The Manitoulin Experiment – Senior Contributor to The M@Gazette

Manitoulin Island as you see it today is a direct result of a failed Government experiment, a plan was conceived by short-sighted government officials– sounds like today, doesn’t it?– and pushed through with very little foresight and a great deal of good intention. We all know about good intentions, and the direction the paving of the road can take. That is exactly where they headed when they foisted this plan on the unsuspecting natives of the region.

Manitoulin was deemed unsuitable for white habitation, so the powers that be decided to offer the WHOLE Island to the Indians of the Great Lakes region, for their own. Imagine that! I think the expression we’d use today is “How white of them!” Let’s just see now… we will get you to sign over your ownership of better, more suitable land to us, and we will give you Manitoulin as a homeland. You can live there, hunt, fish, and we will let you do that because you will be out of our way. We can then give your more suitable Southern land over to white settlers who are pouring in like the plague, demanding more and more space. We will encourage all of your people to settle on Manitoulin by moving the annual gift giving to the Grand Manitoulin from Amherstburg.*

The Governor of Upper Canada, Sir John Colborne, was the author of this plan. Its purpose was to prevent the Natives from impeding the progress of civilization in Upper Canada and also to gain ownership for the Crown of the far-superior land to the South. Sir Francis Bond Head, his successor, then carried out its implementation.

The idea, conceived in January of 1836, was begun in reality in August of that year, when 1500 Natives were present for the gift giving. Oh, if only they’d known! They would have forgone their blanket and ammunition and run away screaming. Or better still, had murdered the damned Governor, who was present for the event. For you see, that was not all the plan entailed (did we forget to mention?)– we will now send a group of government officials and misguided Christians to Manitoulin to live among you, and to teach you trades, farming and the one true God…we will make you just like us!

And so, the Manitoulin Plan had begun. The beginning, however, was also the end. The natives would no longer enjoy their nomadic way of life. They would no longer fish, hunt, or live their lives the way they always had, for the winds of change were sweeping their entire way of life out of the picture and blowing European Christians right down their throats. Bibles, beads and booze were about to change the life they had led– forever.

(Next Time…”Onward Christian Soldiers: The taking of Manitoulin”)

*Annual gift giving was carried out for a number of years at the fort on Drummond Island, but when it became American territory in 1829, the venue was moved to St. Joseph Island, then to Penetanguishene (1830-1835), then finally Amherstburg, before finally being moved to Manitoulin Island.

– Sue Priddle