Significance of the late 1880s for New Toronto and the First Nations of western Canada

2687e9c2-26a4-4eb2-91d1-37a691196a3dIn a previous post, I’ve noted that by July 1, 1895, a radial railway extended all the way from Toronto to Etobicoke Creek in what is now south Etobicoke. The arrival of the railway had a significant impact on the population growth of Long Branch, New Toronto, and Mimico. The human story of the area began about 10,000 years ago when Palaeo-Indian nomadic hunters first arrived in Southern Ontario at the end of the last Ice Age.

Late 1800s

The late 1800s brings to mind, as well, the history of other regions, including of western Canada as documented in a study by James Daschuk, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina. The study is entitled: Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (2013). A related text is entitled: Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905 (2012).

In 1885, an uprising occurred in western Canada which led to the killings of Europeans and Indigenous people. A series of executions, which James Daschuk describes (p. 156) as the largest number in Canadian history, followed in the wake of the uprising. The study notes (p. 157) that “The executed were not cut down from the gallows for fifteen minutes.”

Aftermath of 1885

In the introduction to his study, Daschuk provides the following overview of the aftermath of the 1885 uprising (pp. xxi-xxii). I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs, for ease of online reading:

“Chapter 9 deals with the aftermath of 1885, when the indigenous population of many parts of western Canada declined to its demographic nadir. Completion of the CPR signalled that subjugation of the treaty population was complete. With the infrastructure in place for large-scale settlement and the establishment of agrarian capitalism, the well-being of indigenous people in the west largely disappeared from the public agenda. Bands considered to have been hostile during the insurrection were punished. Their food rations were cut off, and their weapons and horses were confiscated.

“Reserves became cen­tres of incarceration as the infamous ‘pass system’ was imposed to control movements of the treaty population. While hundreds fled to the United States to avoid retribution, thousands took advantage of a government plan to reduce the financial burden on the Department of Indian Affairs by renouncing their status as Indians and taking Metis scrip.

“Flight and the adoption of a new legal status reduced the reserve population significantly. The synergy between pre-existing sickness, hunger, and the spread of contagious diseases such as measles along the improved transportation system based on railway travel increased mortality in reserve populations that were bearing a massive disease load.

“In 1889-90, a global influenza pandemic spread to the region, and the spike in mortality in Saskatchewan reserve communities already weakened by years of hunger and sickness brought them to their low ebb. In Alberta, the population nadir would occur a decade later, largely the result of a lobbying campaign by ranchers to ensure government contracts for their livestock.

“By the 1890s, tuberculosis was increasingly seen as a hereditary disease by government officials. Because the problem was perceived to result from the indigenous way of life, officials and the Canadian public could downplay sickness and mortality levels on reserves because, to a significant degree, they viewed the suffering as nature taking its course.

“Establishment of the residential school system, now widely recognized as a national disgrace, ensconced TB infection, malnutrition, and abuse in an institutional setting that endured for most of the twentieth century.

“Now, in the twenty-first century, it is for all Canadians to recognize the collective burden imposed on its indigenous population by the state even as it opened the country to our immigrant ancestors to recast the land to suit the needs of the global economy in the late nineteenth century.”

[End of excerpt]


Some earlier studies dealing with the topics at hand include:

White Man’s law: Native People in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Jurisprudence (1998)

Aboriginal People and Colonizers of Western Canada to 1900 (1999)

Laws and Societies in the Canadian Prairie West, 1670-1940 (2005)

An April 16, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Residential school survivor Augie Merasty: ‘We were treated like animals.’ ”

The article quotes Augie Merasty, who remarks: “I wanted to tell the world how we were treated as Indian kids. It was a terrible place to be to tell you the truth.”

An excerpt from the article reads:

“Augie Merasty, or Joseph Auguste Merasty, was a young boy getting in trouble for swearing in Cree at an Indian Residential School called St Therese Residential School, in Sturgeon Landing, Manitoba.

“Augie Merasty was just five-years-old when he first went there, late in the summer of 1935.

“Like so many aboriginal children, he experienced abuse. And like so many others, he didn’t talk about what happened inside those walls after he grew up.

“But now he has. He’s put his story down in a new book called, ‘The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir.’

[End of excerpt]

A Sept. 27, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Lasting effects of trauma reaches across generations through DNA.”

An April 15, 2016 Globe and Mail article by Bob Rae is entitled: “Attawapiskat is not alone: Suicide crisis is national problem.”

An Aug. 21, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “‘Trained our entire lives to ignore’: Gord Downie’s call to action for Indigenous in the North: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised because ‘he cares about the people way up north'”.

An Aug. 22, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Sixties Scoop survivors’ day in court finally arrives Tuesday: Indigenous Canadians taken from their homes and their culture suing Ottawa, decades later, over the federal government’s duty to them.”

A Sept. 27, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Prince William gets lesson in colonialism, cultural genocide at Black Rod ceremony: ‘The current Crown approach of deny and delay cannot continue,’ Grand Chief Ed John tells Prince William.”

An Oct. 9, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “The time they took us away: faces of the Sixties Scoop.”

A march 28, 2017 CBC article (referring to a short documentary) is entitled: “Peace River Rising: Is there a connection between violence against Indigenous women and violence against the land?”

An April 26, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Scientists find evidence that humans were in North America 100,000 years earlier than believed: Researchers basing opinion on tools found next to mastodon site in San Diego.”

An April 26, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “A New Study Says Humans Were in America 130,000 Years Ago: That’s 100,000 years earlier than previously thought—and most archaeologists aren’t buying it.

An April 26, 2017 Canadian Art article is entitled: “Video: In the Studio with Kent Monkman.”

A July 26, 2017 London School of Economics article is entitled: “Reading List: 8 Books on Indigenous Research Methods recommended by Helen Kara.”


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