The Aboriginal History of the Bruce Peninsula

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. These treaties have led to the current land claim before the courts at this time. Even the names imposed by European visitors to the region reveal the evolution of the impact of Europeans on the place that we call the Bruce Peninsula.

The first name for the peninsula that we are aware of was “Wendiagui” or “Ouendiagui” which appeared on a 1775 map by the French cartographer and explorer Jean Baptiste d’Anville. This word is likely a French concept of a Wendat word, meaning “island almost.” The Wendat people became known to the French missionaries and explorers as the Huron. The word Huron is a version of a French word to describe the hair styling of the Wendat men which resembled that of a boar’s head.

The next known name for the peninsula was “Sauking” which was the name of the Indigenous peoples in the region. Over time that name was Anglicized to “Saugeen” which is the name used today for the Ojibwa people of the region.

For a short time in the late 1800s, the peninsula was called the “Indian” Peninsula before becoming the Bruce Peninsula. I just recently completed a master’s thesis on the development of the Bruce Peninsula and all attempts failed to discover when the name “Bruce Peninsula” came into use.

One of the pages listed below provides an overview of the aboriginal history of the Bruce Peninsula including two of the battles fought between the Ojibwa and the allies against the Iroquois such as the Battle at Skull Mound. 

Another page details the events surrounding the cause and effect of the Treaty of 1836 which saw the Saugeen nation cede all the territory south of Highway #21 which today extends from Owen Sound west to the mouth of the Saugeen River on the Lake Huron shoreline. The ceded lands extended southward to approximately the location of the town of Goderich on the Lake Huron shore eastward to the region around Mt. Forest.

Other pages provide information with regards to the signing of the “Half mile strip” treaty and the impact of settlers in the region. And, there will be much more to follow including the impact on the region by the influence of a British colonial officer who had been stationed half the world away from the Bruce Peninsula.

The aboriginal history illustrates that the indigenous peoples of the peninsula did not escape the horrors of the residential schools. Consequently, I have included a copy of an essay that I wrote while attending graduate school. This paper details events at various residential schools, including a list of the food fed to the children at the infamous residential school near Brantford Ontario nicknamed the “Mush Hole.” 

As far as I can discern, most of the Bruce Peninsula aboriginal children who were subjected to residential school life were forced to attend the school at Spanish Ontario on Lake Huron’s north shore.

To conclude, the aboriginal history of the Bruce Peninsula is an ongoing story. What will be the result of the land claim currently being argued in the Canadian courts and how will it impact the region.

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