On a spring day in 1784, a handful of Mohawk families arrived by canoe on a waterway now known as the Bay of Quinte to a place now known as Tyendinga Mohawk Territory. They had been displaced from their original home, the Mohawk Valley, in what’s now known as New York State, due to the conflict between British and American armies. The area was already steeped in First Nations lore. The Bay of Quinte area is said to be the birthplace of Tekanawita, the Peacemaker, who brought the original Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy  under a constitution of peace in the 12th century.

Since that fateful spring day amid the American Revolutions, Mohawks have built a proud community, one that holds onto and history and is united by its culture and traditions. As of early 2017, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte boasted more than 9,000 members of which just over 2,000 live in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, located along Bay of Quinte water, just east of Belleville and west of Deseronto. That makes it among the biggest First Nations communities in Ontario.

Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is easy to get to for Highway 401 travellers. Those who turn south on Highway 49 (west of Greater Napanee), can enter the region and see many of its unique Mohawk-themed shops. The west side of the territory – and its many cheaper than normal gas stations – can be accessed by turning south on Shannonville Road, just east of Belleville. But there’s much more to do in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory than just get gas. Here are five things to do or places to visit in the area this summer.

1. Tyendinaga Pow Wow, Aug. 11-12, 2018:

This event, which takes place at Tsi tkerhitoten Park at 275 Bayshore Rd., is a feast for the senses. Every year, hundreds of dancers, in traditional First Nations dresses, dance to the sound of deep voices and the beating of drums. The event often draws more than 1,000 people between participants and spectators. The park is also filled with vendors selling First Nations-themed crafts and food. It’s a can’t-miss event for people who appreciate indigenous culture and who choose to follow the Pow Wow trail.

2. Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks

This church is located at 52 South Church Lane, west of the downtown Deseronto. It’s historically significant because both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles donated money for its restoration in the 1990s. The Royal Family also presented the church with a triptych in Mohawk language, a bell from King George III, a royal coat of arms from King George V and a bible from Queen Victoria, all of which are on display inside. The gifts pay homage to a long-standing relationship between Mohawks and the monarchy, as the Mohawks fought as military allies of the British during the American colonial rebellion of 1775 to 1783 and in other conflicts, spanning up to the Second World War.

3.Mohawk Fair, Sept. 28-30, 2018:

This event, held annually towards the end of the summer, attracts thousands of people to the fairground along Old York Road. Like many fall fairs, it includes vegetable contents, a midway, a classic car show and, of course, a demolition derby. This year’s fair will be the 118th in history. For many members of the Mohawk nation, the event is a homecoming of sorts, as it encourages Mohawk men and women living across Ontario and New York State to visit their native community for a weekend.  

4.Visit Highway 49 and Highway 2

Native Renaissance II, The Soaring Eagle, Martin’s Beads & Craft Supplies; these are all examples of interesting businesses found on the east side of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. These stores sell art and gifts that pay homage to First Nations culture. Many of the businesses are found on Highway 49, just south of the exit from Highway 401. Some are located at or near the intersection of Highway 49 and Old Highway 2. Others are at or near Hwy. 49 and Old York Road. A bit further south, more businesses can be found on Bayshore Road. It’s impossible to miss this strip of businesses, given the bustling traffic and beautiful storefront signs.

5. Tyendinaga Caverns & Caves

After you’ve learned about the cultural history of Tyendinaga, try learning about the area’s geological history by visiting this tourism business. From Highway 401, turn north at Shannonville Road. From there take a left at Harmony Road and a right inside the grounds of Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves. The park features an estimated 20,000-cubic-foot cavern that visitors can journey into.

It provides a chance to experience the geology wonder of cave curtains, which developed about 100,000 years ago, and now have depths of up to 38 feet below ground. Visitors can toss a coin into an underground pond of water or slither into narrow side passages if they choose. Just make sure you’re dressed warmly – the temperature is usually about 10 C inside – and not uncomfortable with a little mineral water falling on your shoulders.

A trip through Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is a delight in the summer, as its highways move along rolling green hills, flanked by lush green spaces. It’s easy to bypass if travelling fast on Highway 401, but those who make the turn off don’t regret it – especially because of the cheap gas.

Written by Stephen Petrick