Reconciling the Impacts of the Trent Severn Waterway
Every year, on September 30, we observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day pays tribute to the children who never returned home from residential schools, the Survivors, their families, and communities who bear the enduring scars of this dark chapter in Canada’s history.
As we commemorate Truth and Reconciliation Day, let us honour the enduring spirit of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples throughout Turtle Island. This includes our own community, the Georgina Island First Nation, as we continue to heal from the énduring harms perpetrated by the Indian Residential School System and the historical impacts of colonialism, such as the creation of the Trent Severn Waterway.
The Displacement of the Chippewas of Georgina IslandFirst Nation
Canada's history is marked by both remarkable achievement sand painful injustices. The completion of the Trent Severn Waterway stands as an engineering marvel, yet its consequences reverberated through the lives of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (GIFN) in ways that continue to impact us today.
Before the Trent Severn Waterway's completion, the GIFN community could travel to the mainland by foot or wagon, enjoying the flexibility and autonomy to engage with their ancestral territories. The lake's low water levels allowed them to cross with ease, and their traditional practices of farming, fishing, and gathering were deeply intertwined with the environment.
The completion of the Trent Severn Waterway in the 1920s was a turning point that altered the course of GIFN's history. While the waterway facilitated trade and transportation for settlers, the consequences for GIFN were profound. The surge in water levels caused permanent flooding, eroding land and washing away ancestral footpaths. This disruption led to economic upheaval, cultural erosion, and a shift in their way of life. Access to resources like wild rice and cranberries dwindled, disrupting their diet and economic activities.
The impact of the Trent Severn Waterway extended to transportation, as the community was forced to rely on rowboats and later ferries to access vital services, employment, and education on the mainland. Children often have to live with families on the mainland during the winter months to attend school safely, mirroring the historical trauma of Indigenous families being forcibly separated by the Residential School System. Dangerous ice roads in winter and limited ferry schedules create ongoing challenges, further impacting the community’s quality of life.
The Path to Reconciliation and Health
This is an important time as we acknowledge the harms of the past and move forward along the path to reconciliation.
The proposal for a Fixed Link or bridge between Georgina Island and the mainland represents a significant opportunity for both healing and progress. It is a tangible step toward reconciliation, acknowledging the historical wrongs. The Fixed Link would not only enhance health and safety by providing a reliable means of transportation but also restore autonomy, reconnect families, and preserve cultural heritage.
The challenges posed by the waterway's completion continue to affect GIFN's well-being. The proposal for a Fixed Link offers a path to right historical wrongs, enhance safety, and create lasting connections that promote both reconciliation and a brighter future.
- Georgina Island – The Jewel of Lake Simcoe. Excerpt from The Alliance for a Better Georgina publication, The Georgina Book. Published: October 17, 2010
- Parks Canada - Trent Severn Waterway
- REMEMBER THIS: How Georgina came to be by Richard MacLeod, Newmarket Today. Published, July 23, 2023
- 'Stolen, not conquered': Georgina Island resident shares Indigenous history in York Region by Kim Zarzour, YorkRegion.com - Indigenous History. Published: Friday, September 30, 2022
- History of indigenous people residing along Lake Simcoe region by Heidi Riedner, MuskokaRegion.com. Published: Wednesday, June 7, 2017
GIFL Project: Cultural Heritage Report
WSP's Cultural Heritage Report for the Georgina Island Fixed Link Project identifies key heritage sites and plans mitigation measures, with ongoing updates to include more First Nation elements.
Fixed link is ‘the promise of a better future’ for Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation
Community adhering to Impact Assessment Agency of Canada process to assess potential impacts on Lake Simcoe: Chief Donna Big Canoe
GIFL Project: Preliminary Assessment of Geotechnical Conditions
A desktop study was carried out to collect information on ground conditions in the project area from previous geotechnical investigations and geological maps/reports.