Now and Then explores the stories behind Toronto’s historical plaques and monuments.
Around 950 years ago, the summer sun would have risen over a settlement in what is now Forest Hill. The approximately two-hectare site would likely have been surrounded by a wooden palisade, encircling several longhouses. It’s unknown how many people would have lived there, but they were probably a southern branch of the Huron, or Wendat, people. According to Tales of North Toronto, a 1948 history book by Lyman B. Jackes, there was also a fresh water spring flowing by the village. He also claims that the hills in the area are more recent and were created by covering old sites where food was stored.
Today, children play in a schoolyard where longhouses once stood. There’s no indication of what used to be: a tall, brick building houses young students, a Canadian flag flaps in the wind out front, and children and teachers go about their days.
What we know about the site from the few artifacts and from what Jackes writes is probably as much as we will ever know about this settlement and the people that lived there. The Jackes or Eglinton archaeological site, so named because it was on the land of Lyman Jackes’s family near Eglinton Avenue West, where the village once was, has been erased, buried under the Allenby Public School.
The artifacts that were found at the site have been dated from anywhere between 1450 and 1475. In Tales of North Toronto, Jackes writes that some human remains found at the site seemed to have been burned, possibly when a longhouse caught fire and collapsed.
The first excavation of the area took place in 1887, by David Boyle, who later became the provincial archaeologist. In a 1974 article in the journal Ontario Archaeology by William C. Noble about the artifacts excavated at the Jackes site, housed at McMaster University, notes that they come from a later dig by Everett James Case between 1930 and 1950. “He was primarily interested in keeping only certain types of exotic specimens, notably worked bone, pipes, and pottery rims,” Noble writes. Preserving only certain artifacts can, of course, influence the interpretation of a site; and the Jackes site artifacts are limited by what the men casually digging there decided to keep.
The artifacts in the collection at McMaster aren’t the only pieces of history uncovered at the site. Lyman Jackes writes that many hobby gardeners in the area dug up arrowheads or even the head of an axe. In fact, he says that it was Baldwin Jackes who dug up so many artifacts in the area that persuaded them to call Boyle to investigate. He says they realized there was likely a cleared, palisaded settlement because a large section of trees were clearly much younger than the surrounding forest. Jackes also suggests that the consistent age of these younger trees means the settlement was destroyed by one event, rather than a slow decline. He offers a battle as a possible explanation.
Unfortunately, development in the area has buried the site and likely disturbed any remaining artifacts or traces of the settlement. According to the plaque on the school, which was placed there in 1986, it was “the best documented Iroquoian village in the City of Toronto.”
June is National Aboriginal History Month.
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