Originally published on Torontoist on June 18, 2013.
Riding a bicycle along the Finch Corridor path near Jane Street and Finch Avenue takes you past plenty of grassy fields and hydro towers. The serene surroundings make it hard to imagine that over 500 years ago the area already had its present-day population density.
The path runs through the Parsons Site, a former Huron-Wendat village that is now considered one of the city’s major pre-European archaeological discoveries. On June 15, Heritage Toronto staged a historical bike tour through the area.
The ride, Heritage Toronto’s second bike tour this year, was run in collaboration with Community Bicycle Network (CBN). Those who couldn’t drag their bikes out to North York were accommodated with Bixi bicycles.
The ride followed an unveiling ceremony for some new trail plaques. City Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West) read a proclamation from Mayor Rob Ford declaring June 15 Huron-Wendat Day. Speakers included descendants of the Parsons Site community, who currently reside on the Huron-Wendat reserve in Wendake, Quebec. Starting in 2010, the band consulted with the City on the trail’s creation.
Riders pedalled back and forth along the trail from Jane Street to Sentinel Road. At each stop, archaeologist Ron Williamson discussed different aspects of the significance of the site, which was the largest of four major Huron villages between the Humber and Rouge Rivers. He addressed why the trail honours the Huron-Wendat, when most people associate Toronto’s aboriginal past with other tribes. The answer: the Huron-Wendat (also known as Wyandot) remained in the area until they were displaced in the mid-17th century because of a combination of epidemics of European diseases and war with Iroquois tribes, who were subsequently pushed out by the Ojibwa. Williamson discussed the importance of maize to the Huron diet—it made up half their daily food intake—and how trading maize and other items changed their language from an Algonquian tongue to Iroquoian long before they were physically displaced.
Williamson also discussed how the Parsons Site has been excavated and protected over the years since the University of Toronto first dug there in 1952. Just under the grassy surface sit palisades and the remains of at least 10 longhouses. The last major dig in 1989 was prompted by a watermain project.
Members of the CBN marshalled the ride. Among them was Thomas Hasan, whose Heritage Rides organization seeks to bring together historians and cycling advocates to provide guided tours. While there aren’t any other rides scheduled at present, Hasan has had interest from groups stretching from Mimico to The Beaches. He notes that he would “like to work more closely with the BIAs, local businesses, and other sources of funding, including crowdsourcing, to support the development of new heritage rides.”
Heritage Toronto’s Chief Historian and Associate Director Gary Miedema hinted that there might be a remount of the first heritage bike tour, which had taken place a week earlier on the Toronto Islands. He imagines future tours drawing on longer stretches of off-road trails, like those along the Don and Humber Rivers, as well as rides exploring the histories of communities like Don Mills. He finds the participation of cycling groups like CBN critical to making tours work smoothly. Expansion of the program will depend on finding volunteer tour leaders.