The Purchase of Tkaronto: Our Duty to Remember

The Danforth is a vibrant, multicultural area that significantly represents Toronto’s essence: a dynamic, diverse, and openhearted metropolis, and the largest municipality in Canada. However, as a Torontonian who studied Indigenous history in Canada throughout university, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of passion and urgency in telling you why I look around this great city and wonder what it was before it acquired its namesake. Indeed, I am referring to the impact of colonialism towards the Indigenous Peoples of the land—the “sale” of Toronto via the Toronto Purchase.

 

The name of this great city hints at its pre-colonial past: it is derived from the Mohawk word tkaronto, meaning “a gathering place”. It is imperative to know what existed before the city of Toronto as we know it, and ultimately the great loss suffered by the Indigenous Peoples when Toronto was established. The first instance of such a misdemeanour was between the Crown and the Mississauga and Chippewa Nations in 1787—known as the Toronto Purchase. A report published by the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation describes how, in that year, a council was convoked by the head of the Indian Department, Sir John Johnson, at the Bay of Quinte, where the Mississaugas were offered trade goods in return for their loyalty to the British during the American Revolution. At this council, Sir Johnson raised the possibility of a British purchase of lands on Lake Ontario’s northern shore, and particularly between Toronto and Lake Simcoe.1

 

The critical takeaway from this event is that this supposed sale of Toronto via the trade goods was in fact never verified by the Mississaugas and Chippewas and thus the sale of Toronto was disingenuous.

 

Toronto would not be “legally” purchased until 1805, when the Crown, determining that Johnson’s 1787 terms with the Mississaugas did not constitute a valid treaty, felt it necessary to conduct a second purchase of Toronto. It is significant to note that all the chiefs present at the council of 1787 had since passed away. At the same time as the 1805 transaction, the Crown paid an extra £1,000 for lands west of the original Toronto Purchase (along Lake Ontario as far as the Brant Tract at Burlington); in 1815, the Chippewas agreed to sell a smaller amount of land, a 250,000-acre tract west of Lake Simcoe, for a mere £4,000. By then, however, the incursion of settlers onto Treaty lands had made it clear to the First Nations that British guarantees of their hunting and fishing rights were hollow.2

 

The Crown’s purchase of Toronto extends from the Lake Ontario shore (on the Toronto Harbourfront) and cuts through the Danforth, covering North York, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and King. As a student having gone to York University and Centennial College Story Arts Centre, this piece of history leaves me feeling conflicted. I have experienced entertainment, eaten great food, and received cultural as well as historical education within the regions of the Toronto Purchase. Nonetheless, actively engaging and knowing the foundations on which Toronto was built has stripped away some of the glitter and gold of the city, and consequently uncovered a blemished past which reveals the collective deceit of the British Crown. The notion that the creation of this beautiful, bustling city and its surroundings was built upon the act of deceiving and robbing the Mississaugas and Chippewas of their land, resources, and rights is difficult to absorb, especially for one who enjoys going into the city for its particular grandeur. Nonetheless, it is a harsh and effective reminder of what was taken from the Indigenous Peoples of this land for Toronto to establish itself as one of the biggest multicultural cities in the world, as is the case for many other bustling metropolises in North America.

 

The takeaways from the learning of the “sale” of Toronto via the Toronto Purchase are humbling. We must make a conscious effort to acknowledge our city’s murky foundations, and remember that there were collective groups of Indigenous Peoples who lived and flourished here millennia before colonization blitzed its way into North America. We should appreciate the region of Toronto as it is now without forgetting what it used to be before it acquired its current name. I would like to note how heartening it is that Indigenous organizations and institutions across the city, such as the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and the First Nations School of Toronto, are striving to keep Indigenous culture, history, and education flourishing—that Toronto has a number of opportunities where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across the city can continually learn about Tkaronto, a gathering place, in the most vibrant, multicultural, and open-armed metropolis in Canada.

 

  1. “Toronto Purchase Specific Claim: Arriving at an Agreement”, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, accessed February 21, 2018, http://mncfn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/MNCFN-Toronto-Purchase-Specific-Claim-Arriving-at-an-Agreement.pdf.
  2. “Toronto Purchase Specific Claim: Arriving at an Agreement”, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, accessed February 21, 2018, http://mncfn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/MNCFN-Toronto-Purchase-Specific-Claim-Arriving-at-an-Agreement.pdf.

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