CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Southwest Wind

  Espanola , Ontario is about 2 miles south and west of McKerrow . In the 1700's , when French Missionaries and traders entered the area , they found Odawa and Ojibwe people speaking their language with a healthy mix of Spanish words thrown in . In Northern Ontario ? How did the Spanish get there?...Short answer to that one , they didn't .

The name Odawa comes from the Anishinaabe word 'adaawe' which means to buy and sell (trade). Most Odawa people were involved in trade although certain villages did get involved in warrior work as needed along the outer reaches of their territory . Early Jesuit French missionary , Father Le Mercier commented in 1654 that they were better merchants than warriors . Champlain met one trade group in 1615 on the French River and explained how they travelled 200 to 500 leagues from home (600 to 1500 miles) on trading runs . He said they had the reputation as intertribal barterers and traders .


Through trade agreements , marriage contract , payment of tolls and transfer of goods , Odawa people were allowed to travel far east (to Montreal) , west to the end of Lake Superior and beyond to Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnipeg , and south via the Missouri into the Mississippi River (about half its length) . 

 In the Mississippi , the story of Espanola and the Spanish River continues . Although a story of an Odawa raiding trip far to the south coming back with a Spanish woman still lingers today , documentation from the period of contact with the French tells that long trips south were for the purpose of trading ...not raiding . Raids were usually 1 or 2 days from their territory into enemy territory...west against the Sioux and South of Lakes Ontario and Erie against the Iroquois Confederacy in response to invasions into their territory .

On one of these trading runs far south down the Mississippi ,I believe it most likely the Odawa had ample opportunity to trade with a group who had made their way north up the Mississippi or with a village of people who did trade with both . Traders out of the south were coming from Spanish claimed lands for at least 100 years prior to French presence in Aboriginal territory . The Spanish language was spoken by many of the Native population in the south .

It is not unreasonable to believe that a trade agreement and marriage contract occured to ensure continued trade . One Odawa trader arrived home with a spanish speaking aboriginal wife whose presence and prestige was significant enough for the Odawa people to learn to speak her language and retain using that language long after she had died . When the French entered the area , they were surprised to recognize Espanol being spoken ... hence Spanish River and later Espanola were named for the presence of a language...not a people .

When an electric dam was built at the Webbwood Falls on the Spanish River to power a Pulp and Paper Mill and its company homes in 1901 , it took the name Espanola . During the Depression , the mill and company town was empty , although South Espanola part of privately owned homes remained occupied . During the second world war , a German prisoner-of-war camp used mill buildings while guards used company homes . After the war , the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Co. of Michigan purchased and operated the mill to produce kraft paper in 1946 . The company town was in operation again .

When the winds of progress blew into Espanola from the south west in 1946 , they continued to blow for many years . When my parents moved to McKerrow , those winds blew over the CPR section house  carrying a blue haze and the stench of pulp and paper - 'rotten eggs' from May until November . The saddest thing of all is it didn't discourage the mosquitos .

2 comments:

thepowmill said...

The Odawa were called 'Standing Hair' people by Champlain which distinguished them from other Ojibwe peoples . The hair style was gained by wearing a porcupine roach which stood when worn draped and tied over the head . It was instantly recognizeable even from a distance ...especially useful for international traders in foreign territory .

thepowmill said...

Much information about the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada and the capture of European reactions in their own words is available in the 1912 edition of Geographic Board, Canada's Handbook of Indians of Canada . It is a compilation of all writings made available on contact between French/English and all Native groups inside Canada as well as Claimed Territories prior to 1763.