Memories of the Abenaki First Nation in the MRC Brome-Missisquoi
Prehistoric Amerindians in the Eastern Townships
Who remembers that the first human settling in the Eastern Townships, in archaeological terms dates back 12,000 years Before Present (BP)i in the mountainous regions of Mégantic. In the MRC Brome-Missisquoi, small groups of Aboriginal hunters roamed the forests and lake areas in search of big game between 5000-2000 (BP). For these first prehistoric nomads (Iroquoian culture), the Missisquoi River was strategic channel of communication.
An Abenaki local toponomy: Missisquoi and Yamaska
From the 17th century, the arrival of the French by the Saint Lawrence River and the Dutch and English by the Atlantic coast, evoked a change in the clashes and conversations between the nomadic Algonquin cultures, such as the Abenaki, and the semi-sedentary people of the Iroquois nations. Did you that know that there were two Abenaki tribes, one of which was on the North American East Coast and the other, the Western Abenaki, which occupied a huge expanse of land from Vermont to New Hampshire, including the present-day Eastern Townships.
These Western Abenaki arrived in the Brome-Missisquoi area around 1670, bringing together the Sosokis, who controlled land from the Saint Lawrence River to the Connecticut River. The Missisquois nation lived on Lake Champlain in Swanton, Vermont. The Abenaki population was estimated to be between 10,000 and 12,000 during the French colonial period. After the Conquest, the map of places maintained a regional toponomy with the first Amerindian names, while distorting the Abenaki phonetics. These Ameridian populations named each waterway, river and lake by their travel or fishing function, like Missisquoi, for example, which in the Abenaki language meant, “a winding waterway where you find big game”ii.
Keep in mind that, well before the official founding of the first British township of the Eastern Townships in Dunham in 1792, the geography of the MRC Brome-Missisquoi was marked by swampland interspersed by mountainous landscape (Mount Brome, for example). Before 1800, the first explorers of the wild and dangerous forest areas were the Abenaki hunters and warriors from the Odanak (Saint-François) and Wôlinak (Bécancour) villages. In Algonquin, Abenaki is pronounced Wôbanaki “People of the Rising Sun”); these people used the rivers and mountainous terrain as points of geographic reference, leaving as a heritage an ancestral toponomy, such as Yamaska which meant “swampy area with frog/toad”.
The former Abenaki names Yamaska and Missiskoui still appeared on the 1815 map of land-surveyor Joseph Bouchette. Anecdotally, the name of Brome County is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon Broome, a former medieval parish in Suffolk County in England. The Loyalist colonies, Americans of Dutch origin who remained faithful to the British Crown during the American Revolution (1776-1783), renamed the Abenakis’ Yamaska land space with English names such as Shefford, Bedford and Sutton. The name Brome-Missisquoi signifies the two original cultures and geographic makeup of our region.
i(BP) is a unit of measure used for carbon 14, signifying « Before the Present », with 1950 used as the year of reference archaeological dating.
iiPARE, Pierre, La toponymie des Abénaquis, Dossiers toponymiques, 20, Ministère des Communications, Québec, 1985, pg. 54