|Wendat woodpecker effigy, early 1500s|
There's a neat site called The Toronto Museum Project, which is a way of sharing some of the city's historical artifacts online. They've got a page for 100 artifacts, each with historical information and a personal story from a Torontonian. The whole thing is pretty cool — there's a military jacket from the War of 1812, a button from a famous Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead concert at the O'Keefe Centre, a dinner menu from the S.S. Noronic, a letter written by Louis Riel...
You can check out the whole thing here, but I thought I'd share one of my favourite discoveries from the site. It's an effigy of a woodpecker from the bowl of a pipe that was uncovered during an archaeological dig just a few minutes outside the north-east corner of our city. Back in the early 1500s, before the first Europeans showed up, there was a big Wendat village there (ancestors of the modern Wyandotte Nation; the French called them Huron) — home to more than a thousand people and dozens of longhouses. They call it the Mantle site; it's one of the biggest and most important First Nations sites ever discovered. (I'll have a full post about Mantle someday; I'm reading a book about it — they found tens of thousands of artifacts there, including the oldest European artifact ever discovered in the interior of the continent. The History Channel even made a documentary about it, narrated by Robbie Roberston. You can watch it online here.)
The personal story that comes along with the woodpecker pipe was provided by Ron Williamson — he's the guy who runs Archaeological Services Inc., Toronto's biggest archaeology company, the people who uncovered the artifact. For his contribution, he does something a little bit different: instead of sharing his own story, he takes the opportunity to share a story that was told by Kitty Greyeyes, a Wyandot woman. She told it to her nephew, B.N.O. Walker, in 1911:
A beautiful Indian maid often went to dances. Whenever she was getting ready for a dance or a feast, a little grey Woodpecker would always assist her in dressing. It was with the utmost care that he helped her when she put the many coloured paints on her face.The little bird’s feathers were all of one colour, that is, grey all over, with some small white spots in his feathers. Every time his mistress painted these various colours on her face, he would look at her with great admiration and think that she was very pretty, indeed, especially with the bright red colours.One day, when he was alone, the little bird noticed that one of the wooden brushes that she had used was still lying there, with some red paint on it. Now he said, “I will make myself look pretty with it!” So he took the brush and rubbed it many times on each side of his head, over his ears and that is how he obtained those two tiny red stripes that are still to be seen on his head nowadays.
You can check out the full Toronto Museum Project site here.