This year’s recent Sources of Knowledge (SOK) forum based in Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula about an hour north of Hope Ness focussed on First Nation history in this area.
I regret having missed it; otherwise, I would have been aware of the special presentation virtually right around the corner from me on the other side of Hope Bay at the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Community Centre at Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker).
I’m kicking myself: it may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear much more about the significant archeological work done at Nochemowening. Known in recent years as Hunter’s Point, Nochemowening, is an area of land below the Niagara Escarpment on this side of Hope Bay. It is part of Hope Ness.
The Ojibway name means “Place of Healing” or “Place of Hope” in English. I couldn’t begin to say how well the translation reflects the spirit of the First Nation language, and the First Nation experience at a sacred location with a history far longer than the arrival of the first English speakers about 150 years ago.
But I will say there are examples of people in both cultural traditions who have sensed a special spirit in the entire Hope Ness area. That’s a spirit, I understand, that since time immemorial drew First Nation people here from throughout the Great Lakes area for hunting, fishing, and above all, healing. I don’t necessarily include myself amongst them, except perhaps as a sort of apprentice, with a lot yet to learn.
I think again of Wilma (Tucker) Butchart who lived all of her adult life in the house and on the farm I now call home, beside the Hope Bay Forest. She was born and raised just down the Hope Ness Road on the Tucker homestead. The remnants of an old pump house are all that’s left. Like most of the land in that part of Hope Ness, the former Tucker property is now Crown land, under provincial ownership for the time being.
The talented, largely self-taught artist, musician, poet, historian and farmer used to love going for long walks through what she called The Cathedral Woods to the place most special to her – the lookout over Hope Bay from the top of the Niagara Escarpment cliffs. The name she gave those woods was, I think, her way of giving words to the spirit she sensed. In recent years the Ontario Parks organization renamed them the Hope Bay Forest.
I learned a lot from Wilma about Hope Ness, including the point now called Nochemowening. I believe it was she who told me about the First Nation wise man, or Shaman, who lived in a cabin on the point, long before anyone thought of cottage-lot development potential.
She was also the first to tell me the story of the Dow Chemical takeover in the mid-1960s of most of the land in Hope Ness as part of the company’s plan to develop a huge limestone quarry and shipping facility below the escarpment on the west side of Hope Bay. That smaller body of water is part of Georgian Bay.
Fortunately, Dow did not go through with its plans, likely because of growing public/political pressure to preserve the Niagara Escarpment as a continuous land form all the way from Niagara Falls to Tobermory; otherwise, the natural environment of Hope Ness, and its First Nation heritage would have been destroyed.
But the land acquisitions largely spelled the end of Hope Ness as a rural, farm community barely out of its pioneer-homestead period. People who were born and raised outside the area might be surprised to know electricity did not come to Hope Ness until about 1950.
I am also grateful to Wilma Butchart for sharing her respectful childhood memory of seeing First Nation people moving quietly through the Hope Ness woods near the Tucker home in a search for the precious wild Ginseng that grew in the sun-dappled shade under the trees. They knew it had the power to help keep them healthy, that it was part of the healing spirit of the land. I don’t know if she actually knew that kind of gathering was in fact, and still is, the treaty right of local First Nation people. But she certainly sensed it was right. I think she felt a spiritual kinship and would have happily joined them.
What I’ve written above is an attempt to create some kind of context for wanting to do right by Hope Ness, local First Nation people, and Nochemowening. It’s also about wanting to make peace for anything I may have done as a local journalist that fell short of the best that could have been done in my coverage of First Nations’ issues. And that includes not being at the recent event.
My sense of obligation about that, to be thoroughly open and honest about it, has a lot to do with having been at Nochemowening years before archeological investigation discovered thousands of First Nation artifacts, and most of all, the presence of burial sites.
In the summer of 1979 after I moved to Hope Ness from Toronto I got some work helping developer Alton Hunter clear the roadway through the forest leading to his planned cottage-lot development. I cut down trees and I burned brush. At least once during a break in my work I went for a walk to the point.
In 1994, after much discussion, a team of archeologist that included Bill Fitzgerald was given four weeks to find “whatever they could,” Nelson Phillips, of the Wiarton Echo, wrote in an article after the Sources of Knowledge session. They found a lot: 3,800 artifacts on or close to the surface; and then they found the burial site of an infant. Eventually six burial sites were found; that area has not been developed, and rightly so. In 2007 the Ontario Heritage Land Trust purchased the land, and a co-management agreement between the province and Chippewas of Nawash was signed in 2011.
I can still quite clearly see myself walking through that very place, the proverbial “bull in a China shop.” That’s another example of how memory underlines the importance of certain moments in our lives. Something was trying to tell me where I was: an inner voice perhaps, or more likely the collective voices of the spirits that were there, and are still. Only now they’re protected from further depredation..
A version of this post was initially published in The Sun Times May, 2016.