History of Bruce County


In our Bruce County museum there is a large 9 inch tooth from a woolly mammoth (dug up by an Arran Township farmer) which shows you something. There were mammoths roaming around these parts before the genealogists arrived. Hey! This isn’t genealogy. Well, maybe we can focus a little more on genealogy with the following paragraphs.

Early History

There is evidence of various native Indian tribes living in this area.

The Middle Woodland culture were hunters and gatherers who lived in the area from about 700 B.C. to 800 A.D. and three of their communities have been found. The Inverhuron site (~16 km south of the mouth of the Saugeen River) on the Lake Huron shore was excavated in 1972. The Donaldson site at Lot 57, Indian Strip, Amabel Township (~3 km up the Saugeen River) was excavated in 1971. The Thede site, Lot 12, Concession 8, Saugeen Township (~16 km upstream on the west side of the Saugeen River) was excavated in 1969/70.

Later in the 14th century in Saugeen Township, at Port Elgin, there was a large Iroquois village which had double palisades and twelve long houses. It is believed about 500 people lived here and archaeologists are not sure why they abandoned it. They were ancestors of the Huron-Petun (Tobacco Indian Nation) people. The nearest contemporary Iroquois village was about 80 miles to the east in Simcoe County. The Port Elgin site was believed to be a trading post with the Algonquian speaking peoples to the north. There were many copper artefacts and some ceramics found at this site that certainly came from the north.

To the south at the Inverhuron site, there is evidence of earlier occupation by Indians from the Michigan side of the lake. Perhaps the presence of the Iroquois put the area in conflict over fishing and hunting.

The Huron Indian nation was in the area when the first French explorers and Jesuit priests arrived.

[Although somewhat contentious there is some fascinating information about Europeans being in Ontario much earlier than many history books now describe. On May 24,1934, James Edward Dodd, a mining prospector, was blasting in the Great Lakes region of Ontario and his dynamite uncovered a sword and a shield. These artefacts were taken to the Royal Ontario Museum and they were accurately dated to about 1025 A.D. This Norse sword and shield were re-evaluated in 1961 because it did not fit the customary history. Although they believe the dating was accurate the conclusion was drawn it “was not possible to authenticate the story of the alleged discovery.” There are many other artefacts being treated as curiosities because they may indicate the presence of Europeans many centuries before this.]

Who was the first European in Bruce County? One can only speculate that perhaps it was the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who arrived in 1619 at the Indian village where the present day city of Owen Sound is located in Grey County. Or perhaps one of the Jesuit missionaries that visited the Indian village at the mouth of the Saugeen River, present day Southampton. [Note: a small silver Cross of Lorraine was found at Southampton in 1909, probably from the Jesuits, and is presently housed in the Bruce County museum.]

An early Jesuit map, dated 1656, shows a Jesuit mission called St. Peter and St. Paul, located somewhere in the southern end of Bruce County. The main Jesuit mission, at Huronia near present day Midland, was overrun by invading Iroquois from the south in March of 1649. The Jesuits (Father Brébeuf) were martyred and the Hurons were forced to abandon the area. The Iroquois then used the region as their hunting ground.

After the mid 1600s the Ojibway, later known as the Chippawas, from the Lake Superior area, sent trading parties to Montreal to trade fur. The Iroquois frequently killed these trading parties and so the Ojibway and their allies retaliated and forced the Iroquois (Mohawk) out. The Ojibway held the area for the next several generations.

Evidence of French fur trading posts have been found at Southampton. It is not known when these forts were built. In Norman Robertson’s history book on Bruce County he mentions in the year 1818 a fur trader from Lower Canada (Quebec), Pierre Piché, came and built a post on the south side of the river at Southampton. Some of the family names of these traders were Piché, Sayers, Cadotte, Loranger, McGregor, Thibeau, Lamorandiere, Longe. Another trader, Rastall, who later settled in Kincardine, was based in Goderich and he and others traded along the shoreline of Lake Huron.

19th Century

In 1836 at the Treaty of Manitowaning, a huge tract of land, 1,500,000 acres, was surrendered by the Ojibway (Chippawas) due to the mounting pressure for land by the European and Canadian settlers. This land would be known as the Huron District, or the Queen’s Bush. The remaining part of Bruce County, above the line drawn from the mouth of the Saugeen River to the mouth of the Sydenham River, was called the Indian Peninsula and was held by the Ojibway. The Queen’s Bush was eventually divided into the three counties of Huron, Perth and Bruce in 1849. Further land treaties followed and eventually the remaining parts of the peninsula were incorporated into Bruce County.

Today there are two First Nations reserves. The one, Saugeen First Nation., is at the mouth of the Saugeen River. The other, Cape Croker First Nation, is on the east side of the peninsula.

Methodist missionaries were active in the mid 1800s. The famous artist, Paul Kane (1810-1871), writes of his visit in the 1840’s, “The Indian village of Saugeen, meaning ‘the mouth of the river’, contains about two hundred inhabitants (Ojibbeways). It is the site of a former battleground between the Ojibbeways or Chippawas, and the Mohawks. Of this, the mounds erected over the slain afford abundant evidence in the protrusion of the bones through the surface of the ground.” He talks of fish in great abundance. He also mentioned they would hunt hundreds of migrating deer as they passed through the only opening in a fence that ran for many miles.

The first settlers came before the land was actually surveyed. The census shows the rapid growth.

  • 1851 – 499 families (2,837 people)
  • 1861 – 4,665 families (27,499 people)
  • 1871 – 48,515 people

Although the Crown land was not officially available until 1854, the settlers still kept coming. They came by ship, overland by trail, and even down the Saugeen River by raft.

The approximate arrival of the first settlers in the townships is listed as:

  • 1847 Saugeen, Amabel
  • 1848 Kincardine
  • 1849 Brant, Greenock, Huron
  • 1850 Arran, Kinloss, Bruce
  • 1851 Elderslie
  • 1853/54 Carrick, Culross
  • 1857 Albemarle, Eastnor
  • 1872 St. Edmund

They came from Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec) and the Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island). Many had come to the country and settled in southern Ontario but came to Bruce County as land was available. According to the census records not all were born in Canada. Many had been born in Scotland, Ireland, England and Germany.