Description of the Project

As the oldest post-secondary institution in southwestern Ontario, Huron University College has a deep and complex history in this region. Built at a time when the lower Great Lakes were radically transformed from an Indigenous landscape defined by Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples to one shaped by the influx of hundreds of thousands of recent European immigrants, the college was embedded in facilitating this transformation. As such, administrators, professors and students were part of this process. In fact, following the recently created Anglican diocese of Huron, the college adopted a French inspired name for the Wendat people, Huron, in recognition that “the new Diocese comprised the hunting ground of the Hurons, whose council fires had for ages lighted up all parts of these western forests.”[1]

This website documents our collaborative and ongoing faculty-student research project into the historical links between Huron Theological College, now Huron University College, and local Anishinaabe-Ojibwa and Mohawk peoples. On this site you will learn about Huron’s Rare Books Collection but also the complex lives of some of our nineteenth-century faculty and students. People like student Isaac Bearfoot, an Onondaga man from Six Nations who was both an accredited teacher and Anglican priest; or Henry Chase,  an Anishinaabe man who as president of the Grand General Indian Council argued for “proper consultation with the Indian people should be had, when any Act of Parliament is proposed which may affect them;”[2] Or Edward Wilson, an Englishman who was invited by the college’s founders to work as a missionary in Anishinaabe communities and later went on to found the nefarious Shingwauk Residential School. Our aim in producing this site is not one of celebration, but rather to expose and foster a discussion about our institution’s past. In researching these histories, we seek to explore the relationships that developed through the college as representative of the complex and enduring processes that shaped settler and indigenous communities and continue to characterize our city, region and nation.

Our project is funded by the 2014 John and Gail MacNaughton Prize for Excellence in Teaching, with the goal of developing new methods for teaching history through project-based research learning. Using the primary documents from the Huron Diocesan Archive and the Rare Books in the Huron Library Collection, students in third and fourth year history classes created research projects that deployed a variety of innovative formats, including research papers, maps of indigenous language publishers, virtual exhibits of rare books in indigenous languages, and short “Heritage Minute” films documenting the lives of Ojibwa alumni of the College:  the Rev. Henry Pahtahquahong Chase and the Rev. Simpson A. Brigham.

Our ongoing research illumines an often-forgotten aspect of Huron’s history, revisits the role Huron and other similar institutions had in missionary education projects including residential and day schools for indigenous children, and engages with the larger project of reconciliation as set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action of 2015.

This project builds on two courses taught at Huron in 2015-6 and 2016-7.

HIST 4202F/G: Confronting Colonialism: Land, Literacies and Learning  explores the changing meaning of literacy and learning in Indigenous societies in response to the arrival and imposition of European epistemologies during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century. This course challenges students to grapple with the complex ways that education, literacy and schooling have been used as imperial and colonial tools to assimilate and dispossess Indigenous people of their lands, culture and political power and how these people have engaged with these tactics to maintain their communities, culture and Land.

HIST 3801E: The Historian’s Craft is a theory and methods course for History majors. It introduces students to the ways in which histories can be written, and how historians can make history accessible and relevant to the wider community. Using hands-on research activities, we draw upon archival documents in the Huron Diocese Archive as the basis for our Heritage Minutes, and on interpreting the research done by HIST 4202 for our Rare Books Exhibits. We also collaborated on creating draft syllabi for a future course on the history of local residential schools.

[1] Benjamin Cronyn, A Charge Delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese of Huron, (Toronto: Rowsell & Ellis, 1859), 51.

[2] Don Smith, DCB,