A Short History of Penetanguishene
Penetanguishene is a Algonquin name devised by the Abinaki tribe meaning “place of the white rolling sands.” Though the Abinaki’s territory was north of Huronia, Penetanguishene Bay with its shallowness and high rising hills was a perfect spot to fish and hunt.
Visitors to Penetanguishene are sometimes confused when they hear references made to “Penetang.” Many have thought that Penetanguishene and Penetang are two separate towns. In reality, they are the same – locals shortened it when the Grand Trunk Railway serviced the town. This is either because “Penetang” fit much more easily onto the sign attached to the railway station, eight letters were easier (and cheaper) to print, or “Penetanguishene” was just too hard to pronounce for first-time visitors!
Either long or short, however, the town of Penetanguishene is one of the oldest in Canada west of Quebec City. In 1615, after the mapping of Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, the Governor of New France sent Etienne Brule, an 18-year-old coureur de bois, to Huronia to learn the ways of the Huron Nations and establish and consolidate commercial fur trade contacts. Canoeing into Penetanguishene Bay, Brule landed in Toanche, and befriended the Hurons, living among them Huron until his death 1633.
Following the same canoe path and again landing at Toanche, Samuel de Champlain, the Governor of New France, arrived in Huronia two years after Brule on August 1, 1615. Together with Father Joseph Le Caron, they held the first mass in Canada west of Quebec City at the Carhagouha Indian village (near present-day Orillia) on August 12, 1615.
Two months later with several hundred Huron warriors, Champlain set out to wage war on the Iroquois who were allied with the English and were vying for the same wealth of Canadian furs for export to Europe.
A twenty-five foot cross now resides on Penetanguishene Bay near the North-west Basin to commemorate Champlain’s landing. He is called “the Father of Huronia.”
Come learn more at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum!