On the side of Highway 12, west of Orillia between Price’s Corners and Warminster, tucked away behind the tall grasses, stands a lonely forgotten little monument commemorating the Old Coldwater Road.
It is a small granite rock with a plaque placed onto it that reads as follows;
This highway follows much the same route as the ancient Indian portage from the Narrows (Orillia) to Coldwater, the major east-west trail between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. Prehistoric Indians, fishing at the Narrows as long as 4,000 years ago, may have come this way.
Over this trail in 1615 Champlain travelled with the Hurons to winter at Cahiagua (near Warminster). Hurons and Ojibways, French and British used it as a fur-trading route. Later it served pioneer traffic to mills, stores and steamboat landings. The modern road was cleared in 1830 under Indian Agent T.C. Anderson, for the Coldwater and Narrows Indian Reserve situated here 1830-38.
My ancestors travelled this Miikaans (Mee-kahns), foot path, for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Samuel de Champlain and the European settler community.
The miikaans extended between the Mnjikaning (fish weirs) at the Narrows between lakes Simcoe and Couchiching on through to the Coldwater River which flowed into Matchedash Bay on into Georgian Bay.
Although the small plaque mentions the significance of Champlain and even T.C. Anderson, it does not mention my ancestors, the Chippewa Tri–Council who actually built the original Old Coldwater Road in the 1830s.
There is no mention of the fact that their labour was rewarded with British currency as arranged by Mr. Anderson.
There is no mention of the fact that the monies used to pay the Tri-Council was actually revenues taken from their own trust fund which had been set up to hold their earnings from their successful farm operations at the Coldwater Narrows Reserve. They were never actually paid.
These are significant omissions in a shared history that goes back to the arrival of Champlain to this region. It would tell of an inequitable relationship; one that continues to this day.
Much relevance and fanfare is given to the Champlain monument which is slated to be returned to Couchiching Beach Park after a short hiatus.
But there are no monuments to the forgotten history of the original peoples of this land. And when there is a monument, it is left to history, like the Old Coldwater Road monument, standing alone, waiting once more for its time.
It would not take much to learn of and to commemorate these important pieces of history within this region.
But, achieving this would take much cooperation, and decolonization. That, in itself, would be truly monumental.
Jeff Monague is a former Chief of the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, former Treaty Research Director with the Anishnabek (Union of Ontario Indians), and veteran of the Canadian Forces. Monague, who taught the Ojibwe language with the Simcoe County District School Board and Georgian College, is currently the Co-Manager at Springwater Provincial Park on behalf of the Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) in partnership with Ontario. He is also a member of the Emergency Control Group for BFN.