The Lower Landing

Lower Landing - photo courtesy of Bert Duclos - Historian
Lower Landing - Photo by Thomas To

The Lower Landing has been described as being in the top 5% of historic sites in Canada.  It is located on Lot 118, on the west side of Yonge St. in East GWillimbury.

In 1997 Canadian Heritage Landscapes (CHL) submitted an application to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMB) requesting the Lower Landing be designated a National Historic Site and that the associated cultural landscape be protected from intrusion by the then proposed Bradford Bypass.

This application was set aside for reason that the board required archaeological evidence that the site identified by CHL was the Lower Landing.  HSMB was looking for collaborating evidence of the activities on the site.  This is because various historical accounts tended to treat the Lower Landing, the Upper Landing (1.5 miles upstream) and Holland Landing as all the same location.

The Lower Landing was the northern terminus of the Carrying Place Trail.  It was:

  • an encampment and embarkation site for First Nations peoples,
  • the aboriginal gift giving site where annual payments were made by the British to the Chippeaws for land  settlement rights granted  under treaties known as the Upper Canada land surrenders. These treaties ultimately evolved into the 1923 Williams Treaty. (Litigation resulting from that treaty was finally settled in 2018).   

 

Lot 118 was:

  • the Site of the Lower Landing – the Terminus of Yonge St. – Governor Simcoe passed through here in 1793 and established / built the route from York to the Holland River at Lot 118,
  • the end of the stagecoach line from York,
  • the site of military activity during the War of 1812. (Red Pine Fort / Fort Gwillimbury, also an important  defensive and naval supply post for Fort Michilimackinac),
  • the docks and landing points for the steamboats used on Lake Simcoe in the 1800’s,
  • a major gateway to and from the upper and lower great lakes for explorers, fur traders, soldiers and settlers, all major explorers/map makers including; Sir John Franklin, Joliet, LaSalle, Brebeuf, Brule and Hennepin,
  • the most important intersection between east and west Canada for several hundred years,

 

The area’s importance to the survival of Canada in the War of 1812 is addressed by Andrew Hind in the following article he published on Facebook.

 

In 1997, MOT conducted a phase 2 archaeological assessment of a portion of the proposed route near the East Branch of the Holland River and found an archaeological site which was given the designation (BaGv-42). 

In 2006, MTO conducted a stage 3 archaeological assessment of site BaGv-42.  This assessment went to some length to discuss the nature of activities attributed to the Lower Landing:

“There was some concern that the East Holland River site contained the remains of the early 19lh century Lower Landing site.  The creamware and pearlware shards recovered from East Holland River date to about this time period.  As well, the English trade axe (which was recovered from the west end of the site) may also be evidence of this occupation.  However, no trade beads or trade silver was recovered, nor was any evidence of the historic native camp which was reportedly associated with the Lower Landing site.  Our reading of the historic information compiled by Nancy Eves Robinson in the “The History of Holland Landing” suggests that the Lower Landing site may have been located further south along the river.  Given the above, it is unlikely that the Lower Landing is located at the East Holland River site, however this can only be determined if the site is completely excavated.”

To complicate matters further, the Chippewas of Georgina Island are on record that they want this site left untouched forever.

“This site was critical and instrumental to the formation of Canada and one of the contributing factors which brought our people to take up a permanent settlement on Lake Simcoe’s south shore.  These grounds have had only preliminary excavation but appear to have been used for over one thousand years.  The value of this place cannot be underestimated.

It is not our intention to impede progress, however we do not want to see a significant piece of history such as this lost forever.  Not only is the camp a home of our forefathers, but given the Nomadic nature of the times, and the length of time this site was used, there will undoubtedly be burial grounds in this area.”

“My reason not to call for a designation by Historical Sites Monuments Board is that these people may dig-up this site and open it up like a tourist attraction.  This place must remain undisturbed.” 

New Information about Lot 118 and the Lower Landing

The following is information that has subsequently come to CHL’s attention:

  1. Deed – registered January 24, 1914 – grants title of the waterfront portion of Lots 117 and 118 to His Majesty King Edward VII.  This is apparently an expropriation for the planned, but abandoned, Trent Canal. The last page of the Deed is a survey showing the location of the Lower Landing, just south of BaGv-42. The importance of this deed is that it will once and for all put to rest MTO’s false claims that the Lower Landing is 1.5 miles south of the highway route.

  2. Watercolour – of the Naval Depot at Holland Landing showing the extensive Military presence on Lot 118. The artist, is well renowned for a variety of historic site watercolours.  His work is held by the Royal Ontario Museum   

 

The watercolour shows the Naval Depot at Holland Landing (Lower Landing / Soldiers Bay).  This picture shows the extensiveness of the use of this area and demonstrates why this area deserves recognition and protection as a Cultural Heritage Landscape.

“When Irvine had somewhat recovered his health, he was appointed naval storekeeper at Holland Landing. Irvine’s rare and possibly unique view of Holland Landing records the site when it was a naval and military supply depot on the portage road between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. Log buildings, military tents, boats, and docks are lined up in a horizontal frieze along the marshy waterfront, against a backdrop of forest.”

Mr. David Ladell, previous owner of Lot 118 and a CHL supporter recently sent an updated Request for Designation to the HSMB. We hope that this new evidence, combined with MTO’s phase 3 archaeological assessment, and the government’s Peace and Reconciliation initiatives, will prompt a favourable response from the board. 

Attempts are being initiated to engage the Chippeaws in the hope that they will support Mr. Ladell’s application.  The alternative may well be a highway over and through the Lower Landing.

Our hope is that we could end up with a sister site to Fort Willow in Springwater Township. 

If they can do this, why can’t we?  Soldiers Bay, Lot 118 and Lower Landing have more history than this important site.