3 places where you can discover Toronto's Indigenous history
First Story Toronto runs guided walking tours across the city
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.
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.
"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.
The area is also rich in plants that Indigenous people would use for medicines, including goldenrod.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.