Jean-Baptiste Canadien aka Big John Canadian aka Sawatis Aiontonnis, late 19th century
Jean-Baptiste Canadien, also known as Big John

In the 19th century, the Natives of Kahnawake were known for skillfully piloting steamboats through the Lachine Rapids. The passage was dangerous, but if a boat ran into trouble the passengers could always count on the villagers for help.





One of the most legendary figures of the Mohawk Nation was Sawatis Aiontonnis, also called Jean-Baptiste Canadien. Born at Kahnawake on December 16, 1840, to Ignace Oriwakennhen and Louise Kanonwehon, he married Malvina Maccomber on February 16, 1863, and fathered 13 children.

Colourful, skilled and daring, Big John holds an important place in the history of his people and of Canada as a whole. He died at Kahnawake on February 16, 1919.

Jean-Baptiste Canadien, sometimes called Baptiste Canayen, is not to be confused with Big John Rice, also a river pilot but taller than Jean-Baptiste, standing five feet, seven inches tall. Big John Rice was born in 1811 and died in 1892.