The Toronto Carrying Place

A long time ago, when the world was just coming out of the Ice Age, people came to Toronto for the first time. They travelled as families, hunting caribou and mammoths. The land was young then, and very cold. The ground was always frozen, and there was nothing but pines and other evergreens. Where Lake Ontario is now there was another lake — Lake Iroquois, which was such a large lake that it reached as far north as where Casa Loma stands today, and as far south as the Hudson River, in New York.

With time, the land became warmer. The mammoths were gone, and the caribou went north. Deer and other animals came in their place. New trees came to join the old: oaks, maple and beech. Lake Iroquois met the St. Lawrence River, and became smaller, so small that it was smaller than Lake Ontario today.

The people here, ancestors of the Anishinaabe, Attawandaron, Haudenosaunee, Tionontati and Huron-Wendat, came together, trading, fishing, and making new things out of sea shells that came here through trade all the way from the Atlantic Ocean. It was around this time that I was born.

I am called the Toronto Carrying Place, and for hundreds of years, long before Toronto was a city, I brought people here to this land to meet, trade and travel.

I am a portage route — a trail used for canoeing. I connect Lake Ontario to the Upper Great Lakes in the north. I am part of a trade network that brought furs from the far north to the Atlantic Ocean in the east and to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

In the north, I start at The Narrows, a place that joins Lake Couchiching to Lake Simcoe. Here is where the Wendat set up fishing weirs, wooden stakes that are driven into the water to trap fish and make them easy to catch. The Mohawk tribe of the Haudenosaunee call this place tkaronto, or place where there are trees in the water. Through me, the French carried this name south to the Humber River, naming it the Toronto River, and from there it came to Lake Ontario, from where it eventually came to identify the land itself.

As I pass through Lake Simcoe south through the Holland River and Holland Marsh, I see villages built by the Wendat, where they farm beans, corn and squash outside their walls. These crops, which they and the Haudenosaunee call the Three Sisters, were very important to them, allowing them to survive during the winter. After leaving the Holland River, I split into two. To the west, I meet up with the Humber River, and to the east I meet the Rouge River. Continuing south I pass through the southern villages of the Wendat and Tionontati. Then, for a time, the lands are empty. On the Humber River, when I reach Baby Point, I arrive at the Haudenosaunee village of Teieiagon. The village sits upon a bend in the river, and I pass right by it. The people of the village fish for salmon from the river, just as they do today. At a later time, the Anishinaabe live across the river, living in their wigwams in villages that last only the spring and summer.

On the Rouge River, I arrive at the Haudenosaunee village of Ganatsekwyagon, where the river meets the lake. Here at the shore, the English, French and Dutch, people from another continent, come to me to trade with the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe, giving them tools, iron weapons and guns in exchange for the furs that they bring.

On the Humber River I arrive at my end where the river opens to Lake Ontario. The French built a fort, Fort Rouille (which they also called Fort Toronto), to control the trade of the furs that were brought through me. The Anishinaabe come often to the fort, and soon cannot live without the trade. Diseases like smallpox have killed many of them, and they rely on the Europeans for survival now.

The French leave the fort, defeated in a battle far away by the British at the end of the Seven Years War. Afterwards, traders still come here for furs, using me for travel. Many of them are French, coming from Montreal.

The British have their own trouble after, as an uprising led by Pontiac stirs in the area. The Mississauga Chief Wabbicommicot, who lives here, helps to make peace.

To the south, the American declare independence. Many who want to remain British come here, seeking a new home. Considering me important, they bought the land from the Anishinaabe for 10 shillings, and built the town of York on the harbour.

Not long after they create a new road, Yonge Street, to get from the lake to the north. It is here that my life comes to an end. In time York grew to become a city named Toronto, and around this new city other cities grow, until so many people live here that the area becomes known as the Greater Toronto Area. Though I am no longer important, even today you can find traces of me.