Ratcliff Site, Wendat (Huron) Ancestral Village

The Ratcliff or Baker Hill site is a 16th-century Huron-Wendat ancestral village located on one of the headwater tributaries of the Rouge River on the south side of the Oak Ridges Moraine in present-day Whitchurch–Stouffville, approximately 25 kilometers north of Toronto. The Ratcliff/Baker Hill site is located on the east side of Highway 48, south of Bloomington Road in Whitchurch–Stouffville.[1] The ravine on the village site was infilled during the early 1950s to allow for the expansion of a neighboring quarry.[2]

Ratcliff Site
Location within Ontario today
LocationWhitchurch–Stouffville, Regional Municipality of York, Ontario, Canada
RegionRegional Municipality of York, Ontario
Coordinates43°59′48″N 79°17′6″W
PeriodsLate Precontact Period, ca. 1550–1615
CulturesHuron (Wendat)

The village occupied approximately 2.8 hectares[3] on the brow of a hill overlooking a steep ravine on the west side.

The artifacts found on the site in the mid-19th century included stone-axes, flint arrows and spear heads, broken crockery, many earthen and stone pipes, bears' teeth with holes bored through them, polished teeth of beaver, deer and moose for decorative use; bone needles, and fish-spears made of deer shoulder-blades, as well as millstones used by the women for crushing corn. A human skull was found "perforated with seven holes, and had evidently been held as a trophy, the holes being the score of enemies slaughtered in battle by the wearer."[4]

The ceramics found on the site indicate that the local community must have had some contact with other Iroquoian groups living in present-day upstate New York and in the St. Lawrence Valley. The large quantity of both ground and chipped stone indicates that the Wendat Village was involved with the production and distribution of stone artifacts.[2] The presence of some contact-period (European) artifacts, such as black glass and copper beads, suggest that the site was inhabited between the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

About 400 meters north of the Ratcliff site on lot 10 in concession 8, a mass grave with "many hundreds" of Huron skeletons was discovered and removed in the late 1840s.[4] In ancient Huron tradition, the dead would be initially buried in a temporary grave. Every ten years the accumulated bones would be moved to a mass grave in an elaborate ceremony.[5]

The inhabitants likely came here from the so-called Mantle Site, located five kilometers to the south-east in Stouffville, when the latter was abandoned in the mid-16th century. The Ratcliff site was occupied at the same time as the so-called Aurora or Old Fort site, four kilometres north-west of Ratcliff, also within the boundaries of what is today Whitchurch–Stouffville.[6]

Today the site is still occupied by a quarry and farms still surround the site itself.


  1. The site can be found on the "Baker" farmstead, lot 9 in the eighth concession, on the detailed 1878 map, Township of Whitchurch, Illustrated historical atlas of the county of York and the township of West Gwillimbury & town of Bradford in the county of Simcoe, Ont. (Toronto: Miles & Co., 1878).
  2. Jean Barkey et al., "Ratcliff Site," Whitchurch Township (Erin, ON: Boston Mills, 1993), 122.
  3. Gary A. Warrick, A Population History of the Huron-Petun, A.D. 900-1650, (PhD Thesis, McGill University, 1990), Appendix 1, AlGt-157.
  4. C.P. Mulvany et al., "The Township of Whitchurch," History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario (Toronto: C.B. Robinson, 1885), 148f. For background on this practice (creation of "skull-rattles"), see Jennifer Birch, "Coalescence and Conflict in Iroquoian Ontario," Archeological Review from Cambridge 25, no. 1 (2010), 29–48; and * Ron Williamson, ""'Otinontsiskiaj ondoan (The House of Cut-off Heads'): The History and Archaeology of Northern Iroquoian Trophy Taking," The Taking and Displaying of Human Body Parts as Trophies by Amerindians, ed. R. J. Chacon and D. H. Dye (New York: Springer, 2007), 190-221. The artifacts were sold by Hirschberger to the Victoria Museum (today the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec) for $4000.
  5. See the depiction of an ancestral Huron Feast of the Dead found in J.-F. Lafitau, Moeurs des sauvages amériquains, comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps, vol. 2, 1724, p. 456.
  6. See List of archaeological sites in Whitchurch–Stouffville; also map of sites in Birch, "Coalescence and Conflict in Iroquoian Ontario," 35 (Ratcliff is immediately north-west of the Mantle site).

Further reading

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