UR News

Champlain Canoeing Commemoration

Bruce McRae

By Bruce McRae

Submitted by Bruce McRae


September 1 marked the four hundredth anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in present day Orillia. Known as the father of New France, and arguably the father of Canada, Champlain was based out of the Wendat community of Cahiague ten kilometers north-west of present-day Orillia during most of his nine month stay in the Canadian interior during 1615-16. Champlain was in this region four hundred years ago to build relations with members of Wendat Confederacy among other First Peoples.

Early on the morning of Sunday August 28, 2015 a small flotilla of canoes commemorated Champlain’s arrival by passing from Portage Bay on Lake Couchiching through the original channel of the Narrows and returning to Tudhope Park via Lake Simcoe. There were a few opportunities for the canoes to raft together allowing these history enthusiasts to discuss events of the past and the existence of the fishing weirs as noted by Champlain in early September of 1615. The weirs were series of closely-spaced poles forming a fence-like structure in the water where Lake Simcoe drains into Lake Couchiching.

The highlight of the event for all was the presentation by the First Nation elder, fish fence guardian and renowned story teller, Mark Douglas. He spoke of the respectful stewardship of the fish stocks over hundreds of generations spanning thousands of years. Instead of the weirs being placed so close so as to catch fish of all sizes, small to medium size fish could swim through the weirs freely so as to allow species to propagate. He also explained the cultural significance of the weirs as a place of peace. Believing that that fish were sensitive to those harbouring ill-feelings, any malcontents were required to leave so as not to interfere with the fish harvesting.

Four centuries ago, Champlain set forth from the Narrows to support his allies in their ongoing war against their longstanding foes among the Iroquois Confederacy. It was from this place of peace, and with the intent of strengthening relations with Wendat and Algonquin allies, that ironically, the scale warfare would tragically escalate with fatal consequences for the Wendat and other Confederacies elsewhere.

This area abounds in history. Four centuries is almost as old as one region can have from the standpoint of European history of Canada. Four thousand years, which is the age of oldest remnants of the fishing weirs in Atherley, is extremely old for any manmade structure. An arrow head that exists at the Cultural Department of the Rama First Nation was found near the Narrows which was made from stone from the Kentucky Valley in nearly 5000 BC. Being at the intersection of north-south, and east-west waterways, this area had been a center of trade and travel for millennia. One very special item displayed by Mark Douglas was a replica of an ancient quartz knife. Amazingly the original, found on Beausoleil Island, was quarried from stone found in Labrador roughly seven and one half thousand years ago.

The canoeists finished their trek back to Tudhope Park by landing nearby on Lake Simcoe. Roughly twenty then joined together for breakfast and discussion of their broadened appreciation of local history.

Caption for Main Multimedia File
Photo by Robert Krosse
Group photo Left to right
Bruce McRae, Mark Douglas, Joe Fecht, Aubrey Ford, Bob Bowles, Alan Cooper, Anneke Sharpe, Ian McRae, Thomasin Cooper, Cheryl Behan, Erika Courvoisier, Pam Barber, Qennefer Browne, Warren Whitebread, Robert Browne, Eric Bennett, Dave Town

Caption for Secondary Media File
Mark Douglas presents to local history enthusiasts

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