treaties & cultural change
The Pre-Confederation Treaties
Early Treaties After the American Revolution

After the American Revolution, many loyal British subjects fled from the United States to Upper Canada (now Ontario), created in 1791. They were known as the United Empire Loyalists.

The first efforts to enforce the treaty-making provisions of the Proclamation of 1763 were made in Upper Canada where the newcomers needed land for farming.

Representatives of the British Colonial government signed treaties, in accordance with the Royal Proclamation, with various First Nations who agreed to exchange portions of their land for a sum of money and/or goods. The Crown then gave this land to the newly arrived settlers as land grants for farming.

The first agreements in Upper Canada were poorly documented, or perhaps even intended to defraud. Some of the treaties signed by First Nations people were in fact blank documents.

Since their culture did not include written languages, they were not experienced in the subtleties and legalities of European written documents. The First Nations recognized the spoken words as the true legal documents.

1787 - The land and water that stretched along the shores of Lake Ontario, from Etobicoke to the Bay of Quinte, and out 20 km, was exchanged for the promise of annual gifts. The size of the lot was determined by the sound of a gunshot, and how far the sound traveled. The area later became Toronto.

Map of the areas involved in the Upper Canada Treaties

The Bay of Quinte during the 1700s

The Upper Canada Treaties

Upper Canada became a separate British Colony in 1791, with John Graves Simcoe as its Governor.

It was called "Upper" Canada because it is in the upstream part of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes watershed. Today, Upper Canada is the Province of Ontario.

Simcoe continued the process of negotiating for land from the First Nations, and giving land grants to settlers.

In 1792 John Simcoe bought plots of land between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and First Nations relinquished their rights to lands ceded in that area.

He also gave land grants to First Nations groups who had been allies of the British during the American Revolution, and who had now come north to what is now Canada.

The British were deferential to the First Nations people as long as they needed First Nations support for military purposes.

The government and military tried to protect them from the excesses and racism of the Americans.

In 1793 Governor Simcoe bought land along the Bay of Quinte from the Mississauga Indians, and turned it over to Mohawks who had lost their land in the United States.

Today it is still the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Governor John Graves Simcoe

Tepee camp c 1810 the Canadas (James Heriot)

Lord Dorchester was the Governor General of Canada.

In 1794, he was preparing to move the capital of Upper Canada from Niagara to York (Toronto), when he discovered that the treaty made with the Mississauga Indians for the land there, was not legally correct.

Lord Dorchester then announced that, from then on, proper records of all treaty transactions should be kept, and that all purchases were to be made "with great solemnity and ceremony according to the ancient usages and customs of the Indians."

Alcohol was to be banned during treaty negotiations.

Dorchester's instructions, with some notable exceptions, became the basis of the treaty-making procedure in Canada.


Lord Dorchester
Sir Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester) insisted that legal standards be followed in future treaties with First Nations people
Map of Canada and US Territory circa 1812

Until 1834, the city of Toronto was known as York or Hogtown, when painted by Elizabeth Hale in 1804. Today it is Canada's biggest city. The land was owned by the Mississauga Indians. In their honour the nearby city of Mississauga commemorates the memory of the original landowners.
The War of 1812

During the War of 1812, many First nations groups fought on the British side, and  the Indians played an important role in defeating the Americans, and keeping British North America out of American hands.

The Americans were terrified of the Indians, and American volunteers often fled in terror when they learned that Indians were fighting on the British side.

First Nations support often turned the tide of battle, as Native leaders like John Norton and Tecumseh played a key role in keeping Canada British. At the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1813, the blood-curdling war whoops of John Norton's Iroquois, from deep in the woods, played a big role in striking fear into the American invaders who fled in panic.

After the war, Americans tried to force native people on United States soil into Oklahoma, following a path dubbed 'the trail of tears.' However, many were unhappy with the move and instead relocated on reserves and settlements in Southern Ontario along the Northern shores of the Great Lakes.


After the War of 1812 The Chippewa Treaty and Reserves

The Napoleonic Wars between France and Great Britain ended about the same time as the War of 1812 ended. The British government had employed thousands of officers, who now had no jobs in peacetime Britain. The British government encouraged them to immigrate to British North America where they were given land grants.

With the coming of peace, settlers poured into Upper Canada to cut down the timber and clear the land for farming. Upper Canada desperately needed First Nations land for the new settlers. The Crown sped up the treaty-making process.

By the 1830s, the Crown had used the treaty process to obtain title to most of present-day Ontario south of the Pre-Cambrian Shield.

Most First Nations people readily accepted the terms offered by British authorities. Because of past military alliances, they trusted the government to look after their best interests, and protect them from land-grabbing American expansionists..

The treaties usually specified a transfer of territory in return for a single payment of money and goods, plus a promise of annual payments in perpetuity. At first, no land reserves were set up, because there seemed to be so much land, and so few people.

In 1827, after several years of prolonged negotiation, the Chippewas (as the British called them),ceded 2.7 million acres of the finest agricultural land in Canada in  southwestern Upper Canada..They kept less than 1% of their land in four reserves -now Kettle and Stoney Point, Walpole Island, and the Sarnia Reserve.

Over the next 150 years, the size of these important reserves would shrink bit by bit, mostly through illegal sales of land approved by government-employed Indian agents who were supposed to be protecting the interests of the First Nations, not ripping them off.

Some lands would be illegally seized by government for its own use.

At the end of the twentieth century, the land issue would erupt into the tragic Ipperwash confrontation that would make headlines all over Canada.

The Bond Head Treaties 1836

As more loyalists settled in Upper Canada after the War of 1812, there was a gradual governmental shift in Crown relations with First Nations people that was encapsulated by Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head.

He decided that all efforts to Christianize and integrate Natives should be cancelled, and that they should be free to hunt and fish and follow their traditions in isolation, on Manitoulin Island.

At a ceremony in Manitowaning in 1836, Manitoulin Island was designated as Native territory, for displaced natives in Upper Canada and displaced natives who had come from America.

The idea met with resistance in Britain, with the Aborigines' Protection Society, and most natives refused to move.

Bond Head had also made a series of treaties with individual Indian groups, and found that the Saugeens in particular agreed to give up large parts of land, if their smaller parts became protected from squatters, i.e. settlers trying to find land.

As part of the treaty, Bond Head also told the Saugeens that "proper Houses shall be built for you, and proper Assistance given to enable you to become civilized and cultivate Land, which your Great Father engages for ever to protect for you from the Encroachments of Whites."

But after 1836, the agreements of the Niagara Treaty of 1764, of giving natives gifts each year, began to disintegrate.

Bond Head
Sir Francis Bond Head

Bark tepee (Alfred Holdstock)

The Robinson Treaties 1850

The idea of reserves became firmly established with the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties, negotiated to clear the way for mining in the north of the Great Lakes, where geologists had found considerable mineral wealth

Crown Representative William Benjamin Robinson negotiated agreements that secured about 130,000 square km north of the Upper Great Lakes.

The treaties provided for 21 new Indian reserves, each to be held by the Crown "for the use and benefit" of the native groups whose leaders signed the documents.

The deal included initial payment of £4000 for each family covered by the treaties, and an additional £1100 each subsequent year.

The Native groups would have the right to hunt and fish in the ceded lands in perpetuity, so that they would not be able to complain of being unable to sustain themselves and their families.

Robinson Treaties
A Photo thought to be from the Robinson Treaties,
with Robinson himself on the left

The Saugeen Treaty 1854

The last major pre-Confederation treaties covered the Saugeen Peninsula north of Owen Sound, and part of Manitoulin Island. These involved some shady dealings

According to the Bond Head treaty of 1836, the Saugeen Peninsula in Owen Sound was supposed to be reserved and protected as Native territory.

However, the 1854 treaty bought this land under the stipulation that the natives receive regular payments on an annual basis.

First Nations were to receive regular interest payments on money from the sale of those lands ceded to the Crown, but the money disappeared.

This is one of several cases that would become the basis of controversy in the late twentieth century.

Saugeen River
The Saugeen River

The Manitoulin Treaty 1862

The Manitoulin Treaty had the same terms as the Saugeen Treaty, except it referred to part of Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron. 

However, not all of the Odawas (Ottawas) involved in the treaty signed, so therefore the land in the area remains to this day unceded land.

The Wikwemikong reserve remained unceded land

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