Northern summer : old memories and new directions in the Ontario past

Jun 12th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Lower Buckhorn Lake in the Kawarthas, August 2010

My peripatetic summer journeys from the big smoke to the surrounding countryside are beginning early this year — in what is technically only the very late spring.

I will be starting with a return to summer holiday scenes of my childhood, updated for the all too advanced age I and my siblings have subsequently achieved.

If you want the more exact Southern Ontario geography, Wikipedia explains: “‘Kawartha’ is an anglicization of the word ‘Ka-wa-tha’ from ‘Ka-wa-tae-gum-maug’ or Gaa-waategamaag, a word coined in 1895 by aboriginal Martha Whetung of the Curve Lake First Nations. It was hoped that the word, which meant ‘land of reflections’ in the Anishinaabe language, would provide a convenient and popular advertising label for the area, much as ‘Muskoka’ had come to describe the area and lakes north of Gravenhurst. The word was subsequently changed by tourism promoters to Kawartha, with the meaning ‘bright waters and happy lands.’”

According to T.O. Sports magazine: “With just over 130 lakes in the area, the Kawarthas are a fisherman’s paradise and only 90 minutes away from the GTA.” (Well you certainly would have to drive well over the speed limit to make it to Lower Buckhorn Lake quite that quickly, certainly from downtown Toronto! But most of the Kawarthas are closer to the GTA than Muskoka — and can boast better fishing too.)

It is striking how your memories of the first 15 years of your life linger so much more vividly than any later period of similar length. But of course nothing stays the same. We used to buy local bread and milk and soda pop at the cottage, but I don’t think any of the brands have survived. If I get really bold I might ask someone who looks even older than I do: “Is there any place I can still get bread from Trent Valley Bakery?”

My week will end in a somewhat different region — that I remember from summer holidays when I was very, very young, and then from what seems to be a continuing stream of intermittent seasonal visits for various purposes, from then until now. I’m talking about the country between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, officially known as Simcoe County, but still often popularly called by the more historic name of “Huronia.”

C.W. Jefferys’ concept of “Re-enactment of Past Experience” for the arrival of French adventurer Étienne Brûlé in Huronia, early 17th century.

The dark sunset of the remarkable Huron Confederacy (and its eventual vaguely related French Catholic clergy), in the first half of the 17th century, marks the first episode in the modern “written” history of Canada’s current most populous province of Ontario. And the most distinguished contribution to Ontario’s ongoing written history over the past half century has almost certainly been Bruce Trigger’s masterwork of 1976, The Children of Aataentsic : A History of the Huron People to 1660. (For a shorter excursion over essentially the same ground, try the same author’s The Huron : Farmers of the North, from 1969.)

In fact, starting modern Ontario history with the wrenching saga of the Huron in the first half of the 17th century helps explain how we have come to the increasingly mysterious new place we inhabit in the early 21st century. And it does the job better than earlier Anglo imperial traditions of starting the story with the arrival of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe west of the Ottawa River, in the spring of 1792. There is now an increasingly rich and diverse literature for piecing together this kind of deeper longue durée truth about the modern Ontario past. Alas, most people who live in the province today still know very little about it, at best.

Modern war canoe on the Wye River in Huronia today (no ancient Huron warriors bothered to wear life jackets), passing by the restoration of the 17th century Jesuit mission at Ste Marie Among the Hurons.

It probably doesn’t help much that people like me, and the estimable colleagues I will be travelling with for a few days this week, recurrently go out and wander around in old Huronia, trying to internalize the “Re-enactment of Past Experience” that the British historical philosopher (and philosophical historian) R.G. Collingwood believed is the only beginning for real wisdom about human history, and just what it may or may not mean for the present and the future. In any case, I know I will enjoy my travels between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay (and in the Kawarthas too), whatever else. And I hope to come home next weekend at least under the delusion that my grasp on the deeper fate of something has been slightly improved!

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a comment »

  1. […] the original post:  Northern summer 2011 : old memories and new directions in the Ontario past […]

  2. L. Frank Bunting thanks for the great website. It was very interesting to me.

Leave Comment