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First Nation's Family Honoured by the naming of Manitouwabing Lake

Parry Sound District’s ghost towns of Seguin Falls and Swords existed a century and a half ago.

Another early settlement named Armstrong Village, beside a failed railway line called Edgington Station, are the foundations of what Orrville has become.

Today, somewhat between these aforementioned decommissioned settlements, are Lake Manitowaba and Little Manitowaba Lake.

McKellar Township

Coincidentally, within this same historical timeline and perhaps less than 20 kilometres away, there was a similarly named village called Armstrong Rapids along the shores of a then-identified Manitowaba Lake.

Early maps called its upper section Minerva Lake. Later documents referred to the whole of it as Manitowaba, or Manitowabin.

Eventually, Armstrong Rapids was renamed McKellar, as recorded in the “Guide Book & Atlas of Muskoka Parry Sound 1879.” John Rogers, the author of this book, reviews his stay at McKellar House and shares his fishing experiences along Manitowabin River, explaining the Indigenous way of cooking the catfish he caught in 1874.

As the century unfolds, McKellar’s Manitowabin eventually appears exclusively as Manitouwabing.

Historians will tell us that whatever variation of the name exists, the ultimate reference is to the First Nations peoples that occupied the region. Pre-colonization, the people of the Anishinabek Nation roamed freely, trading fish and fur. The Anishinaabe are a culturally related Indigenous group that include the Ojibwe.

The question is, who were the Manitowaba family and how did they influence the naming of the lake?

After treaties enforced religion and patriarchy, there were many societal changes for our First Nations ancestors. Christian names and registrations were compulsory.

Archives available through confirm there was a man named John Manitouwaba in the Parry Sound District. Author John Macfie (1925-2018) described in his literary work a merchant named Manitouwaba, who travelled with his wife from Parry Island to Dunchurch, selling their handcrafted wares. There are also tales passed down from pioneering McKellar families that speak of Old Man Manitowaba and how he helped the forefathers.

John Manitowaba Jr was born on the Parry Island Reserve on July 4, 1849. His father is also listed as John Manitowabi and his mother as Catherine Miskwakwad, born 1811.   It is unclear which Manitouwaba/Mantiowabi was the first in the region. There are different variations of spelling for these names in documents, all phonetically similar.

At age 17, he was baptized Methodist on Oct. 6, 1866, with a sister.  The information was filled out in French. A Statistics Canada census in 1881 lists John as a 21-year-old sharing his home with his 70-year-old mother and an eight-year-old child named Catherine Samuels. All three are listed as Methodists. There was no mention of a father. Either John’s father left, or he was predeceased.

On Sept. 6, 1888, at age 30, he marries Jane Sandy, 16, from Christian Island. Jane and John’s children are Sophia, Stanley and Simpson. They lost a two-year-old son on April 21, 1898. Simpson, born May 3 of that year, has a delayed birth registration certificate from McDougall Township, which the Town of Parry Sound was within. Simpson served in the First World War. Stanley married fellow Parry Island native Maria King on March 6, 1915.

John’s sister Mary Pegahmagabow, who was born 1828, is listed to have died June 26, 1934, at the age of 105. John’s son Stanley Manitouwaba provided the information for the certificate. It is reasonable to assume Mary was a relative of war hero Francis Pegahmagabow.

John Manitowaba’s death certificate states that he died at age 90 on Parry Island, on Feb. 9, 1940. Stanley signed the document. Years later, on Jan. 10, 1947, Jane passed away at age 83.

researched & written by Karyn Klaire Koski for MLCA

****This article was published by & Toronto Star Oct 30, 2021

Archived Historical Stories

  As told by local cottagers & local people   (Early Cottagers)   (Birch Island)

For More Archived Information Please visit McKellar Township's Historical Society

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