Tag Archives: Longhouse

Taber Hill Ossuary

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On August 17, 1956, the farmland of Scarborough was being transformed into subdivisions and the 401 was being widened to accommodate the increased traffic that the expanding city was faced with.  A large mound stood in the middle of a field near Lawrence Avenue and Bellamy Road and the 60-foot tall hill was scheduled to be loaded into trucks and delivered to the site of a 401 overpass that was under construction.  After removing nearly 100 feet of the side of the hill a scoop of earth came away full of human bones.

The park isn’t very large but it is unique and worth exploring briefly.  There is free parking on Indian Mound Crescent which is an aptly named street as it wraps around the mound.  Ongwe-Oweh is the native word for Iroquois and a sign welcomes you to the park.

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Work on removing the mound was stopped immediately while an examination of the find was conducted.  Initially, there wasn’t any pottery or arrow heads uncovered and the early suspicion was that the mound contained victims of a cholera epidemic from 1870.   The purple flag in the tree in this picture has the same native symbols on it that are found below the peace pipe on the park sign in the previous photograph.

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Walter Kenyon was brought in from the Royal Ontario Museum who discovered that there was a second burial pit.  The site is an ossuary which is a place where the bones of people are placed after they have been removed from their initial burial plot and collected into a community of the dead.  The ossuary at Taber Hill was about 15 metres long, 2 metres wide and 0.3 metres deep.  The number of skeletons uncovered in the two pits was revised from 472 to 523.  A new burial chamber was dug five feet deep and the bones were reinterred. The 35-acre park is managed by the City of Toronto and is thought to be the only First Nations Ossuary to be protected as a cemetery in Canada.  In 1961 a stone memorial was placed on the top of the mound.  It can be seen clearly in the cover photo.

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Burials at this site were conducted around 1250 AD and it is thought the ossuary may be related to two longhouse sites in the area.  The Alexandra site near Passmore Forest may have contained up to 1000 residents.  When the archaeological dig was completed the bones were buried again in a ceremony known as the Feast of the Dead.  Natives held this ceremony at the mound every year until 1966.  A group of First Nations peoples were holding a memorial ceremony on the top of the mound today and so out of respect I did not climb to the top to see the two historical markers installed there.  On one side is a Scarborough historical marker describing Taber Hill. The other side of the marker has a plaque containing an Iroquois prayer.

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This post is presented with the greatest of respect for those whose remains lay buried under this mound.

Google Maps Link: Taber Hill Park

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Passmore Forest

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Passmore Forest is in the neighbourhood of L’Amoreaux in Scarborough.  It is named after Josue L’Amoreaux who lived between 1738 and 1834.  He was one of the first settlers in the area, arriving in 1808.  Josue was a loyalist, of French Huguenot beliefs, who fled to Canada after the American Revolution.  By the 1840’s there were two churches and in 1847 L’Amoreaux was given the designation of School Section #1 for Scarborough Township.  A post office was opened in 1854 but it wasn’t until 100 years later that the community was transformed into suburbia.  West Highland Creek is a tributary of Highland Creek which forms the eastern end of the Scarborough Bluffs.  The creek feeds L’Amoreaux Pond in a park known as L’Amoreaux North Park.

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Passmore Forest is named after Frederick Fortescue Passmore who was born in England in 1824 and emigrated to Canada in 1845.  He served his apprenticeship under Sandford Flemming and was the draftsman on the St. Catharines Town Hall (1849).  In the 1850’s he listed himself as an architect, surveyor, and civil engineer.  Passmore is known for his survey of Scarborough township in 1850 and again in 1862.  There were 15 saw mills operating in the area by the early 1860’s and the amount of forest cover had dropped by 40 percent between the two surveys.  The cover photo shows one of the large pine trees that stand in the woodlot.

Along the side of L’Amoreaux lake, the trail passes this large wasp nest.  Nests grow in proportion to the size of the colony.  Nests will only be used for one season as only the fertilised female will survive the winter.  She will start a new nest in the spring in which to lay her eggs.  When the sterile females are born they become workers who tend the nest and see to its expansion as the colony grows.  Later in the year, the queen will produce some male wasps to fertilize the new generation of queen wasps.  These females will then seek shelter to survive the winter and start the cycle over again.

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Near L’Amoreaux Pond there are two interpretive signs which tell a brief story about a native village that was found here in 2000.  When contractors were preparing to build a subdivision on the property near the pond they found native artefacts just below the top soil.  Experts were called in and before long a 2.6-hectare village belonging to the Huron-Wendat people was uncovered.  Eventually, 17 longhouses were uncovered as well as over 19,000 pieces of stone tools, copper beads, pottery and pipes.  Shells that likely originated on the east coast were found indicating that a vast trading network existed at the time. Estimates are that up to 1,000 people may have lived here for about 50 years.  No signs of fortification were found as there were no fence posts surrounding the village, one of about 25 villages on the north side of the Great Lakes that belonged to the Huron-Wendat.  The name of the village has been lost, but the dig site was named “Alexandra”.  This village was roughly the same size as the one uncovered at Crawford Lake.  There were no burials on the site and after the archaeological dig was completed the developers were allowed to go ahead and build single-family houses on the property.

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A small footbridge crosses the West Highland Creek above a concrete catch basin.  The basin was full of plastic water bottles and other assorted garbage.  The trail leads from the water up a slight incline to Passmore Forest.

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Thunderclouds contain small particles of ice that collide and cause an electrical charge to build up.  Trees and other objects on the ground can also build up an electrical charge and when the charge coming down from the clouds meets that of the tree an exchange of current takes place in what we call a lightning bolt.  This bolt of electricity is very hot, up to 54,000 degrees F.  This is about six times hotter than the surface of the sun and can burn the inside of a tree.  Many forest fires are started by lightning strikes.  The picture below shows the inside of a tree that has been struck by lightning.

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River grapes have taken over a large part of the forest.  Their vines can climb to the tops of some of the tallest trees, reaching up to 115 feet in length.  These longer vines tend to have reduced fruit production with the younger, lower, vines having more grapes.

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Another view across the pond in L’Amoreaux North Park.  The edge of the pond has a paved trail running around it with benches set at intervals for quiet enjoyment.  Ducks, geese and gulls were here on this day but herons are also common.

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Passmore Forest isn’t large, as forests go, but it is a significant percentage of the old growth forest in this area.  F. F. Passmore lives on in the name of this forest as well as Passmore Avenue which has been abandoned in several places.

Google Maps link: Passmore Forest

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The Longhouse People of Crawford Lake

Saturday Nov. 21, 2015

Crawford Lake is one of a handful of meromictic lakes in Ontario and this fact led to the discovery of a pre-contact native village.  It was snowing off and on as we parked in the Crawford Lake conservation area where having correct change would have saved me including a small donation in the envelope.

In the late 1960’s a University of Toronto professor became convinced that Lake Crawford had the characteristics to be a meromictic lake.  Most lakes have the water turn over at least once per year.  As the water cools it becomes denser causing it to sink.  The water at the top mixes with the water at the bottom providing a more even temperature and oxygenation.  In meromictic lakes the surface area is less than the depth and the water doesn’t mix.  In Lake Crawford there are three sections of lake and only the top 15 metres mixes annually.  The middle depth of the lake acts as a buffer while the bottom 9 metres or more never gets disturbed.  This part of the lake is always cold and has no oxygen.  Life doesn’t exist down here and the layers of sediments tell the history of things falling in the lake. Samples taken from the lake bottom revealed 1,000 years of history.  Sediment layers representing the period between 1300 and 1600  have high levels of corn pollen trapped in them in varying concentrations.  This led to the conclusion that an agricultural society had existed near the lake, closer to the shore when the concentrations were higher.  When settlers arrived, cut down the trees and created fields ragweed spread and the upper layers of sediment reflect this.  Lake Crawford is calm in the picture below.

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Local land owners confirmed that they had found artifacts on their properties and when Thomas Howard sold to the conservation authority in 1971 he donated an ungrooved ax or celt he had found here.  It is part of a 10,000 artifact collection that has been uncovered between 1973 and 1989.  The post holes for the frames of 11 longhouses have been discovered and three of these have been reconstructed. Two others have been partially formed including the frame outline seen below.  The positions of the fire pits have been exposed.

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Completed longhouses would have looked like the ones at Crawford Lake except that experts agree there were no ‘panic bars’ on the doors and no little electrical outlets on the outsides.

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It is unknown exactly which peoples lived here.  It may have been the Wendat (Huron) or Attawandaron (Neutral) but either way they were part of the Iroquoian speaking nations and are referred here as Iroquoian for simplicity.  Inside each of the longhouses an individual clan lived. Smaller longhouses may have had 30 people while larger ones up to 100 .  Individual families lived across from each other and shared a common fire.  The lower levels were used to sleep on because they were close to the fire and below the constant smoke.  Upper levels were used for storage with food being hung in the rafters where smoke kept both insect and rodent away.  It is common to find the carbonized remains of food around the fire pits or in the dump sites and these frequently include corn, beans and squash.  For some reason there was no squash found at the Crawford Lake village.

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The art of making stone tools is known as knapping.  It took a great deal of skill to master it but then a piece of chert could be turned into a razor sharp projectile in just 15 minutes.  Along with arrowheads, spear tips, knives and drills were knapped.  Among the findings at the site was a tip known as a turkey-tail arrowhead.  It is out of place by up to 3,000 years suggesting that the idea of collecting antiques may have extended to this culture as well.  The turkey-tail point is displayed along with other arrowheads and is on the tallest shaft in the middle of the picture below.

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Pottery was made by the women and the vessels could be as large as 15 litres.  Each family decorated their pottery in a unique manner that was passed on from mother to daughter. Specific markings on pottery have been used to trace the movements of families and clans over time.  The pottery fragments recovered in the village have been carefully put back together including the 47 pieces of this jug.

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This tract of land was eventually sold to the British Crown to be granted to European settlers and the natives who had lived here for centuries would never return.

Along the Crawford Lake Trail is a series of wood carvings known as the Hide and Seek Trail. Ontario has almost 200 species that are considered to be at risk, seven of which are represented with larger than life wood carvings.  The Eastern Wolf in the carving below is pictured howling, as they commonly do, to communicate within their packs and alert other packs to stay away. They are found in Ontario and Quebec but are now predominantly in Algonquin Park.  They are unable to survive in the small patches of forest left in the more urban parts of the province.

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In 1883 George Crawford bought the lake and 100 acres of land which he transferred it to his son Murray a couple years later.  They operated a saw mill on the south end of the lake to take advantage of the ample timber on the surrounding lands.  In 1898 the name of the lake was changed from Little Lake to Crawford Lake when they opened the Crawford Lake Company. When times were tough during the depression the Crawford family ran a resort on the lake. They also built themselves a cottage and boathouse.  In 1969 the lake and property was sold to the conservation authority and the cottage has since been destroyed.  All that remains is the concrete from the front porch and a set of steps leading down to where the boathouse once stood.

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This cedar tree stands along the side of the trail and is unique in that all three stems are twisted from top to bottom.

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Crawford Lake was formed at the end of the last ice age and has been collecting it’s local history lesson ever since.  Steam was rising off of Crawford Lake even as the snow was falling onto it.

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Crawford Lake Trail and the interpretive reconstruction of the Iroquoian village has been made wheelchair accessible so no one has to miss out.

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We only investigated the village and Crawford Lake Trail but the conservation area contains 7 hiking trails including part of the Bruce Trail.  It looks like you can spend a whole day here and still miss things.

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