Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


History of Canadian Indians




[This text was published in 1914. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]


THE first division of this subject dealt with the military administration of the Indian department. In this section are traced the efforts which were made to civilize, educate and christianize the Indians, the trend of government policy and the activity and development of the Indian department during the period of United Canada. It was in this province, and principally in Upper Canada, that the greatest interest in Indian affairs was manifested and the greatest advancement made; but Indian affairs in the Maritime Provinces of the crown have also to be dealt with, and it is deemed best to make provincial divisions. The subject will therefore be treated under the general headings of the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.





REFERENCE will be made to correspondence which occurred some years before the Province of Canada was formed, for all mention of the advanced policy of the government was reserved for this section, although Sir John Colborne, who advised the government to change the aim of the Indian department from laisser faire to organized effort, was appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in 1828. As is frequently the case, the interest of the authorities was attracted and stimulated by the success of private undertakings. It was undoubtedly the results which had followed the endeavour of Peter Jones and his brother, humble adherents of the Wesleyan Methodist connection, to raise the Mississagas from their condition of wretchedness, which led to the adoption by the government of a progressive policy for all the Indians under its charge. Since Sir John Colborne drew the attention of Sir James Kempt to the success of this private endeavour, there has never been a lapse in the paternal care and oversight of the Indians. He said in his letter of May 7, 1829 :


"A very beneficial change has been produced among the Indians along the River Credit. If the order and regularity which has been established among them can be extended to the other tribes in this Province and a fund created for their future support, by authorizing their lands to be leased, and in some cases to be sold, the system which has involved H.M. Government in an enormous expense may be discontinued."


The Indians of Lower Canada were not in such a desperate state as to require the special attention of the government. They had been for a long time in contact with civilization'; the period of exhaustion which every native race must endure at some time in its history had been passed, and they had rallied. In 1842 there were about 3727 known to the government, which number did not, of course, include the hunting Indians of the northern interior. This population was scattered between the seven permanent settlements, ministered to by priests of the Roman Catholic Church, cultivating small farms and gardens, and living in houses in a certain degree of comfort. The contrast is great between the description of the untitled domain of the western Indians and the state of squalor and debauchery in which they lived, and that of the condition of the Caughnawaga Indians, with their two thousand acres of cultivated lands, their stone houses and barns. Although members of the reserves had been educated, no general effort to establish schools had been made, and the instruction of their spiritual advisers tended altogether towards their moral welfare. In some respects, at least, Upper Canada might have taken heart from the results obtained in the lower province. But an effort nearer home led to the emulation of its success.


The village upon which the future settlements in Upper Canada were to be modelled was situated on the Credit River . In about four years the Mississaga Indians are said to have changed from a wandering and dissolute band to a contented and progressive community. Two hundred people were in residence ; twenty-seven houses had been built, with a church and a house for the-missionary ; cattle and horses had been acquired. The expenditure had been made from their own funds, for the land surrendered by the Mississagas had been sold at an early date, and the proceeds had been wisely invested by the government in these improvements. Under the influence of this colonizing experiment, and urged by the strong recommendation of Sir John Colborne, Governor Kempt reported that the most effectual means of ameliorating the condition of the Indians, of promoting their religious improvement and education, and of eventually relieving His Majesty's government from the expenditure of the Indian department were:


1st. To collect the Indians in considerable numbers, and settle them in villages with a due portion of land for their cultivation and support.
2nd. To make such provision for their religious improvement, education, and instruction in husbandry as circumstances may from time to time require.
3rd. To afford them such assistance in building houses ; rations ; and in procuring such seed and their agricultural implements as may be necessary, commuting when practicable a portion of their presents for the latter.

 These suggestions were approved by the Lords of the Treasury and the secretary ofstate, but the whole expense of the Indian department was not to exceed £20,000. As this sum was to include the cost of the presents and the pay of the officials, very little was left for the contemplated innovations in management. Sir John Colborne, however, continued his agitation for a progressive policy, and obtained leave to apply a portion of the annuities to the erection of houses, the purchase of agricultural implements and stock. Settlements were speedily formed at Coldwater and the


Narrows of Lake Simcoe , on the River Thames , and on Lake St Clair . Houses were built, schools established, and competent farmers appointed as instructors, the whole cost being defrayed from the surplus of the imperial grant and the annuities of the Indians. The results, as reported a few years later by the superintendents, were gratifying; wigwams had been exchanged for log-houses, and cultivated fields surrounded them. The dress, demeanour and habits of many of the Indians showed how successful had been the efforts to raise them from their state of squalor, dejectedness and



The success of these establishments led Sir John Colborne to undertake the settlement on Manitoulin Island of the more uncivilized Indians who roved in the Lake Huron district, and others who were without a fixed habitat. In July 1829 he had sent a verbal message, by Lieutenant-Colonel Mackay, to the tribes who had assembled to receive their present at the Island of St Joseph :


I thank the Great Master of Life for having permitted you to meet, after the dreary cold season, and to hear what your Great Father proposes for your future happiness.
It is the wish of your Great Father that all his red children should become civilized ; and for this purpose he has named a place near Penetanguishene, to settle all those who wish for the change. He will furnish a few of each tribe with cattle, farming implements, and materials to assist in building them houses ; and for the young he will provide a school, with teachers, and a minister ; and also mechanics, to instruct them in habits of industry.
I am aware that you cannot all change your present mode of life immediately, but some of you have it in your power, and others will, m a short time, find it to their interest to join the settlement. You are all, without exception, invited. The Ottawas have a large island (the Great Maniyon), near Penetanguishene, on which the land is good, and where there is abundance of fish. Should they wish to join the new settlement, their Father would be happy to hear of their occupying and settling themselves on it."

This was one of the last occasions on which intoxicants were issued to Indians by a government officer. An old Minominie chief made the request in the following words: 'I have only one word more to say ; it is to request that you will give a suit to an old woman, and a little of your milk' [rum] ' to do away with the parching of our throats.'Colonel Mackay replied:


I will do all in my power to supply your different demands for guns, kettles [etc. etc.] ;and although your Great Father does not wish to give you anything that is injurious to you-still, because you so earnestly desire it, I will give to those who ask for it a few drops [gallons] of milk."

In 1830, and for several following years, the presents were given to the western tribes at Penetanguishene, and thus annually they came into contact with the new settlers at Coldwater and the Narrows . It was not until 1836 that the establishment at Manitowaning, on Manitoulin Island , was begun; but Sir John Colborne only directed the preliminaries, for the superintendent did not take up his headquarters on the island till 1838, and it was only in the following years that the two villages of Wikwemikong and Manitowaning were developed and supported by the government.


While these proposed arrangements were being carried out, Lord Glenelg was inditing his dispatch of January 14, 1836, which was addressed to the Earl of Gosford and to Sir Francis Bond Head, who had succeeded Sir John Colborne in Upper Canada . It was based upon a resolution of a parliamentary committee on military expenditure adopted during the previous session, which expressed the opinion that the presents to Indians could be abolished and commuted, and the expenses of the department greatly reduced. The dispatch called for information and advice upon these points, and witnesses to the humane consideration which the imperial government always gave to matters affecting the aborigines.


The governors were advised to direct their inquiry to the 'practicability of effecting a commutation of the Presents for some object of permanent Benefit and Utility to the Parties now receiving them.' It was stated:


"From the Reports in this Department it appears, that not only among the more civilized and settled Tribes, but even among those inhabiting the remote Districts of Canada, a strong Desire for Knowledge has recently been evinced. In Upper Canada Schools have been established by Societies and by private Individuals, and are said to be well attended. These circumstances, combined with the general Docility of the Indian Tribes, lead me to hope that a Scheme of a more general Nature would not fail of ultimate Success. I cannot, of course, pretend to enter into the Details of such a Scheme ; it is sufficient for me to impress upon you the Readiness and the Anxiety of His Majesty's Government to cooperate to the utmost of their Power in its Promotion."


The government was prepared to sanction the expenditure upon education of at least a portion of the funds appropriated for presents. Head took the earliest opportunity of making himself personally acquainted with the conditions under which the Indians were living, and the summer of 1836 was occupied in an inspectorial tour of the province. He attended the annual distribution of presents at Amherstburg and the first distribution at Manitoulin Island . To use his own words, he 'visited with one or two trifling exceptions the whole of the Indian settlement in Upper Canada, and in doing so made it my Duty to enter every Shanty or Cottage, being desirous to judge with my own Eyes the actual Situation of that Portion of the Indian Population which is undergoing the Operation of being civilized.' His visit to Manitoulin Island was an important one. He endeavoured at this, his first opportunity, to put in practice the opinions he had formed during the earlier part of his tour, but which he had not yet communicated to Lord Glenelg. His policy, as will appear later, was to remove the Indians from contact with civilization ; and, to prepare a home for them, he obtained from the Chippewas and the Ottawas a surrender of Manitoulin Island and the twenty-three thousand islands in Georgian Bay, and from the Chippewas of Saugeen a surrender to the crown of a million and a half acres adjoining the land of the Canada Company, without one penny of compensation! This hasty injustice was afterwards repaired by granting by order-in-council a perpetual annuity to the Saugeen Indians of £2, 10s. per capita. Perhaps the result achieved by Head was obtained through the peculiar gifts of the Indian chief who spoke for his fellows on this occasion. He was Sigonah (the blackbird), 'celebrated among them for having on many public occasions spoken without once stopping from Sunrise to Sunset.'


In his reply to Lord Glenelg's dispatch of January 14., 1836, Head fully explained his views on the Indian question. He found it necessary to refute the idea that the efforts to christianize and civilize the Indians had been successful. He reduced his opinions to three propositions:


1. That an Attempt to make Farmers of the Red Men had been, generally speaking, a complete Failure ;
2. That congregating them for the Purpose of Civilization has implanted many 'more Vices than it has eradicated ; and, consequently,
3. That the greatest Kindness we can perform toward these intelligent, simple-minded People, is to remove and fortify them as much as possible from all communication with the Whites.


In flamboyant language he drew a picture of the relations between the two races, which must be quoted in his own words:


"The Fate of the Red Inhabitants of America, the real Proprietors of its Soil, is, without any Exception, the most sinful Story recorded in the History of the Human Race; and when one reflects upon the Anguish they have suffered from our Hands, and the Cruelties and Injustice they have endured, the Mind, accustomed to its own Vices, is lost in utter Astonishment at finding, that in the Red Man's Heart there exists no Sentiment of Animosity against us, no Feeling of Revenge ; on the contrary, that our Appearance at the Humble Portal of his Wigwam is to this Hour a subject of unusual Joy ; if the White Man be lost in the Forest, his cry of Distress will call the most eager Hunter from his Game; and among the Tribe there is not only Pleasure but Pride in contending with each other who shall be the first to render Assistance and Food.
So long as we were obtaining Possession of their Country by open Violence, the fatal Result of the unequal Contest was but too easily understood ; but now that we have succeeded in exterminating their Race from vast Regions of Land, where nothing in the present Day remains of the poor Indian but the unnoticed Bones of his Ancestors, it seems inexplicable how it should happen, that even where the Race barely lingers in existence, it should still continue to wither, droop, and vanish before us like Grass in' the Progress of the Forest in Flames. 'The Red Men,' lately exclaimed a celebrated Miami Cacique, 'are melting like Snow before the Sun.'
Whenever and Wherever the Two Races come into contact with each other it is sure to prove fatal to the Red Man. However bravely for a short Time he may resist our Bayonets and our Firearms, sooner or later he is called upon by Death to submit to his Decree; if we stretch forth the Hand of Friendship, the liquid Fire it offers him to drink proves still more destructive than our Wrath ; and lastly, if we attempt to christianize the Indians, and for that sacred Object congregate them in Villages of substantial Log-houses, lovely and beautiful as such a Theory appears, it is an undeniable Fact, to which unhesitatingly I add my humble Testimony, that as soon as the Hunting Season commences, the Men (from warm Clothes and warm housing having lost their Hardihood) perish, or rather rot, in Numbers, by Consumption ; while as regards their Women, it is impossible for any accurate Observer to refrain from remarking that Civilization, in spite of the pure, honest, and unremitting Zeal of our Missionaries, by some accursed Process has blanched their Babies Faces. In short, our Philanthropy, like our Friendship, has failed in its Professions ; producing Deaths by Consumption, it has more than decimated its Followers ; and under the pretence of eradicating from the Female Heart the Errors of a Pagan's Creed, it has implanted in their Stead the Germs of Christian Guilt."


This high-flown strain is contradicted when, in a further sentence, we are informed that 'there can be no Doubt that to the present page in the History of the British Empire we have acted well toward the Indian.' But the phrasing of the memorandum, the reasoning upon which it was based and the action which was proposed to be taken, are highly characteristic of the man. He reported surrenders of land obtained from the Hurons of Amherstburg and the Moravian Indians, and stated his opinion that the government 'should continue to advise the few remaining Indians who are lingering in Upper Canada to retire upon the Manitoulin and other islands in Lake Huron or elsewhere towards the northwest.' His conclusions were reluctantly adopted by Lord Glenelg and the government. The former had enlightened views on the Indian question; he was humane and philanthropic ; but on this occasion his lack of firmness, which was often evident in dealing with colonial affairs, led him into error. Influenced by showy rhetoric alone, he approved a scheme which was contrary to his convictions.


If Sir Francis Bond Head had remained in Upper Canada , the effort, foredoomed to failure by the nature of the Indians, whose attachment to ancestral localities is strong and constant, might have been prosecuted. Fortunately the attempt to uproot them from their own haunts was abandoned. The civil condition of the province diverted the lieutenant-governor's attention from the less important concerns of the Indians, and, after the Rebellion, he left the country in the spring of 1838. Meanwhile the true friends of the Indians had not failed to protest against his hasty policy and inconclusive arrangements. The Aborigines Protection Society, the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the Church of the United Brethren approached the government with powerful arguments. A memorial was presented signed by nearly two hundred persons of influence ; among the names, those of Daniel O'Connell and of three other members of parliament are prominent. These representations, acting upon the sympathies of Lord Glenelg, who had never cordially adopted Head's advice, were efficacious. On August 22, 1838, he indited two dispatches, one to LordDurham, the other to Sir George Arthur, who had succeeded Head in Upper Canada . There are some general remarks scattered through the communications to Lord Durham that are worthy of comment: 'Among the various matters which demand your attention, although there are some of more immediate exigency as to our Political Relations in North America, yet there is not one of graver importance in itself or involving Obligations of a deeper or more enduring Character.' Again contrasting the real condition of the Indians with the ultimate aim of their well-wishers, he writes : 'The Interval is wide, indeed, between this Condition and one of Comfort, of moral and religious Improvement, of prosperous Independence, and of the Capacity to enjoy and appreciate the Rights of free British Subjects. Yet it is to this latter Condition that it is our Duty and ought to be our Endeavour to conduct this unhappy Race; and I cannot but hope that you may be enabled to set in progress a System which may finally produce such a Result.'


In the communication to Sir George Arthur, also, Lord Glenelg finds himself back on his old safe ground after the temporary deviation produced by Head, and he advocates anew the policy of education and advancement. The dispatch lays emphasis upon the lack of detailed information regarding the Indians of Upper Canada, and requests the governor to supply this defect. Out of this instruction came the succession of reports upon the Indians of Upper Canada prepared by commissioners appointed to investigate their condition and prospects. Sir George Arthur at once entrusted the work to R. G. Tucker, the provincial secretary, but the report was completed by Chief Justice Macaulay. The investigation committee, appointed in October 1839 to investigate the business of the departments of government, adopted, on February 1, 1840, the report of committee No. 4 relating to the Indian department. Closely following this, after the Union , the royal commission was issued appointing Messrs Rawson, Davidson and Hepburn on October 10, 1842, and eight years later, on September 5, 1850 , Sir Edmund Head signed the commission appointing A. T. Pennefather, superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, Froome Talfourd and Thomas Worthington. In the reports of these two important commissions are to be found records of progress and suggestions which either became law afterwards or were incorporated in the practice of the Indian department.


A question of prime importance to the government and the Indians, and one under constant debate from the close of the War of 1812, was that of presents. The government was desirous of curtailing an issue which was the source of great expense. The Indians and many of their friends were clamorous for its retention as a vested right.


The English found that the issue of presents had been established in Canada by the French, so that no new policy could have been inaugurated in that colony, even if the burden had not already existed in New England and the West. It was firmly fixed, and the one ever-present labour of the superintendent-general was to convince the home government that the large levy for gifts was really in the interest of the crown. To quote from an old report, 'the presents furnished the Indians and every member of his family with a complete suit of clothing. His food consisted of the game which he killed with the gun and ammunition supplied to him by the Government ; of the fish which abound in the lakes and rivers, caught with the net and hooks supplied from the same service.' The earlier issues consisted of ornaments such as arm-bands, brooches, ear-bobs, gorgets ; of articles such as kettles, clasp-knives, looking-glasses and thimbles ; in addition to the more useful merchandise, cloths now unknown, molton, ratteen and caddies ; blankets and Irish linen ; shoes and ivory box combs; tobacco, ball and gun flints.


The cost of the presents during the Revolutionary War and during the first decade of the nineteenth century must have been enormous. The annual expenditure for the three years between January 1813 and June 1816, was £50,000 sterling. After the liberality of the issue had been somewhat restrained and its abuses abated, the average annual cost between 1836 and 1843 was $45,348 to an average population of about thirteen thousand. In 1830 the total expense of the Indian department was fixed at £20,000, £15,850 being appropriated for the presents and £4,150 for the pay and pensions of the officers. While criticism of the cost was always used in urging the abolition of these presents, the chief objection to their continuance lay in their effect upon the Indians. They encouraged their natural indolence and improvidence ; kept them a distinct people ; fostered their natural pride and consequent aversion to labour ; and created an undue feeling of dependence upon the crown. The formalities or festivities which accompanied the distribution tended also to degrade the nations and to keep alive their old customs. The chief superintendent was usually accompanied by a party of visitors, and on these occasions the pride and superstition of the Indians was fostered in direct opposition to the policy of the government. Transportation was furnished these guests, and from thirty to forty Indians were required to man the canoes, sometimes six in number. Moreover, many of the articles issued fell into the hands of unscrupulous traders, who obtained them by payment in rum and other intoxicating liquors. These facts led the government to resolve upon a gradual diminution of the presents until the issue should entirely cease.


Numbers of Indians who were resident in the United States came long distances to share in the distribution, which they had enjoyed from the days before the boundary was settled, and in 1841 the superintendents were advised that after 1843 the issue to the Indians not actually resident in Canada should cease.


The commissioners of 1842, before whom the question came, made valuable suggestions, which were for the most part carried into effect. A gradual reduction in the quantities of the supplies, a less varied list of articles issued, and an effort to commute the presents for useful implements and tools, were some of their recommendations. They also advised that an accurate census should be taken of all Indians resident in the province, and that no child born after the census should have a claim for presents-that all half-breeds should be excluded from the bounty as well as children educated in the industrial schools and elsewhere. These measures were to go hand in hand with the general scheme for the education of the Indians and the amelioration of their condition. The government carried out these needed reforms. Guns and ammunition were withheld in 1845 and 1846, and no Indian born after the latter date was allowed to share in presents of any kind.


In 1852 the issue in Upper Canada ceased entirely, and was commuted to a money payment beginning with threefourths the value of the several equipments and diminishing one-fourth until final extinction. The commutation was not to be carried out in Lower Canada until 1854. This action on the part of the imperial government did not pass without protest from the government of Canada , which presented strong arguments in favour of the old custom as a right to which the crown stood pledged. But the plea was without avail; the home government considered the issue to be based upon grounds of policy alone, and only ceded the purchase of blankets for the aged and infirm and provisions of gunpowder for the tribes that lived by the chase. The latter grants were continued until 1867, when the Dominion of Canada took over the duty of supplying the issue.


Later we shall find the issue of presents reappearing in an altered but more beneficent form in the treaties which were made with the Indians of the western provinces of Canada, where the gifts of powder, shot and twine to the hunting Indians were supplemented by agricultural implements, seed and cattle to those who would till the soil.

Another subject of grave importance to the Indians was the question of their reserved lands. In 1842 the commissioners found that, although certain tracts of land were generally accepted by the government and the people as Indian reserves, they were not registered in the land office as such, and that no title in reality existed, an uncertainty which caused unrest among the Indians and made it difficult to induce them to cultivate their lands or reside permanently upon them. The recommendations of the commissioners led to a general registry of all Indian reserves, and to the grant of location tickets of occupancy to individual Indians within the reserves. The latter system is still in vogue, and gives the holder a sense of proprietorship which is as real as a title in fee-simple, with the one prohibition of sale to other than a member of the band.


Defects in the management of the Indian estate were found by the commissioners of 1842 to be serious and reprehensible. The lands were sold by the commissioner of Crown Lands, and the proceeds, less expenses, were handed over to the chief superintendent of Indian Affairs. But neither of these officers kept any account of the sales which would show the amount accruing to each tribe. The Six Nations alone had a separate account. It was with extreme difficulty, and not with complete success, that the commissioners succeeded in drawing up accounts for the different tribes.


The cost of management had been excessive, and the method employed to levy it upon the tribes had been unfair. The whole cost of the Crown Lands department was charged fifty per cent to the crown lands, forty per cent to the clergy reserves, and ten per cent to the Indian lands. Five per cent was also allowed to the agents, and the full cost of the surveys and inspections debited to the Indians. These abuses, coupled with the general absence of business methods, caused the land management to be charged with general inefficiency.


The actual investment of the capital accruing from the sale of Indian lands was in the hands of the receiver-general, who purchased provincial debentures usually bearing interest at six per cent. It is a matter for congratulation that so little loss occurred from improvident investments. During a time when the path of a trustee was not so straightly cut out as it now is, and when the governor was a law unto himself, the only funds which became involved and were finally lost were those invested for the Six Nations in the Grand River Navigation Company's enterprise and in the Cayuga Bridge stock.


Acting on the chief superintendent's advice, the commissioners did not recommend that the Indian department should manage the land sales, and become responsible for all the Indian business. In the end the Crown Lands department took over the Indians as a branch of their main business, but the practical suggestions made by the commissioners were adopted, and removed the blame which the former management had occasioned. Reforms were also needed in the protection of the unsold lands, which were open to constant peril from the unscrupulous whites, who plundered the timber and squatted upon the richest of them. A vigorous inspection of the actual conditions existing was undertaken, and the reserves were gradually policed and cleared of objectionable intruders.


The government continued to pursue the well-established policy for the cession of Indian lands, and the forms and ceremonies by which surrenders were made became more imposing as the lands to be surrendered were of greater extent, and the number of Indians to be influenced larger. The later surrenders were dignified by the name of treaties ; the stipulations became more elaborate ; the entourage of the representatives of the government became more impressive ; and the number of attendant chiefs with their followers more numerous.


The earliest treaty which fixed the type, as distinguished from a mere surrender, was that made on July 18, 1817, between the Earl of Selkirk and the Indians of the Red River . This secured the peaceable possession of the country purchased from the Hudson 's Bay Company by Selkirk in 1811. Although not permanent, it is interesting as the first treaty made with any of the western tribes. The land ceded was a large portion of what is now the Province of Manitoba . With the disappearance of Lord Selkirk's interest in the territory; the consideration, which was two hundred pounds of 'good and merchantable tobacco,' ceased to be paid. The cession was to the king, but in 1871 a more binding treaty, made by the crown with the Indians, conveyed to the crown title to the same region.


The most important treaty negotiation by the Province of Canada was that by which the Indians ceded to the crown the large area between the northern shores of Lakes Huron and Superior and the watershed of Hudson Bay. Minerals had been discovered in this district, and the Indians had molested certain mining property and had shown hostility to prospectors. The government therefore deemed it advisable to placate the Indians, and commissioned the Hon. William B. Robinson to arrange for the cession. The Indians assembled at Sault Ste Marie in large numbers with their chiefs and councillors, and after deliberation consented to the terms offered by the government. The treaty with the Ojibwas of Lake Superior was signed on September 7, 1850, and that with the Ojibwas of Lake Huron two days later. The sum of £200 was paid down to each division, and a perpetual annuity provided of 450o to the Indians of Lake Superior and £600 to the Indians of Lake Huron. Each treaty contained the unusual provision that' in case the territory hereby ceded by the parties of the second part shall at any future period produce an amount which will enable the Government of this Province without incurring loss to increase the annuity hereby secured to them, then, and in that case, the same shall be augmented from time to time, provided that the amount paid to each individual shall not exceed the sum of one pound provincial currency in any one year, or such further sum as Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to order.' In 1873 the Dominion government under this stipulation increased the annuity to four dollars per head, and the annuity now stands at that amount; afterwards, as the result of arbitration, the Dominion Treasury was recouped, in part, by payment from the province.


Land was specially described and set apart as reserves for the Indians, not, as in future treaties, by a per capita allotment, but in irregular blocks to suit the needs of the separate bands under their local conditions.


The only other important agreement with Indians during this period was the treaty negotiated by the Hon. William McDougall for the sale of that portion of Manitoulin Island west of Heywood Sound and the Manitoulin Gulf . This land was to be sold and the interest on the purchase paid annually to the Indians; seven hundred dollars was also distributed at the time of the treaty, which was agreed to on October 6, 1862.




As the education of Indian youth was esteemed the most potent force in the civilization of the race, it is interesting to glance at the early attempts to establish schools and the results that followed. In Lower Canada in 1829 there was one schoolmaster at Lorette, and five missionaries were established in the principal villages throughout the province. In 1844 the numbers were the same, although, in the interval, three or four schools had been opened and afterwards closed. In 1829, at Chateauguay , the Protestants became interested in the education of the Indians, and perhaps in their conversion also. Twelve boys brought from different villages were there educated by Charles Forest and given manual training This experiment appeared so successful that Lord Gosford sanctioned the establishment of an agricultural school and experimental farm at Christieville, near St Johns , for the education of Indian youth, and the children were transferred there from Châteauguay. Major Plenderleath Christie, who suggested the arrangement, made considerable gifts to promote the institution, which was the first of its kind ever recognized and supported by the government. It remained open for but a few years, as it had to contend with opposition, and no similar institution has been ,established or now exists in the province. The children, orphans and others, who now need the protection of a boarding-school, are either sent to Wikwemikong Industrial School or placed in convents Major Christie was earnest in his advocacy of agricultural schools, and in 1842 offered the government a farm near Cornwall worth £700 for the establishment of an institution in Upper Canada . The priests in charge of the seminary at the Lake of Two Mountains conducted a model farm, and stimulated active interest in agriculture on the part of the Indian youth.


In Upper Canada the earliest missionaries and the first schools were under the supervision of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. They had catechists and schoolmasters appointed very early in the Bay of Quinte district and at the Grand River, but they yielded the field to the well-directed efforts of the New England Company. This company was created by an act or ordinance of the Long Parliament passed in 1649 and entitled 'A Corporation for the promoting and propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England .' The ordinance enacted, that it be a corporation consisting of sixteen persons-president, treasurer and fourteen assistants-to have the power to purchase or acquire lands not to exceed the yearly value of £2000, 'and any goods and sums of money whatsoever.'


The corporation was conducted for some time under this ordinance of the Long Parliament, but after the Restoration, certain difficulties having been met with in the administration of properties previously acquired, a charter of incorporation was granted by Charles ii on February 7, 1662. The company still conducts its operations under this charter, and the distribution of its invested funds has assisted materially in the education and development of the Six Nations Indians. Up to the year 1834 the whole of the clear rents and profits of the company's trust estates and funds were regularly and faithfully applied for the benefit of several hundred of the natives and their children in Upper Canada and New Brunswick. The general scheme followed in New Brunswick was the maintenance of thirty-five Indian children in English families. General supervision was exercised by General Coffin with the assistance of religious instructors and schoolmasters. This plan, however, was found not to be feasible and was gradually abandoned.


Assistance by way of grant was also given to education in the district of Rupert's Land and in British Columbia at Cowichan, Vancouver Island, and at Lytton, where there is still an industrial school under the supervision of the company; but the most productive work was performed in Upper Canada at Rice and Mud Lakes and at the Six Nations Reserve, the latter place absorbing most of the funds and attention of the company. Day schools, missionaries, and an institution for the instruction of pupils in residence, which is still in a flourishing condition, were the factors which have contributed very largely to the present advanced position of the Six Nations Indians.


The missionary efforts of the Wesleyan Methodists were also of importance, and were the subject of generous praise from the Anglican Bishop of Quebec , who wrote to Sir James Kempt in 1829:


"The Methodist Society support several schools among the Indians of U. C. and their preachers minister to them in several parts of the country. They have been successful in converting a great portion of the Mississaga tribe from Heathen ignorance and immoral habits to Christian faith and practice, and their improvement has been so great and rapid within these few years that the hand of God seems to be visible in it, and it must be acknowledged that they have done much in the work of civilization."


The following day-schools, conducted by the Wesleyan Methodists, were in operation in 1829, with 251 scholars in attendance: Grand River, Davisville ; Grand River, Salt Springs; River Credit; Girls' and Boys' School, Grape Island; Rice Lake - Lake Simcoe, Island; Lake Simcoe, Holland Landing; Muncey Town; and Malden, River Canard.


The missionaries who were interested in them came from the State of New York, and as their loyalty was somewhat doubtful, particularly their loyalty to the Established Church, Sir James Kempt advocated sending 'Wesleyan Missionaries from England for the purpose of counteracting the antipathy to the Established Church and other objectionable principles which the Methodist Missionaries from the United States are supposed to instil into the minds of their Indian converts.'


The Rev. William Case kept a school on Grape Island , six miles from Belleville , for ten years, and after 1838 at Alnwick, where twelve children were educated, clothed and boarded at the expense of the British Wesleyan Conference. This school developed into the industrial school at Alderville, and the Mount Elgin Institute was founded by the same society. To establish and maintain these schools, the Indians consented to set apart one quarter of the amount received in commutation of their annual distribution of ammunition. This contribution began in 1848 and ended on June 30, 1862 . At that time the annual payment of $68'79.75 had served to meet the expenses of conducting the schools, and there remained $36,208.74. This is evidence of the liberality of the Indians of Upper Canada in the cause of education. Whenever the funds of a band have been adequate, a fair proportion has always been set apart for the support of schools. The school at Alderville, in the county of Northumberland , was erected in 1848, and the Mount Elgin Institute in 1851. The Alderville buildings were destroyed by fire in 1861 and were not rebuilt, but the Mount Elgin Institute still survives, after a useful career of sixty years. Both institutions were supported by an annual per capita grant for each pupil in attendance, a method of finance which was later extended to the western schools. The actual cost of maintaining the school at Christieville in 1842 was £18 for each child, and at the Mount Elgin Institute £20 for each child.


The scheme for civilizing the Chippewas and Ottawas of Lake Huron at Manitowaning, to which reference has been previously made when dealing with the recommendation of Sir John Colborne, had proved a failure. It was the first governmental attempt to improve the condition of the Indians by direct instruction given to the whole community. In 1844 the staff of instructors consisted of a carpenter, a blacksmith, a mason, a cooper, a charcoal burner, a shoemaker and five labourers. The settlement was seemingly in a flourishing condition ; houses and workshops had been built, and a church and schools. In 1856 all signs of progress had vanished. The commissioners of that year found the workshops in a state of decay, destitute of tools, and deserted by the instructors and the Indians. The school-house was in ruins, and a few scholars were gathered in the teacher's house. Various reasons were assigned by apologists for the failure when contrasting it with the gratifying success at the settlement at Wikwemikong, but no one reason is alone sufficient. The formal village, with its automatic subsidized labour and its regular and monotonous tasks, had been repellent to the Indian, who was invited to freedom by the open lake. The experiment was not repeated until the modern policy of instruction in farming was instituted by the government of the Dominion, and spread to the western tribes in 1879.


The various inquiries by government into the subject of Indian education during the existence of the Province of Canada , have preserved an interesting body of contemporary opinion on the subject. The system at present in vogue is founded upon these early attempts and has not departed very far from the first model. The present condition and life habits of the Indians in the older parts of Ontario and Quebec, which are far in advance of the position in 1841, are to be attributed largely to educational and missionary effort throughout the province.




During the existence of the Province of Canada the legal position of the Indian became clearer, and the legislation, which was evolved principally for his protection, served also to define his standing as an individual in the state. Before there had been any legislative enactments bearing upon the legal status of the Indians, two eminent lawyers gave opinions on the subject. In 1839 Chief Justice Macaulay stated that the Indian had no claims to separate nationality such as would exempt him from being amenable to the laws of the land and entitled to their protection, and after citing cases in which Indians had been arraigned criminally and convicted, proceeded to say:


"So as respects civil matters, I believe our courts are considered open to enforce their contracts, or to afford redress for injuries to their persons or property, not only as between them and the white people, but in relation to each other, unless mental incapacity to contract, fraud, or some other valid defence could be established, or some special ground be relied upon in particular cases. It is true civil suits in which Indians were parties have been very rare, but I am not aware that the jurisdiction of our civil tribunes, any more than the criminal, could be withheld if required to be exercised. Then, as to political rights, the same principles seem to apply, and if possessed of sufficient property to qualify them, their competency to vote at elections or fill municipal offices, if duly appointed thereto, could not be denied."


In 1840 the attorney-general gave it as his opinion:


1st. That Indians under the age of '21 years are minors in the eye of the law, beyond that age they have the rights of other subjects.'
2nd. That they 'are not incapable of making civil contracts.'
3rd. That they 'have legal capacity, either as plaintiffs or defendants.'


After the Union the legislation applicable to Indians in the two provinces was separate ; not until 1857 did an act appear upon the statute-book which treated the Indians of the provinces as one class. The legal definition of the term 'Indian' was always more inclusive in the lower province, admitting all persons intermarried with Indians, all persons of Indian blood residing among Indians, and all persons adopted in infancy and residing among Indians. For Upper Canada the principle that an Indian woman who married a white man did not confer upon him the status of an Indian, but lost her own position as a member of her band and took that of her husband, was adopted, and was later carried into the statutes affecting the Indians of the Dominion.


The legislation for the control of the liquor traffic was also more advanced in Upper Canada than in Lower Canada . The early enactments were all by the way of regulation and licence of the trade, and remained so in Lower Canada. Prohibition of the sale of intoxicants to Indians in Upper Canada was passed in 1835, with a penalty not to exceed 45. This act was to remain in force for four years, and thence to the end of the next ensuing session of parliament. It was amended and made permanent on February 10, 1840. The provisions of the statute have since been elaborated by the Dominion parliament.


The Upper Canadian Indian was also granted certain privileges designed for his protection against unscrupulous traders. Indians were exempt from taxes and assessments, confession of judgment could not be taken from them, nor could any debt be recovered from an individual Indian unless he held land in fee-simple of the assessed value of £25 or upwards. The reserve lands, with their timber and minerals, were also protected from trespass by white men.


The first act applicable to both sections of the province was passed at the session of 1857 ; it dealt for the first time with the enfranchisement of Indians. When commissioners appointed for that purpose found, after examination, that an Indian was competent to manage his own affairs, he might receive a portion of the tribal lands in his own name as well as his share of the capital funds of the band. He then ceased to be an Indian and took on the responsibilities and privileges of an ordinary citizen. Enfranchisement under the present Indian Act is, by comparison, a tedious and disheartening process. The act of 1857 also empowered municipalities to attach any Indian reserve to a neighbouring school section, ' thereby enabling the aborigines to benefit by the excellent and cheap education afforded by the common school system of Canada .'


It will be perceived from the examination of the statute-book that the legal position of the Indians had developed from the indeterminate to the definite. In 1795 Governor Simcoe had braced himself to bring to justice an Indian murderer, and had intended to support his authority with all the military force of the country. In 186o the Indian knew that he was subject to the criminal law, and that special laws defined his position in society, protected his property from encroachment, and gave him great privileges and immunities.




The establishment of the Indian department continued on the basis previously outlined until several years after the Union . It had been divided between Upper and Lower Canada in 183o and placed under the governor and lieutenant-governor, and so continued until 1844. One of the duties of the royal commission appointed by Sir Charles Bagot in 1842 was to report on Indian matters generally, and to recommend any changes that should be made in the manner of conducting the business of the Indian department. Their report of January 22, 1844, recommended, among other things:


"1st. That the management of the Indians be placed under the Civil Secretary with the view of its being brought more immediately under the notice of the Governor-General.
2nd. That the two branches of the Department be united and the record kept in one office. That the correspondence and central business be conducted at the Seat of Government, under the superintendence of a Chief Clerk at an annual salary of 300 pounds.
4th. That the office of the Chief Superintendent in Upper Canada, and the present establishment of local officers, be reduced, and that in lieu thereof three Indian Visitors be appointed at a salary of 300 pounds a year, with an allowance to be fixed for travelling expenses.
5th. That the Province be divided into three Districts according to the locality of the Settlements, and that each Visitor be charged with the superintendence of a separate District--Lower Canada may form one, the Tribes now under the separate charge of the Chief Superintendent in Upper Canada may be united with the second, and the remainder, now under charge of five Resident Superintendents, into a third."

 These recommendations were partially carried into effect. On May 15, 1844, the chief superintendent was informed by letter of April 25 that, as May 15 had been fixed for closing the public offices at Kingston preparatory to removal to Montreal , the governor-general had directed that from that date the following changes would take place in the management of the Indian department:


"The correspondence and central business of the Department will be conducted at the Seat of Government, under the orders of the Civil Secretary assisted by Mr Geo. Varden, the present Clerk in the Indian Office, who will be attached for this purpose to the Indian Branch of the Secretary's Office. The Chief Superintendent will deliver over to Mr. Varden the records of the Department, as he will be charged with the preparation of the various accounts, estimates, requisitions, money warrants, etc., which, will relieve the Superintendent from that onerous portion of his duties, and admit of his devoting more time to the moral, intellectual and physical improvement of the Indians under his superintendence."


The chief superintendent was further informed that the resident superintendents would be instructed to correspond direct with the civil secretary upon all matters connected with their districts, and when it was thought necessary, the civil secretary could refer the matter to the chief superintendent for the benefit of his opinion.

The tribes under the charge of the chief superintendent would continue under his immediate superintendence; and he would be directed by the governor-general, when circumstances required it, to visit the other settlements, and to points on which particular information report upon any might be wanted.


Further changes were carried into effect on July 1, 1845. Samuel P. Jarvis, who had succeeded Colonel Givins as chief superintendent for Upper Canada, was informed by the civil secretary, on April 16, 1845, that Her Majesty's secretary of state, acting on the recommendation of Messrs Rawson, Davidson and Hepburn, had decided to abolish the office of chief superintendent, and that his duties would cease from June 30 following.


The services of three resident superintendents in Upper   Canada , James Winniett, William Jones and J. W. Keating,   and two in Lower Canada, James Hughes and S. Y. Chesley, were at the same time dispensed with.


The following is a list of the civil secretaries who were also superintendents-general of Indian Affairs:


J. M. Higginson

May 15, 1844 to May 31, 1846

Geo. Varden (Acting)

June 12, 1846 to March 30, 1847

Major T. E. Campbell

March 31, 1847 to November 30 1849

Col. R. Bruce

December 1, 1849 to May 31, 1854

L. Oliphant

June 19, 1854 to December 18, 1854

Viscount Bury

December 19, 1854 to January 31, 1856

S. Y. Chesley (Acting)

January 25, 1856 to February 27, 1856

R. T. Pennefather

February 27, 1856 to June 30, 1860



The most difficult task which confronted the commissioners of 1856, was to form a financial scheme for the support of the Indian department, after the withdrawal of the imperial grant. The home government considered that the sole need for an Indian department arose out of the imperial government undertaking to distribute presents ; as soon as the gifts were withdrawn the function ceased. But at the same time the imperial government recognized that the provincial government must continue to supervise the estate, and the commissioners of 1856 were required to indicate how the expenses could be met. The problem had already received consideration from the heads of the department, but no scheme which had a sound financial basis had been suggested. Laurence Oliphant, Lord Elgin's secretary, who was superintendent-general for six months in 1854, was the first to attempt the solution. It is strange to find the author of Altiora Peto, Piccadilly, and the rest connected with this hard official knot. That he did not altogether succeed in his task is not surprising. His attempt to solve the problem was based upon unrealized assets: he left out several important factors, and proposed to use a parliamentary appropriation for purposes other than those for which it was voted. He shared with others the idea, if he did not originate it, that the Indian estate should bear the charges for the support of the department. Viscount Bury, who succeeded him in office, did not favour this plan, but suggested that the imperial government should vote £80,000 sterling, which should be invested in provincial debentures, and consequently produce revenue with which to conduct the department. The secretary of state, Henry Labouchere, would not adopt this view. He held it to be 'no more than consistent with equity and common usage that where an Agency is employed for the management of large pecuniary interests, its officers should be paid with the funds which they administer.' The commissioners of 1856 were thrown back upon the resources of the Indian estate and of the province, if the latter could be drawn upon, and proposed to levy a contribution of ten per cent upon all funds of the Indians then on hand, and to continue it upon all future collections. The amount then invested in debentures and like securities bearing. interest at six per cent was $1,019,699.25.


The province was asked to meet, during a period of ten years, any deficit which might arise in the proposed fund. It was to be understood that the patronage of the department should fall to the colonial government. This scheme was adopted, but the province only made an assisting grant for a year or two. It continued until March 31, 1912, when a parliamentary appropriation became available to meet the expenses. From July 1, 1860, all control of Indian Affairs by the imperial government ceased. From the Union until that date the governor of the province held the Indian administration in his hands ; responsible government had been granted, but neither the ministers nor the executive council interfered in the management of the Indians. They were scrupulous to differentiate between their duties as advisers merely and as responsible administrators. In 1845, during Lord Metcalfe's term of office, the executive council, reporting on 'a question of Indian Affairs, made this position plain:


"The withdrawal from the consideration of the Committee of Council, of all papers connected with Indian Affairs, led them to believe that Your Excellency agreed with them in their view, that the Indian Department was not one under the Superintendence and management of the local authorities, but rather, one especially entrusted to Your Excellency by Her Majesty, as a matter, the direct control of which belongs to Imperial Authority. As Executive Councillors appointed to advise Your Excellency, under Her Majesty's Royal Commission, they would feel it their duty not to withhold the humble expression of their opinion on any subject on which Your Excellency might desire to consult them. But in such a case they would suggest that some distinction should be drawn between a reference for their advice, on which they are responsible to Parliament, and one like the present."

 The administration of Indian Affairs was given to the Crown Lands department, and all funds invested in commercial securities were assumed and capitalized. The commissioner of the Crown Lands became the chief superintendent of Indian Affairs. This arrangement continued until Confederation.


The commissioners of the Crown Lands who administered the Indian department were:


Hon. P. M. Vankoughnet

July 1, 1860 to March 18, 1862

Hon. Geo. Sherwood

March 27, 1862 to May 23, 1862

Hon. William McDougall

May 24, 1862 to March 29, 1864

Hon. A. Campbell

March 30, 1864 to June 30, 1867





THE dispatch of Lord Glenelg from the Colonial Office of August 22, 1838, was also addressed to the governor of Nova Scotia, Lord Falkland. The requirements of Lord Glenelg set on foot an examination into the state of Indians of the colony, and the results which were con­veyed to the secretary of state on July 15, 1841, present a gloomy record of neglect and failure. The inquiry was made by a series of questions addressed to persons of influence, who either had been interested in the Indians or who had opportunity of becoming acquainted with their condition. The facts and opinions presented by these individuals were reduced to a memorandum, which was conveyed to the home government by Lord Falkland, and afterwards presented to the legislative assembly of the province during the session of 1848. It was stated that

'most Colonies had done something for the relief of this class of their people ; but the Records of Nova Scotia hardly show any intention of the kind. Lands were indeed many years since reserved for the Indians in various parts of the Province, - but no encouragement, until very recently, was held out to them to settle and cultivate the soil : - and the Legislature have annually granted a small sum to purchase Blankets for the old and helpless ; but beyond this little has been attempted for the relief or civilization of this unfortunate race.'


In that year judge Wisswall, who was described as the best friend the Indians ever had in the province, superintended the settlement of about twenty families in the county of Annapolis , and during his lifetime they made considerable progress. As the efforts to ameliorate the Indians at that time seem to have been confined altogether to private efforts, the names must not be forgotten of judge Wisswall and of Abbé Sigoyne, a Roman Catholic priest, who had the spiritual charge of the Indians throughout the whole of the western part of the province. It is not likely that this latter witness would exaggerate in his description of their condition. He wrote with regard to the Indians:


In general they are so much in distress, their depravity and ignorance are such, the bodily infirmities of many so great, that, in my opinion, there is but faint hope of success in the trying to bring them to a civilized life. Their habits for the most part are irregular and licentious. Drunkenness is too common, especially among the young - the female sex even is not free from that vice, which is one of the principal causes of their infirmity and poverty.


Beyond the provision of lands already mentioned and the small grant for blankets, there was but one provincial enactment, to prohibit the sale of liquor, by which any attempt was made to improve their wretched state. The provincial government had not, as a matter of policy, given consideration to any general measures for their improvement. The burden of the memorandum was that the Indians of Nova Scotia must embrace some of the habits of civilization or perish. The direct effect of the representations of Lord Falkland was that the secretary of state for the Colonies instructed him to recommend the care of these Indians to the justice and liberality of the local legislature. This appeal met with sympathetic treatment, and when the Province of Nova Scotia came into Confederation, the statute-book showed that the legislature had endeavoured, so far as its power went, to provide for the civilization of the Indians. Commissioners were appointed in different sections of the province, whose duties were to lease and sell both timber and lands for their benefit. The proceeds were to be applied to prevent destitution, and to other purposes for the direct benefit of the Indians ; but little was done towards education, apart from the beneficent influence of the Roman Catholic clergy, who had established missions amongst them, and whose influence had always been exerted to prevent the spread of debauchery and licentiousness. In 1841 the number of Indians in the province was given as 1,400 souls, or about 350 families, and the general decrease in population was made plain by citing the conditions in the county of Pictou, where it was stated there were probably Boo Indians in the year 1798, which number had decreased towards the middle of the next century to 100. Since that time, however, the population. has remained stable, and the latest census returns show that there are now over 2,000 Indians in the province.




What has been said of the Indians of Nova Scotia applies generally to those of New Brunswick. The colonial government had done but little to advance the interests of the Indians, and in addition to the causes which had rendered them indigent, the great fire of 1825 had destroyed the game in the northern portion of the province. Sir John Harvey, the governor of New Brunswick , reported the conditions as he found them on May 14, 1839, and they correspond with those existing in Nova Scotia. The legislature of New Brunswick had already recognized more fully than the sister colony its responsibility to the Indians. Commissioners had been appointed to attend to their affairs and to administer their lands, and when New Brunswick came into Confederation, the law respecting Indians was in some essential particulars designed for their protection and for a proper administration of their estate. But this fell far short of an enlightened policy for Indian education and advancement, and the contrast is strong between the anxiety which was ever present with the government of Upper Canada for the advancement of the Indians and the apathy which prevailed in the maritime colonies.


The population given by the commissioners of 1839 was found to be 753, but this can hardly have been the full Indian population. In the northern part of the province particularly, their nomadic habits rendered it impossible properly to enumerate them. The present population of over 1,600 shows considerable increase upon the figures quoted by the commissioners.




The Indians of Prince Edward Island, in the early days of the settlement, seem to have been entirely neglected by those in authority. In a petition which they addressed to the crown in 1838, they state that the French taught them religion and the duties of a civilized life, but that since they became British subjects they had been deprived of their hunting grounds without any remuneration, and that by privation and want their once numerous tribe had been reduced to a 'skeleton of five hundred individuals'; that despite frequent applications to the House of Assembly, no land had been set apart for them; and the petition closed with a prayer for a permanent reserve upon which they might reside without fear of molestation.


The lieutenant-governor of the island, Sir C. A. Fitzroy, in reply to an inquiry from Lord Glenelg, said that he did not believe the number of Micmacs to be more than two hundred, and that 'from their habits of intemperance, and other causes, their number was rapidly decreasing ; and that, with few exceptions, they are sunk to the most abject and degraded state to which I should conceive it possible for human beings to arrive.' He recommended that Lennox Island , lying on the north-west coast of Prince Edward Island between Richmond and Goodwood Bays, be purchased for them. It was a spot where they had for some time been settled, where a church had been built for them, and where a number of their dead had been buried. This recommendation was not immediately acted upon, and when it was carried out, private philanthropy was the agent and not the colonial government. The Indians continued to live upon the island without title until it was purchased for them by the Aborigines Protection Society in 1870. The reserve has been under the supervision of the Dominion government since Prince Edward Island entered the Dominion on July 1, 1873 . The title was transferred from the society to His Majesty the King in 1912.

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Source: Duncan C. SCOTT, "Indian Affairs, 1840-1867", in Adam SHORTT and Arthur DOUGHTY, eds., Canada and Its Provinces , Vol. V., Toronto, Glasgow, Brook and Company, 1914, pp. 331-362. The text has been substantially reformatted and a few of the statistical tables have not been reproduced.




© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College