Back to school … and keep an eye out for the bus

Carolyn-BennettAs the leaves turn and the days get shorter, it’s wonderful to watch the children with their new backpacks waiting for the crossing guard to guide them safely across the street to school.

For some of us it brings back fond memories, for others it brings back the terror of having to make new friends and hoping to like a new teacher. Regardless, it was the start of a “new year”.

For our Jewish friends it really was their New Year. Although Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, it’s always seemed to me a better time to celebrate a new year in Canada! September always offered the real opportunity for a fresh start — resolutions of discipline in homework, trying a new sport, joining a new club.

On one of the rare glorious days in this weird summer, someone at the Wychwood Barns Farmers’ Market said to me, “It’s a real California day.” I responded that the difference is that in California they don’t appreciate it like we do in this temperate climate. Canadians get to complain about the weather all year long, but we also get to truly celebrate the seasons.

For First Nations people the coming of all four seasons is celebrated with ceremony. The summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes are celebrated with a ceremonial fire welcoming the new season.

The autumn equinox, Sept. 21, marks the celebration of the harvest, and is the genesis of our North American Thanksgiving.

The early European settlers would certainly never have survived without the gift of the Three Sisters: corn, beans, squash. The settlers’ monoculture didn’t work. The haudenosaunee (Iroquois) believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sister spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or “Our Sustainers”.

This summer I was reading Jack Weatherford’s Indian Givers. I have been astounded to learn all of the gifts that the First Peoples of North America have given to the whole world.

From potatoes discovered in Peru (always celebrated at Dona Luz on St. Clair!) to maple syrup, First Peoples’ agricultural technology and tastes have given birth to a culinary revolution around the world.

Ceremony matters.

History matters.

I’m excited that this Sept. 21 we will have our own celebration. We will be able to take a number of you — the first 40 people who RSVP! — on The First Story Toronto Bus Tour.

The tour will take us to sites in Toronto that have significant historical importance to First Peoples.

It will explore the history of Native travel routes along Spadina, Davenport and Dundas, and the significance of areas like the St. Lawrence Market and Toronto Islands.

We in St. Paul’s have learned about the Davenport trail because of the wonderful historical panels in the Tollkeeper’s Cottage, at Bathurst and Davenport, that tell us the stories of the traditional aboriginal path now covered in asphalt.

As Heritage Toronto says, it traces the “ancient footpaths through the accumulated imprints of countless journeys.”

However, I think few people know that Avenue Road and Eglinton was first settled in the 1400s by the Hurons, whose village stayed until the early 1700s.

Lyman B. Jackes’ Tales of North Toronto describes “a well organized and extensive community that had its centre in an artesian spring of pure water. The spring flowed where the modern water tower rears its head on Roselawn Avenue, just to the west of Avenue Road. The great tribal huts were on the site of the present day Allenby Public School.”

Jackes goes on to explain that the Allenby School hill is not natural but man-made, the result of the Huron’s practice of burrowing food stocks underground.

So as we watch the fabulous maples turn red and the chestnuts fall to the ground, let’s all find a way to celebrate the changing of the season. We have to. We’re Canadian!

To sign up for the Great Canadian Bus Tour, please contact my office at

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Posted: Sep 9 2014 10:14 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto