AUTHOR: CRAIG K. MACDONALD; PROJECT SPONSOR: ONTARIO GEOGRAPHIC NAMES BOARD; PHOTOS: D’ARCY JENISH; DR. W.H. ELLIS, LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA—PA121317
Craig Macdonald has been smitten all his life by wanderlust, an itch to travel, not to the summits of the world’s tallest mountains, nor to distant lands and exotic cities, but up and down the waterways of eastern North America. Macdonald, now 59 and a resident of Dwight, Ont., 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto, has paddled, snowshoed and walked from the shores of Hudson Bay to the mouth of the Penobscot River in Old Town, Maine, mostly following the ancient trade and travel routes of the aboriginal peoples who once lived on these lands.
But of all the places he’s been through, none has engaged his interest for as long or as deeply as the Temagami, a wilderness area covering well over 10,000 square kilometres north of North Bay, straddling the Ontario/Quebec border. Macdonald has been exploring Temagami’s forests, uplands and waterways since he was a teenager. He has studied the history, language and culture of the Anishinawbeg or Ojibway people who lived there for many generations and he has used his experience to create an important window on the land’s history. His creation is called the Historical Map of Temagami, and it presents a unique and invaluable contribution to our understanding of the aboriginal world that existed in Canada prior to contact with white civilization.
Twenty-six years in the making, Macdonald’s map provides a cartographic snapshot into the lives of the Anishinawbeg of Temagami. Published in 1993 by the Ontario Geographical Names Board, the map includes the names of 660 features–lakes, rivers, creeks, islands and highlands–all in the language of the Anishinawbeg. It depicts traditional winter and summer travel routes and identifies hundreds of portages, along with their exact lengths.
By including such features, the map tells us something of the small, semi-nomadic bands of aboriginal people who sustained themselves by hunting, trapping and harvesting whitefish from Te-mee-ay-gaming, the deep-water lake that formed the heart of their world. These people used the waterways and portages to move from camp to camp according to the seasons and they knew them as well as the contemporary city dweller relies on streets, avenues and expressways.
Macdonald wanted to record these before time erased all knowledge of them. “I guided canoe expeditions at youth camps in Temagami in the 1960s while going to university and got to know some of the Indians, most of them very elderly trappers. They were extremely knowledgeable about the resources on their lands. It became apparent to me how fragile that knowledge was and that their history and traditions were in imminent danger of disappearing.”
Contact with fur traders and missionaries as early as the 17th century began to alter the traditional culture of the Anishinawbeg and the pace of change accelerated when the logging, mining and the construction of hydroelectric dams brought physical change to the land. Nevertheless, people continued to live by the old ways until the 1940s when the Canadian government began aggressively enforcing a policy of assimilation. Finally, even they quit the land to live on reserves and send their children to residential schools.
The Anishinawbeg now live on the Bear Island reservation in Lake Temagami and, as Macdonald learned while conducting his research, a lot of the younger people know little about the world of their ancestors.
Macdonald decided on his own initiative to study that world and did so without expectation of reward or recognition. What he has achieved is, if not unique, certainly rare. The Inuit of Labrador and Northern Quebec have created detailed maps of their lands, and some West Coast Indian bands have produced similar efforts, according to Conrad Heidenreich, a historical geographer and retired York University professor. But no such aboriginal cartography exists for other parts of the country, except Temagami–and that’s thanks to Macdonald. Yet the tall, slim, balding outdoorsman remains modest about his motivation and what he has accomplished.
Others speak glowingly of the man and his work. “He’s a national treasure,” says Brian Back, who founded the Temagami Wilderness Society in the early 1980s and has paddled the district’s waterways almost as extensively as Macdonald. “I was really impressed with how accurate his map is.”
Michael Smart, a retired executive-secretary of the names board, says he and his colleagues saw the map in manuscript form in the mid-1980s when they were conducting a periodic revision of geographic names in the Temagami district. “He unrolled his map at a board meeting and it was a revelation to see so much fabulous work. It was a great manuscript. The Surveyor-General saw it and said: ‘My God, we’ve got to publish it.”
Alejandro Rabazo, the ministry cartographer who turned Macdonald’s manuscript map into a finished product, also speaks highly of Macdonald. “I enjoyed the job tremendously. He knew the land incredibly well. I never met anyone who was so knowledgeable about a project.”
The board eventually printed 10,000 copies, kept about half and sent samples to organizations such as the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and the United States Board of Geographic Names. Macdonald received the balance and occasionally sells copies or gives them to canoeists or others embarking on wilderness expeditions to Temagami.
Aboriginal people have recognized the value of his work and have turned to him for assistance several times. In the late 1980s, the Bear Island Anishinawbeg in Temagami called Macdonald as witness during a land claim hearing before the Ontario Supreme Court and used his testimony to establish that their forefathers had fully utilized the land since at least the 1600s when the first French missionaries–whom they called way-mit-a-goosh or stick wavers–arrived.
Several aboriginal bands have contacted him and sought advice about undertaking similar cartographic projects. “Every year that goes by there seems to be more and more interest in this sort of thing,” he says. “I’ve had calls from aboriginal people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, but there are many areas in eastern Canada where you can no longer do a detailed historical map.” Macdonald says this is because there are no or at least very few people around who know the history.
Macdonald began pursuing his research in earnest in the early 1970s, after obtaining a master’s degree in fisheries and starting his career with the provincial agency then known as the Department of Lands and Forests. He acquired first-hand knowledge of Temagami through canoe trips and snowshoeing expeditions, which he supplemented by interviewing elderly Anishinawbeg trappers.
Many of them had been born and raised in the bush and learned to hunt and trap from their elders, but by the 1970s those ageing trappers were the last link with the ancient world of the Anishinawbeg. For centuries, the Anishinawbeg people would spend the winters in small camps of two or, at most, three families and work their traplines. In the spring they would harvest maple syrup and in the summer families from throughout the territory would gather on Ka-tay Te-mee-ay-ga-maw Minis, an island in Lake Temagami. They harvested whitefish and cultivated maize, a small, hardy variety of corn, and in the fall returned to their winter camps.
Macdonald estimates that he interviewed 500 native elders on Bear Island and several nearby reserves in Ontario and Quebec. He accumulated hundreds of pages of field notes and collected material on a sweeping array of things, including Anishinawbeg spiritual beliefs, conjuring methods, canoeing techniques and places to hunt, set snares and collect pipestones. “I talked to the oldest people I could find and the younger people had trouble listening because the elders were talking about places they had never been,” recalls Macdonald.
His most aged informant was Phileas Lepage, who was 108 at the time of their interview and was likely born around 1868. A few days before Macdonald spoke to him, Lepage had had dinner with then Ontario premier Bill Davis and prime minister Pierre Trudeau because at the time he was one of the oldest surviving veterans of World War I. “He was of such antiquity that he had seen Sir John A. Macdonald giving election speeches from the back of trains,” says Macdonald.
Lepage had worked as a fire ranger for the Ontario government in the early part of the 20th century and was familiar with the country around a lake in the northwest corner of the district that the Anishinawbeg called Shonj-a-waw-gaming Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or the smooth-water lake. He provided information about portages and introduced Macdonald to a woman named Angelique Misabi, who was in her 90s and who as a child and young adult had lived in winter camps on a nearby lake. “She could tell you anything you wanted to know about living in the woods,” recalls Macdonald. “She had a lot of stories about a long time ago and what it was like to travel in a birchbark canoe.”
Misabi resolved a question that had perplexed Macdonald for a long time. In his own travels, he had often come across magnificent, towering white pines marked by deep, square notches which someone had clearly made with an axe. “I had seen these things for 10 or 15 years, always on the south side of the trees. She told me they were gumming stations. Pine pitch would bleed out of the trees and the Indians would use it to repair their canoes. Some of these notches might have been 150 years old.”
Macdonald interviewed several hundred non-aboriginals–trappers, guides, loggers and many others–anyone who could provide him with information, however fragmentary, about the aboriginal geography of Temagami. He consulted countless old maps and surveyors’ reports looking for aboriginal names of geographic features that may have been altered with the passage of time. He also read local histories and the journals of fur traders, missionaries and pioneers–in short, anything that might contain some useful information.
His research provided him with unusual insight into the world of the Anishinawbeg, a deep understanding of their language and a lasting appreciation for their use of land and resources. “Their ability to survive in this environment was a result of having an expert knowledge of the resources and trail systems. They had family trapping and hunting territories that were clearly as defined as a modern trapline that is registered with the government.”
The names of places and geographical features were very important, and often were chosen for the food or other resources that could be obtained from a river, lake or other body of water. For example, on Macdonald’s map there is a long, narrow lake called Kee-chim Ma-ko-bing Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or where the bear goes into the water. In other words, it was a bear crossing. Similarly there is an outlet at one of the southern arms of Lake Temagami that the Anishinawbeg called Ma-kwaw na-gwaw-awk-shing Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or the bear-snaring place.
The Indians knew that bears frequently crossed this outlet and so they built traps of logs raised like a lean-to but weighted with enormous loads of stones. They would place a piece of meat or other bait under the logs. When the bear pulled the bait, the logs and stones would fall and either crush the animal or suffocate it.
The Anishinawbeg named one of their rivers Wu-num-man Zipi or the red mud river. They would go there to collect a rouge-coloured material, actually iron oxide, from rocks and they would use it as paint or dye.
Names were also used as travel aids. Macdonald says that in any Indian territory there were numerous lakes that were identified by their shape or other physical characteristics to assist people who were moving from one place to another. Thus, there were round lakes, long lakes and pine lakes, as well as lakes that were clear, dirty, grassy, muddy or burnt, that is, surrounded by forest that had been scorched by fires.
Aboriginals also named things for landmarks, again as navigational aids. There is a long, narrow body of water in Temagami that the Anishinawbeg called Waw-bos Nah-mat-ta-bee Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or rabbit lake, because of a large rock that resembles a crouching rabbit.
In Temagami, as in most other parts of Canada, there are many physical features that retain Indian names or corruptions of them. Wanapitei Lake on a contemporary map is derived from the Anishinawbeg name Wawn-a bitay-bing Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or hollow tooth lake, a description so ancient that even Macdonald’s oldest informants could not explain it. The Sturgeon River is a direct translation of the Anishinawbeg name–Nah-may Zipi–and so-called because sturgeon were prevalent there.
Numerous aboriginal names have disappeared, though, because non-natives sometime prefer to name locations after people. On any official government map of Temagami there are lakes named after surveyors, politicians and, in one case, youngsters who had attended a local summer camp and been declared camper of the year.
One of the largest lakes in Temagami was known, in Indian times, as Mons-kaw naw-ning Saw-gi-hay-gun-ning or haunt of the moose lake. In the 1880s, Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada named it Lady Evelyn Lake after the daughter of an Irish aristocrat of his acquaintance. Two other lakes were also named for aristocratic women–Lady Dufferin and Lady Sydney. “Many of these people never even saw the lakes and had no connection with the land,” says Macdonald.
Macdonald’s map is accurate in another way that would be apparent only to someone intimately familiar with Temagami. He notes that 36 lakes in the district have been altered by hydroelectric dams. In most cases, they are larger than they once were because dams cause flooding of adjacent land. The lakes on his map appear as they were before the dams were built. It is a small detail but one of those things that make his map so valuable, and so impressed those who turned the manuscript into a finished product.