The History of Ste. Marie II
Currated by Nicole Aszalos, with Dr. Ron Williamson and Peter Carruthers.
The islands and coastline of Georgian Bay are among the most beautiful places in the Great Lakes. And throughout the past 12,000 years of human history stories of famine, war, and friendship unfolded.
The tragic tale of Ste. Marie II, details how a village with just one year of occupation illuminates the early history of Indigenous populations and their interactions with the French, English, and Dutch visitors to North America.
The Indigenous populations of this region, including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg, survived four long centuries of colonial domination and attempted assimilation.
This is the story of the last months of the Wendat and some of their Indigenous allies, along with the Jesuits, on Christian Island.
The legacy of Ste Marie II rests with the oral histories of the Wendat and both the documentary and archaeological records of the settlements on this beautiful landscape. To this day, archaeological research continues to play an important role in efforts by First Nations to assert their rights and interests for both ancestral and contemporary territories.
The Huron-Wendat in Wendake
The Huron-Wendat were the northernmost of Iroquoian peoples who, in the seventeenth century, inhabited the area between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay known historically as Wendake (Huronia)
Their confederacy consisted of four allied nations; the Attignawantan (Bear), Atingeennonniahak (Cord), Arendarhonon (Rock), and Tohontaenrat (Deer). Another population known as the Ataronchronon (Bog) were a division of the Attignawantan. Their name for themselves, Wendat, means “islanders” or “dwellers on a peninsula.”
The term “Iroquoian” refers to both a cultural pattern and a linguistic family; the latter of these includes the Northern Iroquoians of the Great Lakes Region as well as Cherokee, spoken in the southern Appalachians, and Tuscarora, spoken near the mid-Atlantic coast. The term Iroquoian, therefore, should not be confused with “Iroquois,” a word adopted by Europeans to refer to the Haudenosaunee or Five Nations Confederacy.
The essential elements of Wendat life, like other Northern Iroquoians, was an economy based on horticulture (maize, beans and squash – the three sisters) supplemented by wild plants, fish, and wild game. Communities settled in fortified villages containing bark-covered longhouses that were shared by extended families related on the woman’s side. Clan memberships were extended beyond the village to other communities. By integrating villages within tribes and confederacies, a set of shared governance structures, religious beliefs and ceremonial practices emerged.
“What makes Wendake so exceptional… in terms of agricultural production, is its close economic tie with its northern neighbours. The Wendat country was a meeting ground. Algonkian groups consisting of hundreds of people would even come south to winter over with the Wendats.”
Excerpt from Huron Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle George E. Sioui pg.92
From AD 1300 to 1600, many of the ancestral communities of the Wendat were situated not only in their historic territory but also along the rivers that drained into the north shore of Lake Ontario between the Credit River and Prince Edward County. By the 1620s, each constituent nation of the Wendat had a well-fortified village (Ossossane, Scanonaenrat, Teanaustaye and Contarea) which contained hundreds of warriors. They were prepared for raiders from the Haudenosaunee with whom they were traditionally at war. With the exception of the Tahontaenrat (Deer), the nations also had ancillary villages and nearby locales where Algonquian communities living to the north came to winter. According to seventeenth-century Jesuit accounts, the Wendat-Tionontaté population totalled 30- 35,000 before the initial epidemic of 1634.
The Huron-Wendat were the northernmost of Iroquoian peoples who, in the seventeenth century, inhabited the area between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay known historically as Wendake (Huronia).
There are no surviving portraits of Samuel de Champlain made during his lifetime. This lithograph is a counterfeit produced in circa 1854.
Credit : Library of Congress 2021670770
Scholars of this period are fortunate to have a rich seventeenth-century documentary record of the lives of Northern Iroquoians. The record for the Wendat is especially extensive. The works of Samuel de Champlain, an experienced soldier and explorer, record his observations of Wendat and Tionontaté life. During the winter of 1615-1616, Champlain lived among the Wendat and wrote about their clothing, settlements, military aspects, and hunting tactics as well as their economy.
Also detailed is the account of Gabriel Sagard, a Récollet friar who spent the winter of 1623–1624 with the Wendat. Bruce Trigger, Canada’s most renowned ethnohistorian and archaeologist, once noted that Sagard’s account was one of the world’s first substantial ethnographies. Sagard also compiled a phrasebook and comprehensive dictionary of the Wendat language.
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. The North American Jesuit mission effort was paralleled by missions in South America and Asia, their Relations always representing a kind of ethnographic record and history of those places.
“It is my belief that the science of history is now aware of the need to integrate perspectives… It was this vision that inspired a group of people, who seven centuries ago, created in central-southern Ontario an embryo of what is to becomes the society of modern North America… a mingling of cultures united by differences and the respective constraints… animated by the desire to enlarge the Circle of exchange and communication to all peoples.”
Exerpt of Huron- Wendat: Heritage of the Circle George E. Sioui pg. 88
All of these sources must be employed with caution, however, as they were written by outsiders with their own agendas. Trigger wrote a historical analysis of the lives of the Wendat in his two volumes entitled The Children of Aataentsic (1976), which combines history, ethnography, and archaeology to give Wendat peoples their own voices in their interactions with their neighbours and the European colonial enterprise. In 1999, Georges Sioui , a noted Wendat scholar, added a contemporary Wendat voice to the history of his people with his book entitled Huron-Wendat: Heritage of the Circle.