Name change in the works for Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto, one of the most popular destinations at the Bruce Peninsula National Park

Calling it a “small, but important change,” Parks Canada has changed the name of the Bruce Peninsula to the Saugeen Peninsula in its ongoing communications with operational “partners” who were recently sent an email message about the new policy.

For the time being the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park remains the same; but Parks Canada intends to begin a formal public consultation process leading to a possible change of name recognizing the park’s presence in the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation

“As valued partners of Parks Canada, I am writing this morning to let you know about a small, but important, change at Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Going forward, we will be changing how we refer to the Bruce Peninsula.  Instead, we will be referring to the peninsula where our two parks are located as the “Saugeen Peninsula,” Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five parks superintendent, John Haselmeyer said in the recent email.

Additional information about a lengthy public consultation process beginning soon to change the name of the national park comes near the end of the email message.

“Please note that the name of the park remains ‘Bruce Peninsula National Park.’ A name change for the park itself requires a longer process of public consultation, which we will be undertaking in tandem with our upcoming management planning consultations,” the message says.

These developments come as an Ontario court judgement regarding the merits of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s (SON) long-standing, land-claim lawsuit is imminent.

In 1994 SON took the unusual step of filing the claim as a lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court. After 25 years of ‘discovery’ the trial finally began in April, 2019. It ended last fall, with closing arguments. It is now up to Justice Wendy Matheson, the judge who presided over the trial, to decide for or against the SON multi-billion-dollar claim for damages. Key elements in the SON case largely focus on the circumstances surrounding a treaty signed in 1854. Under the terms of Treaty 72 the two First Nations that comprise SON, ‘surrendered’ most of what remained of their territory on the peninsula. At the time it was called the Saugeen, or Indian, Peninsula.

That treaty followed another one signed in 1836 that surrendered the largest part of the SON territory south of the peninsula, on the promise that the Crown would protect the Saugeen Peninsula from further incursion by non-indigenous squatters. However, in 1854 the Crown’s British colonial negotiators again said they were unable to control the squatting which had continued on the peninsula. SON produced evidence during the trial that appeared to show that was a lie.

The traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation included a large area in southern Ontario before 1836.

“SON’s claim is that this was a breach of the Crown’s fiduciary duty. What SON is seeking is a declaration the Crown breached this duty. If successful, in a later phase of this claim, SON will be looking for recognition of its ownership interests in lands on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula that are still owned by Ontario or Canada or have not been bought and paid for by third parties (so, municipal roads, for example), as well as compensation,” SON’s law firm, Olthius, Kleer, Townshend LLP, says on its website where a large body of information about the case is publicly available. In contrast, the non-indigenous government defendants in the case have been publicly secretive over the years about the progress of the case.

In a phone interview peninsula national parks superintendent Haselmeyer asked this reporter to submit written questions about the timing and reasons for the name changes, including the plan to begin a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

One of the questions asks if the timing of the changes has anything to do with the SON land-claim case, with an important judgement now imminent. And if not that, then another question asks what else prompted the changes at this time.

Another question sought more information about the ‘partners’ who received the email message. Another asked why peninsula residents weren’t also notified of the name changes, including the name of the national park. The point was made that informing ‘partners’ that a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park is planned effectively started the process; and, therefore, peninsula residents should have been notified at the same time.

As of this writing the additional information from Parks Canada in answer to written questions was not yet available. There will be a follow-up story when it is.

A judgement in favor of the SON claim will lead to a second phase in the court process in which the amount and method of compensation for SON’s damage claims will be determined. Grey County — previously named as a defendant along with Bruce County and Bruce Peninsula local municipalities, as well as the federal and provincial governments — reached a settlement with SON last fall when it agreed to transfer ownership of a county forest to SON.

Based on that precedent, if the initial judgement is in favor of SON it appears likely compensation could include transfer to the two First Nations of property currently owned by government entities, including provincial and federal Crown land.

Full disclosure here: this reporter lives on a property surrounded on three sides by the Ontario Parks’ Hope Bay Nature Reserve south of Lion’s Head.

Under the sub-heading, “why are we doing this?’ the Parks Canada email explained that the Bruce Peninsula, after it ceased to be the Saugeen Peninsula was “named after James Bruce, a British colonial administrator who was Governor of Jamaica, Viceroy of India, and, from 1847 to 1854, Governor General of the Province of Canada.  James Bruce never visited the peninsula that now bears his name.

“Using the name ‘Saugeen’ better acknowledges the connection of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation to the Saugeen Peninsula. Some partner organizations in the region have already adopted this practice, the email said.

“Saugeen is the anglicized version of the Anishnaabemowin word ‘Sauking’ meaning river mouth. It is the traditional name for this peninsula, and was still in common usage well into the 1970’s.”