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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Mysteries of Huronia: Mnjikaning fish weirs. (Tkaronto in Iroqouis)

Center of the Map is Atherley, the location of the Weirs

In not to far off place called the narrows there is a place that people have been fishing for thousands of years. Along time ago in this place not far away people seen that the fish would cross at this location from one Lake, now named Simcoe, to another, named Couchiching. The fish spent most of their time in the deep waters of Simcoe, but would spawn in the shallow waters of Couchiching.

Over time a technology was developed to trap these fish in areas where they could be speared. This was accomplished by driving stakes into the lake bottom. These weirs, also known as fences would force the fish into areas where awaiting fisherman could spear them.

In a land devoid of "civilization" as we know it, this place was deemed a place of peace and many different people met here for the spring fishing season. It is known that, when travelling across Lake Ontario when early explorers got to Toronto the native peoples would point up the Carrying Place trail, now known as Yonge Street, they would say Toronto, Toronto Toronto and point up the trail, indicating that Toronto (Place of trees in the water) was up that trail. Of course it wasn't so simple, you would go North on Carrying Place Trail to Lake Simcoe then cross in Canoes...the name they used as explained by John Steckley: The name comes from the Mohawk 'tkaronto' 'trees or poles in water', and it links with those 4,000+ year old cedar poles in the Atherley Narrows. There is a Wyandot name Karontu, meaning the same thing, that is a Large Turtle clan man's name.

How long Weirs in this area have been used is unknown, the oldest ones they have found and dated are from the time of the Pyramids, or slightly before the time of Christ. However, it is unlikely we have the oldest sample available, as some weirs may not have any remnants remaining till modern day.

When Champlain travelled through the area in the 1600's, he was brought to the fish weirs by the Wendat people. They were living in the area and were the caretakers at the time. Later, around 1830 the Chippewa were granted land there, only to be coerced into moving to nearby Rama and Beausoleil island. The Chippewa remain the caretakers today. It would not be proper to suggest that the Chippewa replaced the wendat, as their presence was always near even in the time of the Wendat. In fact to be accurate, the name Huron, given to the people of the area by the french, would include both Wendat and anishnaabe peoples. As it was a blanket name for all peoples in the area.

Today there is a plaque and park dedicated to the site. There is also a group called the Mnjikaning fish circle who have been pushing for an interpretive center. Of course with current pandemic and political environments money for such things is difficult to come by. Therefore the project is being batted about by Orillia and Rama councils. The project having a budget of between 12-15 million dollars I can see why.

Fish weirs and traps.

Fish weirs are simple devices made of wood staked into the ground or rocks formed to force fish to one area where they can be netted or speared.

Different types of weirs

Fish trap

Simple mud and stone weir

Bridge style weir from Washngton

Stone weir

There is possibilities, even probabilities that other local rivers and lakes have fish weirs, or had fish weirs used under their waters, but perhaps we just did not recognize them as such. The distinction of Mnjikaning is that it was used for a number of years, by many people across the continent, and due to low current (at least by my conjecture) meant that the artifacts of that location is still in situ.

If your interested, the group could use your help click on:Fish fence circle

Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past

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