Artist and young elder explores East York’s icy origins

A glacier that came "right to the edge of Toronto" holds clues to our past, says Philip Cote

Years before the people and roads and buildings that make up East York today, a solid wall of ice took up most of Davenport and Kingston Roads and has a lot to tell us about the area’s history.

At a gathering for the East York Historical Society at S. Walter Stewart Library last month, a talk by artist and young elder Philip Cote explored some of that history.

Those who arrived, lived, hunted and thrived 13,500 years ago lived in a much more difficult time.

“That glacier came right to the edge of Toronto,” said Cote, also renowned as a wisdom keeper, historian and pipe carrier. “Where Davenport Road is, you take that over to Kingston Road and from there out to the 401. That was the edge of the ice wall that was here in Toronto.

“That ice wall, if you could imagine, would’ve been two kilometres high, sitting on the land and shaping the trails that were here.”

Though much of the history of Indigenous peoples is passed down through oral means, researchers have found traces of bones and weapons from 13,500 years ago, among them a knife at the Credit River.

According to Cote, the site of the archeological dig was the location of the 18 log cabins that housed the Mississauga peoples. Both there and where the end of the ice wall was said to be, bones were found from the animals that had been trapped between it and the hunters.

“A lot of these tool sites were connected to bone fragments, too, because they were collecting the marrow,” Cote said. “Not only were the tools there, the animals they were hunting were right by the tools.

“Even the Evergreen Brickworks, they found the bones of giant beavers. I think they were 400-pound beavers. That’s part of the mega fauna.”

What has been passed down through information shared between Indigenous peoples can contain valuable nuggets of wisdom and history. Cote feels that, compared to Western methods, these means aren’t given as much impact, and that should change.

“We have to start looking at the way Indigenous people tell that story, because maybe they’re telling the truth,” Cote said.

“Maybe we should think about that and find a way to get these two ways of looking at the world to come together.”

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Posted: Oct 16 2018 12:51 pm
Filed under: Education News Science & Health