It cannot be stated with any degree of certainty when a Métis citizen first set foot in the Georgian Bay / Huronia area. However, the Georgian Bay Métis Council believes the Métis community was well established prior to the mid 19th century. The Powley test stipulates that “A historic Métis community must be shown to have existed as an identifiable Métis community prior to the time when Europeans effectively established political and legal control in a particular area.” Most agree that this is the case in the Georgian Bay / Huronia Area.
The largest migration, and the one that was a turning point in the settlement of Penetanguishene occurred during the years 1828 and 1829. The British were obligated to relinquish possession of Drummond Island (now in the state of Michigan) to the United States and relocated military and civilian personnel to Penetanguishene, Ontario. A good majority of the emigrants arrived via the waterways of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay after a five-day journey; others arrived over land after having settled in the Newmarket, Ontario area. Many of the civilians were veterans of the War of 1812; others were civilian employees of the British government – interpreters for example. Still others were on active duty for the British government.
In anticipation of another war with the United States, many veterans were encouraged to settle on property edging upon what we now know as Highway 93 and the Penetanguishene Road. Others settled along the shoreline of Penetanguishene Bay. A great number of the civilian employees and veterans were former fur-trade workers – for the Northwest Company or for the Hudson Bay Company. As had been common practice for years, marriage between these men and the local native women (local being anywhere between Quebec or Eastern Canada and the foothills of the Rockies) resulted in a unique blending of cultures, with the children of these marriages living in two worlds – that of their mothers, learning to live with and from the land, and that of their fathers – education, employment with government or private enterprises. Their skills as interpreters were highly sought as they could span both worlds, being able to assist with negotiations, bargaining and of course to be available for the endless tasks associated with setting up a new community.
These people would be known as Métis – and this unique blend of cultures, knowledge and lifestyles would create a civilization never before seen and unique to this day. Many of the families settled and stayed in the Penetanguishene area; however, many more settled further up the north shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in settlements such as Byng Inlet, Bruce Mines, as well as towns and villages on Manitoulin Island, and similar sites. The Métis presence is still thriving in north Simcoe County – we are a distinct and unique culture, proud of our past and our ancestors’ achievements and of their contributions to history – history that lives on in the pages of books and family tales of our ancestors, and history that has yet to be made.
For a more in-depth study of our proud history, visit your local library, museum or view the many websites online.
This is a brief outline of area history and we are looking to further expand this section of the website. If anyone has any knowledge, family stories or photographs that they are willing to share, please bring it to the office located at the address listed under the “Contact List” tab for Georgian Bay Métis Council.