Aboriginal Land History
on the Bruce Peninsula

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

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report which investigated the tragedies surrounding the native residential school system called for many actions to be taken to rectify this wrong. Listening to discussions about the report prompted me to write the following article about a book written by a local Bruce County resident. This book, when it was first released was heralded as a fresh look at aboriginal land history by a non-native.

Two hundred years ago there existed a nation that spanned more than two million acres. Today its domain spans a little more than thirty thousand acres!

Canadians tend to think that history begins with the arrival of the first European settlers to North America. Unfortunately, this attitude ignores the fact that North American history spans a much broader time frame than a few centuries. Many will argue that because we are of European descent it is important that we understand our heritage. I agree wholeheartedly! However, it is also important that we know about what Canada was like before our fore-fathers arrived.

The history of our country before the influx of settlers from Europe can be more than merely an educational exercise, it can also be extremely entertaining and enlightening. Unfortunately for us, the native history of Canada, has not been documented in vast scholarly libraries. Instead, much of the native heritage and tradition has passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.  Fortunately, today efforts are being made to document the history of the territory that we call Canada. One of these efforts was written by Peter Schmalz, a Walkerton teacher. Although The History of the Saugeen Indians, was researched and written in the 1970s it contains a wealth of information about native life in the Grey/Bruce region before European settlement. 

Prior to the opening of this region for settlement the Bruce Peninsula and Saugeen River watershed had been populated by various native nations during the course of time. Prior to the mid-seventeenth century the Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi nations lived in this region. The arrival of French explorers signaled the beginning of the fur trade. The natives, especially the Hurons, developed an active trade in furs with the Europeans. This circumstance led to tension between some of the tribes. Consequently, wars occurred and by 1649 the Iroquois had defeated the Hurons to the point of almost total annihilation.

With their ally defeated, the Potawatomi and Ojibwa moved further west leaving the Bruce Peninsula to the Iroquois. Half a century later the former inhabitants of the Bruce would return to oust the Iroquois from the region. For the next century the Ojibway nation would live in relative peace on the Bruce Peninsula and lands of the Saugeen River watershed. The Ojibwa Nation consisted of the Wahbadick, Newash, Wahwahnosh and Metegwob tribes.  

In the first decades of the nineteenth century the Colonial government of Upper Canada realized that it needed more land for settlement. This marked the beginning of the treaties which enabled the government to acquire more land for settlement purposes.

The man at the forefront of the movement to claim more land from the natives was the Governor of Upper Canada, Sir Francis Bond Head. Using the guise of concern for the natives, Bond Head started a campaign to remove the natives from contact with the white settlers. Writing in 1836 the governor stated that “the Indian breathes pure air, beholds splendid scenery, traverses unsullied water, and subsists on food which, general speaking, forms not only sustenance but the manly amusement, as well as occupation, of his life”. He also voiced concern about the impact of foreign diseases and alcohol on the native population.

For these reasons Bond Head then came to the conclusion that civilization was “against the Indian’s nature” and that they could never become members of the civilized community. Thus the governor began a quest, not to just move the natives onto small reserves, but to remove them to an area of land where they would be totally isolated from white society and all of the rest of the land in the colony would therefore be available for settlement. It was his idea to remove all of the natives in Upper Canada to Manitoulin Island.

The information used in this article came from many sources.  However, Peter Schmalz’ History of the Saugeen Indians was of particular importance for information.  This book may be difficult to find in a bookstore, so check with your local library for copies. It is well-worth the read!

A version of this article 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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