Thursday, June 17, 2021

Followers and Fur Traders

You'll note I have given up on the term 'explorers' in my title, for as I've done more reading I have come to the impression that most 'explorers' did only a little more than follow their native guides.  Native peoples they met directed them, drew maps for them, guided them, and often even provided the paddling crew.  They taught them to make and repair birch-bark canoes, paddles and snowshoes; they taught them how to survive in the wilderness.

We tend to glorify fur traders too, forgetting that it was the native peoples who actually did all the trapping and provided all the furs.  The fur traders only gathered these in, trading metal trinkets for them before they got sold in Europe for enormous profits.

The third dimension to be considered in the first two centuries of contact is the role of natives as warriors.  First the French and then the British negotiated with Indigenous tribes as their allies, and fought together in times of war.  One of the very first examples was Champlain accompanying a group of natives from what is now the Montreal area south into Iroquois country on the American side of the border.  In a very short battle Champlain fired his gun killing two Chiefs, and the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) fled.  Natives played a key role as warriors and allies right up until after the War of 1812.

Of course the first 'explorers' planted their flag and claimed the land in the name of their king, secure in the 'Doctrine of Discovery' (supported even by the Pope of the times)  which claimed that European countries could claim whichever parts of the 'undeveloped' world they found, completely ignoring the fact that their were people already living there!  

Never-the-less, particularly in support of trade, the French and later British negotiated 'peace and friendship' treaties with the Indigenous tribes, which set the background for working together.  We tend to forget that native groups had negotiated their own peace and friendship treaties between tribes for centuries, and were thus able to trade back and forth across very long distances.  In some parts of Canada such as between coastal and interior British Columbia, inter-tribal trade was very important.

It came naturally then for native groups to meet the French and British on the same terms, and mostly peaceful co-existence followed.  However a conflict in understanding what a treaty actually meant between natives and the Crown became a major source of tension by the mid-1800s, 200 years after first contact.  Natives saw treaties as meaning they would share the land and resources.  The white government saw treaties as real estate deals which meant the government had purchased the land.


Cartier in 1534 explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in 1535 returned to visit both Stadacona and Hochelaga, native villages where Quebec City and Montreal now stand.  Champlain followed from 1603 to 1615, making more than one trip and gaining the friendship of  the Wendat (known to the French as the Hurons).  This enabled the formation of the Jesuit Mission at Ste. Marie among the Hurons a few years later.

Exploration continued through the Great Lakes and further west with example after example of natives leading the way, and often being responsible for the very survival of the white 'explorers' who followed them.  Samuel Hearne provides a great example.  He made three trips trying to access the Arctic coast, the first two aborted due to starvation.  For the third trip he finally abandoned taking his white support crew entirely and travelled by himself with a native band led by Matonabbee.  This trip was successful.

The infamous Franklin expedition to the Arctic is the best (or does this mean worst) example of ignoring native advice and assistance.  It is said that Franklin and his men could have all survived had they sought native assistance and followed their advice - but he was secure in the superior knowledge of the Royal Navy!  The pattern of natives advising these followers continued all the way to the west coast when Simon Fraser reached the Pacific at Vancouver in 1808.

The Fur Trade

The relationships these 'explorers' forged with native groups across the country became the backbone of the fur trade. as voyageurs travelled west in their huge canoes, trading for furs as they went.  Furs were generally brought back to Montreal for export and later to the British forts on Hudson Bay.  The fur trade was a central foundation for the French and British interest in what was first New France, and later British North America.

Many historians have suggested that the fur trade largely built Canada.

One negative and often over-looked aspect of the fur trade was that it fostered a rapid shift from a communal to a capitalist economy for native communities.  It quickly became more profitable for native men to spend their time trapping and taking those furs to the fur traders than to do the subsistence hunting and fishing the village required.  The result was an enormous disruption to the native way of life.

Natives as Warriors

I've mentioned the role of natives as warriors as early as Champlain, and this continued for two centuries.  This role has been most well-documented in the War of 1812; some would say they were the backbone of the British effort in that war.  

The 'Landscape of Nations Memorial at Queenston Heights is a very belated recognition of that role.  Native groups in the Great Lakes region were already worried about American expansion, with a doctrine of expansionism on that side of the border.  Tecumseh emerged as the great native leader of the war on the British side, and the native troops he led were the driving force in the battles of Detroit, of Queenston Heights, and of Beaver Dams.  The British might well have lost the war without their native allies.

For the first two hundred years after contact relations between white and native had remained relatively friendly and balanced, though it would be stretching it to say it was of benefit to both sides.  At least there had been little direct conflict, no massacres and no 'Indian removal policy' as in the U.S. 

But after the War of 1812 the need for native assistance in fighting wars began to subside and the demand for settlement land rapidly overwhelmed first southern Ontario and then the west.  It rapidly became more desirable for the government to agree to treaties over (purchase) native lands and open them up to settlement.  As the need for further exploration ended and the fur trade died out, the decline of Indigenous people had begun.

Tomorrow our own personal memories.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Teepees and Totems

June is National Indigenous History Month here in Canada, and since this topic intrigues me, I'm going to try a series of posts leading up to National Indigenous Peoples Day on the spring equinox, June 21st.  

First, I should point out up front that I have no known family indigenous history, and no right whatsoever to speak on behalf of any indigenous people.  Still, we who represent 'white Canada' have to start someplace, and the first step for me is understanding.  I have read numerous indigenous leaders saying the same thing.  Corrections and advice is welcomed.

In pursuing my interest in Indigenous people, I have benefitted greatly from a book by A. J. Ray, entitled 'I have Lived Here Since The World Began'.  Most books like this have chapters on each major native group across Canada.  Typical is the book by McMillan and Yellowhorn entitled 'First Peoples in Canada', widely used in university courses.    Anthropoloical research on aboriginal language groups is an important foundation, as is archeological research.  

Ray takes a refreshingly different approach, discussing the history chronologically, starting with life before white interlopers arrived all the way up to the political organizing of the past few decades.  They are both heavy duty textbooks, so I certainly would not recommend them as light reading!  But my academic mind is enjoying them as long as I take them slowly.

Here's a map illustrating the Aboriginal peoples in Canada.  As you can see, the individual tribe names on the map suggest a much more complex number of bands at the local level than the colours on the map do.

Based on this map (and there are numerous others like it), there are about six major indigenous groups in Canada.  They're largely based on language and are mostly the work of anthropologists.  They can of course be subdivided further, particularly on the west coast.

Ray starts his book with a complex map based on the primary different food sources across the country, from salmon on the west coast through bison on the prairies and deer or growing corn in southern Ontario to marine mammals and fish in the Arctic.  Then he adds the broad transition zones such as the shift from bison to woodland bison to moose to caribou as you move north from the prairies to the Arctic.  Primary foods are supplemented in some regions, such as by fishing and hunting maritime mammals in the Maritimes, and by hunting waterfowl in the vast wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.

Reading this I quickly realized how closely the indigenous peoples are adapted to their local environment and how diverse the cultures are across Canada.  The Haida and other northwest coast tribes fished for migrating salmon, they made plank cedar houses out of the giant cedar trees, and because their food supply was so reliable and cedar is such an easy wood to carve, they carved monumental total poles.  It all makes sense.

Prairie tribes hunted for bison, made teepees out of bison hides and moved regularly to follow those bison.  When the American bison slaughter ended, their way of life was doomed.  Iroquois in southern Ontario could clear the trees on the lighter sandy soils and grow corn, squash and beans (the 'three sisters'), while hunting deer in the woodlands.  They built longhouses covered in elm bark from the giant elm trees, and lived in palisaded villages.  When settlers moved in after the War of 1812, their way of life was also doomed.

The hunters of the vast boreal forests from Newfoundland to the Yukon followed the moose and fished at the river mouths. They tended to follow a seasonal migration pattern, usually returning to the same areas such as a particular river mouth for different reasons over the year.  You can easily understand how being forced to live on reserves disrupted their way of life.  In the Arctic the Inuit lived in snow houses ('igloos') on the ice and hunted for seals at breathing holes.

What all this amounts to in my mind is a range of very diverse and vibrant cultures among Indigenous peoples from coast to coast.  Even though there was suffering and starvation some years, the image I have is, on balance, a positive one.  And this brings me finally to my title, 'Teepees and Totems', symbolic of this way of life before we all arrived and started making a mess of it!

The teepee was eminently adapted to a prairie way of life where bison were plentiful.  This is a replica you can buy today.

The famous group of totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, all from west coast indigenous carvers, though 2 or 3 are now replicas with originals in museums.  The iconic 'Thunderbird House Pole' on the right was carved by  Tony Hunt, and has been a big influence on west coast native carvers since.  The original was carved by a Kwakwakka'wakw' artist in the early 1900s, and was an actual house pole from Vancouver Island. On the far left is a gateway carved by Susan Point of the Coast Salish people, the group that originally lived in the Vancouver area.  This site is now said to be the most visited tourist spot in Vancouver.  The poles of course have been repainted since the originals were installed some 75 years ago.

The positive image I have started to erode quite quickly when contact with Europeans started, especially because of smallpox which decimated native populations, particularly on the west coast.  But this was not the political destruction of the Indian Act, residential schools and other destructive policies of the 20th century.  We will get to those later.

Tomorrow, 'Explorers and Fur Traders'.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A New Plant and a Changing Plant

We have both been pleased to see another new plant coming up in the garden.  It's one Mrs. f. G. ordered and planted, then forgot, so she had to go away and look it up.  Turns out it's an unusual type of 'allium, what I'd call an 'umbrella' Allium.  The other is a new Peony that appeared to change colour over a few days, surprising me at least.

This is the magical Peony bloom changing colour, from definitely pink to almost white.  The pictures were taken on June 7th, 8th and 9th.  At first I thought it was just fading, but by the third day I was convinced that a little gremlin had cast a spell over it.  What di your eyes see?  the least I'd say is that it is extreme fading!

And this is the new Allium, a fairly tall plant where the blooms hang down in an umbrella shape,

It's got very gentle green to purple to white colours.  By comparing pictures I think it's a Mediterranean Sicilian Honey Lily.  The Latin name is too long and difficult to even spell, much less pronounce.

These three pictures were taken by Mrs. F.G.; I could not get close to it.  I have no idea how she got the last picture without lying on the ground!  Off to physio soon, have a great day.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Back to the Garden

Two of my favourite plants are now in bloom.  I just love the colour of the yellow Iris, but the bush Clematis is simply spectacular, and it sits in a pot up on the deck where I can get close to take great close-ups.  Almost all its 20+ blooms opened up overnight and I love it.

Again Blogger completely re-arranged the order of photos, so I've taken a while to sort them out.

Even though I know the Yellow Iris can be invasive in the wild, I still love the bright yellow colour, against a mostly dark green garden of Hostas when it blooms here.

Thus is a very unusual Clematis, because it doesn't form a vine at all, as most do.  It's a 'bush' clematis, but it looks great in this pot, and has had more blooms each year.

I love that it now sits on a small table on the deck right where I have my morning coffee, so I can get a really close look.

Meanwhile our luxuriant white Columbine is rapidly forming seed pods.  This is one I can see closely too, and it's been very interesting to follow it through its blooming and seed-forming life.  Last year I dismantled one of those tiny seed pods, so I could quickly see how one flower could distribute 100+ seeds and one plant can disperse thousands.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A Wheelchair Highway!

 I headed back the other direction, intending to end up at the library where I had a book waiting.  When I got to the corner I thought I'd check out the new accessible sidewalk they had added to the new bridge.  Guess what - it's practically a wheelchair highway!

I passed a couple of kayakers as I neared the bridge, nice day for it.

And here is the wheelchair highway!  Wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass, with a large solid cement curb between the sidewalk and the cars.  A railing on both sides that is strong enough to stop a charging elephant!  It was great.  I just road across and returned, but if the route on the far side takes me down to the harbour wall safely that will double the area of harbour I can explore.  I can't wait.

I did stop at the library, currently closed except for drop off and pick up.  You ring the bell and in my case they wave and bring out the book, since they know me.  They remove the books I'm returning from the bag on the back of my chair and put in the new one.  I'm on my way home.  I think I like the librarians!

A horrible thick patch of Garlic Mustard beside the LCBO, ready to release a billion seeds.  I wonder how it will spread next year.

Not quite as many maple keys on the sidewalk, but a lot!

A nice patch of Poppies.

And a Black Elderberry, certainly an unusual shrub used for landscaping.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Ride to the Harbour

 I finally got down to explore the outer harbour today, riding all the way (2 blocks) to the tiny Fred Raper Park where they removed the playground equipment and are just leaving it natural.  I got to the end though and found a wheelchair mat out onto the sand!  Full credits to them!

When I first got down to the harbour I found these three boats moored at the dock,  You can hardly see the three couples visiting, or the third boat, but when I returned later the closest boat was gone.

Both the W.H. Wheeler and the R.A. Hoey are still docked here.  At least the Hoey is for sale if you'd like to splash out on it. 

When I got past the inner harbour I got my first view of the open bay, beyond the breakwall out there.

They've tidied this garden, which was buried in those white rocks they've used for filling in washed out spots last time I saw it.

But they haven't tackled the smaller gravel spread across the former green grass in the foreground.

I do think they've added several memorial benches though; it's a bench-rich spot now.

All the picnic benches further on were in use which I was pleased to see.  Lots of people out today.

And this is the blue wheelchair mat at the farthest end of the walkway, a great gesture.  Someone is starting to really think about accessibility.  I did not try it; I'm not the least bit sure it would suit my 300 lb. wheelchair!  Better safe than sorry.

Friday, June 11, 2021

More from Around the Neighbourhood

A few more pictures from around the streets I ride, primarily Noble and Nelson West unless I head downtown.  I'll try to be a bit more organized with these and tell you where they are, without disclosing my actual location.

This beautiful garden is at the end of my ride down Noble Street and it has a succession of blooms over the season.  A patch of almost-black Tulips has been replaced by this patch of rich blue Iris.  I prefer these simple single-coloured Iris to the showy multi-coloured blooms.

Heading down Nelson West on another day I pass this lovely well-maintained property and this scene caused me to stop.  The rich red of the poppies with that interesting sculpture just attracted my eye.

They also had a few Lupines, this one looking rather distorted.

There are lots of Columbines in bloom these days, but I haven't seen a colour combination like this before.

And I always like the mats of tiny Pinks.

This fellow got to mowing his lawn a little too late and then decided to just leave the hay crop.  It's really obvious as you drive along Noble Street.

Back near home I noticed this unusual weed down in the ditch.  I think it's Comfrey, but it's one I don't remember seeing back in the years when I could explore the ditch to examine it closely.

The second flush of Dandelion blooms is over and we're left with this - about a billion seeds for next year's display.

Watching the radar here and waiting for rain, which would be very welcome!  Otherwise it will be more watering for Mrs. F.G.  And today is the first day that patios can open!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Around the Neighbourhood

 I've been falling behind in sharing pictures from my almost daily rides these days.  Trees, flowers and shrubs all bloom and go, so I can easily get out of sync.  Here are a few from recently.  There will be more.

A pair of Mourning Doves perched above my head.

The Horse Chestnut blooms have come and gone.

This is Dame's Rocket, widely mislabeled as Phlox, but here there are 4 petals, Phlox has five.

The Spirea have been in full bloom.

As have the Peonies.

This is a variegated Willow, though here it looks just white.  It's grown well this spring!

I can't figure out if these are artificial, a bouquet, or real plants.  I favour the first.

A Daisy Fleabane with its very fine petals.

And finally, a very nice bright patch of Buttercups.  As you can see we're moving into the summer flowers here.