The Big Smoke: Feeling Aboriginal in the City

Aboriginal cultures are inexorably tied to the land, so feeling at home in Toronto is as easy as stepping outside. Pedal down to the Martin Goodman Trail, hugging the western beaches, and ride west until you see the parallel arches of the Humber River Bridge. Those arches are the gateway to the city’s best parkland: Humber Bay Park East, where there are no cars, no billboards, and very few people. There are fishponds, butterfly gardens, and paths winding through grassland and meadow. There are rocky beaches and sandy beaches, and huge robins with rusty red breasts. There are also plenty of benches, and blackbirds who like muffin crumbs – except in June, when they’re busy dive-bombing people who come too close to their chick-filled nests. Best of all, the southeast edge of the park boasts a panoramic view of the Toronto skyline.

But let’s go back to that bridge for a second. There are turtles carved into the bridge, which references the Iroquois creation story. But there’s also a rather unfortunate plaque at each end, featuring an Iroquois warrior with a bow and quiver… but no arrows. Wishful thinking, since the Iroquois kicked pretty much everybody’s butt around these parts. In any case, the bridge reminds us that the mouth of the Humber River was once the site of a Seneca village called Teiaiagon. If you close your eyes and imagine what came before the bridges and the condos and the Gardiner Expressway – fishing weirs, fields of corn, and navigation routes now called Davenport Road and Niagara Street – you remember that this city has context.

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