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.”

Saugeen Ojibway Nation land-claim lawsuit at a crucial phase

bruce park

In recent years the Bruce Peninsula National Park has become an important international tourist destination, with much of the attention focused on the Grotto, above.

(This update corrects an error in the naming of the two First Nations that comprise the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. It also adds some additional information regarding the status of the case.)

The original version of this blog-post was published in Finding Hope Ness on December 19, 2015. The title then was, Saugeen Ojibway land claim lawsuit may soon be settled, one way or another. At the time there were reasons to think 2018 could be the crucial year for reaching a resolution of the now-almost 25-year-long court action.

But 2018 has come and gone, with no indication to the general public that a negotiated settlement is in the works.

The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) took the unusual step in 1994 of filing a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to settle long-standing land claims after years frustration with the government-sanctioned process. Continue reading

An Aboriginal fisherman leaves food for thought

A few weeks ago a well-used pick-up truck pulled into our driveway on the Bruce Peninsula. A man who looked like he might be in his mid-30s got out and said he and his fisherman partner had some freshly caught Georgian Bay fish for sale and did I want some.

They were from nearby Cape Croker, home of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, and they were doing what people from there have been doing for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, trading and bartering the fish they catch, in this case nowadays, for cash. That traditional and vital use of the fishery around what  used to be called the Saugeen Peninsula, for food and trade, was recognized and re-affirmed by an Ontario court decision in 1993, that ruled First Nation people in this area were entitled to “priority” use of the fishery in local waters.

At the time most large-scale commercial fishers in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay waters in this area were non-Aboriginal. That court decision began a process of change, leading to the predominantly First Nation fishery that exists today. But the initial reaction of many people in the local non-Aboriginal community was angry and confrontational.

For a while downtown Owen Sound was not a friendly or even safe place for First Nation people to be. One night two young men from Cape Croker were attacked with knives by a group of thugs and badly injured. Continue reading