Blog #5 – Dominion over the Lake: Commerce, Power, and Speed.

Speaking frankly, I know next to nothing on early Canadian history. I believe it is truly a disservice that the Canadian schooling system seems to prioritize more contemporary political history or “British Canadian” history rather than the long and fascinating period when the territory of “Canada” was a chaotic assortment of powers on the uncertain and shifting waters of resettlement, trade, and new encounters. While researching Aboriginal-Euro-American relations in the Ontario Lake Region I came across a fascinating book titled, “Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trade Describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians; with an Account of the Posts situated on the River Saint Laurence, Lake Ontario, etc.” by John Long.

The book, written in 1791 was a perfect primary source for examining the strategic importance of Lake Ontario and the rivers and waterways that lead to the St. Lawrence. There seems to be a complicated system of diplomatic relations with the Natives of the region (Iroquois and Senecas being prominently mentioned) which facilitated fur trade and the facilitation of the much needed passageway through the rivers and lake. He writes this account while he himself is traveling along the lakes and rivers of the Great Lake region showing just how important these bodies of waters were for transportation of all kinds.

Of the greatest importance according to many authors were the forts which dotted the waterside of the lakes and rivers which divided Canada from America. These forts played a key role not only in trade and warfare but of control over the entire region- ownership over the forts seemed to mean ownership over the border, and interestingly enough, these forts were defended in part thanks to the efforts of the Native Americans.

I hope to do further research on this topic through different archives in Toronto. I want to trace the intersections of commerce, power, and trade in and around the Lake Ontario. Most sources seem to be in relation to forts near the lake, but I hope to find more research on events that occurred “on the lake”. The primary focus of the research will be the importance of the lake in the 18th century a time when the Natives, French, British, and later Americans would vie over the Lakes.  This would mean intense diplomatic relations, violence, or political guile would be needed to share or dominate the precious resource that were the Lakes their waterways.

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