Saturday, September 5, 2009

Heritage: Walking Bâby Point

One of three groups taking Heritage Toronto's "Bâby Point: 10,000 Years of History" walk made its way along Bâby Point Crescent in Toronto, Ontario on 30-August-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Heritage Toronto walk through the Bâby Point neighbourhood near where I live has become an annual tradition for me. This year's walk on 30-August-2009 had been especially anticipated since, last year, an update on whether early explorer Étienne Brûlé had really passed through the neighbourhood had been promised.

Brûlé has become a well-known historical figure really for all of Toronto as supposedly the first European to visit a portion of the city. He had been sent west by the French in the early 1600's to live with the local tribes, learn their language, and be able to serve as an interpreter. Étienne Brûlé Park lines the Humber River near the Old Mill in honor of the long-standing belief that he had passed through the area, if not right through the park, when traveling with the Huron tribe that he had lived with between Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario.

A painting nominally of Etienne Brûle with the Huron tribe was held up during the Heritage Toronto walk through Bâby Point on 30-August-2009

The Bâby Point walks have been led for some years by la Société d'histoire de Toronto, and obviously Brûle is an especially important to them as a key French figure in the city's history. However, in recent years, the long-standing story that Brûle and the Huron had traveled down the Humber River to Lake Ontario on what would later be called the "Toronto Carrying Path" had been questioned. There is evidence based on later writings that the Huron may have actually used the Credit River to reach Lake Ontario, meaning that Brûle would have passed through Mississauga, not Toronto.

The Bâby Point walk paused along the Humber River for a talk on Hurricane Hazel as it traversed Étienne Brûlé Park on 30-August-2009

So what was the update this year? In some sense, the society has given up on having a definitive history. As Brûle did not keep copious records, it may be impossible to determine if he traveled to Lake Ontario down the Humber or down the Credit, and it seems clear that the Huron used both routes. Short of an unexpected discovery in the future, the line now is that we will never know if Etiennne Brûle really was the first European to pass through what is now Toronto or not.

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