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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Girdled by Huron’s throbbing and thunder;
Out of the drift and rift of its blue;
Walled by mists from the world asunder,
Far from hate and passion and wonder,
Lieth the isle of the Manitou.”

William Wilfred Campbell.

IT is easy to guess from the name they bear that the Mamtoulin Islands were supposed to be the haunt of the Indians’ Great Spirit, or “Manitou”; and very appropriately, the descendants of the former lords of lake and forest here hold their own a little more firmly than in most other districts of Ontario. There are nine or ten “Reserves” on the Manitoulin Islands; and out of a population of about 7000 the Indians (chiefly Ottawas and Ojibways), number between one and two thousand.

Great Manitoulin, said to be “the largest fresh-water island in the world,” is about as large as the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands taken together. Its coast-line is extraordinarily indented, and its land-surface is further diminished by lakes galore, some of considerable size. One of these, Lake Wolseley, is separated from Campbell Bay by a mile of shallow reef, which is now “filled in” and “made into the Indian Point Bridge,” saving travellers a ten-mile trip round the head of the lake. Tobacco Lake, which has no visible outlet, lies amongst the hills, which, however, are of no great altitude, the highest point in Great Manitoulin being 350 feet above the level of Lake Huron. The largest sheet of water in the island is Lake Manitou, but the most beautiful, according to Mr. Arthur Seaton (writer of an interesting article in The Westminster), is Lake Mindemoya. Its waters, of opalescent tints of blue and green, are in part surrounded by shores of “while fretted limestone mounted with trees and flowers.” There are caves too in these white rocks, with arched roofs, that recall the groining of a cathedral, whilst Mother Nature, seemingly in whimsical mood, has decorated the lake with statuary, in the shape of "a high island, which at one side looks like an old woman sewing moccasins, hence the name ‘Mindemoya,’” meaning "Old Woman.”

Some seventy-five years ago, Mrs. Jameson, the famous writer and art critic, visited Manitoulin and wrote an account of an Indian Council held while she was there. She was, by the way, the daughter of an Irish artist, named Murphy, “Painter-in-ordinary to the Princess Charlotte,” and the wife of a barrister, Robert Jameson, who became Attorney-General and, later, Vice-Chancellor of Upper Canada. The marriage was not a happy one, and ultimately the pair agreed to separate, but, before that, Mrs. Jameson spent a few months in Canada with her husband, and afterwards published a book, which has its interest for Canadians of to-day, called, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada.

She states that the Government of Upper Canada at one time had an idea of forming “an Indian Settlement” on the Manitoulin Islands, but that some people objected that this would retard the civilisation of the red men, by making their religious instruction more difficult, and throwing them back on hunting and fishing. Some persons also asserted that the soil of the Manitoulin Islands was unsuited for agriculture, but Mrs. Jameson gave the Government credit for good intentions at any rate. 1837, when she was in Manitoulin, was the second year in which the annual distribution of presents to the Indians had taken place there. Those desiring presents were obliged to attend in person, so there was a great concourse of 3700 Indians, including many Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawatamies, some of whom had travelled five hundred miles for presents that to the Irish lady seemed very trifling. The chiefs got something in addition, but the present given to each man of the rank and file consisted of “3/4 yard of blue cloth, 3 yards of linen, | oz. thread, 4 strong needles, 1 comb, 1 butcher’s knife, 3 lbs. tobacco, 9 lbs. shot, 4 lbs. powder, and 6 flints.” There were presents also, but less in value and variety, for the women and children. All of these things were given to the: chiefs, who distributed them to their people with a fairness that seemed to give general satisfaction.

During the days they spent on the island, the Indians received rations of Indian corn and melted fat —"tallow,” Mrs. Jameson called it—which they made into porridge, reported by some white men to be quite palatable. In addition to this simple fare, the Indians were able to catch plenty of fish for themselves.

The Governor, Sir Francis Bond Head, was prevented attending the council by the death "of the Great Father on the other side of the Great Salt Lake and the accession of Queen Victoria,” but, in his stead, Mr. Jarvis, Superintendent of Indian affairs, addressed the Indians, through an interpreter, giving notice that after two years more the Government would cease to give presents to Indians resident in American territory, but inviting all who chose to come to live in any part of the British Empire they preferred, from Manitoulin Island to England itself! Finally a silk flag, bearing a representation of a lion, emblematic of the English, and of a beaver, emblematic of the Indians, was given into the custody of the Ottawas resident on the island, to be kept for all the tribes.

The Indian interpreter, Assikinack, or “the Black Bird,” an intelligent man, with a strangely high-pitched voice, was esteemed a great orator, and had the reputation of having once spoken from sunrise to sunset. In youth he had been a drunkard; but having been converted to Christianity, had learned to hate “fire-water.” On one occasion he was commissioned by Mr. Jarvis “to capture a cargo of rum on its way north from Detroit and throw it into the river.” His baptismal name was Jean Baptiste, and the signature, J. B. Assikinack, appears on more than one Indian treaty. In 1812 he had been present at the capture of Machillimackmac. He was then forty-four, but survived till 1866, almost living out his century. In 1840 his son Francis was sent by Mr. Jarvis to Upper Canada College, where he did excellently, taking several prizes. Ultimately he became a clerk and interpreter in the Indian Department. The name of “the Black Bird” survives in the township name of Assignack, in Manitoulin.

From the top of a steep hill near Lake Mindemoya are to be seen many well-cultivated farms, belonging both to white and red owners; but there is also a strange “circle on one of the hills,’’ to which the Indians, though no longer heathen, come once a year "to keep up the ancient practice of shooting the evil spirit with arrow or with musket.” Yet some of the Indians are very progressive, improving their lands and keeping the roads in repair, as do the better class of white settlers. The village of West Bay, for instance, with its white-washed log church and houses and its fishing-boats moored along the sands, is most picturesque and attractive. Mr. Seaton, who spent the night in one of the houses, found that his Indian hostess had taken “a domestic science course” at the Industrial School of Wikwemikong, and the “unceded” portion of Great Manitoulin, and the well-cooked and nicely-served meals she prepared for her guest witnessed to the excellence of her training.

The special interest of Manitoulin seems to lie largely with the Indians, but, as mentioned before, the white section of the population is immensely the larger. The Islands were opened in part to settlement in the sixties, but when, in 1870, the Red River Expedition was on its way westward, white settlers were very few. Amongst them, however, was one enterprising “Yankee,’’ engaged in making jam in large quantities, which he sent into the United States and to various parts of Canada. He lived on what was called "Raspberry Island.”

The white population is derived chiefly from older Ontario, the original settlers paying fifty cents an acre for their lands to a Government fund to be used for the benefit of the Indians. In places the land is stony; and great piles of "land-stones” in many of the fields tell a tale of struggle and endurance. The chief towns are Gore Bay (the district town), and Little Current.

It is said that the best way to see the “Great Manitoulin,” of the beauty of which its inhabitants are very proud, is to walk or drive inland, and to take a voyage in “the fish tug” which collects the catch of the fishermen from the hamlets along the shores. The difficulty of access to markets has been a long-standing grievance to Manitoulin farmers, who have hitherto been sorely at mercy of wind and weather in their communication with the mainland, but, at last, the long agitated for railroad connection is in sight. In fact, the Algoma Eastern Railroad Company has laid its rails to the yards on Goat Island, opposite Little Current, and the work on the huge bridge which is to carry the railroad into the island is being pressed forward.

The Shield - Island of Great Spirit: Manitoulin
Island of Great Spirit explores the complex and often conflicting relationships between the Anishinabek, the French, the British, and the settlers, who have all shared the Great Manitoulin and its resources. Manitoulin was designated as a First Nations territory, exclusively for their use. In the mid 19th Century, westward migration made the island and the area near it desirable to whites and the government acted to made it available to them. The program details how that was handled and the outcome. The Treaty of 1862 split the First Nations off into reserves and the rest was open for non-native settlement. The legitimacy of the treaty was much disputed, leading to confrontations and violence. In the end, the government used its power to enforce the treaty and stop the protests. The program goes on to show how social and economic changes evolved from the 1870s to the present day. Today, native and non-native residents alike share a sense of community and feel a great spiritual connection to Manitoulin.

Part 1

Part 2

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