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History of the County of Bruce, Ontario, Canada
The Indian Peninsula, 1854-1906


The facts to be related in this chapter may, to some readers, be of a somewhat uninteresting character, but they could not be omitted in a history of the county of Bruce. The particulars here given refer to the throwing open for settlement of the Saugeen Peninsula, the Indian Land Sale, and the subsequent connection and dealings of the Indian Department with those settlers who undertook to settle on and open up the most unpromising part of the county. Only transactions affecting the peninsula as a whole, or at least of more than one municipality therein, will be here mentioned.

In the preceding paragraph the peninsula is referred to as the most unpromising part of the county, in support of which statement the author asks the reader to read the quotations from the reports of the county valuators, as given at the beginning of the chapters following, on each township. Good farming land in the peninsula is the exception, not the rule. Land that at one time had a fair amount of timber on it has been burned over by forest fires, and there now remains nothing but bare rock—square miles in extent in some places—on which a scanty growth of stunted trees is to be seen. What good soil there is, seems to be either in hollows filled by the wash from higher ground, or else land that at one time was a swamp, which having been drained has become excellent land yielding large crops, the township of Eastnor giving the best example of this. Notwithstanding the scarcity of large areas of good arable land, many of the settlers who have remained in the peninsula are to-day very well-to-do, while the stock that cattle buyers bring in large quantities to Wiarton for shipment speaks well of the possibilities of the peninsula as a stock-raising section. The main resource of the peninsula in the past has been its timber; how long that will last is a mooted question.

By the treaty made with the Indians at Manitowaning in 1836, as related in Chapter I., the lands in the peninsula were to remain in their possession in perpetuity. On this point (speaking of the Indians) a clause in the treaty reads as follows: "Proper assistance (shall be) given to enable you to become civilized, and, to cultivate land, which your Great Father engages forever to protect for you from the encroachments of the Whites." As the years rolled by the demand for lands for settlement became imperative, so notwithstanding the above-mentioned agreement, the Indian chiefs were approached, and after some parleying, consented to the making of another treaty (see Appendix A), which was concluded October 13th, 1854, by which the Indians surrendered to the Crown, in trust, all the lands in the peninsula with the exception of special reservations mentioned, upon the following terms. "That the interest of the principal sum arising out of the sale of our lands be regularly paid, to ourselves and our children in perpetuity, so long as there are Indians left to represent our tribe, without diminution, at half-yearly periods.''

At the time of this surrender Lord Bury was Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs. He seems to have taken measures without much delay to have the lands as above surrendered opened for sale and settlement. To this effect he issued instructions April 26th, 1855, to Charles Rankin, P.L.S., of Owen Sound, to survey the townships of Amabel and Keppel, and that part of the present town plot of Southampton lying north of the Saugeen river. These surveys Mr. Rankin promised to have completed, and the plans prepared by the 1st October following. To accomplish this he had three separate parties of surveyors at work. In the meantime the Crown advertised a sale of these lands by auction, to be held at Owen Sound on October 17th, 1855. Mr. Rankin, for some reason not known to the author, expected to have been appointed the agent to conduct this sale. [As the remuneration was 5 per cent. upon all moneys derived from the sale of the lands, the post was one well worth having.] The government had another appointee in view, and on September 12th of that year Wm. R. Bartlett, of Toronto, was notified that the position was his. This was far from satisfactory to Mr. Rankin, and as a result of his displeasure, when Mr. Bartlett reached Owen Sound he found that there were no plans forthcoming of the lands advertised for sale; as a consequence, the sale had to be postponed indefinitely. The heated correspondence that followed between the Department and Mr. Rankin, and the stormy interview he had with Lord Bury, are to be found recorded in a government blue book. The upshot of it all was, the plans were promised to be supplied by April 30th, 1856, but Mr. Rankin did not get the appointment he desired.

After a delay of nearly a year, the sale of Indian lands was at length held at Owen Sound, the date being Tuesday, 2nd September, 1856. The auctioneer was J. G. Gale, of that town. The particulars of the sale are so fully and explicitly given in Mr. Bartlett's official report that it is here given in full:

"Toronto, November 20th, 1856.

"Sir,—His Excellency the Governor-General having been pleased to entrust to me the conduct and management of the first auction sale of a portion of the Indian Territory in the Saugeen Peninsula, I have the honor to submit with my return all the Books and Maps connected therewith, and a Tabular Statement in detail, showing the result of the sale. [1]

"The two southern townships, Keppel and Amabel, containing about 144,000, were the ones sold. Every lot was put up by the auctioneer, and of the whole number of acres offered, 35,364 were not bid for. They therefore remain over for the next sale.

"The Town Plot of Southampton on the north side of the Saugeen River at its entrance to Lake Huron, comprising 38 park lots from 1 to 19 acres, and 279 town lots of about half an acre each, was included in the sale of these two townships, and every lot sold.

"The Town Plots of Oliphant and Wiarton, each containing 1,000 acres, laid out in town and park lots, are both situated in the Township of Amabel. These were not included in my instructions and were not brought forward. They also remain for future disposal.

"10s. 3d. an acre was the average upset price for farm lots and 18s. 6d. an acre the average rate at which they sold.

"The farm lots sold at an average advance of 80 per cent.

"The park lots at an average advance of 150 per cent., and

"The town lots at an average advance of 325 per cent. on the upset prices.

"Some few remaining farm and park lots were also sold on what is termed the Half-mile Indian strip, a portion of which was formerly surrendered to the government by the Indians and sold for their benefit.

"It is to be supposed there will be some defaulters who will not make good their payments, but their number is comparatively small considering the large amount of land sold and instalments paid upon it.

"Assuming that the unsold farm lands sell at a future sale for "no more than the upset price, which is a low amount to set them down at, seeing the average advance is 80 per cent. on their upset price, the whole produce of the two townships of Keppel and Amabel (exclusive of the Town Plots of Oliphant and Wiarton) will give for the benefit of the Indians the large sum of £135,730.

"The Au Sable Mill Site, comprising 1,100 acres of land offered at £2,000, sold for £2,390.

"The Mill Site near Owen Sound containing 45 acres, put up at £500, sold for £760.

The amount of the first Instalment of one-third of the purchase money, which has been paid into the Bank by the buyers at this sale, is £34,061 1s. 7d. Cy.

"The Caughnawaga Tract, situated very advantageously on the Owen Sound Bay, the surrender of which was only obtained from the Indians during the progress of the late sale, though small, is reported to be good land. Instructions had been forwarded to me, by direction of His Excellency the Governor-General, to offer the same at the first sale; but having got through all the land and closed the auction two days before these Instructions reached me, and the people having nearly all dispersed and returned to their homes, many of whom had been waiting for this land, I felt that I could not in justice to the Department, and without causing much dissatisfaction, carry out that order. This tract, will, therefore, remain to be offered at another sale. . "The large tracts of some of the best land in the Peninsula still held as reservation by these Tribes of Indians, and lying as they do upon the borders of the surrendered portions, are considered a great bar to the rapid settlement of those portions already sold. These lands are unoccupied and uncultivated and will probably remain in that state until they are given over to the management of the Department.

"If, therefore, a surrender of these reservations could be obtained, it would tend very much to the benefit of the tribes, and be the means not only of settling the County, but of adding materially to their income.

"Due notice having been given in the principal papers of the Province, the sale was commenced at Owen Sound, and continued for five days in succession. The audience was large and highly respectable, being composed chiefly of the yeomen of the country, and numbered throughout the days of sale upwards of 1,000 persons.

"The greater part of the farm lands were purchased by farmers, many of whom had been waiting more than a year for this opportunity of buying farms for themselves and their sons, and from the opening to the close of the sale the competition was keen and spirited. The greatest good order and good feeling prevailed amongst the buyers throughout the progress of the sale, and all expressed themselves well satisfied with the arrangements of the Department.

"I have the honor to be, sir,
"Your obedient servant, ,
"W. B. Bartlett,
"Agent for the Sale."

In Appendix V is given a copy of the advertisement announcing the Indian land sale. The conditions of the sale were: One-third of purchase money to be paid at time of purchase, while no conditions were attached regarding settlement or clearing of the land [On the lots fronting on the Centre Diagonal and the Saugeen and Sydenham roads, there was an exception as to conditions. In these cases the purchaser had, "within one year after the date of purchase, to cut and remove all the timber from the centre of the road to a depth of ninety feet." ] or erecting of a house, such as were required by the Crown Lands Department of those who purchased in other parts of the county farm lots direct from the Crown. Conditions such as these, or rather the lack of conditions, attracted speculators, and their presence explains the high prices obtained, which, so the author has been informed by one in attendance at the sale, in the case of some farm lots ran up to $30 per acre, while for park lots at Southampton as high as $2,200 was bid. Later on the speculators realized how wild their bids had been and forfeited the one-third purchase money they had paid and threw up their purchases.

A protest from other parts of the county was made regarding the absence of any requirements in the matter of settlement duty, at this sale of Indian lands. Attention having been drawn to the omission, it was not long before a change was made in this respect, assimilating the practice of the Indian Department in this county somewhat to that of the Crown Lands Department. The later conditions are given in a footnote. [1]

[1 The amended conditions of purchase, which were in force from an early date, were as follows : One-fifth of the money to be paid at the date of sale, the balance to be paid in four equal consecutive yearly instalments bearing interest at 6 per cent. Settlement was required, actual occupation and improvements to commence within six months from the date of sale, and to be continuous for a period of three years previous to the issue of the patent, within which time there should be cleared and fenced at least five acres upon each parcel of land containing one hundred acres. A dwelling house not less than 24 x 18 feet was to be erected. Nonfulfilment of any of these conditions might cause cancellation and forfeiture of purchase money. Until the patent was issued, it was necessary to obtain from the Land Agent a license to sell wood or timber, but such license did not permit the selling of pine.]

The author regrets that he is not able to give the date when the revised conditions first came into force.

The fact that at first the Indian Land Office was not located anywhere in this district, but at Toronto, was a great inconvenience to settlers; owing to the slow mail service of those days long delays were inevitable in the transaction of business. This unsatisfactory state of affairs lasted until 1878, when the agency at Wiarton was opened. The first person appointed to act as agent there was B. B. Miller, who held the office until 1884, when he was succeeded by Wm. Simpson. In 1901, on the retirement of Mr. Simpson, the position was given to W. J. Ferguson, who still is in charge of the office. Another drawback to a satisfactory relation between the public and the officials was that the Indian Department existed and carried on its business irresponsible to the Government, the Indians and their affairs being a department that had as its head the English War Office, the Governor-General's secretary being ex-officio Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs. This was changed, however, in 1868, when an Act was passed [31 Vic. Chap. 42.] establishing the Department of Secretary of State, and appointing the holder of that portfolio as the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs. This and subsequent changes have supplied the then much-felt need of a department responsible to Parliament, and that would be willing to listen to petitions asking for some remedy to the unsatisfactory position of affairs which had given rise to so much discontent among the settlers. That the reader may have some idea of the grounds for the discontent referred to in the last paragraph, the following particulars are given. The first has reference to undue partiality given to some who bought at the first sale for purely speculative purposes, and is an extract from a speech made by the member for North Bruce in Parliament (session of 1869). Mr. Sproat said: Extravagantly high prices were given, but speculators who then had bought three lots at ruinous prices, had been allowed to apply the payment of the one-third of purchase money, made at time of sale upon the three lots, to one of them, for which he got a patent, and then abandoned the other two lots, while actual settlers who had bought only one lot got no equivalent privilege. He believed the one-third of purchase money, required at time of sale, would in most cases represent more than the value of the lot, and he hoped some plan would be adopted to relieve settlers of two-thirds of the price. There were many other grounds of complaint, some of which were set forth in a series of motions passed at a meeting held March 19th, 1872, at which the reeves and prominent men of the district were present. The various motions passed were to the effect: (1) That this meeting petition the Governor-in-Council to appoint a local agent in some central place to transact all business in connection with Indian lands that is at present transacted at Toronto; (2) To make a grant of money for the improvement of the roads in the several municipalities, as an equivalent for taxes lost on lands resumed by the Indian Department; (3) To appoint a commissioner to re-value the unsold lands in the Peninsula with a view of promoting actual settlement of the same; (4) To cause to be re-valued such lands as have been sold at an exorbitant price, or lands of inferior quality on which the whole purchase money has not yet been paid; (5) To appoint a commissioner to confer with the Indian owners of these lands with a view of securing the purchase of the whole Indian Peninsula from them by the government; (6) That all unsold lands in the Peninsula be brought into the market, to be sold to actual settlers only. At the same time a deputation was appointed to visit Ottawa and confer with the government. As a result of the foregoing, the Indian Department announced, shortly after the visit of the deputation, that it would consider cases of special hardships. Liberal concessions were also made, but the author has not been able to learn their exact nature, except that Wm. Bull, clerk of the township of Amabel, was appointed to make a valuation of the lands and report to the government.

The Hon. David Laird, Minister of the Interior, came in the summer of 1875 to investigate personally the grievances complained of. He drove through parts of the Peninsula, inspecting the lands and the circumstances of the settlers, with the result that a re-valuation of the lands was subsequently made, this work being done, so the author has been told, by a Mr. McKay, who resided at or near Ottawa. Mr. Laird, on his return to the capital, announced: "That he had been authorized to grant such measures of relief at once that shall be just to both the settlers and the Indians interested. That each settler's case would be dealt with on its own merits, and that all interest would be remitted up to the end of that year (1875)." The timber dues were at the same time slightly reduced. In a footnote [1] is given the scale of timber dues in force at the time of Mr. Laird's visit, which must have been a burden to the settlers.

The re-valuation of lands just mentioned was not to be the final one. A sense that full justice had not been rendered by the Indian Lands Department was felt by many a settler, who finding existence on a farm lot which contained more rock than tillable land a hard one, readily brooded over any rightful grievance he might have, so complaints and protests were forthcoming. At length sufficient pressure was brought to bear to force the government to take action, which took the form of the appointment of two commissioners, John Irwin and George Elliott, to make another re-valuation of the lands in the Peninsula. This they did in 1897 and 1898. The result of their report was that the Department made large reductions in favor of the settlers, although in some instances an advance was made in the price at which certain lots were held.

A form of unfair treatment much complained of while it lasted, was the granting to large lumber companies the privilege of cutting timber on lands owned by settlers. The British and Canadian Timber and Lumber Co., of which H. H. Cook, M.P., was manager, was one of such, privileged by license to denude the land to the settlers' loss. In the case of this company, especially, it was decided to energetically protest, so a deputation consisting of Charles Webster, David Dinsmore, Dr. S. Wigle and William Baker proceeded to Ottawa to lay this grievance of the settlers before the government. This was about 1880, Parliament being in session. John Gillies, the representative from North Bruce, unfortunately for the interests of the deputation, sat on the Opposition benches. That their interests might not suffer thereby he asked Alex. Shaw, the member for South Bruce, a supporter of the government, to introduce the deputation. The strength of the opposition to the relief sought, lay in the fact that the license holders were largely government supporters. Mr. Van Koughnet, the head of the Indian Department, stated that it was and always had been the policy and practice of the government to renew these licenses. Mr. Shaw, being in full sympathy with the request of the settlers, finding no headway in their interests was being made, got Sir D. L. Macpherson, the Minister of the Interior, to go with him and argue the question before the Premier, Sir John A. Macdonald. This was successfully done, and the order was finally given to cancel the licenses complained about.

The next grievance under which the Peninsula suffered and for which redress was sought was one not of the individual settler, but of the township municipalities, the complaint being the loss of taxes arising from the cancelling (by the Indian Department) of land sales because of the non-fulfilment of settlement duties. The effect of these cancellations was that the land was resumed by the Crown, and as Crown lands are not liable to be taxed, any arrears of taxes charged against the lands referred to became void and were lost to the municipality. In 1887 the County Council petitioned against the wholesale cancellations lately made. The petition set forth the large sums lost in consequence by the municipalities, which for the years 1884-5-6, in the case of Albemarle amounted to over $700, in that of Eastnor to about $850, and in that of the united townships of Lindsay and St. Edmund to over $3,000. The Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs declined to change the practice, the reason assigned being that the Indians interested in the sale of lands in the Peninsula objected to any portion of the sum received from land sales being given to municipalities. The Indians were not the only ones to derive pecuniary benefit from the cancelling of land sales; there were some holders of unpatented lots, men whose sense of rectitude and honor was defective, who perceived how the practice of cancellation might be turned to their profit. The process was simple: Means were used to get the Department to cancel their purchase; this freed the land from all claims for taxes; an immediate re-purchase was then made, with the result of a loss of one, two or three years' taxes to the municipality in which their lots lay.

Prom the day the first settler in the Peninsula sought a place on which to locate, down to the present, the question of roads has been one of much prominence. This has been because of the many rocky or swampy tracts existing in that part of the county through which roads had to be made. These territorial features have also resulted in the settlers, in many localities, being much scattered. As an offset to these disadvantageous features may be mentioned the ready access to the Peninsula by water, navigation being available to bring settlers and their effects to within a moderate distance of any point at which they chose to settle. There are two main routes for north and south traffic through Albemarle, Eastnor and Lindsay, one on the Georgian Bay side of the Peninsula, the other on the Lake Huron side; the latter of these was the first to be opened. That part of this road passing through Albemarle seems to have been opened gradually during the sixties, [The by-law authorizing the deviations north of Mar was passed, March 14th, 1866.] and by the autumn of 1870 this road had not only been opened through Eastnor, but had been pushed forward two miles into Lindsay. The work in these two townships was paid for by grants received for the purpose. The author is unable to state the number of grants made by the government towards the opening of roads in the Peninsula with the exception of the two here given; in 1892 the Provincial Legislature made a grant of $1,800 for this purpose, which in 1895 was followed by a grant of $1,000 received from the Dominion Government. The most liberal contributor towards improving the roads throughout the Peninsula has been the County Council, which has been most generous in the matter of road grants to this portion of the county, the total amount of which would run up into many thousands of dollars.

A poor harvest and bush fires in 1884 impoverished many a settler in the four northern townships. To relieve the then existing distress, a commission was appointed in the following spring. As the report of this commission, as made to the County Council, covers all the facts, it is here given in full as follows:

"The Commissioners appointed by the Ontario Government and the Warden on behalf of the County Council, to relieve the distress existing in the northern townships, beg to report as follows: That upon being notified of their appointment, and the amounts granted for said purpose, namely, $700 by the Ontario Government, and $300 by the County Council, in addition to the sum of $350 that was granted to the townships of Eastnor, Lindsay and St. Edmund at the January session of this Council, to be expended upon roads in those municipalities, we proceeded to Lion's Head, in the township of Eastnor, in company with John Gillies, M.P.P., and the Warden, Mr. Potts, and attended a meeting of the settlers called by Mr. Alex. Chisholm, the reeve of that township, which was largely attended by settlers from nearly the whole of the northern peninsula, and after hearing their statements and reviewing a list of names of applicants for assistance that had been prepared by a committee formed there previously for that purpose, and also consulting with several parties well acquainted with the matter in hand, a list was prepared giving the names and the amount of grain to be distributed to each individual, a copy of which is attached. This the Commissioners found to be a rather difficult task to perform, and occupied their time fully from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until 2 o'clock the next morning, and it was found upon totalling the list and estimating the cost, that the amount would exceed the sum granted, and therefore a proportionate reduction had to be made upon the whole list to bring it within the sum at the disposal of the Commission. Up to the present time, as near as possible, giving in round figures, 500 bushels potatoes, 200 bushels barley, 400 bushels oats, 200 bushels peas, 7 tons of flour, and 1,600 pounds of oatmeal have been purchased, copies of the invoices of which are also attached to this report. These, together with freight, bags, and a few incidental expenses, amount to about $1,100, leaving a balance of $250 still in the hands of the Commissioners. But additional applications for assistance have been received. It was learned while the Commission sat at Lion's Head that such would be the case, as some settlements had not received notice of the meeting called at Lion's Head. This was unavoidable on account of the shortness of the time, as the season was already far advanced, and grain had to be purchased at a distance and brought in, all of which consumed valuable time. The idea of allowing the Commission a small margin for claims likely to come in afterwards was a wise one, as a number of cases of extreme poverty have since been reported and relief granted. The grain supplied has been all distributed. The Commission appointed Mr. Chisholm to attend to the distribution at Lion's Head, where it was all distributed, with the exception of a very small amount granted to residents in the township of Albemarle, which was distributed at Wiarton as being more convenient for the residents of Albemarle. The parties receiving the supplies have all been required to give an undertaking that they will perform road-work at the rate of 1.00 per day for the amount they have received, with the exception of about ten families who received aid gratuitously, being in indigent circumstances.

"John McIver,
"Commissioner for Ont. Government.
"A. M. Tyson,
"Commissioner for Co. of Bruce."

The mail service throughout the four northern townships has been none too frequent at any time, so that an early effort to get into touch with the outside world by electric telegraph is not to be wondered at. The prospect of business, however, was not sufficient to warrant the telegraph company to construct a line beyond Colpoy's Bay, where it had an office, although it might be so to operate it. To assist along this much-to-be-desired project the County Council, on the motion of Robert Watt and J. H. Whicher, in January, 1884, voted $150 towards the cost of carrying the electric telegraph to Lion's Head. This grant was supplemented from other sources, with the result that in 1887 the telegraph company opened an office for business at Lion's Head. Points to the north of "The Head" also wanted to be favored in like manner. In the welfare of his constituents of this locality, Alex. McNeill, the member for North Bruce, got the Toronto Board of Trade to petition the Dominion Government for a grant to carry the telegraph line through to Tobermory, urging the advantage it would be to the shipping interests. What aid was granted the author is not prepared to say, but the line was opened to Tobermory in October, 1887. This office at} first and for many years was only open during the season of navigation. The advent of the telephone into the peninsula is due to the enterprise of a single individual, Robert Gillies. With some outside assistance he in 1900 or 1901 constructed a line through from Wiarton north as far as Lion's Head, via Mar and Spry. Since then he has pushed it forward until now Tobermory can be telephoned to. Much credit is due to Mr. Gillies for what he has done to bring to the Peninsula one of the conveniences of modern life, and it is pleasing to know that he has found the venture a remunerative one.

As mentioned in Chapter VII., the advent of a railway throughout the entire length of the peninsula was confidently expected in 1900-1. These hopes are, for the time being at least, doomed to be disappointed.

In closing this chapter the author would be pleased to write in words prophetic of a glowing future for the Indian Peninsula, but its physical features are such that he cannot conscientiously do so. The men of the north, however, are sturdy and energetic as any that settled in other parts of the county of Bruce. Knowing this, it is difficult to prognosticate what they may accomplish in the development of the Indian Peninsula.


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