Ottawa, an Algonquin-speaking nation living on the Bruce Peninsula and areas to the north.

The Beaver Wars changed all that.

Picture Saruman taking over the Shire in Lord of the Rings (from the book, not the movie. Not sure why Jackson left that part out, it’s not like the movies were too long or anything. I mean, they just have done with him halfway through the trilogy. One of the best scenes of the book is the one where Grima throws a “rock” out of Orthanc at Gandalf, not knowing it was Saruman’s Palantir… ).

Back to the Beaver Wars…

In 1648, the Dutch and English began arming the 5 Nations Iroquois who in turn attacked and displaced the French-allied Huron and Petun.

The next year they turned their sights on the Neutrals who were almost entirely wiped out and whoever was left were assimilated. The Iroquois kept on expanding until they dominated a huge area much like the old Soviet Union, and somewhat more democratic.

They were mostly after hunting ground, and did not seek to settle the area. That came much later.  So the land was largely uninhabited into the 18th century.

Into the vacuum, however, came some Ojibway from the north who called themselves Mississauga and settled on the western end of Lake Ontario. By this time the Beaver Wars were over.

Next up: The French

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