La Salle in Wentworth County

Originally Published in Heritage Happenings, October 1985
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Where did La Salle Land in Wentworth County?

The last heritage paper looked at Robert Cavalier, Seigneur de la Salle: the reasons for this French explorer’s trip, and the possible route of his travels to Wentworth County.

On 18 September 1669, La Salle and his party of canoes crossed the sandy bar of the Beach Strip at the “old outlet” of Burlington Bay. Where exactly the famous seventeenth century explorer landed has come into question recently. The popular belief, derived from James H. Coyne, sees La Salle and his party landing on the north shore of Burlington Bay, near the present-day site of La Salle Park, Aldershot. They were en route to the Seneca Indian village of Tinawatawa. An historical plaque erected in 1970 by the Ontario Historical and Archaeological Sites Board replaced the earlier one erected by the Wentworth Historical Society, who were also responsible for changing the name from Wabasso Park to La Salle Park.

From the journal kept by René de Bréhaut de Galinée, one of the two Sulpician priests who accompanied La Salle, it is known that the group camped on the shore of a bay for several days, while their guide went to the Indian village called Tinawatawa to seek Indians to help portage their supplies and their canoes. Galinée wrote:

“and at last, after five days’ voyage, arrived at the end of Lake Ontario, where there is a fine large sandy bay1 at the bottom of which is the outlet of another little lake discharging itself. This our guides made us enter about half a league, and then unload our canoes at the place nearest the village2, which is, however, five or six good leagues away”3.

This passage describing the end of LaSalle’s travels on Lake Ontario is almost certainly the reason why turn-of-the-century historians located the landing on Burlington Bay. Historian James Coyne, who translated Galinée’s journal in 1903, wrote, “It seems not unlikely that the little lake is Burlington Bay”. But this appears to be a misreading, for the “little lake” is more probably Cootes Paradise according to Professor Wm. C. Noble4. This acceptance of Coyne’s point of landing has been based upon and led to certain inaccuracies, chief of which was the incorrect identification of the Indian village Tinawatawa.

The site believed to be Tinawatawa was variously identified by turn-of-the-century scholars. In 1894, the respected American scholar, General John S. Clarke, believed the location to be on Lot 35, Concession 6, Beverly Township, on the eastern bank of the Spencer Creek northeast of present day Westover. This is currently known as the Christianson site, and was excavated by McMaster University archaeologists in 1968, 1969, and 1979, who have determined that the site was an historic Neutral Iroquois village occupied ca. 1615-30, well before La Salle’s 1669 expedition.

Local historian, Mr. T. Roy Woodhouse, continued the Coyne interpretation, and in an address to the Head of the Lake Historical Society on September 27, 1969, given at La Salle Park on the 300th Anniversary of the explorer’s visit, he stated that:

“La Salle Park’s shore is the place nearest to Tinawatawa where you travel up to and over, the Flamborough Mountain by the Aldershot-Waterdown Road. This is the only route within miles where you can ascend the mountain without the use of a ladder. At all other nearby locations you find vertical cliffs, but the Aldershot-Waterdown road reaches the top of the mountain by means of a gentle natural slope. This also points to La Salle Park as the most probable landing place for La Salle’s expedition”.

Woodhouse believed that Tinawatawa lay near Westover and could be reached by following the Grindstone Creek. But other authors believed that the village was located at Lake Medad. In 1884, Benjamin E. Charlton believed that the Lake Medad site was Tinawatawa as did Professor Charles A. Hirschfelder and Waterdown Doctor John Owen McGregor. Even as late as 1923, Hamilton barrister E. Kirwans C. Martin cited Lake Medad as being Tinawatawa in a series of letters to James H. Coyne.

Research by Professor William Noble at McMaster University over the past decade now seriously questions the previously accepted route followed by La Salle as shown on the Roy T. Woodhouse map. Dr. Noble believes that this route is almost certainly more accurate than those advanced by previous identification of the landing site, but the choices of the Westover or Lake Medad sites as being Tinawatawa are also inaccurate. Both of these former Neutral Iroquois village were abandoned by the time La Salle entered the area, this being confirmed by archaeological evidence.

The probable location of the Indian village of Tinawatawa is on a main Indian trail about halfway to Brantford. This appears to be a more logical site, if only for the reason that it fulfils La Salle’s only reason for going to Tinawatawa in the first instance, namely, to obtain guides to reach Lake Erie and then to the Ohio River. The Indian tradition of constructing trails over the shortest and most practical route between the points and the easiest over which to carry goods seems to rule out the long distance route via Grindstone and Spencer Creeks. The trail La Salle probably used was one that would link up with the Grand River (variously named Riviere Rapid, Riviere Tinatoua, Riviere Turcot on late seventeenth century maps).

  1. Burlington Beach Strip
  2. The French league measured approximately 3 miles. Thus, the “little lake” lay 1.5 miles inland, and Tinawatawa, “the village”, lay 15 to 18 miles inland.
  3. Coyne, J.H., Papers and Records of the Ontario Historical Society, Vol. IV, p.42.
  4. The Spectator, July 26, 1984, p.l. 5Wentworth Bygones Vol. 8, p.3.


1000-1700. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 1, University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1966.
Wentworth Bygones, Volume 8. Walsh Printing Service, Hamilton 1969.
Papers and Records of the Ontario Historical Society, Volume 4. Ontario Historical Society, Toronto 1903.
The Spectator. July 26, 1984. Hamilton.
Dr. William C. Noble, Waterdown: Personal communication.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1985, 2021


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