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A Brief History of the “People Among the Hills”

The woody valleys of the Blue Mountains, from Craigleith to Duntroon, were occupied historically by the several Iroquoian nations that were collectively nicknamed “Petun” by the French, meaning Tobacco, or because they were known for their usage of tobacco, or petún, more so than their cultivation of it.  The people called themselves the Tionontati, meaning “People Among the Hills/Mountains.”

They were divided by the two different Petun Nations – the Deer Clan and the Wolf Clan and were present for only about 70 years (ca. AD 1580–1650) but left abundant evidence of their presence. The Wolf arrived first (ca. 1575/80 A.D) surrounding the Pretty River Valley area and the Deer arrived later (ca. 1600,) in the Craigleith area. At both locations, archeologists unveiled that at any one time, there was one principal larger village followed by a smaller one with a distance anywhere between a half to three kilometres between them. During their time here, they were visited by many groups, one being Samuel de Champlain in 1616, on his journey to find easy passage to China and then the Jesuit Priests, 1639-1650, who would set up missions in nine of the Villages to convert the Petuns to Christianity.

According to the research of Charles Garrad, one of many of the original native trails ran east of the two major Petun villages at Craigleith. The trail followed the prominent Lake Nipissing beach ridge through the Blue Mountain Golf Course west of Collingwood, parallel and just south of Campbell Street; it continued across the Pretty River, through the Roman Catholic and the higher part of the Anglican cemeteries on the east side of Raglan Street, and continued easterly to the Nottawasaga River Crossing. Along this part of the trail, artifacts, burials, and campsites of various ages have been found, particularly at stream crossings. Archaeological research in the Petun Country also revealed that there were additional villages, such as the one discovered at OslerBrook Golf and Country Club. On the grounds lie the remains of a Petun Ossuary (burial ground) and Village dating back to the days of Champlain. A cairn has been erected in its honour.

In December 1649, during the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois attacked the Petun village of Etharita near Duntroon, causing the dispersal of the Petun and leaving the Iroquois on the Odawa hunting territory. As you hike along the Bruce Trail of Blue Mountain, the Petun Conservation Area, and the Pretty River Valley, look across the land below and give a moment of your thoughts to the incredible history of the Indigenous people that were here long before we walked this land, and its virtually unchanged beauty.

By Annette Sandberg, ECA Director and Certified Hiking Guide with Hike Ontario

(Previously published in The Blue Print, The Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club Newsletter – Summer 2021)

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