Aboriginal History:
The 1836 Treaty

Aboriginal History: the 1836 treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.

You have just learned that the government has invited people from another region to live on the property which you own. How would you feel? How would you react? To make matters worse, only a short time earlier the government had arbitrarily taken some of your property. Of course, you had been paid, but you did not sell the land by choice. How would you feel? How would you react?

The Indigenous people of the Bruce Peninsula region, had, throughout the centuries faced many incursions from invaders. On occasion they had been forced to flee their home territory, re-group, and return after the invading forces had been dispatched.

For more than a century after the bloody battles with the Iroquois, Indigenous life on the Bruce Peninsula had been relatively calm. However, new incursions to the region were about to occur.

In the 1830s the colonial government of Upper Canada realized that it was running out of land to offer the growing number of immigrants coming from Britain and elsewhere. One of the last unsettled tracts of land in what is now southern Ontario lay to the west and north of the Fergus/Elora region. But there was a problem. Treaties with the natives had relieved some of this territory, but by and large, there were still large parcels that were the domain of the Indigenous peoples of the region.

Bruce Peninsula Aboriginal History:
the 1836 Treaty

In 1836 a treaty was negotiated which created an Indigenous territory “in perpetuity”. In the next quarter of a century “forever” proved to be something other than the standard dictionary meaning. And, which aboriginal peoples would live in the established territory, became a matter of debate.

The question of which natives held sovereignty over the area came to the fore in 1839. Beginning in that year and continuing until the late 1840s the British government, in conjunction with several missionary groups invited Indigenous people who lived in the United States to move across the border into the Canadian colony and take up residence. One of the areas offered to these people was the Bruce Peninsula region.

The motive behind this action was purely military. During the War of 1812, many Indigenous people who resided in the United States had been allies of British. It was the British government’s plan that if these allies lived in Canada they could once again serve as valuable allies in the event of a future military action between Britain and the United States.

Indigenous people from other parts of the Canadian colony were also forced to relocate in the Bruce Peninsula region. As lands were required for the ever-increasing numbers of non-native settlers in the more populated regions of the colony native lands were annexed. Those who were displaced were offered territory in more remote areas such as the Bruce Peninsula region.

Perhaps this circumstance could have been tolerable for the native residents, if during the same period this region had not been targeted for non-native settlement.   

The aboriginal history of the 1836 Treaty shows that the Indigenous land holdings in the region were reduced from about two million acres to approximately 450,000 acres.

Aside from the arrival of more Natives and the threat of non-native incursions into the region historian Peter Schmalz suggests that the Saugeens lived in fear of Sir Francis Bond Head’s plan of moving them to Manitoulin Island!

francis-bond-headSir Francis Bond Head

During the 1840s and 1850s the community of Owen Sound, as well as other pioneer settlements grew, creating a need for more land for white settlement. In response, the colonial government “negotiated” more treaties in order to make more land available. This led to a further reduction of native territory. This circumstance created problems for the Indigenous communities. Less land and more people made it difficult for the traditional hunting and food gathering process to be continued. 

This article first appeared in my Local History Column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in November, 1997.

NOTE: In 2019, the Indigenous people of the Bruce Peninsula filed a land claim suit pertaining to actions taken by the Crown in the 1836 Treaty and succeeding treaty actions on the peninsula.

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Aboriginal History

The Aboriginal History of the Bruce Peninsula is an interesting microcosm of the aboriginal history of Canada. Exploring the pages that follow you will read about the numerous treaties that impacted the lives of the indigenous peoples of the peninsula.

Aboriginal History: The 1836 Treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.

Aboriginal History: the Bruce Peninsula has a long indigenous heritage not just for the native nation living there today, but for other native groups as well.

Bruce Peninsula Land Claim: Historical Perspective explores the some of the pre-conquest era on the Bruce Peninsula adding further information surrounding the quest of the Indigenous people in terms of the current land claim.

Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family. She took her issues to Queen Victoria.

"Half Mile-Strip" Treaty made it possible for a relatively smooth overland connection to be built between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Settler Impact on Bruce Peninsula Natives was not only from the imposition of treaties, but also from British military plans.