Navigate / search

A Rich History of the Maple Harvest

Archaeologists can encounter a lot of problems when looking at the archeology of maple sugar. Since archaeologists study material remains from human activity, logically there needs to be material remaining to study. Unfortunately, the seasonal and temporary nature of sugaring activities leaves often leaves little for archaeologists to analyze.


That is why archaeologists can find themselves categorizing a site based on what isn’t there instead of what is. For example let’s look at a site that was excavated in the 1960’s in Glencarry County which was dubbed a pre-historic Iroquoian sugar bush site. This wasn’t done because there was a wealth of information pointing towards the camp being used as such, but because of the lack of post-European contact trade materials, or really any materials for that matter. The absence of artifacts led the archaeologists to think that it was used seasonally instead of continuously. Also, large deposits of ash were thought to indicate the extensive use of hearths in the area.


Both Indigenous traditional knowledge and historical accounts attest to the existence of maple sap harvesting in the past. As there is no certainty about when and where it started, it can be said to have been done since time immemorial. The sap would have been collected in birch bark containers and then been processed into syrup or sugar by constant heating to evaporate the water in sap. Kettles and other technologies were adopted once they became more accessible through trade with European settlers.


This cultural exchange allowed for new innovations in processing to be developed, and these can be more easily identified in the archaeological record. In Michigan and Wisconsin, archaeologists have excavated the remains of ‘boiling arches’ at some indigenous sites from the early 20th century. These are ‘u’ shaped structures of stones packed with earth, with one open end to allow a fire tender entry into the fire box. These “arches” were an efficient replacement for kettles, as they permitted a more even distribution of a greater amount of heat (that was also better controlled), and for more steam to be allowed to escape during the boiling process. Instead of using a series of small kettles, people processed maple in a large rectangular metal pan held over the arch. This technology left behind a lot of archaeological evidence. This includes the unnatural arrangement of soil and stone, called the “borrow pit,” where the builders took the dirt they used to reinforce the arch, charcoal and ash deposits found near the opening of the arch from intermittent cleaning of the fire box, and various other materials, such as smoke stacks and support rods for the boiling box.


The history of the maple harvest is almost as rich as the delicious snacks we get from it. While we know that Indigenous people have always been central to this story, it can be difficult for archaeologists to identify cultural activities surrounding harvesting maple. To learn more about what archaeologist can say about prehistoric sugaring activities, visit the Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s temporary exhibit, “A Sweet Excavation”.

To read more about it:
Henshaw, H. W. “Indian Origin of Maple Sugar.” American Anthropologist, vol. 3, no. 4, 1890, pp. 341–352. 

Kuhnlein, Harriet V, and Nancy J Turner. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. Gordon and Breach, 1991.

Matthew M. Thomas (2005) Historic American Indian Maple Sugar and Syrup Production: Boiling Arches in Michigan and Wisconsin, Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, 30:2, 299-326, DOI: 10.1179/mca.2005.010

Pendergast, J.F. “The Sugarbush Site: A Possible Iroquoian Maplesugar Camp” Ontario Archaeology, OA23, 1974, pp. 31-61.

The Story of Ste. Marie II- A Virtual Exhibit

Located along the southern shore of Christian Island, Ste. Marie II was the last Jesuit Mission to the Huron-Wendat Nation in what is now southern Ontario and was a central place in one of the most significant stories in early Canadian history. It is one of struggle, sacrifice and change, all of which left both the Wendat and Jesuits with unexpected consequences.

A google map image showing the site of Ste Marie II. Copyright 2018.

We begin in the early seventeenth century when the French and Wendat thrived alongside one another. By far the most comprehensive records of Wendat life are the annual accounts of the Jesuit priests who lived among the Wendat from 1634 until 1650. These regular reports by those Jesuits who lived among the Wendat are filled with descriptions of Wendat life and society. Jesuit missions in North America began early in the seventeenth century. Christian proselytization was an important component of the Christian church at this time around the world. All of these sources must be employed with caution, however, as they were written by outsiders with their own agendas. Read more

Performing Presence: Pauline Johnson and Her Predecessors

There’s a spirit on the river, there’s a ghost upon the shore,
And they sing of love and loving through the starlight evermore,
As they steal amid the silence,
And the shadows of the shore.
From “Dawendine”

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) was the best known female Canadian poet of her time. Born on the Six Nations Reserve in Brantford, Ontario, she learned Mohawk stories and traditions from her father, Chief George Johnson. Her mother, an English immigrant, taught her British literature. As an adult, Pauline Johnson drew on both sides of her heritage for her poetry, often writing on indigenous themes within the European poetic style. While many people enjoyed reading her work, Johnson became famous for her public appearances in which she performed in both a “Mohawk princess” costume and in a Victorian evening gown.

These costume changes have fascinated scholars for years. Some believe that Johnson acted as a “cultural mediator,” conveying indigenous culture and concerns such as land rights to her white audiences. Others criticise her praise of British colonial rule, or question whether she played into the common Euro-Canadian opinion that Native culture was on the path to extinction. Johnson’s “Mohawk princess” costume, they argue, was only meant to add exotic appeal.

Read more

What’s On: Maple Harvest Festival

This hafted stone axe head would have been used to chop, split, or shape wood. This object, along with many other Indigenous woodworking tools will be on display in the Permanent Gallery during the Maple Harvest festival

Here at MOA, we are taking the opportunity to highlight the life-ways and practices of the First People who were living here for millennia before “Canada” even existed. Many First Nations traditions and practices, such as maple harvesting, are still very much alive today and part of the traditions we consider to be quintessentially Canadian.

As part of growing up or living in Southern Ontario, most of us enjoy, or have enjoyed at some point in our lives, the opportunity to walk or even ride on a horse drawn-sleigh through a snowy woodlot in late winter, observing the spiles and buckets (or today, the acres of tubes!) hanging from trees, collecting maple sap.  An isolated cabin, wood smoke billowing from the chimney and smelling of sweet, caramelised syrup is the highlight of our tour (along with the pancakes!). Here sap is boiled in metal kettles or large, flat pans, reducing the liquid after many, many hours to the sweet, sticky, sugary treat that we all know and love. Read more

+Positive Voice: Anne’s Story

 

Interview with Anne from the +Positive Voice Program at Nokee Kwe

My name is Anne and I am a woman who was lucky and proud to have been a part of the +Positive Voice program. Over the seven weeks I spent with the program’s director Summer and the women, I can truly say was a positive experience.

I have seen many programs for aboriginal woman, but this is a program where I have seen aboriginal woman stand in front of me and praise one another. This is why I wanted to be a part of the second session of +Positive Voice.

On the first day of the program we were asked why we wanted to be in +Positive Voice and my answer was “I heard from the women of the first group it was good, and I want to find my independence and not just be a mom anymore. I want to find me”.

Summer explained everything to us, such as how the next seven weeks were to run and who our hopeful guests were to be. She was very coordinated, organized and excited about the second session and us. I can’t complain, I was pretty excited too. Read more

Message from the Director:

Welcome to a brand-new year at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology! I am honoured to start my first full year as the new Executive Director at MOA, and I am excited about what 2017 has in store for us. I follow in the footsteps of some incredible people who have had the honour of directing this unique facility, the last of whom – Joan Kanigan – left a strong foundation of policy development and infrastructure renewal that will allow us to begin the first stages of our merger with Sustainable Archaeology, the research and curation facility next door. The integration of SA will allow us to incorporate new and interactive technologies into our galleries and classroom, highlighting some of the innovative archaeological research being done at this state-of-the-art facility. Read more

New Norval Morrisseau Donation to MOA

2016.012.004
Shaman Motifs by Norval Morrisseau

By Christie Dreise

This past month, MOA was provided the opportunity to acquire a new artwork collection which includes two pieces by renowned artist Norval Morrisseau: Discipline and Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975).

Discipline, a colourful serigraph, depicts two larger than life faces in profile nose to nose, almost touching each other in an intense confrontation. Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975), an original acrylic painting, reveals a unique figure from the waist up filling the entire canvas. He is an intense, bright, and engaging presence. Read more

Updated and Improved Edukit

Image of New and Improved EduKits

MOA is pleased to announce the launch of six new and improved Edukits (for more detailed information on each portion of the Edukit, read our previous post). Teachers and other educators can now rent one or more of these kits designed to offer classroom activities and hands-on materials you can use when developing their Social Studies lesson plans. Each kit has been developed to meet the specific Ontario Curriculum points for grades 1 – 6. Read more

The Attawandaron Discoveries

by Marjorie Clark
(Part 3 of a 3 part series)


This article, part 3 of this history series, was previously published in the Puslinch Pioneer, 2015 and re-printed here with permission from the author, Marjorie Clark, and PuslinchToday


The Huron First Nation called their southern neighbours “Attawandaron”, meaning “People of a slightly different language.” The French labelled those same people “Neutrals,” as they remained neutral between the Huron and Iroquois.

The Attawandaron or Neutrals inhabited dozens of villages in Southwestern Ontario, stretching along the north shore of Lake Erie from the Niagara Peninsula to the Detroit River, perhaps as far north as Toronto in the east and Goderich in the west.

A semi-nomadic society, the Neutrals lived in villages, which would usually be abandoned after about twenty years. When the game, the soil and the wood in an area became depleted, the area would be left to regenerate and the village would relocate to a new spot. The largest Neutral village site in Wellington County and perhaps in Ontario, covering thirteen acres, was in the Badenoch section of Puslinch, on the east side of Morriston, lot 32, concession 8. The other one situated within the Badenoch area was on lot 28, rear of concession 8, the former McPhee farm.

In 1615-1623, some of Samuel de Champlain’s men travelled south from Midland to meet the Neutrals and in 1625-1626, Etienne Brulé spent the winter among them. A Récollet priest, Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon, described them in a letter dated July 18, 1627. At the time, there were approximately 40,000 Neutrals Read more