In 1976, Grimsby resident and Recreation and Park Department employee Lawson Allez found six copper kettles, seven french felling axes, a conch shell, two pendants made from a conch, a human skull, and bone fragments in Grimsby's Centennial Park. He knew that he had found a ritual burial ground. Immediately, he contacted Florence Martin, Curator of the Stone Shop Museum in Grimsby, who then advised him to call the Royal Ontario Museum. The next day a team of archaeologists led by Walter Kenyon arrived on site. The dig was a six month project, and at its completion, 300 remains of the Neutral people were found in 63 graves, along with hundreds of artifacts. The largest grave, Grave 62, contained the remains of 104 people (46 adult males, 32 adult women, and 26 children), as well as numerous items According to Kenyon, each grave "reveal[ed] something different in the pattern and manner of burial."
Archaeological findings and mentions in writings from early French Missionaries are the only things known about the Neutral People. They once occupied the land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. As an agricultural society, they grew corn, beans, squash and tobacco. During the Iroquois and Huron wars, the Neutral people sold flint arrowheads and spear points to both sides (hence the name Neutral). Experts in the field speculated that once the Iroquois beat the Hurons, they turned on the Neutrals, defeating them and assimilating those left into their nation.
The earliest account of the Neutral people was in 1615 when Samuel de Champlain sent Missionary Etienne Brulé to the Susquehanna River. Brulé's route for this mission took him through Neutral territory, but beyond this fact, there is no other information recorded. Several years later Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon created the first detailed written account. He traveled into Neutral territory with two French companions, Grenole and Lavallée. While there, he was adopted into the household of Souharisson, a powerful chief. Daillon's 1634 description of his adopted father was as follows:
This man is the chief of the greatest credit and authority that has ever been in all these nations; for he is not only chief of this village, but of all those of the nation, composed of twenty-eight towns, cities and villages, made like those in the Huron country, and also of several little hamlets of seven or eight cabins, built in various parts convenient for fishing, hunting, or agriculture.
In his writings, Daillon also spoke of the Neutral territory stating that it was "incomparably larger, more beautiful, and better than any other of these countries," and that this idyllic setting made him the "happiest man in the world."
According to Daillon's accounts, the Huron tribe was distressed by the Neutral's relationship with the French. He explained that they wanted to suppress Neutral trade with Europeans, "so that they might have the trade with these nations themselves exclusively, which is very profitable to them." As a result, the Hurons spread rumours about Daillon, calling him a magician, and if he was not killed immediately, "he would taint the air of their country, he would poison many of the people, and he would set fire to the villages." Huron descriptions of Daillon resulted in the Neutrals breaking contact with the French and other Europeans. European artifacts were found within the Neutral burial ground. These items would have been acquired by the Huron and Iroquois, rather than from direct trade.
A few years after Daillon's visit, various epidemics swept through the area, greatly affecting the Neutral people. Perhaps their suspicion of Daillon and other Europeans did not stem from Huron rumours, but instead from the threats of European contact. This account foreshadowed the negative consequences of European contact for Indigenous peoples in subsequent decades. Sadly, after facing disease, famine and war, it is believed that the Neutral people were defeated by the Iroquois in 1650.
326 years later, Walter Kenyon and his ROM staff "[added] a significant new chapter in the history of the Neutral Indians." Although the dig helped to uncover more information about the Neutrals, several Indigenous groups in the area were upset about the removal of bodies from the sacred burial ground. Larry Johnston, Treaty Research Worker with the Union of Ontario Indians, stated, "we feel highly offended and insulted by digs such as these which are going on throughout the province with no input or consultations from Native people." At that time, there were no measures stipulating that Indigenous peoples' input was required in archaeological digs. In fact, Aboriginal Engagement was not introduced into the Ontario Standard and Guidelines of Archaeologists until 2011. The Neutral findings added richness to the history of Grimsby, Ontario and the country; however, the methods utilized by Kenyon and his team unfortunately disregarded Indigenous peoples' cultural beliefs, and showcased the prejudices the archaeological field and greater society had towards Indigenous people. Since that time there have been many successful digs involving Indigenous communities. This collaborative approach offers a step in the right direction, contributing to reconciliation efforts.
This blog post was made possible with the help from the staff of the Grimsby museum. Julie Bushey, the museum's Collection Management Assistant, kindly pulled together resources on the topic to assist with my research. For those interested in learning more about the Neutral People and the archaeological dig, visit the Grimsby Museum.
Walter Kenyon also conducted an archaeological dig in the Rainy River District where several remains were found of the Blackduck and Laurel people. To learn more about this, visit my blog post Manitou Mounds of Northwestern Ontatio.
Click here to learn more about Engaging Aboriginal Communities in Archaeology (Ontario, 2011)
 Dorothy Turcotte, Gleanings From Grimsby (Grimsby: Grimsby Historical Society, 2007), 80-81.
 Walter Kenyon. The Grimsby Site: A Historic Neutral Cemetery (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1982), 193-205.
 Newspaper article clipping, unknown source, 2017.43.5, Grimsby Museum.
 Walter Kenyon, The Grimsby Site: A Historic Neutral Cemetery, 1-4.
 Greed Was Fatal Vice for The Neutrals, The Spectator, October 30, 1976. Record 2017.43.6, Grimsby Museum.
Walter Kenyon, The Grimsby Site: A Historic Neutral Cemetery, 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
Indians are Insulted and Offended by Digging, newspaper clipping, unknown source, 2017.43.6, The Grimsby Museum.
Shared Value Solutions. "Archaeology and Indigenous Rights and Interests." http://info.sharedvaluesolutions.com/blog/archaeology-and-indigenous-rights-and-interests (accessed July 25, 2017)
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