One eastern Ontario First Nation is marking this Canada Day by honouring an important but largely forgotten historical figure.
The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation is celebrating the first ever Chief Pinesi Day and reflecting on the life of Chief Constant Pinesi — the last grand chief of the Algonquins to live at his historic hunting grounds near Rideau Falls.
Pinesi played a crucial role in the War of 1812 against the United States, helping ensure the survival of the British colonies that would later become Canada. On Friday, many of his descendents gathered on the site of the grounds in Ottawa for the first time in roughly 200 years.
“We’re reclaiming the lands, if you will, and the titles that Chief Pinesi held in [the] early 1800s up to his passing in 1834,” said Merv Sarazin, a seventh-generation descendant of Pinesi and emcee of Friday’s event at the New Edinburgh Fieldhouse.
Sarazin, a councillor with the First Nation west of Ottawa, said the grand chief lost sons in the War of 1812 and fought at critical battles in the Niagara region. Without his efforts and the struggles of other Indigenous fighters, there may be no Canada Day to celebrate today, he said.
Gravesite now a parking lot
In the early 1800s, Pinesi led a band of about 264 families as Grand Chief of the Algonquins. His hunting territory was centred at the confluence of the Rideau and Ottawa rivers, a common travel route for paddlers heading to the St. Lawrence River and south to the Gulf of Mexico
But despite his important role in the region, Pinesi has been largely forgotten by history, said Wendy Jocko, chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and another of Pinesi’s descendants.
“I don’t suppose many people know that Ottawa was his hunting ground — and actually, that’s where the Parliament buildings are situated, at the confluence of the Rideau and the Ottawa rivers,” Jocko told CBC Radio’s All In A Day ahead of Friday’s commemoration.
Jocko described her ancestor as a “great warrior” who often petitioned the British Crown to return his lands. But those requests were never honoured, she said, with Pinesi left in obscurity and poverty.
“He was basically pushed out into his territory as encroachment happened, unfortunately,” she said. “And even in death, his grave at Oka, [near the] Lake of Two Mountains [in Quebec] … has been paved over by a parking lot.”
Along with honouring Pinesi’s legacy, Friday’s event was also meant to both recognize the presence and resilience of the Algonquin people and offer a chance for reconciliation with settlers.
It included drumming and singing, dancing, guided walks of the territory and other activities. It also coincided with the opening of Chief Pinesi Portage Trail, an 8,000-year-old Indigenous pathway that weaves through the Rockcliffe and New Edinburgh neighbourhoods.
The roughly three-kilometre trail has seven interpretive stops marking the way.
Sarazin said they hope to make the gathering of Pinesi’s descendants an annual event, in order to properly remember the man and his role in history — and give his name the respect it’s long deserved.
“We’re here to revive it and continue it,” he said. “It’s a great story.”
All in a Day6:17Celebrating Chief Constant Pinesi Day