Aboriginal History:
Bruce Peninsula 

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.

Today we consider our region to be one of the most peaceful and beautiful areas of the world. But two centuries ago the Grey/Bruce and Georgian Bay territory was the site of two horrific events.

For centuries several different Native nations tried to co-exist in the southern Georgian Bay/ Bruce Peninsula region. Tensions between the tribes heightened with the arrival of European priests, explorers and ultimately fur traders.

During the mid-1600s the Bruce Peninsula became Iroquois territory. Each year the Ojibway would send couriers to Montreal or Quebec City with that season’s harvest of furs. This trip was dangerous as they had to journey near or through territory which was controlled by the Iroquois.  

Sometime in the late 1690s or early 1700s, a party of Ojibwa on their way to Montreal were attacked and killed by the Iroquois. Threats of reprisals were met with scorn by the Iroquois. When a second trading party met a similar fate, a meeting between the Iroquois and Ojibwa was held at Saugeen. An uneasy truce was called, and the Iroquois agreed to pay a bale of furs for each slain Ojibway and safe passage to Quebec was guaranteed for the Ojibway and their allies. But the aboriginal history of the Bruce Peninsula would detail more violence in the near future.

This agreement held for three years and then in one year the Iroquois attacked several trading parties. The Ojibwa immediately called together all their allies and plans were made for reprisals which would be made the following spring.

Aboriginal History: Bruce Peninsula
The Battle of Skull Mound

The Iroquois were attacked on two fronts, the Ottawa Valley region and at the mouth of the Saugeen River. The battle at Saugeen was intense and fierce, and ultimately the Iroquois were forced to flee. The Iroquois who had been killed or captured had their heads cut off and piled in a pyramid. This battle thus became known as the Battle of Skull Mound. 

Peter Schmalz recounts in his book, The History of the Saugeen Indians, that when artist Paul Kane visited the area, almost a century and one-half later, in 1845 he wrote about visiting Skull Mound:

“It is the site of a former battle-ground between the Ojibwa ....and the Mohawks.  Of this, the mounds erected over the slain afford abundant evidence in the protrusion of the bones through the surface of the ground.”

This defeat did not mean the end of conflict between the Ojibwa and the Iroquois. Word was received that the Iroquois were headed back to the area to avenge their defeat. The Ojibwa and their allies gathered on the southern shore of Georgian Bay to await the return of the Iroquois. (Historians differ on the location. Some suggest that it was near Penetanguishene while others maintain that it occurred near Collingwood.)

When the Iroquois arrived their opponents lay in hiding. The unsuspecting Iroquois posted a few guards and turned in for the night. With the first rays of sunlight the following morning the Ojibwa and their allies swooped down from the mountain side, overpowered the sentries and quickly dispatched many of the Iroquois warriors to another world before they had time to arm themselves and mount a defense.

Before all of the Iroquois could be killed, Sahgimah, an Ottawa Chief, ordered an end to the slaughter.  He told his followers that a message needed to be sent to the rest of the Iroquois nation that would deter further warfare between the two groups.

Sahgimah’s message was simple, but effective. He had his men cut off the heads of all of the slain Iroquois and mounted on stakes. When this gruesome task was complete, the remaining Iroquois were shown the remains of their friends. As they paddled home the vision of, some suggest, four hundred or more heads on stakes, must have remained vivid in their minds as the Iroquois never returned. These two battles returned the region to Ojibwa and their allies and for the next century life in the region was relatively peaceful. The next threat to their territory would come from another force, that of white settlement!

The next time someone complains about this region by saying “NOTHING EXCITING EVER HAPPENS HERE! Tell them about the Battles of Skull Mound, and the Blue Mountains!

There are many books written about this topic but I found The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario and The History of the Saugeen Indians, by Peter Schmalz and James Barry’s Georgian Bay: The Sixth Great Lake to be extremely helpful and recommend them to anyone who wishes to read further about the aboriginal history of this region.

A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Discover More About the Bruce Peninsula

Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.

Barrow Bay Ontario a Picturesque Georgian Bay Community owes its origin to the once-thriving Bruce Peninsula lumbering industry. Today it is a quiet summer get-away!

Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.

Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula. 

Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone. 

Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.

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

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 land history continues the story of aboriginal land issues on the Bruce Peninsula. How it happened is a point for discussion by everyone.

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

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

Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.

Allenford United Church history details not only some important information about that community's church, but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.

Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!

Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a Lumbering Settlement and today it is a wonderful vacation retreat.

Elsinore Ontario is the southern-most point on the Bruce Peninsula, located about half-way between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.

Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.

Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.

Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!

A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing, at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.

Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.

Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!

Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.

Lighthouses  Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.

Sauble Beach Ontario has seen it all. A fishing outport; a sawmilling centre; and an internationally acclaimed tourist resort area!

Sauble Beach  This popular beach is known as Canada's Daytona Beach.

Lion's Head  Sailors often sought refuge from the stormy Georgian Bay waters in its well-protected harbour.

Park Head  Grand Trunk Railway in Park Head Ontario was an important railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula when in 1894 the first train chugged through Park Head.

Stokes Bay  Welcomed fishermen as their first non-native visitors. Today, if you are a fisherman, you will also probably want to try your luck landing a walleye, lake trout or any of the other game fish that live in the coastal waters of Lake Huron.

Tobermory Ontario has a rich history and, is the northern- most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula.

Tobermory Ontario Tourism is focused on shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy. 

Tobermory pioneers experienced a life in a community that was anything but the tourism hive of activity that it is today.

A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!

Wiarton Ontario  This historic community was a great place to live in the early settlement days and still is a busy tourist stop on your way up the Bruce Peninsula.

Wiarton  had ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.

Wiarton Ontario’s First Newspaper  A catalyst in supporting road construction and bringing the railway to Wiarton in hopes of making the town the economic leader of the area. But disappointment looms...

Wiarton news: 1890s, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper revealed problems typical of today's communities 

Wiarton Beet Industry was to be a great boost to the town's economy. Instead, it left most people with a bad taste in their mouths.

Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton  A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.

Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory  Relaxing and historic journey.

Bruce Peninsula  The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!

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