The Curve Lake Indian Reserve and our part of the beautiful Kawarthas region of Ontario has a rich, sometimes tumultuous history. Books about this history are available at the gallery. But on this page we’d like to tell you about our own history at Curve Lake.
The Whetung family draws upon their own personal heritage in operating the Centre. Today’s enterprise, which also includes a workshop, Christmas shop, storehouse, gas bar, and picnic area, has evolved from a fishing lodge opened by Clifford Whetung’s grandfather in the early 1900s.
Over the generations the Whetungs have conducted steamboat cruises on the lakes around their peninsula; they’ve traded in furs, guided fishermen, catered banquets and operated a grocery store, postal station and taxi service.
In the 1940s the grocery store expanded into a general store and Eleanor Whetung opened a small gift shop in her living room, selling local Ojibwa crafts, fishing tackle and figurines.
The advent of electrical power to the reserve in the 1950s brought with it the peak years of the fishing operation. But at the height of this success, the Whetungs realized that the tourist industry was changing. Month-long fishing holidays for individuals were giving way to weekend family outings.
There was growing competition from other operations, and since the Whetungs’ lodge was quite a distance from the marina, they would have had to build a new lodge on the waterfront to compete. The family evaluated its situation and decided to get out of the fishing lodge business and expand its arts and crafts operation.
In the early 1960s, when unemployment on the reserve was very high, the Whetungs encouraged their fellow band members to produce crafts. Eleanor Whetung, her five children, and women from the reserve and their children were the core of the cottage industry in the Whetung living room that gradually extended to hundreds of band members.
They made canoes, pipes, birch bark and sweet-grass baskets, feather headdresses, dolls and moccasins. This cottage industry is still active, producing quality, handcrafted goods for visitors who arrive daily at the reserve from all over the globe.
With the assistance of a loan, the first craft shop was built and opened in 1966 in the same location where Clifford Whetung’s great-grandfather had his grocery store, only a stone’s throw from the small, wooden cottage where Clifford was born. Business flourished and three years later an old barn was renovated to handle the expansion of craft production and storage. At that point the Whetungs’ son Michael joined the family enterprise full-time.
Today the main building displays handcrafts from all parts of Canada, as well as those still produced within the community. The area downstairs offers a selection of arctic parkas, Cowichan sweaters, leather garments, souvenir apparel, gloves and various bead accessories. Adjacent to that is the museum. It features the Whetungs’ private collection, the work of artists and craftspeople from the Curve Lake Reserve and outstanding native craft work from across Canada.
One can literally spend hours browsing through the gallery rooms which are filled floor to ceiling with carvings, masks, pottery, paintings, beadwork, quillwork, jewelry, traditional music, and other decorative items of every description. Beyond the central gift shop area lies a high-ceilinged gallery featuring framed fine art and sculpture, original paintings as well as posters, limited editions and cards.
The Whetung Ojibwa Centre continues to be a family-operated business with a new generation, Michael’s daughters, on hand to greet visitors.