Aylmer Councillor Arthur Oslach, a Catfish Creek Conservation Authority board member, seemingly knows the location of what’s believed to be traditional Indigenous hunting grounds at Springwater Conservation Area, but he’s not ready to say where.
The subject came up at a meeting of the board, held in person at the Aylmer Legion on Thursday, Oct. 7.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been together like this,” CCCA Chairman and Malahide Cr. Rick Cerna observed at the start of the session, “It’s nice.”
Acting General Manager Dusty Underhill then read an acknowledgment that the meeting was being held on the traditional lands of several Indigenous groups, including the Neutral Indians.
St. Thomas Cr. Lori Baldwin-Sands, a board member, said that on Sept. 30, Canada had observed its first national Truth and Reconciliation Day.
What wasn’t so well known, she said, was that some traditional hunting rights also existed in Springwater Forest, something that wasn’t acknowledged in CCCA’s strategic plan.
She hoped the boundaries of that hunting ground could be identified in 2022 and property mapped. She suggested contacting Fanshawe College as a potential mapping project for students, at no cost to the authority.
“I know where they are,” Cr. Oslach stated. “I can take you to the site.”
Cr. Baldwin-Sands, noting her initiative was the result of a story she’d previously heard from Cr. Oslach, hoped the general public would acknowledge the hunting grounds.
She had asked some regulars at the conservation area she knew, and none had any idea the hunting grounds existed.
Cr. Oslach said he’d been shown the site by the previous owner of the forest, and noted they were not crossed by any of the existing public trails at Springwater.
The grounds were on the east side of the forest, where three creeks fed Springwater Pond, he stated. He didn’t want to be more exact, in fear relic-hunters would disturb the grounds.
Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, a board member, asked how Cr. Oslach knew the site was a tradition hunting grounds.
Cr. Oslach said many years ago, he’d done some digging and found what he assumed was a trash heap, with broken pottery shards and split arrows, “all kinds of stuff,” along with animal bones.
Mayor Martyn, a local historian, said the Neutral Indians had been long gone from the area.
The Neutrals were more farmers than hunters, she continued, and artifacts of their times could be found on almost every farm in the area.
The Neutrals here were a branch of the Iroquois who refused to fight, and as a result were wiped out in the Huron and Iroquois wars, she said. This area was uninhabited for several hundred years before Europeans arrived.
Cr. Oslach said the Neutrals had settlements as large as 5,000 or 10,000 residents.
South-West Oxford Cr. Paul Buchner, a board member, said acknowledging the hunting grounds would be good, but he worried about modern Indigenous peoples suddenly trying to enforce a claim on that land. “It’s a touchy situation.”
Resources Planning Coordinator Tony Difazio said he’d be more worried about the general public becoming interested and disturbing the site.
Cr. Oslach said that was why he was keeping the exact location a secret.
Mayor Martyn said digging up Indigenous artifacts was now illegal.
Mr. Underhill said Springwater might have been mapped and studied by Western University in the 1970s and 1980s, and that might include Indigenous claims.
He would check and report back, he said.
Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express