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Strange Things Done

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By Pat Mestern
April 24, 2004

My article on graveyards certainly led to a rash of telephone calls and personal visits. Some very interesting facts emerged from the various conversations. I will share a few with you now. Others will form the basis for another article.

There have always been burial sites that surfaced near the beaver meadow, now Victoria Woods Subdivision. Several of the most interesting accounts are from the early twentieth century when improvements were made to the CPR spur line that ran into the old Beatty Bros Plant on Hill Street. As you recall Beatty Bros. Ltd is now known by the name GSW

Grandfather Charlie was in charge of improvements on several occasions. Imagine his surprise in the early 1900's when digging below the old dam at the Beaver Meadow, he found the remains of several bodies. As no coffin bits surfaced it was thought that they were the remains of First Nations people who used camped in the area. Their camp was quite large and located between the eastern edge of the old pond (now part of Victoria Woods Subdivision) and St. David Street. Occasionally artifacts are uncovered in gardens in this area. Because of the distance to their home territory, First Nations people who died on the trail, were interred in an area of the Beaver Meadow site that was a little distance away from the main camping site.

Just in case there was hanky-panky at the crossroads, Charlie did his civic duty. He reported the bodies to the local authority, that just happened to be a relative by marriage, Mario Landoni. A closer look at the remains showed that the bodies had been underground for so long they had to predate white settlement and therefore must be First Nations people. The remains were buried quietly near the bottomless bog on the west side of the meadow.

Fifty feet from the first burials, Charlie ran into the second burial site. This time he simply removed and quietly buried what he found, close to where the first lot of bones had been re-interred.

Some twenty years later in C1925, while improving the concrete culvert across Garafraxa Street Charlie was ready for any remains that might be uncovered. What he wasn’t prepared for was the terrible accident he had with his truck that left him nearly dead. Back to the story, during construction, bits of two other bodies was discovered, this grave also contained several small artifacts. The remains along with artifacts, were buried in the same general area of the bog as the previous discoveries. Of course, by this time Mario Landoni was no longer involved with the police department, a fact that led to a burial without publicity. The last thing that Charlie wanted was trouble with the local constabulary.

Let’s leap forward to mid-century. Two boys, digging along a fence line somewhere between Hill and Breadalbane Streets found a body. Being boys, they didn’t pay much attention to how serious this discovery might be. They simply moved over a few feet and started to dig again. Guess what? They found another body. They covered the evidence and thought no more of the discovery, thinking simply that they had dug into an old cemetery. Upon questioning, the fellow now very much grown up, said that as he recalled the situation, there was no sign of coffins. This brings up several questions. Was this part of the Indian burial grounds north of Garafraxa Street, or was it a more recent burial site. If a more recent site who, and why in that particular spot. It was not common practice to bury people on their home property because there were burial grounds in the village. I have found no reference to these burials so must conclude that the First Nations burial grounds extends further south and west than at first thought. Now for a bit of information on those inhabitants of the Beaver Meadow. First Nations people inhabited the site both summer and winter. They came to pick wild raspberries on the five acre river flat between Fergus and the Poor House, now Wellington County Museum. They planted the "four sisters" corn, beans, Jerusalem artichokes and squash in this area as well, closer to the artesian wells on the hill that is now occupied by L & M Plaza. During the winter, they harvested bark from the Beaver Meadow swamp lands, trapped beaver and hunted deer.

I quote directly from J.B.Perry’s book, Happenings in a Happy Time. No disrespect is intentioned by the use of certain words to describe the First Nations people. Remember, these reminiscences were written in 1925. The Perry homestead was on the west corner of Woodside and Garafraxa Street. J.B. Perry’s father included the Beaver Meadow property as part of his large estate, called Woodside. The Perry home, built in 1835, was damaged by fire in late 1924 and taken down in 1925.

To quote: Every winter, in the early days a band of Indians come down from Lake Huron and camped back in our woods. Father allowed them to strip the young elms for basket-making and for hand-sleighs, bows and arrows. I remember the same lot of old squaws with their papooses and tall, red men in blankets, striding into our house and squatting themselves, with a grunt in front of our big open fireplace. They spoke but few words of English, but seemed by grunts and signs to express their appreciation of my mother’s kindness to them

"Ye aye come back," she would say to them with a smile, while patting the old squaw’s hair.

"Ooh, ooh"' would be the reply.

Then she would take up a wee papoose and dandle it in her arms and say, "This is a new bairnie ye've brought wi' ye this time."

"Ooh, ooh, ooh."

"Is it a boy or a girlie?"

"Ooh, ooh."

Then a cup of warm milk would be brought and given to the baby. And the milk would disappear in a gulp.

After the Indians had warmed themselves, and each had been given something good to eat, they would all rise together from the hearth-side and march silently away in single file, grunting "Ooh, ooh, ooh" as they went.

Father bought hand-sleighs and bows and arrows for us from the Indians, and mother bought nests of baskets of all sizes from the squaws. Often we boys were given pennies to pin on the barn door and shoot at with our arrows, in competition with the young Indian boys, the winner to keep the coin he hit. At twenty yards away it took fine shooting to pink a penny with an arrow. And we white lads were nowhere in the game with the copper-skinned Huron boys, who generally carried away every penny. Sometimes we had a scrap with the Indian boys, who would persist in breaking the rules of the game.

My older brother, Hugh, was a handsome lad and a fine shot, and ran the Indians pretty close. But he could not tolerate the advantage the Indian boys would take by stepping forward a pace or two when delivering their arrows, and one time we got into a bloody battle with the Indians over this.

There were four of us in the fight, two against two. Hugh downed his young savage, but I got a fine battering from my tough little red antagonist before Hugh was able to come to my rescue after subduing his wild young man. We were the conquerors in the end. But the copper-coloured young savages from the woods won all the pennies!



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