What evidence is there of First Nations remains (ossuaries) within Springwater Park – Camp Nibi?

September 25, 2013

I was wondering about this as I noted the excavation work being being done on the highest ground on the east side of Wilson Drive at Highway 26.

That would be the 5,000 to 10,000 year old trading route running on the high ground through Springwater Park called the Minesing First Nations Trail.

Hunter map minesing

Above is the Andrew Hunter map from page 20. The Minesing First Nations trail is in red with the Coutts Ossuary and Davis Site highlighted.

Hunter villages

This is an image of page 17 showing the 54 known Huron sites.

Historical Vespra map

This is the map with Hunter’s trails transposed in red (park in yellow)

Source: A History of Vespra County, Vespra Township Council. 1987.


Sprawl that threatens Springwater Park & Minesing Wetlands demands provincial Growth Plan enforcement.

September 12, 2013

Looking the other way will destroy south Simcoe County, the “jewel in the crown” of Ontario.

Black Creek Estates sign

A timely and extremely powerful article welds the Midhurst sprawl plan, the degradation of Willow Creek and Minesing Wetlands and the abandonment of Springwater Park issues together. Dr. John Bacher of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, PALS in St. Catharines writes: Provincial Action Puts Springwater Park at Risk: Occupiers Stand Up For the Land pdf newsletter


The ongoing April 1st 2013 native occupation of the 193 hectare Springwater Provincial Park in Springwater Township, Simcoe County, was a dramatic response to a Provincial down grade of this wonderful park’s status from “operational” to “non-operational”. These First Nations leaders, led by Elizabeth Brass Elson of the Beausoleil First Nation, have taken a dramatic stand which illustrates how the conservationist achievements of the past are being put at risk today. Their action presents a beacon of hope to those who care for the predominately agricultural landscape of Southern Ontario, appropriately afforested to secure ecological balance by Edmund Zavitz, the “Father of Modern Forestry”.

What the change of status for this park means, is that the gate to the park is locked and vehicles cannot enter. The magnificent picnic pavilion, which in the past was used as a showcase for the wonders of a recreational forest in a former blow sand desert, would have become the parks equivalent of a ghost town if not for the occupation. There is no longer any maintenance of the 12 kilometres of wheelchair accessible trails, 11 of which are designed to facilitate cross country skiing; garbage collection in the park has ceased; and, all the comfort stations have been closed.

One of the basic motivational reasons for the occupation has been the fate of other down graded Provincial Parks, which are now effectively unregulated and empty Crown Land, in heavily populated southern Ontario, where intensive park patrols and maintenance have been removed. In such circumstances Crown Lands have been vandalized by criminal elements such as motorcycle gangs. This can be especially damaging in a forest planted on top of re-claimed desert sand and vulnerable to being ripped up by off road vehicles. It is quite reasonable to expect that in such circumstances, situations can arise to encourage the sale of degraded park land.

Most of the 200 “non-operational parks” in Ontario are in the north, where pressures for vandalism are less severe because of the much lower population density. In this regard, it is astonishing that of the 10 provincial parks originally proposed to be closed by the Provincial government in 2012, Springwater was the only southern park that was closed and while the Province backed down on its proposal to make four northern parks “non-operational”, it refused to alter its stance in this case.

Severe Development Pressures in the Springwater Park Area
There are also severe development pressures around Springwater Provincial Park. As I noted in the Spring newsletter I viewed these quite vividly a few weeks before the park closure. Immediately across a road from the park there was a sign on a piece of private land announcing the new development of Black Creek Estate [of Snow Valley], which had also been afforested into White and Red Pine by the Provincial Government. It is 261 acres in extent, more than half the size of the provincial park. The sign indicated that the zoning was to be changed from environmental protection to residential and it is designated for 101 units, all of which is in direct violation of the Provincial Growth Plan. Development on this scale would require sewers, where there currently are none, a problem resolved through a “pre-servicing agreement.” This illustrates the concern of Midhurst Ratepayers Association which is battling sprawl in the area, for fear that development here would pollute Willow Creek and the Minesing Wetlands.

The proposal for a subdivision in a forest next to a Provincial park is just one element in the massive urban sprawl proposed in the Midhurst Secondary Plan. This threatens both the park and other areas of land afforested by the provincial government’s conservationist actions over many years and now being poorly managed as Crown Lands. The Plan proposes urban development on 1,700 acres of agricultural land, which would boost the population of the village of Midhurst from 3,500 to nearly 28,000. The Provincial Government did appeal this document to the Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB), however, it did not show up at the hearing this summer, and the Midhurst Ratepayers Association was defeated by the Township of Springwater, Simcoe County and developers.

Bacher Springwater Wilson Drive Black Creek

Mess in Midhurst Reveals Non-Enforcement of Growth Plan.
The First Nations occupation of Springwater Park and the hammer blow of the OMB against the Midhurst Ratepayers Association this summer, reveal the biggest problem with land use planning in Ontario. This is the non-enforcement of the Growth Plan, which was brought in simultaneously in 2005, when the Greenbelt was proclaimed by the Province.

The basic reason behind the Growth Plan is to prevent leap frogging beyond the areas that are supposed to be protected from sprawl by the Greenbelt. It applies to southern Niagara Waterloo Region and Simcoe County. Last month the Provincial Government brought in a slightly amended version of the Growth Plan, which drew the ire of some environmentalists and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture who felt the Plan was being diluted. However, from the viewpoint of those such as PALS, who are engaged in the struggle to protect agriculturally and environmentally zoned land from sprawl, the towering barrier to these ends, has been the nonenforcement of existing growth plan policies.

For instance, a cornerstone of the Growth Plan was supposed to be confinement of any urban expansion to the urban centre of Barrie. There was an Amendment One to the Growth Plan introduced, but this was only to provide more room for the Town of Alliston. The Province, in violation of the Growth Plan’s provisions, through the blunt instrument of a Ministerial Zoning Order, then rammed through an urban expansion in Bradford to facilitate box stores along an expressway.

As mentioned before, the Province, to its credit, did launch an appeal of the Midhurst Secondary Plan. However, in a black day for land use planning it withdrew part of its appeal to permit the construction of 5,000 new homes. As a result some 300 hectares are now eligible for urban expansion. In response, the Midhurst Ratepayers Association made an appeal to the OMB, and hired the former director of planning for Simcoe County, Ian Bender, (a former St. Catharines City planner, who PALS had often worked with ), as their expert witness.

Bender’s testimony to the OMB vividly illustrates how Midhurst’s carefully restored landscape of farmland and forests are at risk from sprawl. He indicated that until now “development has generally expanded the settlement area to its limits as defined by the adjacent highway and surrounding agricultural and environmental lands.” He also testified how the proposed boundary expansion would far exceed the allocations that the Province has established for the area under the Growth Plan.

In making its decision dismissing the Midhurst Ratepayers Association appeal the OMB did not dispute any of Bender’s conclusions regarding the violation of the Growth Plan, but threw his strong evidence out on procedural grounds.

The Midhurst fiasco shows the inherit weakness of the assumptions behind the Growth Plan. This is the folly of relying on the OMB to regulate local municipal planning in the countryside . The only way that these landscapes can be protected is through provincially developed planning as shown by the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Act, and now, the Greenbelt Act. The Growth Plan’s reliance on the OMB is simply a fog under which behind- the- scenes the machinations of developers are hidden.

Bacher Springwater Black Creek Estates

The basic reason why all of the currently agriculturally and environmentally zoned lands that are supposed to be protected by the Growth Plan should be incorporated into the much stronger Greenbelt, emerged unexpectedly in 2009 comments by Victor Doyle, a planner with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and what happened as a result. In his role commenting on proposed zoning and official plan changes under the Growth Plan, Doyle made the following comment: “South Simcoe County, long known as the ‘jewel in the crown’ is completely ill-suited for major urbanization on the Lake Simcoe and Nottawasaga Basins that are small and slow moving receiving bodies which simply cannot sustain the environmental impacts associated with what is a Greater Toronto Area scale of subdivision.” Shortly after these comments were penned Doyle was shuffled away from supervising land use planning in Simcoe County.

Dr. John Bacher is a member of the Advisory Council of the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition.

Cross-posted from SpringwaterParkcc.org.

Cross-posted to iLoveMidhurst.ca.

NOW Magazine Toronto picks up the Springwater Park – Camp Nibi reckless development defense story.

September 5, 2013

Will the Ontario government continue to allow Springwater Provincial Park to unthinkingly slide into sprawl?

now Bacher

An article in NOW Magazine’s News Frontlines section called John Bacher on Wild West sprawl wrecking Ontario parks will be appearing on September 5, 2013.


Those who love Georgian Bay and its tributaries are getting accustomed to bizarre schemes threatening its sanctity. First there was Dump Site 41 in Simcoe County, and then the Melancthon mega-quarry – both stopped in their tracks by massive protests, marches and cook-ins.

Now there’s the Ontario government’s plan to abandon Springwater Provincial Park, 10 kilometres north of Barrie. Since April 1, women from the Beausoleil First Nation near Midland have been occupying Springwater, protesting the park’s changed status from “operational” to “non-operational.” The closure is one of six.

It’s not a coincidence that the action’s spokesperson, Beth Elson, is a veteran of both the Dump 41 and the mega-quarry fights. She’s learned a thing or two about forming alliances with non-natives – and about winning.

The province points out that even though the gates are locked, visitors can still stroll the 193-hectare green space. But the reality is, the 12 kilometres of wheelchair-accessible trails, mostly used for cross-country skiing, will no longer be maintained; comfort stations are closed, as are the buildings; and the lovely stone water fountains and picnic pavilions will presumably be left to moulder.

The women have named their occupation camp Springwater Nibi, “nibi” being the Ojibway word for “uncompromised water,” a vivid reminder that the park’s beautiful ponds are fed by underground springs – it sits on the headwaters of the Minesing Wetlands. Those gushing waters allowed park officials to restore habitat for the elegant trumpeter swan, a species once wiped out in eastern North America.

Occupiers, who have set up a sweat lodge and given smudge blessings to the park’s zoo animals before their relocation to other sanctuaries, say the land traversed by old trading routes has deep roots in Ojibway history. They worry that the Ministry of Natural Resources’ withdrawal will leave the space vulnerable to trashing.

First Nation occupiers have strong relationships with the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition. Native environmentalist Danny Beaton, an anti-Dump 41 mainstay, is an official SPCC adviser. The group is deeply troubled by the sprawl wreaking havoc in Simcoe County in defiance of the weak policy supposedly protecting land on the fringe of the Greenbelt.

Contrary to the Growth Management Plan, development is encircling Springwater. A few weeks before the closure, I noted a sign across a road from the park indicating proposed zoning changes from environmental protection to medium-density residential. The Coalition fears construction is poised to pollute the Wetlands.

The province says it has no intention of selling the land, but the SPCC is skeptical that the government can resist building pressures.

Parks Ontario’s Jolanta Kowalski tells me parks are being closed as a cost-saving measure, part of a “transformation plan to make the ministry more modern, efficient and sustainable.’’ Springwater, she says, “returns only 53 cents on the dollar” and gets half the visits it did a decade ago. Changing its status, she says, will provide savings of $70,000 and avoid a capital investment of $1 million.

It depends on what you value, of course. The Beausoleil women say they are taking over the space from a ministry that has left it to ruin, and they want an aboriginal healing and heritage centre established on site. Will the Liberals see the light?

John Bacher is the author of Two Billion Trees And Counting: The Legacy Of Edmund Zavitz.


Dr. Bacher continues to serve on our SPCC Advisory Council.

We needed them to win the War of 1812 for us and repaid them with biased history, land theft and planning their very extinction.

July 6, 2013

Chief LaForme: They promised us a lot and the end result was we got squat. The loss of land, that’s what we got.


Elder and storyteller Gary Sault performs Friday at Fort York in Toronto during a War of 1812 commemoration. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

In the Globe and Mail print edition, the byline reads: Original Toronto-area residents were crucial to fending off the Americans in 1812, but lost their land and feel betrayed by Canada.

Chief Bryan LaForme is unhappy with the War of 1812.

The rest of Canada may consider the conflict a thing of the past, and be largely immune to government-sponsored commemorations meant to boost the war’s image.

But on the Mississaugas of the New Credit reserve near Hagersville, Ont., within the confined 2,500-hectare homeland of an Ojibwa people who once roamed much of Southern Ontario, history persists in the present tense.

“For me, the war is a disappointment,” Mr. LaForme says over a morning coffee at the native-owned Country Style Bistrodeli, as Stanley Cup highlights flash on a nearby TV. “It’s always about the British and the Americans, with no mention of the First Nations. So we were virtually invisible until a few of our people made this a focal point for us and got some recognition for our contribution – which is nice, but about time.”

Two “mutually incomprehensive” views of land use.

This aboriginal view of shared land tenure has never squared with the non-native idea of real estate exclusivity. “It all starts from a basis of mutual incomprehension,” says historian Donald Smith, who is launching his book, Mississauga Portraits, at the New Credit community centre. “The First Nations believed they were lending the use of their land. The newcomers felt it was an outright handover. The expectation was that these people would eventually disappear: They would either be brought into the larger society or perish.”

Let’s repeat that last bit: The expectation is these people would disappear.

Relation to Springwater Provincial Park land dispute?

The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation is nation that the Province of Ontario continues to insist “surrendered” the Williams Treaties (Treaty 16) lands that the disputed Springwater Park sits on. New Credit elders consider this odd because they had never considered the land in Springwater Township theirs by ownership or sustained use (too far north). They’ve also stated that even if they were the legitimate party to contract with, they never, ever ceded topographically high land because they knew that was were the ossuaries (bone pits) were placed by their up to 10,000 year old ancestors.

The Minesing First Nations Trail follows the ridge of an ancient inland sea and cuts straight through Springwater Provincial Park. Highway 26 is well-documented by European historians as an “Indian Trail” starting from what was called the Old Flos Road (current Bayfield Street North and Spence Avenue). Please see A History of Vespra Township map below and Andrew Hunter’s 1906 map (56 native sites).

I felt especially honoured to be able to help show Site #19 to an Anishinabe grandmother last fall and tell her what I knew of its story.

When you walk into Springwater Park – Camp Nibi, you are walking on sacred gound.

Many treaties of that era are falling apart publicly in court and privately in confidential deals.

Andrew Hunter’s work has held up very well since 1909

January 21, 2013

He spent 30 years documenting first nations activity in the Barrie area.

Hunter Andrew sitting

He identifies three kinds of Huron remains: village sites, burial pits and trails in the forest.


With many of the more important villages in the Huron country there are associated ossuaries, or bone-pits. since the year 1819, when Simcoe County first began to receive European settlers, discoveries of Huron ossuaries have been constantly taking place. The number of these discovered and undiscovered, has been variously estimated; more than one hundred and fifty have already been excavated by different persons, but chiefly by the farmers. As to the number of skeletons in each pit, a great diversity exists. The ossuary of average size contains about three hundred, but a few have been found in the Townships of Tay and Tiny containing, at a moderate estimate, more than a thousand, while others contain less than a dozen. These, however, are exceptional cases. The Hurons selected light, sandy soil, almost invariably for the pits, clearly because they had no good implements for digging heavy soil.

The Huron mode of burial resembled in some respects that of the Sioux, Blackfeet, and other North-west tribes of our own day. The body was placed, after death, upon a scaffold supported by four upright poles. At regular intervals of time the skeletons were collected for the scaffolds and buried in a large pit dug for the purpose.

Brebeuf’s account of the burial ceremony, (Relations des Jesuites, 1636), has been fully confirmed by excavation of the ossuaries.


The third class of Huron remains – the trails – have been singularly preserved from obliteration by succeeding Algonquin tribes. These tribes followed the original trials that were used by the Hurons in the seventeenth century, and kept them open down to the clearing of the forest by the white settlers. Our knowledge of the location of these rails comes chiefly from pioneers of the district, who themselves used the trails before opening the present public roads. From the fact that the sites of the Huron villages are now found along the same trails, it is clear that the paths recently closed were the original Huron trials.

 — A History of Simcoe County, Andrew F. Hunter, 1909, p 4 – 6.

Heritage plaque in front of the McLaren Art Centre in Barrie.

Hunter plaque

Could Springwater Park become to Simcoe County what High Park is to Toronto?

January 9, 2013

Or will we let the 107 year old dream of people like Drury and Zavitz be unfulfilled?High Park Toronto Canada

High Park Toronto (161 hectares/400 acres)

High Park [Wikipedia] is Toronto’s largest public park featuring many hiking trails, sports facilities, diverse vegetation, a beautiful lakefront, convenient parking, easy public transit access, a dog park, a zoo, playgrounds for children, a couple of eateries, greenhouses, picnic areas, a bunch of squirrels and various events throughout the year.

On this website you can find information about High Park to help you plan your visit and to learn what makes this beautiful park a true gem in the Southwestern part of Toronto. You can also view pictures of the park either on the photo gallery page or using the image slideshows located on every page.

In addition to almost all that, we have Springwater Park at 193 hectares or 477 acres:

The SPCC says the First Nations are key to saving Springwater Provincial Park

December 27, 2012

Our aboriginal friends deserve all of the credit for the Georgian Mall flash mob round dance.

black bear

This black bear could be one of several animals relocated in the near future as the province decides the long-term direction of Springwater Provincial Park, north of Barrie. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

A great article about the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition’s, SPCC position by Ian McInroy of the Barrie Examiner : Group trying to save Springwater Park hosting event at Georgian Mall Word  pdf but the headline does not reflect who should get the applause.

The First Nations, FN of Simcoe county and beyond deserve 100% of the support and credit.

End of story.

That being said, a very useful explanation why First Nations are so important in keeping the park open:

Les Stewart, of the SPCC, said support by the First Nations groups are vital to his group’s efforts to keep the park viable and that Wednesday’s event is intended to raise awareness about problems with Bill C-45 and the 14 pieces of federal legislation that would effectively re-write the treaty relationships with First Nations and degrade their role in important decision making.

“Only the Crown and First Nations have the right to alter that living relationship; it cannot be done unilaterally by any one federal government alone,” Stewart said Monday.

“The Springwater Park and surrounding forest lands are part of the disputed Williams Treaty, 1923. The MNR plans to make the park non-operational is a land-use change that the First Nations may choose to challenge.”

Simcoe County has been the home of FN communities for up to 10,000 years:  they’ve been born, lived and been buried here.

“There are 1,000 identified First Nation settlement areas in Simcoe County and from 150 to 175 ossuaries or “bone pits” that have been discovered,” he said. “Of the 150 or so, only about 10 (6.8%) have been treated respectfully and in a professional archeological manner. Most bone pits (a small one would have 300 skeletons) simply get dug up and forever lost.

“We believe an important 5,000 to 10,000 year old First Nations trail (Minesing Trail) runs between Anne Street at Carson Road and then along Anne Street north of Snow Valley Road and then straight through the park onto Minesing. Those lands have never been studied and the areas before and after are archeologically rich.”

The SPCC believes the First Nations sustainability model delivers the non-reckless precautionary principle of primum non nocere (first, do no harm).

“First Nations have lived in a sustainable way for thousands of years in Ontario,” Stewart said. “They consider themselves as protectors of all the land and water and had been extremely effective in helping defeat Site 41 (north of Elmvale) after 20-plus years of local activism couldn’t, and (stopped) the Mega Quarry in Melanchthon Township near Shelburne.

“Land use policy in Simcoe County is a controversial item and one that we will live with (for good or ill) for the next 50 years. Short-sighted, mega-growth can destroy communities and the environment in irreparable ways.”

Some have called the forests to the north of the city, “The Lungs of Barrie“.

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