Indigenous peoples have lived in what is now known as Southern Ontario for the past 13,000 years following the retreat of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet during the last Ice Age. Early in this history, people would have visited the Grand River as it provided a convenient route inland from Lake Erie into the forests and hunting grounds. The river also provided fish that comprised an important component of their diet.
Before the cultivation of maize began around 500 CE, Indigenous peoples lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle moving to different camp sites throughout the year in pursuit of game, fish, wild berries and other foodstuffs and to gather materials for clothing and shelter. These itinerant campsites left little impact on the landscape and are difficult to find.
With the advent of maize agriculture, more permanent campsites emerged. Often these campsites were on the floodplain of the Grand River, across from the corn fields. As the Indigenous population grew, the campsites expanded to become villages comprised of longhouses and surrounded by a wooden palisade. Some of the villages housed several thousand residents.
Archaeological research has uncovered several Neutral villages in Brantford and Brant County. These include the following:
- Porteous – circa 900-1000 – now occupied by the Brantford landfill site
- Holmedale – circa 1000 – now occupied by the Brantford Water Treatment Plant
- Middleport – 1350-1400 – along the north shore of the Grand River near the hamlet of Middleport
- Fonger – 1580-1610 – on Fairchild Creek
- Walker – 1635-1650 – on Big Creek
Several archaeological sites from settlements in the early 1800’s have been discovered in Brantford. There is the Mohawk Village site which was occupied from 1800 to 1840 on lands to the east of downtown Brantford. In northwest Brantford, there is the Davisville site which was occupied by people from the Mohawk and Mississauga Nations. It was here that an Algonquin speaking Mississauga people, led by Reverend Peter Jones, lived contemporaneously in an agricultural community focussed around a mission and school. In northwest Brantford, artifacts from all major pre-European contact time periods - from the Late Archaic to the Late Woodland - have been found, representing 12,000 years of occupancy. The area is a significant cultural heritage landscape.
These Indigenous settlements occupied the lands along the Grand River in concert with the natural resources available to sustain them. The Indigenous people lived lightly off the land – there was a direct connection with the land that they depended on for survival. The Grand River and its tributaries, the floodplains, wetlands and forests were essential to their livelihood. The archaeological sites containing evidence of their occupation of the lands are often inter-mixed with significant environmental features. Protecting these environmental features also protects the history of human occupation of these lands.