Thinking Back Seven Generations — Key Historical Milestones and the Bruce Peninsula of Today

Article authored by Joanne Rodgers, also published on BPEG site.

The Bruce Peninsula Environment Group and Sources of Knowledge co-hosted “Thinking Back Seven Generations — Key Historical Milestones and the Bruce Peninsula of Today” at Rotary Hall, Lion’s Head 2017. You can hear an audio recording of this meeting by clicking here.

This event was a precursor to the Sources of Knowledge Forum to be held in May. Over 100 attendees were encouraged to reflect on the history of the Bruce Peninsula over the last 140 years and how it shaped and continues to shape life on the Bruce. Lenore Keeshig, a Nawash Band Member, local naturalist, storyteller and SOK Board member, explained that First Nations considered Treaties to be for trade, peace, neutrality, alliances, protection, use of territories and laid out the relationships between the partners. The indigenous inhabitants were members of the Three Fires Confederacy comprising of the Odawa (economic – entrepreneurs, traders), Potawatomi (Governance – Fire-keepers, Warriors) and the Ojibwe/Chippewas (Keepers of the culture). Treaties with the Crown saw the surrender of Saugeen Obijway (SON) Lands: The Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized Native lands; 1764 Covenant Chain of Friendship was signed 24 First Nations at Fort Niagara. However by 1812, the quality of the relationships between the Crown and the First Nations diminished. Treaty 451/2 (1836), so called because it was written on half piece of parchment, proceeded to surrender “1.5 million acres of the very richest land of Upper Canada”. The Crown was to provide proper housing, assistance and protect the Saugeen Peninsula forever. 15 years later, Treaty 67 Half Mile Strip, land was given for a road between Saugeen and Nawash. 18 years on, Crown stated it could no longer protect the land from settlement; this resulted in Treaty 72 whereby SON would get the proceeds from the sale of the land, to be placed in a trust fund for SON members to access twice a year. In 1857, Treaty No. 82 10,000 acre Nawash Reserve on the west-side of Owen Sound Bay was surrendered and described all the land not part of the Treaty, Neyaashiinigmiing is unceded, meaning it was not part of any treaty. Four years later in 1861, the Colpoy’s Bay Reserve of 6,000 acres was surrendered . Treaty 93 surrendered the area known as Colpoy’s Bay By 1889, lands surrendered included White Cloud Islands (Treaty 213/214); Fishing Islands (Treaty 222/223) and Griffith Island (Treaty 225/226). In closing, a tearful Lenore entreats the audience to be good to the traditional homeland of her people.

Dr George Harpur narrated Lynn Watson’s recollections of the great forest fire of the summer of 1908. Lynn remembers his grandfather Arthur Watson, sitting around the kitchen table talking about the destruction and hardships the fire caused. Many people were burnt out of their homes and lost the means to survive off the land. Arthur blamed logging practices of slash from the huge white pine and hemlock left lying on the forest floor, a bone dry tinder box waiting for a lighting strike and the right conditions to ignite the inferno from hell. Lynn’s grandmother Martha Watson recalled living in a lumber and fishing camp at Johnson Harbour when the fire started, escaping unto Lake Huron in a wooden hulled fishing boat with 4 year old Louis and two year old Myra and some supplies, the smoke so thick it was difficult to breathe, soaking blankets in water and covering the children, fearful of venturing far from land, as sudden winds could swamp their overloaded boat. Martha saw deer, bears, foxes, wolves, any wildlife that could outrun the fire jumping into the water and swimming out to rocky points of lands and shoal. It took 2 days before it was cooled down enough to return to land. James Rae, a Tobermory barber recounted that around the 1930’s, he could stand at Dyers Bay Road and the Bury Rod #6 Intersection, look in all four directions and see only fire killed trees. The positive side of the destruction meant the availability of fire killed timber to build rail fences to contain cattle and livestock and wood shingles were harvested from many of the huge cedar trees destroyed by the fire. Some barns were even constructed from the salvaged timber. By the 1950’s., there were still plenty of evidence of the destruction to the landscape; the trees were small and scrubby, and huge fire killed trees and logging sumps were charred and blackened by the fire. Lynn ended his reminiscing by saying we should all pray it never happens again.

Rick Salen of Blue Heron Cruises shared his personal experiences regarding the growth of tourism on the Bruce. In 1969, the Salens purchased the Mariner Motel in Tobermory, at the time most of the businesses were family-operated and extra staff was sourced from the area. The season was only July and August, the ferry service to Manitoulin with the Norisle and Norgoma had a total capacity of 70 cars. Scuba diving was a growing activity. Locally built wooden vessels took tourists fishing and for cruises in the local waters, including Flowerpot Island. The tourists would come around the the fuel shack where Rick and his brother pumped gas to ask about boats to Flowerpot Island, After 2 years of this question, the Salens bought their first boat, 30 passenger Miss Tobermory in 1971. other operators with a total capacity for 90 people included Albert Smith on the Captain Ahab, Joe George on the Penguin and Don Kaufman on the Flowerpot. In 1974, the Chi-Cheemaun arrived and investments in infrastructure, motel rooms and restaurants followed. The ferry was the major draw. By mid 1970’s Fathom Five Provincial Park was established. The dive business flourished and then Gord Dinsmore brought the Fathom Five, Tobermory’s first glass-bottom boat which changed the face of tourism. Tobermory started to grow as a destination in itself. The shipwrecks, which people had been hearing about with the growth of diving, were now accessible by all. Within a few years, all the Flowerpot boats were glass-bottom. This steady growth did not come without complaint and controversy. Orrie Vail, a famous Tobermory fisherman, knife maker and self proclaimed discover of the Griffon, had his land expropriated for the new ferry dock; scuba divers and Gord Dinsmore had daily skirmishes over the shipwrecks; lineups for the ferry created traffic chaos and there were new controls by the Niagara Escarpment . With the increase in visitors came the need to invest in larger boats, parking lots and washroom facilities, with the biggest challenge being staffing. In the early years, the supply of local kids filled the jobs, now staff housing was required to attract people from out of town. The exponential growth of the last few years caught everyone by surprise. New Canadians, mostly Chinese and South Asians are now the major clients of the Flowerpot cruises. As in the mid-70’s, expansion of the ferry, the newly created Parks and resulting congestion took a few years to resolve itself, Rick believes Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula are at this point again. He acknowledges there are problems to work out, but is confident that the right people are working away at solutions, and remarked how history always repeats itself.

You can view the presentation documents from this meeting
Bruce Peninsula Fire of 1908
Tobermory Tourism 1969 to the Present
Understanding Treaties Lenore Keeshig

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