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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter I. Pre-Historic


THE history of Canada is the history of three races,—the Indian, the Erenchman, and the English-speaking immigrant from the British isles or the neighbouring Republic.

The Indian tribes had roamed over the unbroken forest that is now the Dominion of Canada, through ages that we can only approximately estimate by the guesses of experts in oui pre-historic, annals. Like the other inferior races of man, they have no annals, no record of their own past; but the record of race, stamped on skin and skeleton, would seem to indicate an Asiatic origin. In the part of North America south of what is now New York State, the present race of Indians appear to have superseded a far more civilized race, the builders of fortified towns and permanent temples, who were well acquainted with the use of metals. But when, in the sixteenth century of Christian civilization, French and English maritime enterprise, born of the new birth of classical literature, discovered or re-discovered this country, the Indian race in Canada had not advanced beyond the civilization of the Stone Age. They were in some respects behind, they were ii> no respect in advance of, the human wild beast who was the contemporary of the mammoth and the cave-bear. Their spears and arrows were pointed with carefully-chipped flint, their knives were of clam-shells ; of the use of metal they knew nothing; their dress was that of the earlier savages described in the legends of Hebrew and other primitive races,. paint and the skins of wild beasts. They had no domesticated animals except a breed of dogs useless for the chase, which they kept for the purpose of religious sacrifice and of food. They had lived for unknown centuries with no home but the forest, which they shared with the wolf, the bear, and the lynx. In architecture they were inferior to the brute instinct which had shaped the lake cities of the beaver, the cave-shaped nests of the mole, the wax hexagon of the bee.

The Indians of Canada represent its pre-historic age. It is impossible to estimate the date of their sparse and nomadic occupation of a country that, now civilized into farms, towns, and cities, supports an increasing population which to their feeble and shifting number is as a thousand to one. No doubt these inferior races fulfilled a useful purpose. They were of some service to the first white immigrants into Canada. They guided Champlain up the tortuous courses of the Ottawa; their conversion from Fetichism to Roman Catholicism elicited the noblest missionary effort which the Christian Church has seen since its first century of miracles and martyrdoms. But they surpassed all other savage races known to history in cruelty, treachery, and revenge ; and whenever, after a fashion, they have become civilized, they seem to have lost many of the virtues of savage life. It may be doubted whether the heroism of the French Jesuits does not count among the wasted efforts of man's noblest powers. The Christianized Indian is no permanent or prosperous element in the population of this country; his civilization is second-hand; disease and vice decimate his ranks ; alcoholism fastens its fangs into his strength. An intelligent officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, employed at the Pacific Railway station of Mattawa, in 1882, not long since expressed the opinion that the Indian tribes in the northern part of Canada will most likely be extinct before the end of another hundred years.

When the continent of America was first discovered, what is now the Dominion of Canada was inhabited by a number of savage tribes who, in their approach to civilization, were on a level with the negroid races of Africa or Australia, although to some degree surpassing them in courage and physical vigour. Of these, there were two principal divisions: the tribes of the Algonquin race, and those of the Iroquois, since known as the Six Nation Indians.

The Algonquins, as a rule, did not live in fortified villages; the solitary hunter wandered through the woods, or with wife and children erected the birch-bark wigwam by the banks of some stream, whose plentiful supply of fish would supplement the more precarious venison. In the tropical Canadian summer, life passed m Arcadian content. With the Arctic winter came the severer struggle for existence against the wild beasts and the weather. When the long-hoarded supply of food, often little better than putrid carrion, became nearly exhausted, old people and women were knocked on the head, and cannibalism became a necessity; the scanty supply of fuel, hewn with long-continued labour of flint knife and stone hatchet, gave little protection against the terrible winter wind which entered every crevice of the wretched dwelling. Deaths from exposure thinned the ranks of the hunters; wolf and wildcat vainly strove to tear the marble-stilfened form frozen in the snow. And still, with the conservatism of savage life, no advance was made, no protection sought against cold and hunger; the warrior in the brief hour of feasting forgot the sure approach of famine, and the terrors of winter descended upon his defenceless home, without any provision having been made against its approach.

A nearer approach to civilization was made by those tribes that, as a rule, lived m settled communities. Of these, by far the most remarkable were the Iroquois, whose organization, once that of the terrible Iroquois League, continues to this day .n the Reserve on the Grand River, which the British Government granted as an asylum for their race. They formed a Confederacy originally seated for what s now New York State, but whose hunting grounds extended, and whose villages were built, over the entire lake region and valley of the St. Lawrence. Their settlements were made up of a number of large houses, surrounded by a wooden rampart. Each house was solidly built of wood, and well protected against wind and rain. It was generally from a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet long, and contained many tire-places, and a number of bunks, a few feet from the ground, on which the various families—men, women, children, old and young—slept promiscuously together. Provision for privacy or decency there was none. Their only drink was the water of the stream; their food, meat or fish, often kept till it was putrid; their sole luxury, tobacco, that great gift of the New World to the Old, in return for which she had not yet received the more questionable gift of fire-water.

The Iroquois have been aptly termed "the Romans of the Western World." Their political organisation, with its extensive settlements of allied tribes and towns, enabled them to conquer the other Indian races in every part of Canada, to exterminate the two great tribes of the Unions and the Eries, and to become an important ally to England in the wars of the French and English colonists previous to the conquest, and in the two wars with the United States which followed it. Enthusiastic writers on the romantic aspects of savage life have, drawn rose-coloured pictures of the courage, the simplicity, the eloquence of the noble red man. But, looked at in the light of careful and patient investigation, the ways of the dwellers in wigwams lose much of this ideal colourmg. The Indian Chief was not, 'as writers like the poet Campbell have represented him, a hero king, like those of the Grecian army before Troy. He was simply a warrior raised above others by superior strength or cunning; with no authority of life or death ; no power as a ruler, beyond what the influence he could exert in the interminable wrangling of war-council might give him for the time. He was in no respect a member of an aristocratic caste ; he fished and hunted just as did every other member of his tribe; had no privilege of class, such as those of the chief of a Highland clan, or an Irish sept. The most noted chiefs of even the most recent, and therefore the best, phase of Indian warfare, such as Pontiac or Tecumseh, were in many respects mere painted savages among their fellow-savages.

The courage of the Indian warrior differed from that which in all civilized ages has been regarded as the essential attribute of manhood. He could die a death of horrible and prolonged torture without a complaining cry, but on the battle-field the Indian would rarely risk his life before an equal foe. A handful of Europeans, as in the case of the Carillon massacre, could hold hundreds of these wolves of the wilderness at bay. The Indian on the war-path resorted to every treachery, every coward's subterfuge of ambush and surprise. On children, women, and captives, he gloried in exercising cruelties of which there is no trace in the record of any other savage race, even the most degraded known to history. Of endurance of inevitable pain, these Stoics of the forest gave abundant proof; of pity, placability, chivalry, none. It is true that the annals of Iroquois warfare show no instance of treachery to allies resulting from mere abject cowardice like that shown by the Huron allies of Daulac. des Ormeaux at the critical turning point of the disasters of Carillon. But, in many respects besides this, the Iroquois stand alone among the Indian races. West of the St. Lawrence Valley were two great tribes, the Huron and the Erie. Like the Iroquois and the more civilized of the Algonquin tribes, the Hurons lived in towns. When Champlam visited their settlements in the West, he was surprised at the superiority of their villages, and at the cultivated ground covered with corn and vegetables. The religious chivalry of the French Jesuit missionaries converted, and might have civilized, the Hurons. But the torch and tomahawk of Iroquois warfare exterminated the race as utterly as the Canaanites were destroyed from the face of earth by the pious zeal of the children of Israel. Nothing remains of them but the name given to the lake by which they dwelt, the record of their slow and doubtful conversion by the Jesuits, and the mocking but brilliant romance written in ridicule of the Jesuit Relations by Voltaire.

It is true that there are other remains in the huge bone pits found in the country once occupied by the Huron race, immense receptacles of human skeletons containing hundreds in one vast sepulchre. The existence of these places of sepulture is well explained by the account given by the early Jesuit missionaries, who witnessed the process of the formation at the loathsome Feast of the Dead. Every few years it was the Huron custom to exhume the bodies of all those who had been buried during that period. The bodies were wrapped in robes of honour, and carried into the houses where they had dwelt during life; there the festering remains were treasured for several days, then brought all together and thrown into a deep pit, as soon as the skeleton could be denuded of the last particle of flesh. Then, with endless oratory from a high platform, and a feast as of ghouls presence of this foul spectacle, the " Feast of the Dead " came to an end. There were other feasts common to the Indian race, of all of which gluttony was the main feature. For drunkenness they had no opportunity till civilization came with the rum-bottle, which is so rapidly helping to exterminate their race. At some of the public dances and festivals, girls and the younger women danced robe-less, as the witches at Faust's Walpurgis Night.

When preparing for war, the usual council was held and the usual interminable speechification, characteristic of these grown-up children, was continued for days. Then, the warriors, smeared with paint so as to ensure disguise, issued forth, armed with flint-pointed spear, arrows, and tomahawk, to tread the war-path. Of all savage races, these alone practised the cruel and disgusting custom of scalping; a custom practised by Pontiac., Tecumseh, and Captain Brant, as ruthlessly as by the earliest and least civilized braves of Indian warfare.

As to religion, much has been said of the pure monotheism of the Indian race : of their hope in a future life, and worship of the Great Spirit, unscientific. writers have found it easy to exalt this crude and shocking Manitou worship to a level Avith the monotheism of Socrates and the New Testament. But those who have studied the abundant early records of Indian superstition know well that this, like every other savage race, never emerged from the stage of Intermingled animism and fetichism. Animism is the superstition of children when they beat the ground against which they have fallen and hurt themselves. It is the superstition of savages when they attribute a conscious life to the phenomena of nature. A more advanced step in animism, the worship of deceased ancestors, the Indians never seem to have reached. Till they learned some vague monotheistic notions from the white man, their idea of a Great Spirit seems to have been extremely vague, and to have consisted in the worship of a number of "Manitous," good or malignant, who dwelt in forest, lake, or cataract, and whom it was well to propitiate with offerings of tobacco.

Of a future state their notions were equally vague. It was a shadowy reproduction of the present life ; a hunting-ground where good and bad fared alike, and where the ghost of the hunter flitted in pursuit of the ghost of the wild beast, accompanied by the ghost of the tomahawk, his spear, bow and arrows, and tobacco pipe. Poets, moralists, and romance writers, from Voltaire downward, have delighted to pourtray the noble red man, the chivalrous and undaunted Indian chief, the lovely and faithful daughter of the forest. In all this there is little reality. A sterner and coarser picture is drawn by the impartial hand of history, and by those travellers who have visited the less civilized Indian settlements of the present day in remote parts of Canada. It may be added that, unlike even the negroid race of Africa, the Indian has invented no art beyond the civilization of the Stone Age. One thing, among the most graceful although the simplest products of human skill, he has invented—the birch canoe; exquisitely proportioned, buoyant, yet so frail, and so unsafe in all but the most practised hands, that it will in all probability pass away with the decaying race to whom belongs, and who appear doomed to fade in obedience to that inexorable law of the non-survival of the unfit, leaving as their memorial only the strange music of their names for the rivers, lakes, and hills of a country which has become the Dominion of a higher race.


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