Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario

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Iroquois Trail

Long before "King Street" Highway 8  and  the" Wine Route", it was known as the Iroquois Trail.  From the Niagara River at Queenston, it ran  along the base of the escarpment to the settlement on the Forty Mile Creek, then known as the Forty, now called Grimsby.


   Our Iroquois Allies


There was no permanent settlement in Niagara Peninsula at the time of the American Revolution. It was Mississauga tribal hunting grounds.  But this area like much of North America was accessed by foot-paths called "Great Trails" that formed a network of routes for barter trade, hunting and warfare before the arrival of Europeans.  Many major highways in Canada and the USA follow these old routes.

In our area, the trails are attributed to the Haudenosaunee, "People of the Longhouse", or as the French fur traders called them, the Iroquois.  To their ancestors more than 200 years ago, we owe  our Canadian identity: for without them as allies, the Niagara Peninsula and Ontario, would have been lost.  

Iroquois refers to a confederacy of tribes originally inhabiting the northern part of New York state, consisting of the Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora:  they formed the  Six Nations Iroquois League, or people of the Longhouse.

The Iroquois knew the inland Niagara terrain using the rock terraces at Queenston-Lewiston to cross the Niagara River.  They followed one of three routes: along the lake shore, interupted by creeks (Lakeshore Trail) ; the foot of the Escarpment Iroquois Trail); or the crest (Mohawk Trail). 

It was these routes that later allowed the settlers to penetrate the interior on foot  - not until 1785 was Iroquois Trail widened enough for wagons.  In 1797 the first tavern, on the Iroquois Trail, was established by George Adams at Twelve Mile Creek, later called  Shipman's Corners,  which eventually became St. Catharines.

 Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant (1743–1807) was a Mohawk military and political leader who first worked as a translator for the British Indian Department. He ended the Six Nations  Iroquois neutrality and his warriors fought for the British against rebel colonists - the British  promised  to respect their sovereignty and offered land in "Quebec" (Canada) if they lost.  The American colonists had been encrouching on Joseph BrantMohawk Valley land (now New York). Brant met with King George III in London in 1775 to register grievances.  He became a celebrity and was made a Mason.  Brant's Volunteers and John Butler's Rangers cooperated in subsequent battles for the Seneca region, until  the Iroquois were forced to retreat to Fort Niagara.  They subsequently participated in battles at Fort Detroit and Fort Oswego until hostilities ended in 1783.   The British ignored the sovereignty of their Iroquois allies, and gave the Mohawk Valley to the United States. 

In subsequent years,  Joseph Brant held a prominent political role in British-American affairs and tribal land cJoseph.Brant.Statuelaims.  He acquired considerable wealth and prestige and was awarded some 3,500 acres farm land by Burlington Bay by Lieutenant Governor Simcoe.   His statue stands at the Valiants Memorial, Ottawa as one of 14 leading Canadian military leaders.  Five of the 6 cannons his Mohawks captured in battle were used to make his monument in Victoria Park, Brantford. Burlington honours him with the Joseph Brant Museum.  

Native Lands

Shortly after the American Revolution, some land was cleared west of Fort George and Butler's Barracks, by Butler's Rangers.  The first  families to build homes circa 1779 were former Rangers (Secord, De Pue, Clement) forming "Butlersburg". They and loyalist refugees were allowed temporary squatter's rights on Crown land  to supply the fort with farm produce, sold under military control. Land tenure was not possible until after 1782 when the border with the USA was established.  Only then could the Mennonite refugees  come and buy land, from those Rangers who didn't want to farm.  It was another two years before the entitlement to land, of the refugee Iroquois, was honoured.

On Joseph Brant's urgings, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand issued a grant of land in 1784 for a Six Nations reserve in the valley of the Grand River (Ontario). Lieutenant Colonel John Butler acting as crown agent, bought a tract from the Mississuagas.  The Haldimand Proclamation of October 25, 1784 covered six miles on either side of the Grand River from Lake Erie to its source.  That was a swath of 950,000 acres covering areas around Dunnville, in Niagara through Brantford, Cambridge, Waterloo, Kitchener beyond Mount Forest.  In 1791 the Iroquois requested a land survey to ensure their entitlement to the Grand River valley.  This agreement and map got lost, and a new crown survey in 1821 by Thomas Ridout, reduced their holdings significantly, truncating them at the rapids of Elora. Today they have been reduced to a reserve at Ohsweken, covering only 4.9% of the original land grant.  Unlike the Butler's Rangers, they were not given freehold title to these lands - because they were not British subjects.  Neither were they recognized as a sovereign nation - a foul way to treat our military allies, who risked all to save this country at the loss of their own.

Half the surviving Iroquois Six Nations people  relocated, to  Upper Canada.  Today the band numbers some 10,448 on the reserve - with a similar number elsewhere,  making it the largest in Canada. 

Joseph.Brant.StatueRememberJoseph Brant and his warriors as you drive along King Street, part of the Iroquois Trail.  Then join their descendants on the fourth weekend of July each year as they host the Grand River Powwow on the banks of the Grand River.  When in Brantford, visit the Mohawk Chapel, built in 1785 then go to Veteran's Park, and look for the last remaining cannon that the Mohawks captured from the Americans.

Further Reading

Richard Merritt, Nancy Butler, Michael Power The Capital Years: Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792-1796, Gagné Printing.

Thomas Ridout map of Grand River Indian Lands, 1821

For more day trips:



Breadcrumb Trail

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