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Summary of Ontario Archaeology

The Archaeology of Ontario: A Summary


Archaeology is a branch of Anthropology, the study of Humanity in general, and is the study of people based on the “things” they have left behind. These “things” may be tools they have made and used, buildings or other structures built for various purposes, traces of different activities they may have engaged in, the bodies of people themselves or even indirect evidence of the impact people had on the land or the impact the land might have had upon them. Primarily, then, archaeologists study the traces and remains of people in the past, often the distant past for which we may have no other records.

Like many academic disciplines, archaeology works best when done in conjunction with other, related, kinds of research. Other branches of Anthropology, like Linguistics (the study of languages) and Ethnography (the study of different cultures and ways of life), provide comparisons with related or unrelated peoples who live similar lifestyles. Similarly, disciplines like Botany, History, Geography, Zoology, and Geology can provide insights into the past, both to discover and interpret residues and traces of the activities of people and conditions of the time which might have indirectly influenced them. Results of all these disciplines will be included in the following summary of the prehistory and early history of Ontario.

The archaeological “history” of Ontario can be divided into two “periods”, the prehistoric period which predates written documents, and the historic period, which has been at least partially recorded in written documents. The contribution of archaeology to these periods is different, however, because of the existence of this documentation. The prehistoric period is known only through study of archaeological remains but is supported by comparisons with the lifestyles of people who live or lived similar kinds of lifestyles. The contribution of archaeology to the historic period, however, is different in that written records provide us with much information about the broad trends of the period. Instead, archaeology may tell us about aspects of people that were not fully recorded in historical documents. Some people, such as the very poor or the isolated, were either not recorded in historical records or were recorded by people who did not care to know much about them. Slaves, for example, were poorly represented in the historical record and archaeology can provide one means to understand them and their lives better. Archaeology can also give us an independent means to understand events which may not have been accurately recorded for various reasons. An archaeological investigation of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where General Custer was defeated by the Sioux, has provided new insights into the events of this battle for which there is no other record.

The prehistory of Ontario spans approximately 11,000 years from the first arrival of Ice Age Paleo-Indian hunters to the arrival of European fur traders and missionaries in the 17th century. Of course, the occupation of Ontario by the “First Nations” did not end at this time but in many ways their traditional ways of life ended or were transformed because of their contacts with Europeans. Today, traces of this prehistoric past are preserved in archaeological sites scattered across the province. Below, clues to this past have been reconstructed from scatters of incongruous flakes of chert, fragments of pottery, patterns of post moulds, burial mounds, fossilized pollen and many other clues found by trained archaeologists. These “clues” allow archaeologists and anthropologists to first reconstruct a “history” of people who left no written records and then compare and contrast these reconstructions with those of other peoples, both in prehistory and in the recent past.

The historic period follows the arrival of Europeans in the area and is at least partially recorded through documents. This period is characterized by increasing dominance of Europeans and is subdivided according to the major sources and types of European influence. The archaeological study of this time period is not directed towards revealing the major events, as these are adequately recorded by written documents, but in learning about the many aspects of life of these times not documented in the records.

In the following brief summary of the archaeological record of Ontario, events will proceed from the earliest time periods to the latest. Before we begin, however, it is important to “set the stage” by describing the geographic and environmental conditions present during the arrival of people into Ontario.


The North American continent separated from the European continent by the process known as continental drift, about 55 million years ago. Around 10 million years ago, the North American continent joined with the South American continent but with little significant impact on the flora and fauna of the northern continent. Since that time North America remained in relative isolation until the beginning of the recent ice-age, about 1.8 million years ago. This recent ice-age was characterized by five major advances of ice sheets, each producing glaciers, which covered most of the northern extent of the continent. These glacial advances acted like giant “bull-dozers”, scraping and remodelling the land. During the most recent glacial advance, beginning around 30,000 years ago, the basins of what were to become the Great Lakes were sculpted. The Oak Ridges Moraine, just north of the Toronto area, is a deep deposit of dirt mounded by the glaciers. The bulldozing action of the glaciers also obliterated much of the previous geography of southern Ontario though some traces do remain. The Dundas valley, just west of Hamilton, and Jordan’s Harbour, near St. Catharines, are two examples of partially filled preglacial river valleys.

Aside from the land remodelling caused by the glaciers, two major results of glaciation are important in understanding the resulting changes in geography. The first consequence of glaciation is the amount of water locked up in the ice sheets. The vast amount of water needed to produce the glaciers caused a lowering of world-wide ocean levels, exposing vast amounts of land which are now submerged under the higher water levels.

One of these areas was the large, shallow shelf between present day Alaska and Siberia. This area, called Beringia, was a broad, low, continent sized expanse which is believed to have not been glaciated. Instead, studies of the glacial climate of this area suggests cool, wet, grasslands capable of supporting vast herds of grazing animals. This area was probably open during several, if not all, of the glacial advances and it is believed that numerous species of animals migrated across Beringia during these periods in both directions. This is also believed to have been the route of the first migrants into North America over 20,000 years ago.

The second important result of glacial advance is the depression of land under and around the ice sheets. Continental shelves, upon which land masses rest, can be compared to rafts floating on the fluid magma, or molten rock, of the earth beneath. When glacial ice sheets, often over a mile in thickness, rest on this land, they are depressed relative to surrounding land. In some areas, these depressed areas formed large lakes along the southern margins of the glaciers. In eastern Ontario, the weight of the glaciers depressed the land enough to allow salt water from the Atlantic Ocean to move well up into the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys. This area, known as the Champlain Sea, was an extension of salt water into areas as far west as Pembroke and Deep River in the Ottawa Valley and Brockville along the St. Lawrence River. As the weight of the glaciers was removed, the land began to slowly spring back up, a process known as isostatic rebound, changing drainage patterns and relative elevations. Ten thousand years ago, for example, both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were much smaller than they are today and Lake Huron did not drain south through the Detroit River as it does now. Instead, the northern Great Lakes drained through a channel near present day North Bay and down the Ottawa River Valley to the Saint Lawrence. It was only after the land in this area had rebounded from the weight of the ice that the Great Lakes drained through Lakes Erie and Ontario as they now do.

Finally, the glacial conditions of much of North America resulted in much different species of plants and animals predominating in the areas near the glaciers. Mammoths and mastodons, giant species of bear, beaver and bison, and wild horses became extinct shortly after the glaciers began to recede and southern Ontario would have been like arctic tundra for the first thousand years or so of occupation by native peoples.


When the Ice Age began two million years ago, people and animals were much different than they are now. Paleontologists, scientists who study fossil animals, and Paleoanthropologists, paleontologists who specialize in studying the fossil ancestors of modern humans, tell us that the distribution of many common mammals and the ancestors of modern humans was much different than it is today. The ancestors of modern humans, for example, were much more primitive than they are today and were confined to southern, warmer climates. It was only by about 50,000 years ago that people had evolved cultures capable of supporting them in more northern, colder climates, in northern Europe and Asia, for example.

Many mammals that are familiar today were also different in the past. In the areas south of the glaciers, open, savanna-like conditions prevailed that allowed herds of large herbivores to flourish. The ancestors of modern horses and camels had evolved in North America and practically dominated the northern landscape along with ultra-large ancestors of beaver. In Asia and Europe, the familiar Woolly Mammoth and Mastodon similarly developed to exploit these northern reaches.




During the advance of the glaciers, modern humans crossed the Bering Land Strait, probably while hunting the large game animals which would have found the conditions there ideal. This crossing was probably a leisurely one, made by hundreds or even thousands of people, and could have occurred any time after 50,000 years ago and probably before 25,000 years ago. Indeed, the “crossing” could have been so gradual that people need not have travelled more than one or two kilometres in their lifetimes. The extent of the Beringia Refugium, or the unglaciated continent of Beringia, would have included most of Alaska and the northern Yukon, before the way was blocked by glaciers coming down from the Rocky Mountains. It is the manner that these first immigrants to North America made their way from the Beringia Refugium into the interior of North America south of the glaciers that remains a mystery.

Two routes have been proposed for the passage of people into continental North America. One suggestion has been that, as the glaciers first began to recede, a corridor opened between the glaciers originating in the Rocky Mountains and the glaciers originating from Hudson’s Bay. This corridor would have run from just north of modern-day Edmonton to south of modern-day Calgary and the first peoples may have travelled this route into the New World.

Opponents to this hypothesis suggest the climate along this corridor may have been too severe to accommodate people for the period it would have taken them to travel it. As an alternative, it has been suggested that the first peoples might have travelled down the coast of British Columbia, along shore lines now inundated by higher sea levels. Opponents to this hypothesis argue that there is no evidence among the earliest groups of technology capable of producing water craft and, perhaps most importantly, it leaves open the question of how these people would then cross the Rocky Mountains, which would then have been glaciated as well.

Clearly much additional research is required before these questions can be answered. Archaeologists in Alberta, for example, have been exploring the proposed inland corridor for early archaeological sites but it may be many years before answers are found under erosional debris from the mountains.

We do know, however, that the First Nations people had arrived in interior North America before 20,000 years ago and had rapidly spread as far as South America in a short period of time. The evidence available indicates the Paleo-Indians were primarily hunters of big game. Archaeological sites in the southwest of the United States have produced clear evidence of Paleo-Indians hunting and scavenging mastodons and extinct species of bison. This evidence usually consists of diagnostic artifacts, such as distinctively shaped projectile points (stone tips of arrows, spears, javelins, etc.), in association with the bones of these animals. Kill sites appear to have been natural traps such as canyons or low cliffs which small groups of animals were stampeded over. Other animals may have been scavenged after natural deaths such as winter starvation.

In addition to these large game animals, Paleo-Indians probably also relied on smaller game and plant foods.

Changes in styles of projectile points are used as one method of determining the relative ages of sites. Early Paleo-Indian sites are easily recognized by the presence of distinctive forms of projectile points called “fluted points”, characterized by a channel flake, or “flute”, which runs up the centre of the tool, probably to aid in hafting as well as thinning. Two styles of Paleo-Indian projectile points are “Clovis” and “Folsom”. Variant forms of the former type are found in Ontario.

Later forms of Paleo-Indian projectile points are not fluted but have a similar shape and are characterized by parallel ribbon flaking which refers to the final shaping of the biface by extremely careful removal of flakes from the sides of the tool.

As mentioned above, during the late Paleo-Indian period, the glaciers which covered the northern half of the continent began to gradually melt, exposing new land for occupation. At the same time as this was occurring, world wide extinctions among the large mammals also occurred. Mastodons, Woolly Mammoths, giant beavers, giant bison and many other important species disappeared. In North America, camels and horses also died off, the latter not to reappear on the continent until the Spanish brought them at the end of the 15th century A.D.


It is probable that Ontario was first occupied almost as soon as the land was exposed by melting ice. Fluted points, which are very similar to projectile points from the western and southwestern U.S., have been found on a number of sites in southern Ontario, although different “Type” names have been given to them to recognize slight differences in style which indicate variation in time and space. The fluted points in Ontario are believed to date between 11,000 and 10,500 years old.

Paleo-Indian sites are also recognized by the presence of other distinctive artifacts such as beaked scrapers, gravers, and tiny projectile points made from channel flakes. Paleo-Indian sites are also often recognized by the types of chert used to make their tools. Collingwood chert, a light blue to creamy yellow chert found in the Beaver Valley, was a favoured raw material during Paleo-Indian times but other cherts such as Bayport chert from Michigan, Kettle Point chert from the southeastern shore of Lake Huron and Onondaga chert from the north shore of Lake Erie, were also used.

Some researchers suggest that the Paleo-Indian’s choice of light coloured cherts may be related to their religious practices. The only other known indications of religious practices known so far for these people include a cache of heat fractured tools, which may indicate a cremation burial, and a fluted point made of clear quartz crystal with traces of haematite, or red ochre, adhering to it found near Newcastle, Ontario. Red ochre was believed to have special religious significance to many of the First Nations and was often used in burials. Ethnographic comparisons with people who lived similar kinds of lifestyles suggest that some forms of hunting magic and shamanism may also have been practised.

Many Paleo-Indian site clusters appear to occur around such glacial features as kettle ponds and the shore lines of glacial lakes. Site clusters presently known include the glacial lake shorelines north of London, Ontario, the Holland Marsh area north of Toronto and the Rice Lake area. A few Paleo-Indian artifacts have been found in eastern Ontario, such as two fluted points from the Rideau Lakes area, but these are rare. Furthermore, it is likely that Paleo-Indian populations which might have occupied extreme southeastern Ontario would have been more closely related to Paleo-Indians in neighbouring eastern New York and Vermont than to populations in southwestern Ontario. Mapping in artifacts from surface collection.

Site areas indicate that band sizes may have been small, with few sites being returned to repeatedly. The total population of Ontario was probably only 100 to 200 people in the earliest periods. Their choices of site locations may indicate that they were hunting migratory caribou as these locations would have been travelled by caribou in their seasonal round. There is no indication of Paleo-Indians having hunted mastodons in Ontario although a paleontological site in New York has produced evidence of Paleo-Indians in association with mastodons and other large game animals.

The wide variety of chert types found on sites of this period suggests that either these people travelled great distances in their seasonal rounds or had contacts with people over wide areas.

Late Paleo-Indian sites are characterized by projectile points which are lanceolate shaped like fluted points but are not fluted. Like the earlier peoples, Late Paleo-Indians appear to have preferred distinctive light coloured cherts with Haldimand chert, from quarries just north of the Lake Erie shores, being one favourite variety. The available evidence seems to suggest that many of the living patterns of previous time periods were repeated although the population for southern Ontario may have been slightly larger than in previous time periods with new areas having been occupied.

Two broad groups of Late Paleo-Indian projectile points are recognized. In southwestern Ontario are found projectile points called “Holcombe” and “Hi-Lo”, which are relatively broad and thick and have concave bases. In northern Ontario, and occasionally in southern Ontario, some projectile points have the characteristic “ribbon flaking” and straight bases more common to the west and southwest. These are the first occupations of northern Ontario and are believed to have derived from west of the great lakes area. Sites in the Thunder Bay area, for example, appear to have been situated along glacial lake shorelines and often involved quarrying of materials such as taconite, a tough jasper-like rock which flakes similarly to chert. Here again, however, the presence of materials from more distant sources indicates some form of trading network and/or long distance travel.

The late Paleo-Indian period is believed to date between 10,500 and 9,500 years ago.


The Archaic period in southern Ontario is characterized by the appearance of ground stone tools, notched or stemmed projectile points, the predominance of less extensively flaked stone tools, increased reliance on local chert sources, a lack of pottery and smoking pipes (except in the later parts of this period) and an increase in the numbers and sizes of sites.

We don’t know exactly what Archaic houses looked like, but from the size of most sites, people probably lived in oval wigwam-like structures made of frame poles and covered with bark slabs or reed mats. This type of house was easy to build or move and could be heated with a small fire near the centre of the structure. There might have been pits placed within the houses for the storage of food or other items.

The Early Archaic (9,500 to 8,000 Years Ago)

The earliest time period of the Archaic appears to have been characterized by lanceolate points like the Late Paleo-Indian styles but with crude side notches. By about 9,500 B. P. a change in the environment from primarily coniferous forests to mixed coniferous and deciduous forests seems to correlate with the appearance of new styles of projectile points featuring corner notches and serration along the sides of the blades. This change in conditions would have ended the relatively open environment of the Paleo-Indian period, which the caribou herds preferred, to be replaced by more closed forests favouring deer, elk and moose. These animals do not congregate in large herds like caribou, necessitating the adoption of different hunting strategies.

In addition to the new styles of projectile points, sites from this time period often produce finely made end scrapers, hafted concave side scrapers, crude celts (ungrooved axes or adzes) and polished stone tubes. These latter may have been weights for atl-atls or throwing sticks which increase the power for throwing short spears or javelins.

The chert used by people of this time period appears to have been obtained from more local sources although cherts from distant sources were still commonly obtained.

There seems to be some evidence that an increase in population sizes had occurred at this time. Slightly greater concentrations of sites occur in new areas and a few of these sites appear to have been occupied repeatedly over a number of years. One cluster of sites of this time period has recently been discovered and excavated in the Woodbridge area. Another is located to the southwest of London. In southeastern Ontario, Early Archaic sites have not been found, either because the sites are under water or because they are in areas which have not been examined by archaeologists.

In northern Ontario, the reason for the lack of Early Archaic sites is relatively apparent. During the Paleo-Indian period, a remnant ice mass from the last glacial advance lay across the eastern outlet of Lake Superior, at the present town of Sault Ste. Marie. This maintained artificially high lake levels, producing the now inland beach ridges. Towards the end of this period, the ice mass wasted away allowing the lake level to drop over 100 meters. The lowest levels were reached between 6,300 and 6,000 years ago. Following this drop in lake levels, isostatic rebound led to a gradual return to the water levels of today by about 4,000 years ago. Since the archaic people would have had most of their camps on the lake shores, sites dating between the end of the Paleo-Indian and 4,000 years ago would be largely under water today.

This is not to say, however, that there is nothing known of the Archaic in the north. Many sites have been found and excavated with diagnostic projectile points of the Archaic period including projectile points which obviously derived from Archaic groups in the south, east and west. Many of these sites, however, had been occupied frequently and over a long period of time with little soil formation or deposition and so individual occupations are difficult or impossible to separate. They do tell us, however, that the Archaic people in northern Ontario lived a similar lifestyle to the Archaic people in southern Ontario.

The Middle Archaic (8,000 to 4,500 Years Ago)

Over the next 5,000 years, Archaic sites in southern Ontario increase in frequency and are characterized by a variety of styles of projectile points and other tools, often made from broken projectile points. General trends for this period include increased use of lower grades of stone such as quartz, quartzite, siltstone and coarse-grain rhyolite to manufacture flake tools. Finely made Bannerstones, polished stone tubes with wings, appear after about 8,000 years ago, probably functioning as atl-atl weights. It was about this time that the predominant forest cover appears to have changed to primarily deciduous forests. Grooved axes and netsinkers, used for fishing, also appear around this time. By about 5,500 years ago the earliest use of native copper can be documented.

Copper occurs naturally in some of the rock formations that underlie northern Ontario, especially in the Lake Superior Basin. While the two primary sources for copper are Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula, this same geological formation occurs on the north shore of Lake Superior at Black Bay Peninsula and copper is known to have occurred in abundance elsewhere along the lake shore.

Lake Superior copper is unusually pure and this purity allows it to be worked and shaped at low temperatures and with relatively simple tools. The mining of copper has been determined by some archaeologists to have been a relatively simple procedure. Large nuggets of copper and the surrounding rock were broken away from the main deposit with large rocks and sticks. These nuggets were then heated in fires and, when the copper was well heated, splashed with cold water. This sudden cooling resulted in the fracture of the surrounding rock leaving almost pure copper.

At first native copper was used almost exclusively in the production of utilitarian tools such as socketed and “rat-tailed” projectile points, fish gaffs, adzes, needles, etc. Through time, however, more decorative objects such as beads and other ornaments began to appear. It is possible that, as these objects became more widely available they began to acquire prestigious or magical values and were sought for these reasons. By the Late Archaic, copper was increasingly deposited in burials, perhaps as offerings for the afterlife, and the objects either exhibit less evidence of use or were intended as non-utilitarian status objects, such as ear spools or pan pipes.

Over this time period there is increased evidence of larger populations and new areas being exploited. This evidence also includes indications of greater and more intensive exploitation of smaller areas. In southwestern Ontario influences from Michigan appear to be important all through prehistory but in southcentral Ontario influences from across the Niagara River seem more important. Similarly, influence in eastern Ontario probably derived from across the eastern end of Lake Ontario while in northern Ontario influences from the west have been noted. Like the Paleo-Indian period, subsistence appears to have focused on hunting, although the emphasis was no longer on migratory big-game. Fishing and gathering of various plant foods was also very important, perhaps more so than hunting. Some groups appear to have been particularly oriented towards the collection of acorns.

Emerging in New York State and southeastern Ontario at this time is a tradition archaeologists have identified as the Laurentian Archaic. Laurentian Archaic sites are associated with the Canadian Biotic Province, which is a transition zone between the deciduous forests to the south and coniferous forests to the north. The environment afforded both a variety and reasonable quantity of food and other resources to local populations.

The Laurentian Archaic peoples made broad-bladed projectile points with notches as well as an assortment of ground and polished stone tools such as semi-lunar knives, plummets, slate points, bayonets, knives, gouges, adzes and ungrooved axes. Other flaked tools include notched end scrapers, drills from recycled points and knives. There is also evidence for the use of bone tools including stemmed, socketed and barbed points, unilaterally barbed harpoons and needles. In eastern Ontario, this is the period when copper tools first appear and are most common.

The earliest recorded burials in eastern Ontario date to this period. There appear to have been a variety of burial practices including both cremation and extended burials with some grave goods. Examination of skeletal remains indicates that individuals reached ages of 50 to 60, although the average life span must have been around 30 – 35 years.

Laurentian Archaic peoples continued the hunting and gathering subsistence pattern of their ancestors. It is suggested that there was less reliance on plant food by populations in eastern Ontario than by groups to the southwest and a correspondingly increased dependence on fishing. One of the earliest fish weirs in North America has been identified for this period at Atherly Narrows on Lake Simcoe.

Laurentian Archaic materials have been identified for most regions of eastern Ontario. Unfortunately very few sites have been systematically excavated. Among the most important known sites are those at Morrison’s and Allumete Islands along the Ottawa River near Pembroke. Middle Archaic material has also been identified at Brophey Point on Wolfe Island along the St. Lawrence River and in the Napanee Drainage Basin at the Salisbury Site.

The Late Archaic (4,500 to 2,900 Years Ago)

Human activity in southern Ontario appears to increase significantly during the later portion of the Archaic Period. Archaeologists have recognized at least three “distinct” traditions within a fifteen hundred year time period. These are referred to as “Narrow Point”, “Broad Point” and “Small Point”.

The “Narrow Point” tradition is defined largely on the presence of narrow-bladed, stemmed projectile points often made from coarser grained raw materials such as quartzite. Other tools associated with this tradition include flake scrapers, gravers, spokeshaves and wedges.

Sites from the “Narrow Point” tradition appear to have been most common in New York State and further to the southeast but a few have been found in the Niagara Peninsula region and as far west as Guelph. These sites seem to have been especially common along the shores of a lake known as Lake Wainfleet in the Niagara Peninsula area and Lake Tonawanda in western New York. This lake would have drained when Niagara Falls had eroded a high topographic contour about 3,900 years ago. It is suggested that this group overlapped with the Laurentian Archaic which might explain the lack of Narrow Point sites in Eastern Ontario. Points characteristic of this tradition, however, have been recovered from the Armstrong site on Wolfe Island in the St. Lawrence River.

The “Broad Point” tradition is defined on the basis of large, broad-bladed, stemmed points which make an abrupt appearance in the sequence of cultural development but probably developed from similar forms found in eastern New York where soapstone vessels appear for the first time. In Ontario these points are generally made from Onondaga chert but greywacke was also commonly employed in Southwestern Ontario. A very distinct red quartzite has been used in the production of these points in the Rideau Lakes area. The large size of these points has led to the suggestion that they were not used as projectile points but rather as knives. Ground stone tools are less common in this period.

The “Small Point” tradition is characterized by a reduction in point size that may suggest the introduction of the bow and arrow. Although differences in point styles are difficult to distinguish within this tradition, a number of point types have been recognized based primarily on sites from southwestern Ontario.

Much is known of this period on the basis of excavations around Hamilton and Brantford, near Lake St. Clair and along the eastern shore of Lake Huron. One site excavated in the Hamilton area produced possible evidence of housing structures. This site had either two 4 by 4 meter houses placed adjacent to each other or a single 8 by 4 meter structure with the greatest intensity of occupation located at either end. Although no sites relating to this time period have been systematically excavated in eastern Ontario, Small Point Archaic sites and multi-component sites with Small Point Archaic material have been reported in the region. These include two burial sites in the Kingston area: Collins Bay and the York site near the community of Verona and a burial near Picton, Prince Edward County. Sites with Small Point Archaic material have also been identified in the Ottawa Valley near Arnprior.

Among the more significant developments to occur near the end of the Archaic Period is the elaboration of burial complexes including what has been referred to as the Glacial Kame Burial Complex. Sites relating to this complex have been found throughout southern Ontario. Representative sites include the burials at the York Site and Picton in eastern Ontario, the Hind Site southwest of London and the Port Franks site on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.

Burials consist of both cremations and extended individuals with inclusion of grave goods. These materials consisted of a variety of items including slate gorgets, paired copper adzes, sandal-sole or circular marine shell gorgets, and bird-stones with protuberant eyes. Galena, believed to have been obtained in the Ottawa Valley (Mississippi Valley) has been identified on southwestern Ontario sites. The increase in exotic materials and the increased attention paid to burials heralds a trend which is to continue until the end of the Middle Woodland and appears to be at least inspired by similar phenomena to the south, specifically from the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. Some researchers suggest this rise in behaviour extraneous to simple food procurement and survival may be due to increased efficiency in food collecting which allows greater amounts of time to be devoted to other, more social and symbolic activities. The establishment of specific cemetery areas certainly indicates greater group identification with specific geographic areas, possibly tribal territories. The presence of exotic, and therefore relatively expensive, artifacts with some burials suggests that some individuals had achieved greater status in their life time but there is no evidence as yet that this status was inherited.

Data from the burials suggests that band sizes ranged between 35 and 50 persons with considerable freedom of movement for individuals between bands. Populations would meet in these numbers at sites located near larger lakes and rivers, presumably when food here was most abundant such as when fish were spawning. Limited evidence from southwestern Ontario indicates that these groups would have dispersed in the winter and resided in more secluded locations, probably in order to hunt more dispersed animals such as deer.

Archaeologists have attempted to trace ethnicity and language to at least the Late Archaic Period, with considerable variation in opinion. Two language groups are recognized to have occupied Ontario at the time of European contact: Algonquian and Iroquois. One contention is that the Iroquois language and what ultimately became recognized as Iroquois culture resulted from in-situ development in southern Ontario from the Laurentian Archaic. Others have suggested that the Small Point Tradition represents the first appearance of Iroquoian speaking populations migrating from further south. Yet another interpretation is that the Algonquian language developed from western influences from Paleo-Indian times until at least the Point Peninsula Tradition (Middle Woodland Period) in southwestern Ontario when the Iroquois intruded as the Princess Point Culture.


The Early Woodland period in Ontario is generally recognized as the period when pottery was first introduced. In many ways, however, the basic life styles of the people seems to have remained unchanged from preceding periods with hunting, fishing and gathering being the primary means of subsistence. This period is believed to have lasted from about 800 or 900 B.C. until about 0 B.C.

Clear evidence of the Early Woodland has been found only in the southern parts of the province, along the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys and along the southeast shore of Lake Huron. These areas seem to correspond well with the distribution of the Carolinian Biotic Zone, which is the geographic region characterized by forests with a relatively high proportion of nut-bearing trees. Projectile points diagnostic of this period have occasionally been recovered from sites further north but these were most likely the product of sporadic contact.

The pottery of this period appears to have been relatively crude and undecorated. The pottery is distinctive in being thick, poorly fired and covered on the inside and outside by cord marking. This cord marking was probably the result of construction techniques in which clay was formed around a basket or bag before firing. Not all Early Woodland sites had pottery and some researchers suggest that it was used only for part of the year, perhaps during the processing of acorns or other nuts for their oil.

During this time period burials became even more elaborate with increased inclusion of status artifacts. Some of these exotic artifacts show clear evidence of influence and contact with even more elaborate and complex cultural groups to the south. In these areas, clearly complex and stratified societies, probably with full time chiefs and priests, had developed and were interacting with many other widely distributed groups across North America. Exchange of exotic desirable goods such as copper, silver, obsidian, sea shells and exotic, often colourful, cherts seems to have been the main goal of this “interaction sphere” but, undoubtedly, the exchange of ideas was also important in stimulating further development. Whether foods or furs for clothing was also exchanged is unknown at this time.

An important feature of trade among most nonindustrial societies is that it was seldom, if ever, conducted for profit as we know it. Trade or exchanges were usually made to seal pacts of friendship or initiate contacts with other peoples. Often these exchanges were accompanied by the exchange of marriage partners so as to further strengthen these social ties. Individuals or groups who were lucky enough to acquire more than they needed usually distributed what they didn’t need to other groups and in return were recognized as great hunters and providers and as generous persons. In this way they gained greater respect and prestige. An additional and important (at least for archaeologists) way for individuals to gain prestige was to remove prestigious items from general circulation by burying them with the dead. This not only showed the generosity of the donor but created a need to obtain more such items and therefore maintain the social ties previously initiated.

Two Traditions or complexes are recognized for this period, Meadowood and Middlesex. Evidence for both of these has been found in southern Ontario.

Meadowood Complex (900 to 500 B.C. Years Ago)

The Meadowood Complex is believed to be a temporal extension of the Small Point/Glacial Kame Late Archaic Tradition in southern Ontario and adjacent New York. It is differentiated from earlier time periods by the introduction of ceramics and marked by a very diagnostic lanceolate blade point with side notches, made almost exclusively of Onondaga chert. These points are called Meadowood points. Other characteristics include trapezoidal gorgets as well as bar and expanded body birdstones with pop-eyes.

Meadowood points have been identified from some sites in Eastern Ontario including the York Site north of Kingston and Crystal Rock Site near Prescott and the St. Lawrence River. Early ceramics have been recovered from the Pond Lily Site located on Napanee Lake northwest of Kingston and from the Upper Ottawa Valley. More of this complex is known from sites excavated in southwestern and central Ontario and adjacent New York, particularly from Grand Island on the Niagara River

Middlesex Complex (500 to 0 B.C. Years Ago)

This complex is defined solely from mortuary sites and is therefore not directly comparable to earlier groups for which habitation sites have been identified. This complex is partially distinguished by the use of large bifacially flaked blades made of cherts usually originating in the Ohio – Indiana – Illinois area and relatively broad-bladed projectile points with lobate stems. Other artifacts associated with this complex include pop-eye birdstones, bar amulets and gorgets.

The origin of the raw materials being used, as well as similarities of some of the large bifaces, suggests an association of these people with the Adena Culture, which was centred in the Ohio Valley. Archaeologists have attempted to explain this phenomena as a religious cult spreading out from the Ohio Valley area. However, it is more likely explained by indigenous populations simply being influenced to varying degrees by the material culture originating from the American mid-west.

Sites identified in Eastern Ontario, where this complex seems more common, include a “cluster” in the Kingston area consisting of the See Mound, Pikes Farm and Button Bay in the Thousand Islands and the York site near Verona. A single burial has been identified on Morrison’s Island in the Ottawa Valley. These sites appear to bear their greatest relationships to sites south of the St. Lawrence valley. In southcentral and southwestern Ontario, sites of this “tradition” have not been as well explored but appear to be loosely related to “lobate-stemmed” Early Woodland populations in southern Michigan.


The Middle Woodland (200 – 300 B.C. to A.D. 700 – 900) period is distinguished from the Early Woodland only in few, relatively minor, aspects. These relate to some aspects of the chipped lithic tool inventory (i.e. changes in projectile point types) and the addition of decoration of increasing elaboration to the pottery. Pottery is found on a greater percentage of sites so may have become more widely used in the seasonal round. There is some evidence of different cultural groups but these differences appear mostly as style differences in pottery and may be more a result of the limited state of knowledge for this time period. These different traditions will be described in greater detail below.

As with earlier periods, the lifestyle of the Middle Woodland people appears to have revolved around hunting, fishing and gathering. There is some evidence, however, that cultivated plants may have first appeared in Ontario at this time in the form of squash or gourds, possibly intended for use as containers rather than as a food. Carbonized squash or gourds have been identified on an Early Woodland site in Michigan and phytoliths, which are a type of microscopic plant remains, from gourds or squash have been tentatively identified on a Middle Woodland site in the Hamilton area.

During the Middle Woodland period, burial ceremonialism appears to have reached its peak. It was at this time that the most exotic items were included in burials and most of the known burial mounds were constructed. These include the Serpent Mound at Rice Lake, a burial mound which was shaped like a giant snake, and the mounds at Rainy River. Much of the elaboration in mortuary ceremonialism is attributed to contact with the Hopewellian people in the Ohio Valley. This influence appears to end around A.D. 250 and after this time burial ceremonialism appears to decrease.

The Point Peninsula Complex

The Middle Woodland Period in most of southcentral and southeastern Ontario is referred to as the Point Peninsula complex, as defined initially from sites in New York State.

The material culture of these people featured more refined ceramics than on earlier sites with decoration occurring as various forms of stamping applied in a number of ways. The most distinctive form of stamping is pseudo scallop shell impressions consisting of a “zig-zag” pattern applied at various angles to the exterior of the vessel. Another kind of stamp is the dentate stamp, which refers to square impressions from a tool probably somewhat like a comb. These stamps were applied either as simple stamps or rocked back and forth. Various kinds of cord impressions also appear but are not as common. There is also some incidence of interior and lip decoration during this period.

The lithic assemblage is not impressive. Projectile points are small and either corner or side notched. Although drills and scrapers are found in Middle Woodland collections, greater emphasis appears to have been placed on the use of unmodified flakes for scraping or cutting. There is also a paucity of ground stone tools in Middle Woodland assemblages. One common feature of the Middle Woodland complexes in at least southern Ontario is the abundance of exotic cherts, especially from Ohio. While these cherts are most noticeable on mortuary sites, they are also a frequent aspect of non-mortuary sites and may have served as status markers even in everyday life.

Point Peninsula people did, in some areas, bury at least some of their dead in burial mounds. The most significant mounds, at least for archaeologists, are those identified in the Rice Lake, Lower Trent River area including the Serpent, Cameron’s Point and LeVescounte Mounds. Mound burials have also been reported in the Bay of Quinte area along the south shoreline in Prince Edward County. In most mounds, exotic grave goods including copper and silver pan pipes, marine shell gorgets and exotic cherts have been found. Unlike earlier Late Archaic and Early Woodland interments, it has been suggested that the distribution of exotic goods among the burials provides evidence for some inherited status differentiation among Point Peninsula groups.

A large number of Point Peninsula sites have been identified throughout southern Ontario. Their distribution suggests yet another increase in population within the region and adaptation to the full range of environments is suggested. A settlement pattern consisting of micro and macro bands has been suggested for the Rice Lake area. Unfortunately, despite the large number of reported sites, our knowledge of Middle Woodland settlement patterns remains incomplete.

It would seem that Middle Woodland settlement was focused along the various river systems in their range with particular interest in larger bodies of water such as Rice Lake and the Bay of Quinte. This orientation may have been in part because of their advantageous location with respect to the ease of trade, of items such as copper, silver and perishable goods, with populations to the south. It would seem that the subsistence of early Point Peninsula populations focused largely on deer, as fishing implements are rare and faunal analysis of period sites reveal proportionately greater mammalian remains. However, there may have been a shift in subsistence strategies in Late Point Peninsula with increased interest in fishing as demonstrated at Belle Island in Kingston and in the Hamilton area. Additionally, at least some of these locations are in areas where wild rice was plentiful and may have provided a significant portion of the subsistence requirements.

The Saugeen Complex”]

The Saugeen complex appears to extend from the southeast shores of Lake Huron and the Bruce Peninsula, around the London area, and possibly as far east as the Grand River. There is some evidence that the Saugeen complex in the Bruce Peninsula may have evolved into the Adawa or Ottawa, as they were later called. The main distinction between the Saugeen complex and the Point Peninsula complex appears to be that Saugeen pots were relatively cruder, both in construction and decoration. Two houses known from one site measure six and a half to seven meters long and four to five meters wide.

It appears that burial treatment of the Saugeen people was similar to the Point Peninsula although no mounds have been excavated as yet. The evidence from one cemetery, however, seems to suggest a band size of about 50 people, with relatively open membership and no indications of status differences.

The Couture Complex

The Couture Complex appears to have been confined, in Ontario, to the area immediately around Lake St. Clair and the western end of Lake Erie. The distinctive feature of this complex appears to be pots decorated by various forms of cord impressions and a high frequency of lithics imported from Ohio. Treatment of burials is not well known because of the destruction, either through development or “pot-hunting”, of many sites. There is some suggestion, however, that natural sand knolls or dunes were used rather than artificial mounds.

The Laurel Complex

The Laurel culture appears to have been the first pottery using people of Ontario north of the Severn-Trent water system except, of course, for the Early Woodland peoples in the Ottawa Valley. The Laurel culture also extends into Minnesota and Wisconsin. Ceramics were decorated by a variety of stamping techniques including punctates which are relatively deep, single impressions, sometimes producing a boss or raised node on the opposite side of the vessel wall. Projectile points appear to be somewhat like those of the later parts of the Archaic but were slightly smaller and more triangular in shape. Use of native copper seems to be confined to the production of copper awls and beads.
Archaeological sites in northern Ontario have provided archaeologists with as much or more information about the Middle Woodland people as those from southern Ontario. Evidence of houses have been found on several sites. At one site near Kenora, three houses appear to have constituted the entire settlement. These houses were formed from saplings stuck into the ground, tied together at the top, and probably covered with bark. They measured about six meters long and four meters wide and had two central hearths. They were placed side by side with doors facing east so the morning sun could shine through and they shared a common “courtyard”. In the Cree culture of the 1800s it was considered good luck for hunters to be greeted by the rising sun each morning.

Mound construction appears to have been as important a feature of the Laurel as it was for the Point Peninsula. These sites were located at rapids or falls where sturgeon come to spawn and are easy to capture. The burial ceremonies may therefore have coincided with the spring spawning of these fish. The nature of the mounds and the artifacts contained within them indicate direct or indirect contacts with Adena and Hopewell cultures to the south.

Terminal Middle Woodland

Around A.D. 700 a distinctive change appears to have occurred in southern Ontario. Around the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the western end of Lake Erie, a “Tradition” known as the Princess Point Complex appears while west of Toronto, primarily in the Kingston area, a similar culture known as the Sandbanks Complex occurs.

Characteristic of this time period were distinctive changes in pottery, both in decorative styles and method of construction. Earlier pottery was decorated by dentate stamping, pseudo-scallop shell stamping and cord impressing. Decoration during the Terminal Middle Woodland period was most commonly produced by a stick or paddle wrapped with a cord. More important were changes in the method of construction of the vessel. Earlier pottery was made by winding coils of moist clay into the shape of the vessel and then smoothing the coils together. The later pottery appears to have been made from masses of wet clay which were worked into shape, probably using a basket or bag as a support or form. Evidence in support of this hypothesis is seen in the fabric or woven cord impressions on the exterior surface of pots. This produces pots which are relatively seam-free.

Most importantly, it was during the later part of the Middle Woodland period that corn and possibly tobacco, first appear. While the first uses of corn were possibly somewhat experimental and probably only a minor addition to the hunting, gathering and fishing lifestyle, corn horticulture gained increasing importance over time, allowing greater security from winter starvation, higher population densities and more permanent settlements. It is not yet established whether the timing of the introduction of corn and the breakdown of long distance trade networks is in any way related to the abandonment of the large ceremonial sites in Ohio, which also occurred about this time.

Aside from the probable introduction of corn and tobacco during this period, subsistence patterns appear to be largely a continuation from previous periods. The only noteworthy trend of this period appears to have been an increasing reliance on fishing with more sites being located on lake shores or large rivers, especially in the eastern region.

The changes distinguishing the Late Middle Woodland period may be of particular importance for understanding the later events of Ontario’s prehistory and the distribution of different First Nations groups during the early years of European contact. To understand this it must be understood that when the first Europeans came to the lower Great Lakes region they noted that this area was occupied by people who spoke variations of Iroquoian languages and had a distinctive and somewhat homogeneous lifestyle. The only other groups who spoke similar languages were the Cherokee, Susquehannock and Tuscarora from much further to the south. Surrounding the various Iroquoian speaking groups were diverse groups of people who spoke various Algonquian languages. Most anthropologists, especially Linguists (those who study languages) believe that the Great Lakes area was originally populated by Algonquian speaking people and that Iroquoian speaking people migrated into the area some time in prehistory.

One current theory among Ontario archaeologists is that the Late Middle Woodland, Princess Point, peoples of the Niagara Peninsula and neighbouring areas were an immigrant group who brought the beginnings of corn horticulture with them. These people would have been the first Iroquoians since it is currently accepted that this late Middle Woodland group did ultimately become the Iroquoian people of the Historic era. According to this theory, then, all the previous Middle Woodland and earlier people would have been ancestors of the Algonquian speaking people who were then displaced to the north, east and west.

Opposed to this theory is one that holds that there is continuity from the Middle Woodland to the Late Woodland. Holders of this opinion do not see great differences between late Middle Woodland and earlier peoples. According to this theory, either Iroquoian peoples migrated into southern Ontario earlier than the late Middle Woodland or their immigration is not reflected by change in the material culture. A great deal of additional research will be required before these questions can be answered.


The Late Woodland in southern Ontario is largely defined by the emergence of village life and the increased reliance on domesticated plants, particularly corn but with beans and squash (for food now) also playing important roles. In northern Ontario, however, this period is defined more arbitrarily on the basis of new ceramic types since there does not appear to have been as profound a change in lifestyle. This important difference is due to the fact that climate and landscape prohibited the adoption of agriculture north of the Severn River. There is, however, abundant evidence that northern people developed increasing contacts with Iroquoians and other southern agricultural groups, as will be discussed below.

Because the northern Ontario people maintained a way of life similar to those of previous periods, they will be discussed first.

The Late Woodland period did not appear at a uniform time over all of northern Ontario. Late Woodland pottery appears in some areas around A.D. 500 while Middle Woodland Laurel pottery appears to continue until A.D. 1000 in other, usually more remote, areas. The new pottery types are, from early to late, Blackduck, Selkirk and Sandy Lake. Most sites, however, also have varying amounts of Iroquoian pottery or types from Michigan and eastern Wisconsin. On one site near Sault Ste. Marie, about 400 pots were found of which only four were clearly Blackduck. The high frequency of foreign pottery types clearly indicate extensive contacts with the south long before the European fur trade.

Like the change from Middle Woodland to Princess Point pottery in southern Ontario, decoration on Blackduck pottery in northern Ontario was produced by cord wrapped sticks and punctates. Many researchers have noted a similarity between Blackduck pottery and Princess Point pottery.

In northwestern Ontario the Blackduck people maintained the practice of mound building. The Late Woodland mounds are not as large as Middle Woodland mounds, few of them were higher than two meters compared to the mounds of up to twelve meters for the Laurel, but may contain typical Late Woodland artifacts and some ceremonial objects.

Another aspect of Late Woodland spiritual life is expressed in unique archaeological sites where pictographs and petroglyphs were produced. Pictographs (literally: picture-writings) are found at sites across Ontario where people marked rock faces with paints made from hematite (red ochre) mixed with a binding agent (water, grease, blood, etc.). As the iron in the paint oxidized a strong bond between the paint and the rock face resulted. While it is possible to date the organic components of the paint, it is not generally possible (and professionally unacceptable) to remove small portions of the paint for this process. Thus, pictographs remain dated largely by internal clues such as the paintings of particular and roughly datable events such as the appearance of firearms, horses or sailing ships, the presumed lifespan of the paintings in exposed locations (presumably less than 300 years), and through often tenuous association with local archaeological sites.

Petroglyphs (literally: symbols carved in rock) are believed to have been similar in function to pictographs but the method of their construction was somewhat different. Here the rock was pecked and chipped with another implement to make impressions in the form of the desired symbols. It is not often that archaeological sites and pictographs coincide but one site on Lake of the Woods has revealed petroglyphs underneath soil which contained Paleo-Indian artifacts. While some archaeologists have suggested that this site indicates a Paleo-Indian age for the petroglyphs, others argue that the old artifacts may have washed down from an eroding bank further up. Whatever the age of the artifacts, rock art was being produced at a large number of sites from at least the end of the Late Woodland until at least A.D. 1800.

Current understanding of rock art suggest that the sites do not merely represent “artistic” endeavours but that a more or less rigorous system of symbols was being employed to convey particular meaning. The meanings transmitted appear to be largely sacred, votive or mystical, making the pictograph sites themselves “sacred” to earlier and/or present cultural groups. The relationship between these sites and modern people requires that archaeologists be sensitive in their use of the sites for data collection.

The pictographs of the Canadian Shield region constitute a kind of written language. The individual elements of the rock face can combine to form certain meanings much like the letters and words of written English can combine to mean certain sounds, objects or ideas. These meanings can be either about subsistence, geography, history or climate or can be more sacred, secret or enigmatic. At present it seems unlikely that the pictographs will be fully deciphered because the existing “Rosetta Stones” of this language, the birch bark scrolls of the Ojibwa Midewewin, can be interpreted by a diminishing number of individuals and because many of the symbols may have been symbolic “signatures” of the supplicants to the resident Maymaygwayshi.

In southern Ontario there were three general areas of cultural development, each with distinct temporal periods, and each with distinguishing cultural features. From west to east were the Western Basin Algonquians of the Younge Tradition, occurring at various times almost as far east as London Ontario, the Ontario Iroquois Tradition which covered most of the western and central parts of the province, and the St. Lawrence Iroquoians who were located from the eastern end of Lake Ontario, into the northern portions of New York state and east along the St. Lawrence river into Quebec. To the north were other Algonquian groups such as the Adawa (Ottawa) in the Bruce Peninsula, the Nipissings and other groups along the French River and Lake Nipissing, and many others along the Ottawa and related river systems. Each of these will be briefly described in the sections below.

Eastern Ontario and The St. Lawrence Iroquois

In Eastern Ontario the issue of Late Woodland development is complicated by continued use of the region by groups retaining a hunter and gatherer-based subsistence strategy. It would seem that portions of Eastern Ontario such as the Ottawa Valley featured an overlap of this subsistence practice with that of limited horticulture. Essentially, hunter/gatherers in the region are primarily regarded as Algonquian speaking populations continuing a way of life extending from the Archaic period. Historically some of these groups were known as the Matouweskarini, the Iroquet and the Kichesipirini. How these groups relate to ancestral populations such as those of the Point Peninsula Tradition remains a matter for debate. It is possible that these groups could have been an extension of the northern Laurel tradition with some cultural influences from their southern neighbours through trade and other forms of cultural contact. Understanding the prehistoric development of these groups has been hampered by a low intensity of archaeological activity. The following discussion will focus on developments in eastern Ontario that took place along the St. Lawrence River and the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

The Late Woodland Period has been divided into three sub-periods consisting of Early, Middle and Late Iroquoian. Elements of all three are represented in Eastern Ontario although their relationship with one another is not as clearly defined as sequences emerging in southcentral and southwestern Ontario.

The Early Iroquois is distinguished in Eastern Ontario by the emergence of the Pickering Complex. It is suggested that this complex may have developed in-situ from the Sand Banks Complex. Much of what is known about the Pickering Complex has come from sites in southcentral Ontario. Pickering-like components have been identified, however, in the Ottawa Valley along the Muskrat River near Pembroke and on Lake Nipissing.

Artifacts associated with this tradition include a distinct ceramic tradition, generally crudely made ceramic pipes, triangular shaped projectile points and bone tools such as awls, needles and beads. Ceramic decorative patterns shift from cord impressions to linear stamps, horizontal lines made by a “push-pull” motion, and dentate stamps and often have exterior bossing produced by interior punctates. Sites of the Pickering Complex exhibit the first evidence of ribbed paddle or check stamped surface treatment of the body sherds in southern Ontario. It might have been that this constitutes the first evidence of the use of the paddle and anvil technique for forming thinner, more compact pottery vessel walls.

It is on Pickering sites that the first definitive house structures have been identified in Eastern Ontario. It is believed that there were earlier house structures but to date none have been identified in the region. Houses have been found to be of small elliptical structure, much like Middle Woodland houses recorded in southwestern and northern Ontario, only slightly larger, with hearths placed off the centre line.

It is during this part of the sequence that evidence of villages occurs, first as loosely associated structures followed by structures with more systematic organization of space, such as the designation of midden or garbage areas. In eastern Ontario evidence for Pickering villages is lacking. Many of the sites, such as Lakeshore Lodge in Prince Edward County, or the Kingston Outer Station, are fishing stations, a continuation of the Late Middle Woodland and Transitional Period settlement pattern.

While there is some evidence for use of cultivated plants, it has been suggested that Pickering groups in Eastern Ontario still relied primarily on a hunter-gatherer subsistence strategy. Sites in areas such as Charleston Lake (Jackson’s Point Rock Shelter) do suggest some differences between Point Peninsula and Pickering hunting and gathering patterns indicating the same places were being used but at different seasons.

The Middle Iroquoian period, which dates between about 1300 and 1400 A.D., featured continued change in settlement patterns and subsistence practices among Late Woodland populations. Again these differences are essentially regarded as part of a continuum, that is, in-situ development of local populations. This period is divided into two stages: Uren and later Middleport.

It is during this stage that collared ceramics become common with decorations continuing to be composed of linear stamps and incising. There is also a well developed clay pipe complex associated with the Middleport Complex.

Archaeological evidence suggests increased permanency of villages and reliance on domestic plants.

Middle Iroquoian sites are rare in Eastern Ontario. Middleport sites have been identified in Prince Edward County and more recently in the Kingston area. There is a Middleport component at Kingston Outer Station, a fishing camp located along the Cataraqui River in Kingston. Middleport ceramics have also been recovered from the Gananoque Drainage System. These groups appear to have developed into the eastern-most branches of the Hurons, which will be discussed in greater detail below.

To the east along the St. Lawrence Valley were the St. Lawrence Iroquois who bear close similarities to contemporaneous Oneida and Onondaga in New York State. Village clusters have been identified at Prescott and further east towards Cornwall in Eastern Ontario, with a large number reported for Jefferson County in New York State and farther east into Quebec.

The material culture of both the Huron and St. Lawrence Iroquois was quite similar in many ways. The St. Lawrence Iroquoian populations are distinguished from the Hurons by distinctive ceramic styles, increased size and permanency of villages and continued development of an extensive bone tool technology. Lithic industry, in particular, all but disappears among the St. Lawrence Iroquois. This may have been a consequence of disruption of earlier trading networks that brought in the better quality cherts used in the production of stone tools. There is also some indication of conflict between these populations.

In addition to village sites, fishing camps along tributaries of the St. Lawrence River have been found at Morrisburg and between Cardinal and Prescott. It has been suggested that these fishing camps serviced the inland sites by harvesting eel, an important element in the diet of St. Lawrence Iroquois populations.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that there was conflict between different populations or groups through this period. The appearances of St. Lawrence Iroquois ceramics on Huron sites in Prince Edward County and in the Trent River System, as well as the recovery of Huron ceramics on St. Lawrence Iroquoian sites have been explained as the result of the capture of women during raids between the two groups. We do know that in the mid 1500s, after the visits by Jacques Cartier, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians disappeared. Whatever the causes of this dramatic event, there is one site in the Trent Valley, which was Huron territory, with St. Lawrence Iroquoian pottery in association with European trade goods, suggesting that at least some of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians ultimately settled among the Hurons.

The Ontario Iroquois Tradition

The Ontario Iroquoian Tradition is currently believed to have begun approximately 900 A.D. with the appearance of small villages, at least seasonally occupied over a number of years. This shift in settlement pattern is generally believed to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture. It is currently debated, however, whether increased reliance on corn and the adoption of partial village life led to population increase or vice versa. In most aspects of the material culture, however, the Early Ontario Iroquoian period, which lasts until about A.D. 1250 or 1300, appears to be a continuation from the Late Middle Woodland Princess Point Culture with some changes occurring gradually.

It is becoming apparent that in the earliest centuries of the Ontario Iroquoian period, a seasonal round similar to earlier periods was maintained with small villages being occupied only seasonally, probably during the winters. At other times of the year the population, or parts of it, would move to areas where fishing in the spring or nut collecting in the fall could augment the corn harvest. Hunting, especially deer, was still an important source of protein.

Two distinct tribal groups in southern Ontario have been identified. These two groups are the Pickering, located from the Toronto area to the Kingston area, and the Glen Meyer, who were located from the Hamilton area to as far west as the London area. These two groups are generally recognized as being distinct in at least aspects of their material culture. While many of these differences may be a factor of environmental differences, such as the Glen Meyer being located closer to high quality chert sources while the Pickering were not, or unknown factors, stylistic differences in pottery decoration appear to suggest that real social differences existed between these two groups. What these differences actually mean, however, is still uncertain.

The Early Ontario Iroquoian period, according to one reconstruction, ended when the eastern Pickering culture invaded and subjugated the western Glen Meyer culture, leading to a uniform Uren/Middleport culture across the province. Whether this “Conquest” actually occurred, however, has been under criticism since it was first proposed. Critics of this hypothesis suggest that the Pickering were not able to mount a war of this scale, especially when Glen Meyer sites appear to be far more numerous and larger. Additionally, there appears to be a lack of any real evidence for warfare having occurred except in the extreme western fringe of the Glen Meyer where warfare with the Western Basin Algonquians is suspected.

The Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1250 to 1300, was one of population growth and the fusion of smaller Early Ontario Iroquoian villages. By the end of the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period some of the largest villages ever occupied in Ontario’s prehistory were established. Some of these villages contained longhouses over 100 meters long. In many areas, occupation of clay plains occurred for the first time. The reasons for this change in settlement pattern is believed to be based on the fact that clay holds water longer than sand in the summer, decreasing the impact and frequency of droughts. Villages were usually placed near a stream or river and appear to have been abandoned after 20 to 40 years occupation, when a new village was constructed a few kilometres away.

The population increases which led into this period appear to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture coupled with the appearance and increased use of beans and squash. Because of the bio-chemical properties of enzymes in these plants, the nutritional benefits of these foods together are greater than that of them apart. Enzymes in beans allow people to digest corn better. While corn first appears in the Niagara Peninsula area in the Late Middle Woodland, apparently introduced from neighbouring New York, beans and squash first appear in extreme southwestern Ontario between A.D. 1000 and 1100. They do not appear to have reached the Hamilton area until just prior to the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period.

Probably related to the increase in population sizes was an increase in the geographic distribution of these peoples. Early Ontario Iroquoian occupations appear to have expanded both east and west from their origins in the Niagara area and a few seasonal camps are known in what is now Simcoe County. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, these expansions appear to have continued and substantial population movements are believed to have occurred into Huronia (Simcoe County), western New York state and further west into southwestern Ontario. Undoubtedly these expansions were also accompanied by some degree of warfare with people already occupying or exploiting these areas.

With the possible exception of the “frontier” areas, warfare does not appear to have been a major aspect of peoples lives up to this point in time. What little direct evidence of warfare that does appear to be present was most likely the result of feuds or raiding of neighbouring groups. World-wide, this appears to have been the pattern of people at this level of complexity and population density. To some degree, this raiding and feuding may have been exacerbated by the increased population density but methods of social reorganization appear to also have been developed in order to compensate for these changes in the cultural landscape. It was probably during this time that political groups larger than individual villages, such as tribes, were developed. Various experiments in intra-village organization may also have occurred to maintain social cohesion.

It is unclear at this time how the changes in subsistence and settlement patterns would have affected the style of some artifact classes but we do know that at this time there was also a distinctive change in the construction and decoration of pottery. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period collars were added to the tops of pots, and the necks became more constricted and distinct from the bodies of pots. This had the effect of dividing the tops of pots, where most decoration was placed, into two distinct zones. Additionally, the majority of vessels were decorated with horizontal lines which provide a useful time marker for recognizing this period.

The Late Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1400 and 1450, is the period when the historically known tribes are believed to have emerged. Villages reached their greatest size during the early parts of this stage and vast regional clusters, probably early tribal groups, appeared. Examples of these regional clusters include the Lalonde group in Huronia, the Vaughan cluster running from the Humber River to the Richmond Hill area and the Crawford Lake cluster in Halton.

During this time period, warfare appears to have become more widespread and common. Evidence of this warfare includes the appearance of larger villages, presumably as a measure of defence, the construction of palisades and earthworks around many villages and the presence of cut and burned human bones in the refuse deposits. While the latter evidence suggests that some people may have been rather cruelly treated, probably even cannibalized, the frequency of these bones does not suggest that many more than one or two people per year were treated this way in a large village.

Iroquoian Longhouse exposed during excavation Iroquoian Village Reconstruction, Ska-nah-doht, Delaware, Ontario

There is presently some debate about the nature of this warfare. Some researchers suggest that large parties of warriors from great sections of southern Ontario might have been raiding distant tribal groups such as the New York Iroquoians. Others believe that the warfare that occurred may have been larger scale raiding and feuds, primarily against neighbouring villages or tribal clusters. There is good evidence, however, that the western edges of the Ontario Iroquois Tradition were constantly pushing west against the Western Basin Algonquians in extreme southwestern Ontario.

Late in the prehistoric period, or late in the 16th century, a number of important changes occurred in the distribution of Iroquoian villages in southern Ontario. Just prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Iroquoian communities along the north shore of Lake Ontario and along the Trent River Valley appear to have disappeared, probably mostly relocating to Huronia. These people collectively became known as the Wendats or Hurons by the 17th century missionaries and explorers to the area. The primary reason for this change is usually considered to be greater participation in the fur trade.

Similarly, the Late Ontario Iroquoian people who had expanded as far west as the Chatham area in southwestern Ontario, suddenly moved east to concentrate in the Hamilton-Brantford-Hagarsville-Niagara Falls area. These people became known as the Neutrals.

Finally, a tribal group known as the Petuns appear in the Collingwood area. Currently it is unknown whether these people split from the Hurons in Simcoe County or came from one of the late prehistoric groups to the south. It is known, however, that a number of other peoples, many distinctly non-Iroquoian, joined the Petun.

Western Basin Algonquin

In most areas of northeastern North America, the introduction of corn horticulture brought about rapid population increases and by 1000 A.D, many groups were living in villages with several hundred inhabitants. In southwestern Ontario, however, people appear to have been reluctant to change their hunting and gathering way of life although by around 1000 A.D. they were growing some corn near summer campsites.

The settlement and subsistence strategies of the early Late Woodland stage continued the earlier patterns where small, seasonally mobile hunting and gathering groups took advantage of plant and animal resources available during periods of peak resource availability. After spending the winter hunting and trapping along inland drainages, family groups came together in the spring to harvest a nearly unlimited supply of spawning fish that swarmed up larger rivers like the Thames or Sydenham. This coalition of families represented a territorial band and by Late Woodland times these bands may have included several hundred people. Band cemeteries were located near the spring fishing grounds, and these special places set aside for the dead were used over the entire Late Woodland stage. During the summer, the bands moved to the lake shores where fish could be caught daily throughout the summer months.

The summer settlements consisted of one or two structures of the “longhouse” type and were occupied by one or more related families. Longhouses were about seven metres wide and twenty or thirty metres long. Like Iroquoian longhouses, these were made of poles planted in the ground, then bent together and tied at the top to form an arch and covered with reed mats or bark slabs. Several related families used each house, but most of the day to day activities took place out in the open air. Life during the summer months was likely relatively carefree and people may have moved about visiting relatives and sharing hospitality.

By the fall people began to prepare for the winter months. Bands moved inland to groves of nut trees and stored large quantities of chestnuts, hickory nuts, and walnuts. The nuts, along with dried fish and other foodstuffs, were stored in large, bark lined pits dug deep into the earth. These nut “caches” ensured that enough food was stored away to last the winter months. By late fall, the Western Basin peoples broke into extended family groups and moved inland along small drainages to build a winter house.

The winter house was a compact, five by seven metre structure made of saplings bent together to form a low, domed roof. The “wigwam” was covered with reed mats or bark and had one or two fireplaces near the centre of the floor. The winter was a quiet time for the family and they shared stored food around the fire and told stories and related traditions to pass time and educate children. This was the time when people practised what might be called a form of “human hibernation”. Once the ice left the rivers and streams, fish began to move upstream to spawn and the family groups moved to their traditional spring fishing sites and the yearly cycle began once again.

As the population expanded, partly due to corn horticulture, a shift in summer settlement patterns occurred around 1200 A.D. Larger settlements appear at this time that were comprised of several houses and were located one or two kilometres inland from lake shores. Apparently, this was undertaken to provide easy access to sufficient fertile soil for horticultural crops, but also to provide easy access for the continued use of marsh, large river or lake front environments. The pattern of winter family dispersal apparently continued just as during earlier times. By about 1400 A.D., summer settlements evolved into substantial warm weather villages, often with surrounding earthworks and palisades. The development of fortifications is believed to be in response to the westward expansion of the Neutral Iroquoian group into Western Basin territory.

It is by the Late Woodland stage that ethnic identities are known for some of the people who created the prehistoric archaeological sites. The indigenous inhabitants of southwestern Ontario, however, had disappeared by the time European explorers entered the area. Because of the absence of a native population by the contact period, archaeologists can never be absolutely certain who actually lived in southwestern Ontario. On the basis of lifestyle and artifacts though, and similarities to cultures living in Michigan and Ohio, the indigenous inhabitants are thought to be related to speakers of the Central Algonquian language family. Central Algonquian speakers originally inhabited a vast area along the upper Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, and between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The Western Basin peoples living in southwestern Ontario were the easternmost Central Algonquian group.

The Neutral were continually expanding to the west over much of the Late Woodland stage and it appears that sometime soon after A.D. 1550, Western Basin peoples were forced to abandon southwestern Ontario. The entire area was not occupied by any Native group until after 1701. The success of the Neutral Iroquois was likely due to their earlier reliance on corn horticulture which resulted in a comparatively larger population by the final centuries prior to European contact. As their population grew, they expanded to the southwest at the expense of the Western Basin Central Algonkians.


While North America had been visited by Europeans on an increasing scale since the end of the 15th century, it was not until the voyages of Jacques Cartier in the 1530s that Europeans visited Ontario Iroquoians in their home territories. During these first explorations, Cartier encountered and described a series of large palisaded villages along the St. Lawrence River. One of these villages, called Stadacona, was located at present day Quebec City while a second, called Hochelaga, was located at present day Montreal. When Europeans returned to this area in the early 17th century, however, they found the villages of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians abandoned and the area occupied by Algonquian speaking people.

Beginning in the early 17th century, French explorers and fur traders such as Samuel Champlain and Etienne Brule travelled into southern Ontario and visited the Hurons and other groups. Because of raiding by New York Iroquoians, they took a somewhat round-about northern route and met and described a number of Algonquian speaking groups along the way. Included among these people were the Algonquins along the Ottawa River, the Nipissings around Lake Nipissing and the French River, and the Adawa, or Ottawa, along the east shore of Georgian Bay, on Manitoulin Island and on the Bruce Peninsula. These people all lived in small seasonal camps and did not practice intensive corn horticulture but did participate in the fur trade by trading furs, especially beaver, for various European goods and corn grown by the Hurons. Additionally, the Nipissings and the Adawa were known to have wintered among the Petuns and Hurons, respectively.

Until relatively recently, little was known of these Algonquian speaking people beyond the historical documents. Excavations of Nipissing sites along the French River and Lake Nipissing had revealed that much of their material culture was adopted from the Hurons. Similarly, recent archaeology in the Bruce Peninsula has indicated that the Adawa were involved in long distance trade spanning from the Petun and Huron homelands to the far ends of Lakes Superior and Michigan. Pottery on their sites appears either like that of the Huron and Petun or like the peoples of Wisconsin and Michigan. Similarly, it appears that they were responsible for bringing exotic chert into Ontario and European trade goods to the distant people they visited. Early in the 17th century the spread of European trade goods seems to have been confined to the Lake Huron basin but it is found on later sites to the west and south.

The Hurons, who became the focus of French interest in the first half of the 17th century, were a confederation of four or five tribes in what is now Simcoe County. The Hurons lived in 18 to 25 palisaded villages with a total population of just over 20,000 people. They subsisted primarily on corn horticulture, producing enough in most years to trade surpluses with neighbouring people. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries the Huron were acting as middle men in the fur trade between the French and various other First Nations people further to the interior of the continent.

Using Huronia as a base, the missionaries also attempted to visit some of the neighbouring peoples. The Petun, who lived in the Collingwood area, were believed to total 6,500 people in 1615 and over 10,000 people in 1623, living in 7 to 9 villages. The Petun, like the Huron, practised corn horticulture and participated in the fur trade.

Another important Iroquoian group whom the Jesuits briefly visited and described in the 17th century was the Neutrals who occupied the Niagara Peninsula as far north as Milton, as far west as Brantford and across the Niagara River into New York state. The Neutrals were also a confederacy of between eight and eleven tribes with a total population of as many as 40,000 people before the epidemics, living in as many as 30 villages plus some hamlets. Like the Hurons, the Neutrals subsisted primarily on corn horticulture, with some other food crops, gathering, hunting and fishing adding to the diet and participated in the fur trade. The Neutrals are believed to have traded with the Hurons for French goods but also with more southern groups such as the Susquehannock, an Iroquoian people living in the Chesapeake Bay area, and the New York Iroquoians for Dutch trade goods.

The Neutrals did not participate in the war between the Hurons and the New York Iroquoians until the 1650s but instead were involved in warfare with Algonquian speaking people in Michigan. These Algonquian people were known as the “Fire Nations” and were the descendants of the Western Basin Algonquians who had previously occupied southwestern Ontario.

By the 1630s, Huron involvement with the French had become so important to the French that the Jesuits had begun a massive campaign to Christianise them. One measure to aid this was the construction of a fortified retreat, called Sainte Marie, in the Wye Marsh near present day Midland. While these increased contacts with the Hurons did bring some advantages to the Hurons, such as large amounts of European goods like iron axes and brass kettles, they also brought devastation in the form of infectious diseases. Plagues of measles, influenza and smallpox, for which the Hurons and others had no immunity, are believed to have killed as many as 60% of the population between 1634 and 1640. The damage caused to social and cultural systems of the Hurons, and other groups, by the plague cannot be measured and much important knowledge, such as the medicinal properties of some plants, may have also been lost to subsequent generations.

A chronic problem for the French and Huron fur trade all through the first half of the 17th century was the warfare between the Hurons and their allies and the New York Iroquoians. Known as the League of Five Nations, a confederacy of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk tribes, these people were allied first with the Swedes and Dutch and later with the English along the east coast. Antagonism between the Hurons and the “League” was encouraged by both the English and the French in order to gain increased supplies of furs for the competing traders and as extensions of the wars between the European powers.

In 1638 numbers of Wenro, an Iroquoian tribe in the western New York/Pennsylvania area, abandoned their homeland and joined the Neutrals and Hurons because of League raids. Increased raiding by the League in the late 1640s led to the dispersal of the Hurons in 1649, the Petun in 1650 and the Neutral by 1655. Factors which led to this dramatic victory by the League include greater access to European guns, the devastating depopulation of the Ontario Iroquoians by the plagues which had not as yet had as big an impact on the New York Iroquoians and the break down of social and political cohesion among the Hurons and Petuns. This breakdown in unity among the Hurons and Petuns was caused by the presence of two factions among these people, some who were Christian and/or pro-French and those who longed for the traditional way of life and wanted to be rid of the Europeans, if not their trade goods.

Because of the variation in the ways the Ontario Iroquoians responded to European influences, there was considerable variation in the ways they responded to the breakdown of their tribal areas. Among the Hurons and Petuns, for example, some joined the League of Five Nations, either as individuals or as large groups. Several entire villages, for example, are known to have joined the League as whole units, settling near Seneca or Onondaga villages and eventually becoming adopted as full members of those tribes. Another large group settled on Christian Island where the Jesuits built another fort. A winter of starvation, disease and constant raiding by the League Iroquois in this area, however, led to total abandonment of Huronia the following spring. The remnant groups either travelled with the French to the Montreal area, where some remain to today, or dispersed to other locations, mostly to the west. Of these latter groups, some joined other allied groups while a large group, now called the Wyandot, travelled to the north and west and eventually occupied a reservation in northeastern Oklahoma.

THE FRENCH PERIOD (A.D. 1650 to 1763

The vast numbers of Europeans emigrating to the Americas consumed Native land at an exponential rate. A domino effect began when displaced coastal Native groups had to relocate to land further inland – land that was usually already occupied. Additionally, rivalries sprang up between competing European powers over the control of North America, primarily to further their economic interests in the fur trade.

Throughout the 17th century, the British and Dutch along the Atlantic seaboard encouraged the Five Nations Iroquois living in New York state to interrupt French trade to the north around the Great Lakes. The French, in Quebec, allied themselves with the Huron and the northern Algonquians and Ottawa who were also the major fur suppliers. The commercial and territorial rivalries placed much of the lower Great Lakes in a state of continual warfare and the southern St. Lawrence – Lake Ontario water route was blocked to the westward expanding French and was well beyond the reach of British traders or explorers. The collapse of the Huron confederacy in 1649 and the Neutrals and Petun shortly thereafter, however, changed the balance of power in this region.

French Iron Axes from a Historic Neutral Site, c. A.D. 1640 Following the abandonment of southcentral Ontario by the Ontario Iroquois, this area was briefly unoccupied except by occasional hunting and trapping parties. A few League Iroquois communities moved into this area late in the 17th century in order to gain a middleman position in the fur trade with the more northern and western groups, much like the position the Hurons had formerly occupied. Recent research has discovered some of these sites along the Humber and Rouge Rivers in the Toronto area and near Kingston. Others either await discovery or have been destroyed by urban development. A number of mission sites were established during this period, primarily among the Cayuga settlements, the most noteworthy being Kente, located somewhere in the vicinity of Carrying Place, possibly on Lake Consecon in Prince Edward County.

League Iroquois ambitions in this area were not welcomed by their northern traditional enemies, however, and between 1690 and 1710 various groups of southeastern Ojibwa, including the Ottawa and Mississauga, began to move south into southern Ontario and neighbouring Michigan from their original homelands in the Canadian Shield around Sault Ste. Marie. While some of these earlier groups, such as the Mississauga, had expressed interest in joining the Iroquois, by the end of the first decade of the 18th century, the Iroquois had been largely forced out of southern Ontario.

During the following decades, the Ojibwa expanded their occupation of southern Ontario. Over this period many of the original differences between the various Ojibwa groups disappeared and a more homogeneous culture developed. Increased contact with Europeans also resulted in adoption of many European items into the original lifestyle. Guns, for example, quickly replaced the bow and arrow for hunting and warfare.

The collapse of the Huron confederacy and the loss of the trade centered in Huronia had a serious economic impact on the economy in Quebec. In 1654, plans were made by the explorers Medard Chouart des Grosseilliers and his brother-in-law Pierre Radisson to travel to the interior and reestablish trade relations. The mission was a success and Radisson and Grosseilliers were feted. At this point, direct trade into the interior was established and traders, all of whom were under licence to the French government, entered the area to trade and conduct rituals of peace, trade and alliance with their new allies.

In an effort to safeguard the Great Lakes fur trade, the French constructed a fort at the present day site of Kingston. Initially built as a wooden palisade, the fort went through three stages of construction, assuming its final appearance as a limestone fortification. This was the first permanent European settlement in Eastern Ontario.

Archaeological investigations of portions of Fort Frontenac and a related cemetery have provided considerable data on the material culture and the structural evolution of the Fort.

During the eighteenth century other posts were established along the Ottawa River to facilitate trade in Quebec and movement along the Ottawa into James Bay.

In the late 1660s, Louis Jolliet, a French explorer, had been searching for copper mines in the Lake Superior country and a route to the Orient across the continent. During his return trip Jolliet had saved an Iroquois from captivity and in appreciation, or through haste to return home, the Iroquoian guided Jolliet through the southern water route to Lake Erie. Jolliet’s voyage is the first record of an European to have travelled through the Detroit River corridor and Lake Erie. Meanwhile, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, a young, well educated immigrant to New France who soon tired of the settler lifestyle, gained permission from the French authorities to explore the Ohio country. La Salle set westward in 1669 and met Jolliet at an Iroquois village west of Lake Ontario, somewhere near the present City of Brantford. La Salle continued on his way and spent several months exploring the country south of Lake Erie.

Ten years later, La Salle began to assemble the first sailing vessel to enter the upper Great Lakes. The Griffon was a vessel of about forty-five tons burden and built just above Niagara Falls. La Salle planned to use the Griffon to expand his commercial operations by trading directly with the tribes of the Upper Great Lakes. This venture was likely not well liked by the Ottawa and other Indian tribes who traded European goods for furs in the north and then transported them to Montreal. La Salle was trying to collect the profits for himself by bypassing traditional Native trade routes.

The Griffon sailed in August of 1679, and on August 12 entered a wide shallow body of water on the Feast Day of St. Clair, thus naming a lake. The Griffon continued on to the west shore of Lake Michigan and took on a great supply of fur at an Indian town on an island in Green Bay. La Salle then moved on by canoe to further his explorations satisfied that he could pay his debts and cover the cost of building the ship. In September, before bad weather could set in, the Griffon set sail for the return voyage to Niagara but was never seen again. Many theories have been forwarded regarding the disappearance of the Griffon and include treachery by the crew, who scuttled the ship and took the fortune of furs to New England; that a combined force of Natives attacked and destroyed the ship; or that it was lost in a storm.

For twenty years after the voyage of the Griffon, the Five Nations Iroquois once again interrupted French exploration, but in 1701 a peace treaty was concluded at Quebec and once more, European exploration was possible along the southern Great Lakes water route. The French soon took advantage of the peace and built a fort at a place the Indians called Detroit. This fort was known as Fort Ponchartrain, and was little more than a trading post until the British took control of New France in 1760. One of the first goals of the new commander of the fort (Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac) was to encourage Native groups who were living in the north away from the threat of Five Nations attacks, to move near the Detroit area and strengthen the French presence. Native groups who moved south included the Wyandots, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwa. Hunting territories were soon established throughout the region, but it was primarily the Ojibwa who occupied southwestern Ontario. For over a hundred years the Ojibwa practised a seasonal settlement and subsistence strategy almost identical to the Late Woodland Western Basin peoples.

In 1749, concerted efforts were begun to strengthen the French hold on the Ohio territory and develop Detroit as the economic and political centre of the region. Incentives such as grants of land and equipment, loans of seed, livestock, and rations were forwarded to attract more settlers from Quebec. The resulting population increase was slow, but by 1751, Detroit had a total French population of six hundred people. When farms on the Detroit side became too far from the protection of the fort, the southern or Canadian side, was eventually settled. This community became known as Petit Cote (Little Coast), and grew quickly and soon there were at least 150 farmsteads spread out along the river. Petite Cote is known as the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Province of Ontario.

When open warfare broke out between the French and British in North America, most of the western Native groups allied themselves with the French. The French maintained this alliance partly by increasing the availability of supplies and gifts to Native groups. Gifts included utilitary items such as axes, kettle, blankets and food, but status items such as elaborate firearms and medallions were also given to leaders to ensure their loyalty.

THE ENGLISH PERIOD (A.D. 1760 to 1867

The end of the French regime came in 1760 when the British forced the French government in Quebec City to surrender. This had been presaged by the fall of Fort Frontenac in 1758. The fall of New France had little effect on outlying posts such as Detroit, and although the local French militia was disarmed, it was only for a short period of time. The new British authorities were not as experienced as the French in their dealings with the former Native allies, and a rebellion led by Pontiac, a leader of the Ottawa, disrupted British activities in 1763.

The direct participation of the English in Ontario, however, had begun much earlier than the fall of New France. Radisson and Groseillers had travelled to England in the late 1660s to persuade English financiers that advantageous trade could be had by travelling with goods to the western shore of Hudson Bay. This expedition was successful and the Hudson’s Bay Company was formed in 1670 to organize trade from this region. After this date there were trade goods entering northern Ontario on a regular basis and considerable exploration of the Moose, Albany, Hayes, Nelson and Churchill Rivers, occurred. It was not until the second half of the 1700s that the Hudson’s Bay Company began to move their posts inland to counter increased trade competition from the Montreal-based companies. These interior posts were at first merely way stations set up to convince the natives to travel on to the posts located on the Bay but later turned into permanent establishments. Until the 1980s the Hudson’s Bay Company was a permanent fixture in many northern communities.

The British colonial authorities along the Atlantic seaboard soon found themselves in trouble in the areas of their original settlements along the Atlantic seaboard. The British Crown had been making demands on New England settlers to cover the cost of maintaining British military forces in the New World. Taxes were placed on certain key products and the Americans, as they were now calling themselves, were not allowed to make internal policy decisions. In addition, as a result of a restriction against settlement west of the Allegheny mountains, pressure for land became so great that many colonists from the Atlantic seaboard were prepared to go to war to remove British authority from North America. Unfortunately, it was the Native peoples who were once again caught in the middle of a great struggle between European powers. For the duration of the American revolutionary war from 1776 to 1783, southwestern Ontario was outside the area of military activity. The fort at Detroit, however, performed as a strategic intelligence post and depot for provisioning British and Native campaigns on the Ohio and Kentucky frontier. Most Native groups supported the British during the American revolution.

In the years between 1784 and 1786, the American Government dictated treaties to the Indians of the Northwest as retribution for their support of the British during the revolution. The land surrenders demanded in the Ohio Valley were bitterly opposed by almost all native groups and a pattern of frontier conflict that began with the Pontiac rebellion, intensified along the entire frontier. Through their Indian agents, the British actively supported Native resistance and the Americans were generally on the defensive throughout much of the late 18th century. The American expansion into the fertile Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois territories, however, was inevitable.

Although the American military forces often suffered heavy losses, occasional victories usually forced native leaders into major land surrenders. The republican victory of the American revolution brought the first major wave of English speaking settlers to southwestern Ontario. Disbanded soldiers and Loyalist refugees entering Ontario in the years after the American Revolution placed pressure on the authorities to obtain land, resulting in considerable pressure on the comparatively small British and Indian population. Between 1700 and 1800, a cultural manifestation developed along the Detroit frontier of Natives raiding the Americans, while maintaining settlements behind the British line of defense.

For 25 years, Eastern Ontario remained officially largely unsettled. The success of the American Revolution provided a significant stimulus for the European settlement of Upper Canada, much of the earliest taking place in Eastern Ontario. By the late 1780s land along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and north shore of Lake Ontario was being awarded to Loyalists for settlement. Communities such as Bath, Kingston and Prescott emerged from this initial settlement. Townships in these areas were the first to be surveyed in Upper Canada.

Archaeological investigations on sites dating to this period have been focused in the Kingston area, primarily on the continued occupation of Fort Frontenac. Work has also been completed on sites such as the Molly Brant property and Lines House which were initially developed in this early period. Other sites such as the Sir John Johnson House in Williamstown have provided some initial insights to this early historic period of settlement.

In 1790, the Wyandots, Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Ottawa peoples surrendered tracts of land amounting to 1,344,000 acres in southwestern Ontario, and this opened up the North Lake Erie shore for Loyalist settlement. Total surrenders between 1790 and 1827 gained the British crown settlement rights to over four million acres in southwestern Ontario.

By the 1830s, the back lots away from the lakes and major rivers had been settled and pressure was placed on the government of the day to gain title of additional Indian Land. Native groups still maintaining traditional seasonal settlement strategies soon found their movements restricted by settlers and were soon largely restricted to the reservations set aside for their use. The reserve system has remained largely unchanged to this day. Native peoples received title to land and annual support in exchange for millions of hectares of land given to European immigrants at little or no cost.

The turn of the century saw a continued flow of settlers into the region including a large number of Americans. During the War of 1812 most of the Ojibwa sided with the British, largely under the leadership of Tecumsah, a Shawnee, and are generally credited with keeping this part of Canada from becoming American. The War of 1812 somewhat diffused the raiding along the border but resulted in the awarding of properties along the Ottawa River to veterans which stimulated development in this region. The Ottawa Valley proved to be of considerable interest due to the large stands of White Pine and other timber. The logging industry provided the forerunner for settlement in different areas of the Ottawa Valley. Communities at Hawkesbury, Hull and Ottawa received their initial stimulus from this activity.

The War of 1812 also stimulated considerable military activity in the region including the continued development of military facilities at Kingston and construction of Fort Wellington at Prescott. The most significant project of this period, however, was the construction of the Rideau Canal (1827 – 1832) providing a link between Kingston and Bytown (Ottawa) and a way of avoiding the St. Lawrence River which was vulnerable to attack by the Americans. Although the canal was never really successful in meeting its primary objective, the importation of immigrant labour, most of it being Irish, and the opening of an interior portion of eastern Ontario resulted in another wave of settlement in the early to mid nineteenth century.

By the end of this period the portion of Eastern Ontario east of Ottawa along the Ottawa River was still very sparsely settled. Population pressures in Lower Canada and interest by the Catholic Church in maintaining a strong hold in Upper Canada resulted in a large French Canadian immigration to this area in the 1850s, establishing much of the character it retains today.

There has been considerable archaeological work done on historic sites dating to this period. This includes work along the Ottawa River at MacDonnal House, Pinhey Point, and at Fort Wellington, along the Rideau Canal by the Canadian Parks Service and in the Kingston area. Most of this activity has focused on domestic settlements and military establishments. The investigations of the Marmora Iron Works, established during this period, illustrates the expanding interest of archaeologists in understanding early industrial complexes in the region.

Despite the many years of contact with Europeans, the various Ojibwa reserves in Ontario are still thriving communities and maintain many aspects of their previous culture today.

Like the Ojibwa, the Iroquois underwent many changes through history. At various times the Iroquois either were allied to different European groups or fought against them. Ultimately, varying degrees of alliance with different powers undermined the strength of the League and the ill effects of contact, including infectious diseases and alcohol abuse, caused deep rifts between different factions. During the American Revolution some of the League groups fought on the side of the Colonists while others joined the British. When the Americans ultimately won independence, a large group of Iroquois under Joseph Brant moved into Ontario and were given a large tract of land along the Grand River. Although some of this land was ultimately sold to non-Native settlers, this reserve, located within and to the south of present-day Brantford, remains the largest in southern Ontario.

As mentioned earlier, the archaeology of the historic periods plays a different role than does the archaeology of the prehistoric periods. Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, there were no written records to preserve the events of the past. Archaeology, aided by oral traditions and comparisons of preserved cultural traits, provides the only means of discovering how people lived, where they came from and went to, etc. Archaeology is often used today as evidence of long-term occupation in land claims settlements.

The archaeology of the historic period is different, however, in that many of the details of these periods are preserved in written records. The archaeology of these periods, then, is more important as an independent means of checking historical records and, often, as the only means of learning the history of those who were often ignored by historical documents. Up until the last century, for example, only a small number of the wealthy or powerful were literate and the history we know today is often just their version of the events that unfolded. Few details remain of the lifestyles of the poor or isolated, such as early pioneers. Although archaeology is somewhat biased by reliance upon what is preserved in the ground as artifacts and by how this information is retrieved and analyzed, the biases are different than those of historical records and so act as an independent means of assessing this history.

Archaeologists are also able to learn important aspects of peoples lives that may not be as easily obtained by other means. Since archaeology is uniquely able to view people over very long periods of time, it is uniquely able to explore certain aspects of their lifestyles through various kinds of changes. By studying various First Nations groups from the prehistoric to historic periods, for example, archaeology is able to examine how their lifestyles changed during contact with Europeans or, in many ways, how changes were incorporated into traditional lifestyles. Some archaeologists have found, for example, that many European items were readily adopted by First Nations people but were interpreted and employed in ways foreign to the makers of these items. Beads, for example, were usually first given by the Europeans as cheap and amusing trinkets but were often employed by First Nations people as objects of religious and ceremonial importance. This is why they were often employed as burial offerings.

The insights of archaeology are similarly useful in learning about the history of the first settlers in Ontario. Historical archaeologists, for example, have begun to examine how the lifestyles of the first pioneers changed through time. One study in southwestern Ontario, for example, found that while first generation pioneers of different nationalities could be distinguished according to the proportions of animal bones found on their sites, those of second and later generations became more similar and were more influenced by relative wealth and economics.

According to the archaeological record of Ontario, then, the occupation of this region has been long and varied. From the first Ice Age hunters in this region to the builders of Fort York, details of the history of this province are preserved by artifacts buried in the ground. By studying these artifacts, their relationships to each other in the places they are found, and their relationships with often nearly invisible stains or other clues, we are able to slowly reconstruct the events of a long past. Because we are all occupants of Ontario, this past is all of ours to preserve and learn from. Perhaps a fuller understanding of the past will help us to face tomorrow.

This Summary of Ontario Archaeology was taken from the Discovering Ontario Archaeology – Speakers Kit. The original texts were written by Jeff Bursey, Hugh Daechsel, Andrew Hinshelwood and Carl Murphy.