Jean-Baptiste Lainé Site

On Friday, August 25, 2017, the Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled a provincial plaque to commemorate the Jean-Baptiste Lainé Site plaque in the park at the Wendat Village Public School in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    In the 16th century, prior to the arrival of Europeans, a village was founded on this site by the Huron-Wendat, a Nation of agriculturalists and fisher-hunter-gatherers. In response to increased conflict in the region, many smaller villages merged to form a three-hectare settlement of 1,700 people, with more than 50 longhouses arranged around a central plaza, surrounded by a palisade, a ditch and an embankment as protection. The economic and political functions of the Huron-Wendat Nation were highly sophisticated, integrated and coordinated. Artifacts from the site, which include a fragment of a Basque iron tool, demonstrate that the Huron-Wendat formed alliances and traded goods with other First Nations in complex networks that extended across the continent. The community later moved north to join the Huron-Wendat Confederacy in the lands south of Georgian Bay. The village was identified by archaeologists in 2002 and excavated between 2003 and 2005. Known initially as the Mantle Site, it was renamed the Jean-Baptiste Lainé Site in honour of a decorated Second World War Huron-Wendat veteran. The site is significant to our understanding of Huron-Wendat socio-economic and political history.


    Chi onhwa’ti’ kha’ honnonhwa’ hatindarehk de wendat. Kha’ yändataentahk de wendat iyändatou’tennen’. Okendia’tih hontriohskwa’ ati’ hotindatändeyenhchon’. Yändatowänenhkeh ahsenh ha’tewen’ndia’weh tsoutare’ iskwen’ndia’wehchare’ ihatia’tayënen’. Wihch iyänonhskënen’ ithohchien’ ondatehk chia’teyändataen’. Ithondi’ aten’enhratehk, yända’yenhchatehk, öni’onhkaratehk. Hontenhndinonhchaienhwinen’. Hotirihowänennen’. Atenhndinonhcha’ hoti’ndiyonhrontahkwinen’ ithohchien’ hatia’tontahkwinen’. Ondaie’ orihwatoyen’ndih wa’de’ kha’ onde’chonh ayaoren’ndih de yahnenchtra’ de chi aontaratih etiayohaonnen’. De awehskwahk honwennendaratindihonh de wendat atho’yeh wa’de’ hontaken’. Yändata’yehen’ de ayaoren’ndih yayennha’yeh 2002. Kha’ ayönda’watih ne ontaonkontahk yayennha’yeh 2003 chia’ a’erihwihchi’en’ yayennha’yeh 2005. Okontahkwih Mantle yäatsinen’ de stan’ ne ondae’ te’tseas. Ehchiendohareh Jean-Baptiste Lainé. Ondaie’ ahonwahchiendaentahkwa’ wa’de’ chiwatrioh tëndih aton’tha’ hohki’wannen’ ithohchien’ hate’iathahk. De’kha’ yändata’yehen’ erihwändoronkhwa’. Ondaie’ ne onywarihwatehtändihk, onywarihwaienständihk de wendat iyarihou’tenh.

Historical background

While the presence of a large First Nations village had been known locally for some time, the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site (formerly Mantle, AlGt-334) was formally identified by Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) in 2002 during a survey conducted in advance of the development of a subdivision by Lebovic Enterprises of Stouffville, Ontario. The site is located within part of lot 33, concession 9, Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Regional Municipality of York.

Further investigations of the site conducted by ASI between 2003 and 2005 resulted in a near-complete village excavation, excepting those portions of the site that were protected along the break in slope along the banks of Stouffville Creek. These excavations resulted in the recording and preservation of the site’s settlement pattern, associated archaeological deposits and the material culture contained therein. The mechanical removal of approximately 4.5 ha of topsoil revealed 98 longhouses, nearly 1,500 cultural features (for example, pits, support posts and midden deposits), and more than 104,000 artifacts (ASI 2014). The artifacts from the site are permanently curated at the Canadian Museum of History. The site report is on file at the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and ASI Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Services. The site was featured in the film Curse of the Axe (Yap Films, 2012). The book The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of an Ancestral Wendat Community (AltaMira Press, 2013) outlines the investigations and interpretations of the site’s history in the context of Huron-Wendat history and archaeology, providing the most thorough academic treatment of the site. Additional publications that have used data and interpretation of the site are referenced below and provided in the bibliography.

In 2012, the Mantle site was renamed Jean-Baptiste Lainé after an esteemed Huron-Wendat veteran who fought during the Second World War, earning the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the Defence Medal for his service.

Iroquoian societies

At the time of sustained European contact in the early 1600s, northern Iroquoian speakers inhabited Southern Ontario, Southwest Quebec, the Finger Lakes region and Mohawk River valley of New York, and the Susquehanna Valley. (The term “Iroquoian” refers to both a linguistic and a cultural pattern.)

These groups shared a number of cultural traits, including settlements surrounded by palisades that enclosed bark-covered longhouses, subsistence based on maize horticulture supported by hunting, fishing and gathering, a social structure organized around matrilineal descent and clan membership, and political organization based on village councils, nations of affiliated villages and regional confederacies (for example, Engelbrecht 2003 and Trigger 1976). Archaeological remains that include these traits are thought to represent ancestral Iroquoian-speaking peoples (Warrick 2000: 417), even though the relationship between material culture, language and ethnicity is far from clear (for example, Hart and Brumbach 2003 and Pihl et al. 2008).

In the 17th century, northern Iroquoian peoples were organized into political confederacies of allied nations that inhabited discrete territories. The Huron-Wendat confederacy occupied the area between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. Prior to the 17th century, their ancestors inhabited the entire north shore of Lake Ontario and the Trent Valley. While it is unknown if the inhabitants of the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site were members of this confederacy, within a few generations, the descendants of this community would become members, moving north to join the confederacy by the time of Champlain’s visit in A.D. 1615 (Trigger 1976).

Precontact Iroquoian archaeology in south-central Ontario

The general pattern of Iroquoian cultural development in south-central Ontario has been detailed in a number of publications (Birch 2015a; Birch and Williamson 2013a; Ferris and Spence 1995; Warrick 2000; Williamson 2014). Between A.D. 1000-1300, typical Iroquoian settlements were small, covering less than 1 ha and comprising a small number of longhouses, often surrounded by a single-row palisade. These settlements may have served as base camps for groups who grew some maize, but were still heavily reliant on the collection of seasonal resources. After A.D. 1300, villages became larger in size, likely due to the aggregation of two or more smaller groups (Williamson and Robertson 1994). These villages were occupied year-round. Maize became a more important staple crop, comprising some 50 per cent of the diet (Katzenberg 1995; Pfeiffer at al. 2014). The increased reliance on maize led to a “population explosion,” whereby the population of south-central Ontario nearly tripled from an estimated 10,000 to 24,000 persons by A.D. 1420 (Warrick 2008).

In the mid- to late- 15th century, there is evidence of an increase in violent conflict throughout the region. While the precise factors encouraging warfare are unknown, it may be related to the aforementioned population increase and resulting competition between groups (Gramly 1977; Birch and Williamson 2013a). Small villages were abandoned. Their populations came together into large, defensible communities. Some of these sites were 10 times the size of those occupied previously. After A.D. 1500, only a small number of large communities occupied the major drainages on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario (Birch and Williamson 2013a). One of these was the community that occupied the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site.

The West Duffins Creek site sequence

The West Duffins Creek site sequence is arguably the most intensively studied community in Iroquoia (for example, ASI 2014; Birch 2012, 2015; Birch et al. in press; Birch and Williamson 2013a, 2013b; Finlayson 1985; Poulton 1979).

In the mid-15th century A.D., eight small village-communities came together to form the Draper site (Finlayson 1985; Poulton 1979). Evidence for sequential palisade expansions to accommodate new clusters of longhouses, each of which is thought to represent a previously distinct population, suggests that aggregation occurred gradually, over the estimated 25- to 50-year lifespan of the settlement (Birch 2012; Birch and Williamson 2013a; Finlayson 1985; Warrick 2008:136-137). Although they shared a palisaded enclosure, the fact that each longhouse cluster remained spatially distinct within the growing settlement suggests that these groups were incompletely integrated and that negotiations and realignments in socio-political organization were ongoing (Birch 2012).

It is believed that Draper’s population relocated en masse to the Spang site in the late 15th century and subsequently to the Mantle site in the early 16th century (Figure 1) (Birch 2012; Birch and Williamson 2013a; Finlayson 1985; Warrick 2008). This pattern of community coalescence and relocation is supported by ceramic seriation (Birch et al. in press), agricultural field modelling (Birch and Williamson 2013a:99-100), population estimates (Birch and Williamson 2013a:77-78), and radiocarbon dates (Birch 2012). Spang has only been subject to limited investigations, and little is known about its internal configuration (Carter 1981), though a recent geophysical survey suggests that, like the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site, it may have included a central plaza (Birch 2015b).

Whereas Draper could be characterized as a formative aggregate, Mantle’s built environment suggests a well-integrated community with coordinated political and economic functions (Birch and Williamson 2013a; Birch in press) — a consolidated aggregate. Mantle had a complex history of occupation that has been abstracted into early and late phases (Figure 2) (Birch and Williamson 2013a). The early phase of the settlement plan covered some 2.9 ha and included a central plaza surrounded by densely packed longhouses arranged in parallel and paired rows. The presence of a single midden on the slope outside the western palisade suggests co-ordination of waste disposal by community members. The two largest houses in the community are situated on the highest point of land and were rebuilt in place multiple times, suggesting a prominent and enduring place in the community, possibly as the residences of high-ranking lineages. The late phase of the community’s occupational history is marked by a contraction of the palisade, reducing the village’s size by 400 m2 and the construction of a ditch and embankment around the palisade. Presumably around the same time, the plaza was filled in with new structures. It is believed that the Mantle site was abandoned sometime before A.D. 1600 and that its residents relocated north to unexcavated sites in the Holland drainage before abandoning the north shore of Lake Ontario to join the Wendat confederacy in the early 17th century (Birch and Williamson 2013a; Williamson 2014).


From an academic standpoint, the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site has contributed to theoretically informed scholarship on processes of coalescence, settlement aggregation and geopolitical realignment (Birch 2012; Birch and Williamson 2013a, 2013b). The site provides evidence for the development of organizational complexity in Wendat societies comparable with processes of ancient urbanism in other parts of the world. Material culture originating on the east coast of Canada and New York State provide evidence of long-distance trade, which resulted in the site’s being dubbed “The Ancient New York City of Canada” by science media (Jarus 2012).

For First Nations, the cultural complexity evident at the Jean-Baptiste Lainé site speaks to a degree of societal development often denied to Indigenous peoples in traditional colonial narratives. The site represents a massive investment of labor, diplomacy and institution-building that had a profound impact on the social and political landscape of the Lower Great Lakes region. The preservation of portions of the site and its commemoration serves as a salient reminder of the history and accomplishments of the Huron-Wendat people and their ancestors.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Jennifer Birch in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2017


Archaeological Services Inc.

  • 2014 The Archaeology of the Mantle site (AlGt-334): Report on the Stage 3-4 mitigative excavation of part of Lot 22, Concession 9, Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Regional Municipality of York, Ontario. Report on file: Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Toronto. Birch, Jennifer, and Ronald F. Williamson.

Birch, Jennifer

  • 2010 Coalescent Communities in Iroquoian Ontario. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Hamilton.
  • 2012 Coalescent Communities: Settlement Aggregation and Social Integration in Iroquoian Ontario. American Antiquity 77(4): 646-670.
  • 2015a Current Research on the Historical Development of Northern Iroquoian Societies. Journal of Archaeological Research 23(3):263-323.
  • 2015b Geophysical and Geochemical Investigations of the Spang Site (AlGt-66). Report on file with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport.

Birch, Jennifer

  • In press Relations of Power and Production in Ancestral Wendat Communities. Manuscript accepted by Palethnology 1/9/16.

Birch, Jennifer, and Ronald F. Williamson

  • 2013a The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of an Ancestral Wendat Community. AltaMira Press, Lanham. 195 pp.

Birch, Jennifer, and Ronald F. Williamson

  • 2013b Organizational Complexity in Ancestral Wendat Communities. In From Prehistoric Villages to Cities: Settlement Aggregation and Community Transformation, edited by Jennifer Birch, pp. 153-178. Routledge, New York.

Birch, Jennifer, Robert B. Wojtowicz, Aleksandra Pradzynski, and Robert H. Pihl in press Multi-scalar Perspectives on Iroquoian Ceramics: Aggregation and Interaction in Precontact Ontario.

  • In Process and Meaning in Spatial Archaeology: Investigations into Pre-Columbian Iroquoian Space and Place. Edited by Eric E. Jones and John L. Creese. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

Carter, Jaqueline E.

  • 1981 Spang: A Sixteenth Century Huron Village Site, Pickering, Ontario. Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto.

Engelbrecht, William

  • 2003 Iroquoia: The Development of a Native World. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.

Ferris, Neal, and Michael A. Spence

  • 1995 The Woodland Traditions in Southern Ontario. Revista de Arqueologia Americana 9:83-138.

Gramly, Richard M.

  • 1977 Deerskins and Hunting Territories: Competition for a Scarce Resource of the Northeastern Woodlands. American Antiquity 42(4): 601-605.

Hart, John P., and Hetty-Jo Brumbach

  • 2003 The Death of Owasco. American Antiquity 68(4):737-752.

Jarus, Owen

Katzenberg, M. Anne., Henry Schwarcz, Martin Knyf, and Jerome F. Melbye

  • 1995 Stable Isotope Evidence for Maize Horticulture and Paleodiet in Southern Ontario, Canada. American Antiquity 60(2):335-350.

Pfeiffer, Susan, Ronald F. Williamson, Judith C. Sealy, David G. Smith, and Meradeth H. Snow

  • 2014 Stable dietary isotopes and mtDNA from Woodland period southern Ontario people: results from a tooth sampling protocol. Journal of Archaeological Science 42:334-345.

Pihl, Robert H., Stephen G. Monckton, David A. Robertson, and Ronald F. Williamson

  • 2008 Settlement and Subsistence Change at the Turn of the First Millennium: The View from the Holmedale Site, Brantford, Ontario. In Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany II., edited by John P. Hart, pp. 151-171. New York State Education Department, New York State Museum Bulletin Series No. 512. University of the State of New York, Albany.

Trigger, Bruce G.

  • 1976 The Children of Aataensic: A History of the Huron People to 1660, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal.

Warrick, Gary A.

  • 2000 The Precontact Occupation of Southern Ontario. Journal of World Prehistory 14:415-466.

Warrick, Gary A.

  • 2008 A Population History of the Huron-Petun, A.D. 500-1650. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Williamson, Ronald F.

  • 2014 The Archaeological History of the Wendat to AD 1651: An Overview. Ontario Archaeology 94:3-144.

Williamson, Ronald F., David G. Robertson

  • 1994 Peer Polities Beyond the Periphery: Early and Middle Iroquoian Regional Interaction. Ontario Archaeology 58:27-40.