Neutral Indian Village (Barbican Heights)

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An artist's perceptions of the layout of Barbican Heights in the 1600s. Photo: [].




In pre-colonial history the Neutral Indians populated the majority of the Niagara Peninsula. The community of Barbican Heights was the regional capital. It is thought that this group either moved to a different area of the Peninsula, perhaps St. David's, or was decimated in attacks by warring Iroquois nations in the mid-1600s.

The Barbican Heights Neutral Indian Village in St. Catharines is a long extinct community. The area is now a subdivision on St. David's Road east. First Nations history is often more difficult to obtain than European history because of the lack of a written record and the absence of enduring architectural features. Much of the information we have about this village and its resident native populations is very vague.

Barbican Heights, called the Thorold Site by archaeologists, dates back to the year 1615 AD. Native artifacts were found here as early as 1895, chiefly due to the efforts of two local collectors named McComb and Case.

In 1979 a formal excavation was done, prior to building the subdivision visible today. Researchers theorized that the village spanned about 10 acres, located east of Highway 406 and North of St. David's Rd at the headwaters of a small creek. It was protected by a palisade and might have had over 25 long houses with somewhere around 1,200 people. Five longhouses were excavated inside the village, measuring between 20 and 50 metres in length and about 7 metres wide. Two of these were examined more closely for artifacts and other information about the people who had lived in the village. Several refuse dumps were also examined. Some of the artifacts unearthed from the site include ceramic vessels, pieces of flint, wampum beads, and European trade goods like iron axes, knives and hooks, many of French origin.

William Nobel, a researcher from McMaster University, said that the village served as the regional capital for the Onguiarahronnon nation of the Neutral Confederacy from about 1615 to 1630 AD. The village held an important defensive position, overlooking the current Barbican Heights subdivision and the Lake Ontario plain. A string of these semi permanent villages was located at the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

Although they were far from peace-loving the Neutral Indians were so named because they had refused to become involved in the hostilities between the Huron and Iroquois. They, however, were involved in many years of warfare with the Mascouten Indians of present-day Michigan.

Archaeologists reason that there were very few human remains at the Thorold Site because of the burial practices of these groups. Bodies were often kept for long periods of time before being buried communally after extended ceremonies. Villages like the one at Barbican Heights were mobile, moving to different areas as resources became scarcer or fields had been exhausted of nutrients. It is thought that the Thorold Indians abandoned the site in about 1630, perhaps moving to St. David's, although some sources say that the group was virtually wiped out by Iroquois around that time period. It is thought that French explorer Étienne Brûlé may have visited on his journeys through the Peninsula, although there is no solid proof of this.

A few of the lasting contributions of the ancient First Nations peoples are the names we have for landmarks including Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the former Chippawa Creek.

From Toronto:

1. Follow the QEW toward Niagara/East Hamilton/Fort Erie
2. After 51.5 km take the exit onto ON-406 S toward Thorold/Welland/Port Colborne
3. Drive 11.7 km then take the Saint David's Road E exit
4. Merge onto St David's Rd
5. Turn left onto Barbican Gate
6. Turn right onto Barbican Trail

From Niagara:

1. Head north on the QEW towards Toronto
2. Take exit 32 for Thorold Stone Road/Regional Road 57 toward Thorold
3. Turn left onto Thorold Stone Road
4. After 5.5 km continue onto ON-58 N (signs for Thorold/Ontario 406)
5. Take the Collier Road N exit
6. Merge onto Collier Rd S/Regional Rd 56
7. Turn left onto St David's Rd
8. Take the 3rd right onto Barbican Gate
9. Turn right onto Barbican Trail

This subdivision is the former location of Barbican Heights Neutral Indian encampment.

Further Information

Thompson, John Henry, 1898. Jubilee history of Thorold Township and Town - from the town of the red man to the present. Thorold Post Printing and Publishing Company.

White, Marian D. 1968. On Delineating the Neutral Iroquois of the Eastern Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. Ontario Archaeology 17(3): 62-74.

Barbican Trail
L2T 4A9 Municipality St. Catharines

Latitude: 43.125607
Longitude: -79.224475

Barbican Heights Subdiviison