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Falls and woods showing logs in the rushing waters.
Early Muskokas

Much of the publicly touted information surrounding Orillia's past history begins around the time it was incorporated as a town (1875), and perhaps some is readily available back to her days as a village (1867), but Orillia's more distant past (1800 onward) is not often discussed by any tourist brochures, nor city offered pamphlets.

When one takes the time to to find out about this early past, it isn't surprising that it's left out. The very early days could easily resemble a lawless western town (and the reading material almost makes it seem worse than Tombstone) with liquor and beer flowing freely down the streets, and houses of ill repute on every corner.

I suppose in today's world, these tales of the past probably seem fairly mild, and some of the incidents recounted almost read like comedy, but in those days when life really was tough, and you had to fight for everything ... the inhabitants wouldn't have considered it funny at all.

In this area, drink was apparently the panacea to boredom, and appears to have been the hobby of many a man (and some women), even those with a more religious bent seemed to think it was "good medicine".  The prevalence of these "evil" beverages came, of course, as the town was being settled, and continued for well over 40 years into the later 1800s.

The first settlers (er, "white" settlers) in this area are reported to be several families, at least a couple of which are noted as coming from Edinburgh (Scotland). The list for early years (c. 1833) include the Jacob Gill family (who are reported to have had 14 children); the Thomas Butcher family; the James Sanson family (he was born in Edinburgh, served several positions in this area, and died in the town of Orillia in 1876 and the ripe old age of 81); the Robert Bailey family, along with several men:  Gerald Alley (govt. agent); Captain Borland; and, Rev. Gilbert Miller. A few reports have Gerald Alley arriving prior to 1833 to "teach farming to the Indians".

Map of old Orillia showing Lake Simcoe and Shingle Bay
From: Notes on Indian Villages; A. Hunter
Some of these early arrivals planned a village to be located on Shingle Bay (see map), but it appears that other than a few cabins, it never got off the ground (so to speak). It was referred to in a Toronto newspaper by the unlikely name of "New Town of Innisfallen". Strangely, before Orillia was incorporated as a village, it was referred in some documents simply as "Newtown".

A later list of settlers (a 1936 directory) lists, in addition to those noted above: Andrew Borland (maybe this is "Captain Borland of above); Michael Bowers, James Dallas, Peter Lamb, J. Lawrence, John Rowe, Andrew Moffatt, Rev. J. Scott, Leonard Wilson, and Neil Morrison.

Before the area was settled, it was travelled and used by the Ojibway and Huron natives. The fish weirs at the Narrows provided a good fishing ground; water was plentiful and clean. According to some accounts, the Hurons disappeared from Simcoe County area in the (probable) mid-1600s, Champlain is noted as having reached "Cahiague" (now, Orillia) sometime in 1615, while the Huron's were still in residence. Champlain sided with the Hurons in a great battle with the Iroquois; the Hurons were defeated, and Champlain was wounded.

It appears that after this time, the Orillia area seems to be prevalently populated by the Ojibway tribes. One of the things that is much more difficult to garner actual facts for is the aboriginal history here - their early history, although it seems obvious there is one, the details are not easily found.

Native canoes on the river.Several researchers and authors have studied the historic materials, and anyone interested in detailed histories of native people may find more information in these works: Aboriginal History in Ontario's Cottage Country by Tom Peace. His dissertation has links to several other books studying the history of aboriginals in Ontario. I also found The History of Simcoe County, by Andrew F. Hunter of interest on this subject.

For those interested in the archaeological data for the aboriginals in the Orillia area, see this newspaper article in the Packet: Plundered Graves Lie Under Orillia. In so many ways, this was very sad to read - the way in which nobody seemed to think much of digging up these graves (circa 1870s; Hammond). Today it seems sacrilegious that the these graves were given so little respect. Also see the site of Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society for more information.