A Shared Legacy

Welcome to The Toronto Carrying Place: A Shared Legacy / Le Portage de Toronto: un héritage partagé - Bienvenue.
Please select your preferred language / Sélectionnez votre langue / Wenaandan waazhi bzinman giidoowin…

Welcome! Bienvenue! Anishnaabemowin

September 26, 2015

A Shared Legacy

Jumblies Theatre

Territorial Delicacy: an oral history of the Dish with One Spoon

Territorial Delicacy: an oral history of the Dish with One Spoon

By Ange Loft

As part of Talking Treaties, a collaboration between Jumblies Theatre and First Story Toronto.

For more information…
Go to The Jumblies Theatre Website.
Go to The First Story Toronto Website.

A Shared Legacy

Humber River Shakespeare

Le Truchement: Étienne Brûlé

Étienne Brûlé, first European interpreter and fur trader to live in the Great Lakes region, shares a story from an adventure he had travelling the Humber Portage on a mission for his former master, Samuel de Champlain, in the autumn of 1615.

Brûlé <<Kweh?>> Who goes there? Whence came you? <<Je spreekt Nederlands? Or English, perhaps?>> Maybe you understand what I speak? (laughs) Maybe you don’t—but you will have to learn. We learn fast here, how to understand one another—we are fast to speak, and even faster to die. I think that you understand the nature of my meaning, if not, perhaps, all my words. We understand each other quite well, I believe.

I have always made my way through life speaking—speaking to my masters, speaking to strangers, speaking to enemies—for a man with no reading, I know how to speak words very well. I love to speak. It’s a gift, one that has passed quite naturally to me. My brother, who unlike me was never as comfortable with words, he has often said that my first words were spoken before I had even learned to stand, and that I’ve been speaking without break ever since that time. (laughs) Since living here, I’ve learned to speak to many different peoples—to Huron, Odawa, to Seneca, to Dutch - I can speak to most anyone I come across. I can even speak to you. You must here, or else you will perish.

Indeed, throughout the years I have managed to talk my way out of many a dangerous situation. (Throws down pelt) You see this mark (indicates chin)? Yes, perhaps it looks quite small now—but it wasn’t always. When I first received this mark—it was several years ago now - there were many more like it - big welts - covering most of my chin. I only narrowly escaped with my life that day, saved only by my mastery of words. I was tortured, you see—my vicious captors pulling each hair from my chin one by one. It’s true, believe me—it’s all a rather long and complicated tale, one I’ve told several times already. Perhaps you would like to hear more? (Puts down pack) Gather near, then, and I will tell you how I came to wear these stories.

It happened many years ago, while I was on a mission for my former master—a man named Samuel de Champlain. You see, we French, being allied to the Hurons and Algonquins on this side of the lake, well, we were obliged to assist them in their ancient war against the Iroquois, a people whose nations reside to the south (indicates direction). It was Champlain who despatched me with an escort of 12 Huron warriors to make contact with another nation allied to the Huron—the Andastes, who live much further to the south - with specific directions to recruit 500 of their warriors to join us in battle against the Iroquois.

It was a deadly task, fraught with all kinds of dangers and risks, passing, as we must, through the country and territory of our enemy - the Seneca nation of the Iroquois. We ventured through woods, forests, dense and difficult thickets, marshy swamps, so many such frightful and unfrequented places and waste tracts of land, all to avoid the danger of a confrontation with our dreaded foes. Yet, try as we might, we were forced to engage a small number of our enemy along the way, my Huron companions managing to kill four of the Iroquois, while taking another two hostage to be delivered to our Andaste allies.

With our two captives in tow, we soon came to the Andaste village of Carantoüan, where we were met with great joy and exultation, our hosts having prepared many wonderful dances and feasts in honour of our arrival. We passed many days like this in celebration, while our Andaste hosts deliberated upon our request to send 500 warriors to the immediate assistance of my master, Champlain, and our Huron allies who were then preparing to do battle against the Onondaga. Eventually, it was resolved to send forth the 500 men, yet all for naught, as our war party arrived two days after Sieur de Champlain and the Huron had already made their retreat. Having missed the battle - and my master - I decided to return to the village of Carantoüan with my companions, where we would stay through the late fall and winter, awaiting an opportunity the next spring to travel north again to the country of the Huron.

Yet my time among the Andastes was anything but idle. It was during this period that I managed to partake in several new adventures, meeting and visiting with several different peoples and nations of that region, making my way south along a great river, passing several islands and coasts in my voyage to the sea. So many different peoples, with their own distinct words, some of which I knew, but many more which had been hitherto unknown to me. The winters to the south were so much more mild than those I had become accustomed to in this country, and the game seemed remarkably different as well. After a brief spell exploring these regions, I was back in the village of Carantoüan later that winter, where I began immediate preparations for my return voyage back towards the Huron country.

Leaving Carantoüan that spring, my companions and I had once more to pass through the enemy’s territory, where we found ourselves so fiercely under attack that we were all forced to scatter, becoming separated from one another in the process. In my desperate attempt to escape danger, I ran as hard and fast as I could possibly muster, putting as much distance between myself and the enemy’s shouts, but in running I soon found myself so lost in these woods, that I could no longer retrace my own steps, nor find a trail or any sign to indicate my way. I was utterly lost, and now found myself alone in the enemy’s territory to fend for myself.

Lacking all basic necessities, I wandered in this sorry state for several days on end, through never-ending woods and forests, nearly succumbing to the pressures of perpetual hunger on several different occasions. At last, I came upon a small path, and it was at this point that I determined to follow it, were it to lead towards the enemy or not, preferring to place myself in their hands, rather than to die alone so miserably. Moreover, having some knowledge of the enemy’s language, I felt confident in my ability to speak with them and explain to them how I had arrived at this wretched state.

Encountering three members of this said nation, I called out to them after their own fashion, reassuring them and convincing them to throw down their bows, in token of peace. They took me to their village, where a great throng of people came to see me, many having never laid eyes before on a French “iron man.” The principal chief of this village questioned me in his lodge as to my origins, and the reasons for my having become lost so close to their village. I tried to explain myself, insisting that I had come to make friends with the Seneca, but they refused to believe my story, insisting that I had come to make war on their nation. They rushed upon me, tearing out my nails with their teeth, plucking out my beard hairs one by one—hence, these scars—even burning my flesh with red-hot firebrands. Upon discovering the Agnus Dei about my neck, one tried to seize and tear it off, to which I spoke “If you take it and put me to death, you shall see immediately afterwards you and all your house will die,” at which time the sky, which had been clear, suddenly became overcast with threatening clouds, followed by thunder and lightning so violent and continuous that all were forced to flee for their lives. Using the gentlest of words to call to them, I reassured them, making them understand how angry God was for the harm which they were doing to me without reason. You begin to see how powerful a few persuasive words can be—stronger, perhaps, then force of arms.

It was at this time that their principal chief stepped forward, untying me and delivering me to his lodge to clean and doctor my wounds. Having remained under his care for several days, I regained my strength, and was soon able to participate in the several feasts and dances held in my honour. Taking my leave of them, I made several promises to make the Seneca friends with the French, providing assurances that I would return to them as soon as I could. A small party of Seneca then led me to the southern point of this portage (refers to the eastern ridge), where I was able to retrace my route back to the Huron country. That is where I was headed just now, in fact, when I happened to come upon all of you.

Well, you’ll forgive me, but I must be off, if I’m to arrive back at the village of Toanche before the weather turns any further. It was nice to speak with you—it feels like so long since I’ve had the opportunity to speak my language, and now that I am no longer able to return to my own country, I must seize each moment that I have to speak. In particular, I miss speaking with my brother, who I know I will never see again. I have lived here, now, many years among these people—I know that it is my fate to die here—yet, in my heart I remain French. It is who I am. Well, safe travels to you.

Le Truchement: Étienne Brûlé

By Hugh Barnett, with translation by Lisette Mallet

Humber River Shakespeare, is now in its eighth season of producing professional and accessible theatre in parks and heritage buildings along the Humber Watershed and beyond: from summer Shakespeare, to new Canadian works, educational programming, and animating local heritage.

To read more about Étienne Brûlé:…

For more information about Humber River Shakespeare…
Go to Humber River Shakespeare.

A Shared Legacy

Humber River Shakespeare

Building the foundations for a modern city: The King’s Mill on the Humber, 1793

In 1793, Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe commissioned a new mill to be built on the west bank of the Humber River – Toronto’s first industrial site, The King’s Mill. The mill was initially operated by John Willson, a reluctant millwright with a large debt to the Crown. His story is told here by Peter Whitney, a friend of Willson’s who worked alongside him and his son, John Willson, Jr., on the Humber River.

Peter Whitney Hello there! You must be looking for the miller, John Willson. Well, I’m afraid you won’t be finding him today; he’s off to deliver lumber for the building of the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence at Castle Frank, over along the River Don. No, I wouldn’t expect that he’ll be back anytime soon…

You’ll have to forgive the intrusion, I was just over along the east bank of the river here, clearing some of the land with Willson Jr. My name is Peter Whitney, originally of Miramichi. I come over to Upper Canada here back in the autumn of 1793, in the company of Willson and his son, John Jr. It was about sixty of us in all who left Nova Scotia for Upper Canada that year—too little good land for farming, and what little good land there was had already been spoken for—couple that with the fact that the “late loyalists” come up to Miramichi were already close to overfishin’ the river, a man might fare better moving himself elsewhere rather than starving through another winter. It was Squire Willson—for that’s what we call old John Sr.—who first came up with the idea to strike out west—he said that there was plenty of good land for the taking in Upper Canada, that the Crown was just giving it away—and so in May of 1793 we all left Miramichi and made our way west up the St. Lawrence River.

The journey itself, mind you, was quite hard on all of us. By the time we reached Fort William Henry over in Kingston there, we were severely hard done by—many of us in need of medical attention, which was kindly provided by the good doctors there at the Fort. A Captain at the Fort there, a man by the name of Porter, provided our haggard fleet with some much needed rations, God bless him, and from Kingston we were afforded ship’s passage all the way on toward Newark, just below the falls over here. After we arrived at Fort George, his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor John Simcoe provided us with enough rations to see us through the upcoming winter, but as all things in life go, someone had to make good for all those rations we received. And who do you think it was got buried with the bond for all those provisions? (Laughs) Why, poor old Squire Willson, of course, and that’s why he’s the unlucky fellow got landed running this godforsaken mill—the King’s Mill, if you will.

Now, keepin’ all this between us here, old Squire’s been just miserable these past couple years, running this mill. The deal is, Squire Willson has to stay on the King’s Mill here to repay the bond for all those rations our Miramichi fleet took upon our arrival here. To the best of my knowledge, that’s been kept largely off the books—an arrangement just between his Excellency, Lord Simcoe, and old Squire. (Laughs) Now, Squire, well, he never run a sawmill in his entire life ‘fore he landed here. Back in Miramichi, he worked as a magistrate, a very able Justice of the Peace for all of Northumberland County. ‘Fore that, back in New Jersey during the Revolution, I think he worked as a Forage Master for the King’s Army—rounding up the feed and provisions for all his Majesty’s horses and cattle. And I suppose he did a little farming back east, but as far as lumber goes—well, he ain’t no blessed millwright, that’s for certain. A good double cross-cut saw mill like the King’s Mill here, should be puttin’ out—maybe, three, four thousand feet of board per diem. Old Squire, now, he barely gets that done over the course of a week! At the rate he’s goin’, they’re never gettin’ this blasted York settlement built—lucky to put up one outhouse for that new parliament his Excellency’s all excited for.

Mind you, in all fairness to Squire Willson, the lease of the King’s Mill is no peach of a deal—that’s why Simcoe had so much trouble gettin’ a millwright to run it in the first place. Three quarters of all harvested lumber goes directly to the Crown, leaving only one quarter of the lumber for the use of the millwright—and he gets buried with the cost of repairing and maintaining the mill on top! Now tell me, how’s a man expected to make a go of it when he doesn’t even get to control the fruits of his own labour? Old Squire would just as soon buy the whole blasted thing—if the Crown would only sell it to him. As it is, the King’s Mill remains the sole property of the Crown, and the Executive Council of Upper Canada’s the one in control of the lease agreement.

Now, with the mill’s lease set to expire at the end of 1798, I would imagine that old Squire will leave the King’s Mill for good—who’ll run it after that, hard to say. I know that there’s talk of settin’ up a grist mill for corn flour, somewhere over along the east bank of the river over there. According to Squire Willson, another Loyalist by the name of John Lawrence has been granted three lots for the construction of a grist mill. From what Squire says, Lawrence is an old friend of Simcoe’s - the two of them shared a rebel jail cell together back in New Jersey during the war. We’ll see how this Lawrence fares—so far, I’ve seen no one over there clearing the ground for a dwelling, let alone a grist mill. It’s good land here for a man who’s willing to put in the work to improve upon the lands. When the time comes, and Willson decides that he’s had enough of it—well, who knows what will come of it. After only three years, it’s hard to say if this town will ever be anything beyond a soldier’s garrison. (Laughs) The gaol they built, using the lumber from the mill here, I think there’s room enough in it to crowd in the whole of the York settlement two, maybe three times over!

Well, I should be gettin’ back to it - Willson Jr.’s most likely beginning to think that I abandoned him to do all the heavy clearing! Most of our companions from the Miramichi Fleet scattered after we arrived—most never tried to make good with Willson for the debt they took on for the Crown’s rations. I just come up to do some of the clearing with Jr., figured that was the least I could do to help out old Squire. At the end of the day, all a man really has is his name, so I intend to make good on my debt to Squire Willson. As far as a future for the Whitney family here along the Humber River, who knows what time might bring? My wife, Maggie, she’s back in Newark right now with child—our second. If the opportunity presented itself, there’s good land over along that east ridge for corn, I might even be able to talk my wife’s father into investing in some land here—maybe even put up a grist mill of our own. In the meantime, however, we’ll carry on, that’s about all we can do for the moment. Well, I’ll be off then. Enjoy your afternoon.

Building the foundations for a modern city: The King’s Mill on the Humber, 1793

By Sara Moyle and Hugh Barnett

Humber River Shakespeare, is now in its eighth season of producing professional and accessible theatre in parks and heritage buildings along the Humber Watershed and beyond: from summer Shakespeare, to new Canadian works, educational programming, and animating local heritage.

For more information…
Go to Humber River Shakespeare.

​Click to see Peter Whitney and Joseph Haines’ original Humber deed, 1799.

A Shared Legacy

Ars Musica

The Kabechenong Suite

“The Kabechenong Suite” is written in a ragtime to jazz style representing the early part of the 20th century to the present day. The music seeks to represent three time periods: The Roaring Twenties, the 1950’s and Hurricane Hazel, and also the new century. Overall the suite is a “tone parallel” of how the characteristics of communities transcend different eras.

Composed By Mboya Nicholson

Founded in 1994 by soprano Cherry Ann Mendez and her son, conductor Colin Mendez Morris, Arsmusica Concerts perform 4 to 10 performances per year. The performances feature complete staged operas, as well as opera scenes and recitals performed with professional singers, chamber orchestra, and Children’s Chorus. Our singers are younger “up and coming” Canadian professionals who wish to perform with a professional chamber orchestra.

For more information…
Go to Ars Musica Website.
Click to view Mboya’s Composition Journal for the Kabechenong Suite on YouTube.

A Shared Legacy

About This Event

The Toronto Carrying Place: A Shared Legacy is the joint effort of several local heritage organizations located along the Humber River, a federally designated Canadian National Heritage River.

With increased attention focused on the Humber River during the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, due in large part to the location of the Pan Am Path adjacent to the river, these organizations viewed 2015 as an excellent opportunity to come together to reflect on the Humber River’s instrumental role in the region’s history, and to reconsider some of the common narratives and images surrounding first contact between the original Anishinaabe and Iroquoian-speaking inhabitants of the watershed with early waves of European explorers and traders. Their stories, beyond the impact they have had upon the Humber River itself, have shaped to a great extent the character of the city we live in today.

Funding Partners

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our funding partners:


Presenting Partners

Contact: info@sharedlegacy.ca

Web application created by Sean Doyle.