The History of Algonquin Park
The history of Algonquin Park begins with the Algonquin First Nations.
Archaeological information indicates that the Ottawa Valley and Algonquin area was inhabited by Native peoples for 8,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 1500’s. The Algonquin first nation, part of the greater Algonquian group of tribes, inhabited most of the Canadian region south of Hudson Bay between the Rockies and the Atlantic Ocean. The word “Algonquin” means “At the place of spearing fishes and eels”.
Too far north for agriculture, the Algonquin were loosely organized into small, semi-nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers. In this, they resembled the closely related Ojibwe. The Algonquin lived somewhat outside the wild rice region which provided an important part of the diet for other tribes in the northern Great Lakes. Although a few southern bands were just beginning to grow corn in 1608, the Algonquin relied heavily on hunting for their food which made them excellent hunters and trappers, skills which quickly attracted the attention of French fur traders after 1603. The Algonquin made good use of their birch-bark canoes to travel great distances for trade, and their strategic location on the Ottawa River became the preferred route between the French on the St. Lawrence River and the tribes of the western Great Lakes. Groups of Algonkin would gather during the summer for fishing and socializing, but at the approach of winter, they separated into small hunting camps of extended families.
The area of present day Algonquin Park was part of the Algonquin hunting and fishing area which stretched from the great lakes up to and just north of the Ottawa River. Algonquin control of this area was unstable at times due to the wars and constant threat of the Iroquois. The Algonquins traded heavily with the French and remained important French allies until the French and Indian War (1755-63) and the summer of 1760. By then, the British had captured Quebec and were close to taking the last French stronghold at Montreal. The war was over in North America , and the British had won. The Algonquin signed treaties with the British and later fought alongside the British during the American Revolution. The Algonquin homeland was supposed to be protected from settlement by the Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774, but after the revolution ended in an American rebel victory, thousands of British Loyalists left the new United States and settled in Upper Canada.
To provide land for these newcomers, the British government in 1783 chose to ignore the Algonquin in the lower Ottawa Valley and purchased parts of eastern Ontario from, a Mississauga chief. Despite this, Algonquin warriors fought beside the British during the War of 1812 (1812-14) and helped defeat the Americans at the Battle of Chateauguay. Their reward for this service was the continued loss of their land to individual land sales and encroachment by American Loyalists and British immigrants moving into the valley. In 1822, the British negotiated with the Mississauga near Kingston , Ontario to sell most of what remained of the Algonquin holdings in the Ottawa Valley. Because few, if any, Mississauga actually lived there, the price paid for them to sell another people’s land was virtually nothing. No consultation with the Algonquin people took place. The Algonquin never surrendered their claim to their traditional hunting and fishing area and yet still received nothing from its sale. Further losses occurred during the 1840’s as lumber interests moved into the Upper Ottawa Valley. Treaties and purchases by the Canadian government eventually established ten reserves that permitted the Algonquin to remain in the area, but like most Native Americans in both Canada and the United States , they were allowed to keep only a tiny portion of what once had been their original homeland.
In the 1880’s, pioneer loggers pushing up from the Ottawa Valley reached present day Algonquin park in search of the great White Pine trees whose prime wood was increasingly in demand by an expanding British economy.
Algonquin Park was established in 1893, not to stop logging but to establish a wildlife sanctuary, and by excluding agriculture, to protect the headwaters of the five major rivers, which flow from the Park. In the early 20th century, Algonquin Park became a popular destination at first by adventurous fishermen, then by Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven, and a host of other visitors who came by train and stayed at one of Algonquin’s several lakeside hotels.
(1) Algonquins of Pikwakanagan
(2) First nations Histories – Lee Sutzman
(3) Native language of the Americas
(4) Friends of Algonquin Park