Oskenonton Laneway runs North South between Seaton Street and Sherbourne with entrances off Dundas, Gerrard and Seaton. It was the first laneway to be named in Cabbagetown South. Here is the fascinating story of the person after whom this laneway was named. This information was provided courtesy of Doug McTaggart from the Cabbagetown Laneway Association.
“Os-ke-non-ton (also known by his Anglo name Running Deer) was born into the Bear Clan at the Kahnawake Reserve outside of Montreal in 1886. His Mohawk parents were musicians. His grandmother was a Medicine Woman. Before reaching adolescence, Os-ke-non-ton was orphaned. He lived with relatives before being moved into a residential school. On several occasions, he escaped to live alone in the woods. By the time he reached his early 20s, he acted as a hunter and guide for tourists visiting the Canadian wilds.
Due to racism and the segregation born of it, Os-ke-non-ton was forced to keep his personal quarters a considerable distance from tourists. One evening, he sang songs from his childhood by his campfire with his bass baritone voice carrying a great distance across the water of a lake. Hearing it, two women (one a musician and vocalist) visiting the area from Toronto, took to a canoe and launched it paddling in the darkness as they traced the voice to its source. Their meeting with Os-ke-non-ton led to his living in Toronto where he received formal training vocal training for opera.
In time, he performed and was welcomed into the social circles of Joseph Atkinson, Andrew Carnegie and Albert Einstein. Os-ke-non-ton also became a friend of Thomas Edison. (This is the same Thomas Edison who purchased the patent for the electric light bulb from Woodward and Evans. Woodward and Evans work is now commerated in Cabbagetown by the naming of a laneway after them. Their laneway is aptly called “Woodward Evans Lane” and it is located North of Gerrard St.). In 1915, he was asked to sing at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Madison Square Gardens.
Returning to Toronto, he performed at many venues including Massey Hall and the Canadian National Exhibition. He also traveled overseas for several performances at The Royal Albert Hall and before European Royal families. Os-ke-non-ton passed out cardigans to the poor in Cabbagetown at the holidays, provided foster care to at least two children, spoke about First Nation culture in Toronto Public Schools and worked with fellow Chieftains and Toronto mayors for civil rights and to bring an end to discrimination. Once asked about his love of music, he referenced his early exposure to traditional Native songs and recorded Christmas carols. Judging from the 78 rpm records of his performances he also had a fondness for Native Hawaiian music”.
Os-ke-non-ton died in the mid-1950s and a memorial was held at Massey Hall.