Toronto owes its name and origin to the Huron, Iroquois, and Ojibwa nations who first used the area as a shortcut for trail and canoe routes between Lakes Ontario and Huron. The Humber River was then named Taronto, first by the Huron Indians who once populated the area, and later by the Seneca nation (an Iroquois tribe) who settled on the banks of the river in the area now occupied by Toronto.
This area remained a Seneca domain until the mid-17th century. In the early 18th century, the Ojibwa began moving into southern Ontario, and the Mississauga Indians (an Ojibwa tribe) gradually replaced the Iroquois along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Their most important village was located on what is now Baby Point. By 1805, all of the lands surrounding present-day Toronto were appropriated (The Toronto Purchase) from the Mississauga Indians. Native people remained in the area, but lived primarily on their own territories.
Today, Toronto is home to approximately 25,000–30,000 Native people, and a large number of Métis. The Ojibwa and members of the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy make up the largest group in the community. One-third of the province’s Native reserves are located within 200 miles of Toronto, and the city’s Native community has grown significantly in the last three decades, as people leave the reserves for job opportunities in the city.
Toronto is the headquarters for the federal regional offices of the Department of Indian Affairs, and is home to a number of political, cultural, and service organizations representing reserve and non-reserve Natives. One of the many organizations is the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The centre offers services to help bridge the transition from life on the reserves to the city, and provides facilities for cultural groups, and social gatherings.
Native culture is exhibited by groups who perform ceremonial dances and by theatre groups such as the Native Earth Performing Arts, which stages plays articulating the views and concerns of Native people. The first Native Canadian ballet was staged in 1989. Toronto is also one of the major distribution centres in Canada for First Nations and Inuit art, sculpture, and crafts.
Native people have contributed to the city in the fields of art, sports, education, and politics. Lacrosse, the national sport of Canada, was first played as a game-ritual between villages of Native people. A downtown Toronto street bears the name of Tom Longboat, a renowned long distance runner who won the 11th annual marathon race in Toronto in 1907 and was later elected into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Brant Avenue as well as Brantford, Ontario—the home of the Six Nations Indian territory—were named after the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant (Thayendonegea).
The Grand River reserve is now the home of the Six Nations Iroquois but was originally purchased for them from the Mississaugas when they came to Canada from their traditional territory in New York, following the American Revolution. Other notable Toronto Native individuals include Orenhyatekha, a medical doctor and prominent businessman in the 1890s, and O.M. Martin, a brigadier during the Second World War who was appointed a magistrate for the county of York. Symphony conductor John Kim Bell composed In the Land of the Spirits, the first Native ballet, and playwright and producer Tomson Highway is a Dora award winner. George Armstrong, former coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, is a past recipient of the Charlie Conacher Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian contributions.
By Appointment Only
Throughout the year, celebrations are held marking the seasonal changes in nature.
NEW YEAR’S MORNING. On January 1, children of the Six Nations Reserve go from home to home to collect gifts of homemade pastries, candy, and other treats.
BREAD AND CHEESE DAY, is celebrated on Victoria Day, May 24. Residents of the Six Nations Reserve form a line outside the community centre, and band councillors distribute offerings of bread and cheese. There are also cultural displays, horse racing, and ball games.
THANKSGIVING DAY celebrations are held in Autumn to give thanks for the beauty of nature and the rich harvest of food.
PIPE OF PEACE SMOKING CEREMONY is the most important ceremony. These Pow Wows are held from time to time for the development of friendships and the promotion of culture, featuring foods, crafts displays, singing, dancing, and drumming.
HARVEST CEREMONIES for corn, strawberries, and other foods are regulated by the seasons, the moon, and the growth of plants.
CHRISTIAN HOLIDAYS AND EUROPEAN DAYS, such as New Year’s Eve and Christmas, are often celebrated. Natives have incorporated their own traditions into these celebrations.
TREATY DAYS are observed (though not always celebrated).
POW WOWS are now annual events, and include: International Pow Wow, held at the Rogers Centre in Toronto; Pow Wow at Six Nations, usually held in July in Toronto; and in August in Mississauga. Most of the larger First Nations also hold events in their own communities. Pow Wows traditionally bring together people from various communities for social gathering and thanksgiving. People wear their finest outfits and participated in feasting, dancing, and singing.
ABORIGINAL VOICES RADIO, 106.5 FM. (Tel. 416-703-1287, www.aboriginalvoices.com, P.O. Box 87, Station E) Radio station which plays Native Canadian and Native American music.
ASSOCIATION FOR NATIVE DEVELOPMENT IN THE PERFORMING & VISUAL ARTS, (Tel. 416-972-0871, www.andpva.com, 60 Atlantic Ave., Suite 111), assists in the development of programs that encourage persons of Aboriginal ancestry to become involved in the performing and visual arts, including theatre, music, dance, literature, and film.
NATIVE CANADIAN CENTRE OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-964-9087, www.ncct.on.ca, 16 Spadina Rd). One of the first organizations established to help Native people in the city. Services offered include individual counselling and referral, and the provision of social, recreational, and cultural programs. The centre publishes the monthly The Native Canadian and sponsors Native theatre, readings, art exhibits, and conferences. Executive Director: Larry Frost.
NATIVE EARTH PERFORMING ARTS INC., (Tel. 416-531-6377, www.nativeearth.ca, 55 Mill St., #74, Suite 300 & 305), is a not-for-profit Native theatre company dedicated to the development of a theatre that articulates the concerns and viewpoint of this country’s Native people. The company performs at various theatres throughout the city. Managing Artistic Director: Yvette Nolan.
ONTARIO FEDERATION OF INDIAN FRIENDSHIP CENTRES, (Tel. 416-956-7575, Fax 416-956-7577, www.ofifc.org, 219 Front St. E), is an umbrella organization for Aboriginal centres. Executive Director: Sylvia Maracle.
NATIONAL ABORIGINAL ACHIEVEMENT FOUNDATION, (Tel. 416-926-0775, Fax 416-926-7554, www.naaf.ca, 215 Spadina Ave., Suite 450), is a nonprofit organization that arranges assistance, grants, and scholarships for Native youth to study in the arts and business. They also sponsor fundraising events, including Canada’s first Native ballet,In the Land of the Spirits, and hold an annual achievement event, televised on CBC TV. Chief Executive Officer: Roberta Jamieson.
INDIAN AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS CANADA, (Tel. 416-973-6234, Fax 416-954-6329, www.ainc-inac.gc.ca, Toronto office: 25 St. Clair Ave. E., 8th floor).
INDIAN COMMISSION OF ONTARIO, A mediation body between the First Nations in Ontario and the federal and provincial governments.
MÉTIS NATION OF ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-977-9881, Fax 416-977-9911, www.metisnation.org, 103 Richmond St. E., Suit 404).
NATIVE WOMEN’S RESOURCE CENTRE, (Tel. 416-963-9963, Fax 416-963-9573, www.nativewomenscentre.org, 191 Gerrard St. E), provides support services, including family court, life skills, and job training. Run by and for Native women. Executive Director: Linda Ense.
WIGWAMEN INC., (Tel. 416-481-4451, www.wigwamen.com, 25 Imperial St., Suite 310), is a non-profit housing corporation established in 1972 and managed by Native people. General Manager: Angus Palmer.