Sutton talks about Joseph Taché’s work in Huronia


At the June meeting of the Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society, Catherine Sutton spoke about Joseph Charles Taché, a 19th century polymath who included in his mass of work, archaeological excavation in Huronia. Sutton is involved in HARN, Histories of Archaeology Research Network. She is currently working on a PhD in the Dept. of Anthropology at York University on the archaeological interest in Simcoe County in the nineteenth century.

Taché’s work in Simcoe County was in the period 1859-1864. He was a doctor, member of parliament, social activist and was interested in vitaculture, which he studied in France, bringing this knowledge to help the burgeoning wine industry in southwest Ontario. He graduated with his medical degree in1849. He was also a novelist writing about the French, English and aboriginals. Sutton pointed out that we must remind ourselves that before the 20th century there were no professional historians. Writing by French-Canadian priests looked to support the Quebec history/political situation. Taché was an ultra-Catholic and French-Canadian nationalist. It is valuable to keep in mind his point of view.

In 1842 the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) were invited back to Quebec. Fr. Felix Martin was one of the first Jesuits to return to Canada. Another priest Fr. Chazelle along with Martin worked hurriedly in order to impress their superiors back in Europe and gain greater support for the Jesuits efforts Huronia. In 1855 Fr. Martin comes to Huronia, develops a map and digs at the site of Ste. Marie. His focus was on the Jesuit period and the efforts to convert the Hurons to Catholicism. During Martin’s time, local artist Mary Hallen painted watercolours of pipe artifacts. These watercolours are in the Jesuit Archives in Montreal. (The Huronia Museum has a collection of watercolours and drawings by Hallen. These are landscapes and farmscapes.)

A new edition of the Jesuit Relations was published in 1858. Taché used the descriptions of Huronia found in The Relations to help him with his work. Around that time Taché sent information to American, Francis Parkman, who was writing a historical novel about the Jesuits in North America and wished to base his story in historical records and documents. Among his letters to Parkman, Taché speaks of his miserably busy life and his desire to publish a book about Huronia. Sadly, he never found time to write that book.

During his time in Huronia, Taché is reported to have dug at 16 ossuaries (ref F Parkman – Jesuits in North America 1893) and sent the remains to Laval University in Quebec. Taché’s collection of artifacts have “travelled” several times. During the 19th century a lot of research was done in studying skulls from different races. Skulls found by Taché were part of this “trading” of specimens: some to the United States, some to the United Kingdom. The Wendat want these remains returned so proper respect goes to their ancestors.

For a period of time Taché’s excavated artifacts were dismissed as unimportant but later these artifacts were re-examined and the opinion of their value increased (during the 1980s). They now are part of the collection in the Quebec Museum of Civilization. Some are unlabelled, while some are not reliably known to be part of Taché’s work. Sadly Taché’s field notes and maps have not been located. At least not yet. But once again the trail may have stopped with another archive fire.

Sutton spoke at a conference in Quebec about Taché and found that French Canadians were unaware of Taché’s work in Ontario. He is considered to be a Quebec hero and is revered.

(adapted from an article in The Pot, June 2011 issue, newsletter of the Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society which I edit and for which I wrote the original article)

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Author: William J. Gibson

62 year old - writer/photographer Canadian, survived open heart surgery, received kidney transplant, sometimes dour, sometimes amusing, over six feet in height, severely follicle challemged

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