Ab Initio: The Beauty and Legacy of our Land

Ab Initio: The Beauty and Legacy of our Land

To celebrate our move to the West Toronto Junction THA has worked with Sarah King Head, CAHP (writer and historian), Kamila Hakimova (website design) and Vik Pahwa (photographer) to provide a series of accounts of the place that we will soon call home.

The Great Lakes watershed and landscape we have the privilege to inhabit are the result of millions of years of change. Beginning almost 2.6 million years ago, Pleistocene glacial ice sheet advances and retreats across the continent scoured and shaped the landscape, while fluctuating water levels and rock depositions further transformed the surface topography. Even though evolution of these lakes – the world’s largest inland (freshwater) lake system – was the culmination of a process that took millions of years, they did not become recognizable as we know them today until about 10,000 years ago.

Detail of Sharpe, D.R. Quaternary Geology of Toronto and surrounding Area: Southern Ontario. Ontario Geological Survey Preliminary Map P. 2204, Geological Series, 1980

Human penetration into the Great Lakes area began perhaps as many as 3,000 years earlier, notably during a period when the limits of lake and land were still in flux. Nomadic, these earliest Indigenous peoples responded to the seasonal ebbs and flows of nature, hunting and gathering as provided by land and water. As with all peoples, access to fresh water was key; and from the beginning infrastructure radiated out from specific hubs located on or travelled along shorelines and followed the natural contours of the land. Technological advances responded to growing populations; and by the time European explorers first arrived on the north shore of Lake Ontario around where the City of Toronto is now located in the early seventeenth century, they would have encountered the permanent agricultural settlements of the Huron-Wendat Nation.

This ancient hub was served by sophisticated networks of interconnected terrestrial trails and aquatic routes that not only spanned the entire continent, but also responded to the specific needs of local Indigenous populations. Since water had been the most efficient means of intercontinental transportation for millennia, links between the lakes were of paramount importance. Among those most relied upon in this area were those that followed the Don, Rouge and Humber rivers, connecting Lake Ontario with the upper Great Lakes system.

Iroquois Sand deposits (Pleistocene) forming basis of the modern-day Junction topography (Detail from Map of Toronto and Vicinity [Toronto: Department of Lands, Forests and Mines, 1913]: https://maps.library.utoronto.ca/dvhmp/Scans/G_3501_C5_1891_22g.jpg )
European contact brought pestilence and disrupted traditional Indigenous territorial divisions. Thus, the ancient lands of the Huron-Wendat shifted north to the Georgian Bay area as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy began its ascendancy in this area. Among the villages they established was the settlement known as Taiaigago’n on the Humber River (Onguiaahra Eagua). By the eighteenth-century, the Anishinabeg had become the dominant Indigenous nation in the area – and it was with the Mississaugas of the Credit whom the British negotiated the Toronto Purchase (Treaty 13) in 1787. And yet in spite of the profound social disruption to the region’s first peoples, it is noteworthy that ancient infrastructures were maintained and more often than not formed the framework for subsequent waves of European settlement.

The Humber River (historically known as ‘La Passage/Portage de Taronto’ and even ‘Rivière Taronto’) that linked Lake Simcoe (the original Lac de Taronto) with Lake Ontario – also known as the Toronto Carrying Place – was one such route. Midway along its 45-km stretch near today’s Baby Point on the east side of the river and south of Black Creek was where the community of West Toronto first emerged.

C.W. Jeffreys. Map of Showing the Position of the French Posts at Toronto, in The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1942), p. 218

Within these historical contexts, it is therefore worth emphasizing how the ‘Junction’ represents not only the importance of converging rail lines which secured settler hegemony in this part of the British Empire, but also a junction of pre-Industrial routes and more than ten-thousand years of Indigenous transportation by land and water.

At this place, we acknowledge not only the history and the miracle of this land but also that we have the privilege to live on the traditional territory of many Indigenous nations and biotic ecosystems, which today is home to people from all over the world. Taylor Hazell Architects is Moving to the West Toronto Junction. We celebrate our move with this series of posts that help us understand the place that we will call home. Visit our website at www.taylorhazell.com.


Bornhorst, T.J. An Overview of the Geology of the Great Lakes Basin. A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, web publication no. 1. Michigan Technical University, 2016: https://museum.mtu.edu/sites/default/files/2019-11/AESMM_Web_Pub_1_Great_Lakes_Geology_0.pdf

City of Toronto Land Acknowledgement, 2019: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/90c6-2019-Land-Acknowledgment-Guidance.pdf

Common Bond Collective. West Toronto Junction Historic Context Statement (2020): Courtesy of the City of Toronto

Lizars, K.M. The Valley of the Humber, 1615–1913 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913): https://archive.org/details/valleyofhumber00lizaiala/page/n9/mode/2up

Rayburn, A. The Real Story of How Toronto Got Its Name, Canadian Geographic, (1994), pp. 68–70.

Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society: Protecting High Park Burial Mounds: https://taiaiakon.wordpress.com

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Humber River Watershed Plan: Pathways to a Healthy Humber, 2008: http://www.trca.on.ca/dotAsset/196564.pdf

West Toronto Junction Historical Society: https://wtjhs.ca