For over two decades, First Story Toronto tours have brought people closer to areas that are rich in our city's Indigenous history.

It started back in 1995 as a project within the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto called the "Toronto Native Community History Project."

Jon Johnson guides some of the tours. He did his PhD at York University focused on urban Indigenous land-based storytelling traditions in Toronto.

Jon Johnson

Jon Johnson guides walking tours for First Story Toronto. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Johnson is French Canadian and also has Mohawk and Kichesipirini ancestry.

He took our CBC Toronto camera on tour to three locations in Toronto and taught us about their Indigenous connections.

1. David A. Balfour Park in Deer Park

David A Balfour Park located in the midtown Toronto neighbourhood of Deer Park is land that Indigenous people set up as a hunting ground, according to Johnson.

David A. Balfour Park in Deer Park

David A. Balfour Park is located in Toronto's Deer Park neighbourhood, an area Indigenous people used as a hunting ground. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"The whole reason why this place was called Deer Park was because Indigenous people had established the area as this open Savannah-like environment where the deer would come to feed," said Johnson.

"The side effect of doing so is that these animals would be available to Indigenous people to hunt."

Johnson said Indigenous people used to refer to the area by the name "mishkodae," which means prairie.

David A. Balfour Park's Indigenous history2:03

The area is also rich in plants that Indigenous people would use for medicines, including goldenrod.

Goldenrod

Indigenous people would use a plant called goldenrod, which acts as a diuretic. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"If you make a tea out of the leaves in the flowers of this it would act as a diuretic," explained Johnson.

Stinging nettle is another plant that still grows in the park that is very rich in iron, according to Johnson.

Stinging nettle

Stinging nettle is very rich in iron and grows in the Deer Park neighbourhood. (Paul Borkwookd/CBC)

2. Spadina Avenue and Davenport Road

The Indigenous word "Gete-Onigaming," which means old portage trail, is included in the Davenport Road street sign at Spadina Road, explained Johnson. He said the area was at one point all water.

Davenport Road

The Indigenous word Gete-Onigaming, which means old portage trail, is included in the Davenport Road street sign at Spadina Road. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"It refers to the fact that this area of Davenport Road was once a trail that ran east and west all throughout the Toronto area," said Johnson.

"In fact, this trail went all the way across the north shore of Lake Ontario from Kingston to what is Hamilton and beyond."

The Spadina Road street sign also includes the word Ishpadinaa, which means "going up the hill," according to Johnson.

Ishpadinaa sign

The Spadina Road street sign at Davenport Road includes the word Ishpadinaa, which means “going up the hill.” (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The road ends at the bottom of the Baldwin Steps at Casa Loma. Johnson explained that at the top of the hill where the steps begin is the original shoreline of Lake Ontario 13,000 years ago.

History of Baldwin Steps near Casa Loma1:22

3. Humber River near Étienne Brûlé Park

Étienne Brûlé Park near the Humber River is a route the Anishinaabe people used to refer to as "Kabechenong," which means "leave the canoes and go back," according to Johnson.

"This route was a portage route that took you all the way from Lake Ontario up into the lower parts of Lake Simcoe and that route is really an important trade route pre-colonial," said Johnson.

Étienne Brûlé Park at Humber River

Étienne Brûlé Park at the Humber River is a route the Anishinaabe people used to refer to as “Kabechenong,” which means “leave the canoes and go back." (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

He said the area became important in Canada's early fur trading. The route was used by Indigenous trappers and later on by French and British trappers, according to Johnson.  

"If it wasn't for this route we would not be here today. The very first European settlements or buildings to be built in Toronto are actually French fur-trading forts and they're situated around this river," said Johnson.

The history of the Humber River2:30

Mobile APP for self-guided tours

First Story Toronto introduced a mobile app back in 2013 at the ImagineNative Film Festival. It can now help people go on their own self-guided tours.

"It's essentially a map all across the Greater Toronto Area. So every one of those points are a story, most of which are told by Indigenous peoples about the incredible history of this land," said Johnson.

Mobile APP

First Story Toronto introduced a mobile app back in 2013 at the ImagineNative Film Festival. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)