83 Years Ago: In a large ceremony on August 16th 1933, Onondaga Lake Park’s Sainte Marie de Ganentaa, which became commonly known as the French Fort, and the Jesuit Well were dedicated. These sites and others in the park were the work of thousands of laborers who were employed through the Onondaga County Emergency Work Bureau. Over 33,000 people attended the ceremony on the east shore of Onondaga Lake. WFBL and WSYR radio stations were on hand to broadcast the ceremonies. The afternoon kicked off with a symbolic arrival of canoes and a flag raising in the fort. Next was the dedication of the Jesuit Well, just on the other side of the railroad bridge from the fort. Finally the festivities moved to Griffin field where there was a parade, chorus, and presentation of awards and medals.
The site was created as part of a massive public works program. In 1975, Onondaga County Parks and Recreation started a Living History program at the site. With growing popularity, locals dubbed it “The French Fort.” The facility was completely renovated in 1990 due to the efforts of different groups and individuals to make the site more historically accurate and to help better orient patrons in a brand new visitor center. In the renamed Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois, visitors could trace the route the French took to North America and learn what happened when they encountered the indigenous people, the Haudenosaunee. They then took a journey back in time to visit the re-created mission and learn about daily life in the seventeenth century with the help of costumed interpreters.
Unfortunately, just over ten years after this magnificent renovation, Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois began to suffer from budget cuts. It was on the verge of being closed when The Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake stepped in and offered to run the site with volunteers, which they did for almost a decade.
Today, the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Heritage Center focused on telling the story of the native peoples of central New York. The history is told through the lens of the Onondaga Nation and covers topics such as Creation, European Contact, The Great Law of Peace, and more. The Onondagas, or People of the Hills, are the keepers of the Central Fire and are the spiritual and political center of the Haudenosaune.