EVIDENCE OF COMMUNITY LIVING IN PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY CREEK WATERSHEDS
People may have lived in Prince Edward County (PEC) for 8,000 years and there is evidence of a sophisticated culture for the last 2,500 years. In 1492 there were more First Nations people living here than the current County population. The area was part of the territory of Iroquoian peoples, which included both the Wendat (Huron) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The Wendat tribe was here first but they left, probably due to sickness and wars, and relocated to the north shore of Lake Ontario, and the Midland area. When Samuel de Champlain came through in 1615, he found it empty. Later, the Cayuga (also Haudenosaunee) had a village near present day Consecon and Carrying Place in 1665-1687. Then, the Missassauga (Anishinabeck) came into the County about 1696 followed by some Cayuga from across the lake. The British made a treaty with the Missassauga to permit British settlers to come to the County.
The creeks that flow into Lake Ontario from the higher inland ridges had a much larger water flow at one time and many species of fish came upstream to spawn. They were netted and cleaned and dried in the villages along the creeks. Recent archeological investigations of PEC have uncovered evidence of up to 500 native villages. Using modern day satellite imagery and radar scanning, these villages, their fire pits, stockades, corn silos and ossuaries can be detected by their outlines and the carbon footprints they left behind. Fish and eel drying can be deduced from the dried bones found in the soil. Eel was the main food source and they continued to be plentiful until the St. Lawrence Seaway destroyed their habitat.
From the description of the known villages in PEC, they all sound Iroquoian. This is due to the artifacts found which were ones used by Iroquoian rather than those used by the Mississauga. The Mississauga were not originally corn growers but the Mohawks/Iroquoians were and had been for a long time. Corn being one of the “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans and squash) that sustained the Iroquois, allowed them to settle and farm earlier than many other First Nations.
There were such a large number of villages in PEC because the natives changed location every 12-15 years when wood and soil resources were depleted. Before they moved, the tribesmen exhumed their dead relatives from graves or ossuary mounds, cleaned the flesh off the bones, wrapped the bones in beaver pelts and reinterred them in a deep pit. At the site of the new village they might build a new ossuary mound, drawing earth in wicker baskets to build them. These mounds, and “effigy” mounds in the shape of animals, as well as the pits from where they drew the soil, remain to be seen in the County,
Some early European settlers honoured these sites and current large landowners continue to protect them. Interested volunteers are undertaking the current archeological investigations.
This First Nation’s legacy and historical evidence is unique to PEC because a large number have not been built over and destroyed. There is an opportunity, if the funding could be found, to have an interpretive centre to benefit and educate everyone about our PEC heritage. In the meantime, their locations have to be kept secret to prevent looting and destruction.