Treaties & Huron County

What is now Huron County includes parts of the traditional territories of multiple Anishinaabe communities. Liz Duern is  a current University Student, and worked as a Museum Assistant at the Huron County Museum & Historic Gaol during the summer of 2017.  In this guest blog post for Treaties Recognition Week, Liz shares what she learned during her initial research into the treaty history of this area.

What is a Treaty? How were they created?

Treaties  are agreements between First Nations and the British Crown. While the Crown used treaties to gain access to land for settlement and mining, First Nations understood treaties as building nation-to-nation relationships and protecting their continued stewardship of the land. The Crown often promised to protect First Nations’ rights and to set aside tracts of land for the exclusive use of the First Nations and their members. Today, the elders of many indigenous communities hold a great amount of knowledge regarding the intent of the treaties passed down through oral history.

Detail from https://files.ontario.ca/firstnationsandtreaties.pdf

Treaty 29: The Huron Tract (1827)

The Huron Tract Treaty was signed by eighteen Anishinaabek chiefs in 1827 in Amherstburg; the area included most of what is now known as Huron County, and parts of Perth & Middlesex. This treaty ceded 99% of the communities’ remaining lands to the British Crown, and designated four reserves: one along the south of St. Clair Township, one at Sarnia, and two on Lake Huron (Kettle and Stony Point). 

Treaty 45 ½: The Saugeen Treaty (1836)

Treaty 45 ½, signed on August 9, 1836, dealt with part of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s traditional territory. The British promised the Saugeen Ojibway Nation that they would protect the Indigenous peoples who resided on the Saugeen Peninsula and that the Saugeen Peninsula would be protected for their use. Not long after this, the British claimed that the Saugeen Peninsula could not be protected against settlers unless another treaty was negotiated. This treaty was Treaty 72, which  ceded about 500,000 acres of the Saugeen Peninsula to the British Crown.

Huron Signal, 1852-09-16, page 4
via https://www.huroncountymuseum.ca/digitized-newspapers/

Treaties are not just historical documents, but outline ongoing rights and responsibilities that are protected by the Constitution Act, 1982. These rights and the spirit of the original agreements have often been violated “by colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate” First Nations communities and their cultures.  Access teaching resources to better understand what it means to live on Treaty Land. 

Unlocking Memories of the Huron Jail

The Huron Historic Gaol was an operational jail from 1841 until 1972. Many Huron County residents still remember the building when it housed inmates, as well as the governor or superintendent (jailer) and his family in the adjoining house; museum staff wanted to hear their stories to gather a more complete picture of day-to-day life living or working in jail. This summer, student museum assistant Mackenzie Bonnett met interview-partners with memories of the building prior to its 1972 closure at the gaol; he shares his first experiences with oral history.

 

001 - CopyFollowing the recent death of a former notable gaol employee, the Huron Historic Gaol and the archives at the Huron County Museum received a series of inquires into their life and time spent at the Gaol. Through these inquiries staff realised there is relatively little we know about the personal experiences of those that spent time at the Gaol while it was still in operation. We decided that the best way to learn more about these stories would be to get them directly from the source; this started my summer Gaol oral history project.

I sought out people with any connection to the Gaol whether they were inmates, guards, maintenance staff, volunteers or family of the governor (jailer). A press release was sent out in early June to various local newspapers asking anyone with these types of connections to contact the gaol. Before starting any interviews I had to prepare myself with questions to organize and keep focus during the interview. I also had to prepare for the logistics of an oral history project which requires consent and release forms which allow people to assign a future date for when the information from their interview can be used.

Over the summer I conducted three interviews that each had their own interesting stories that told a variety of things about the Gaol and its staff and inmates that were not known to our staff today. I heard stories from friends and family of past Gaol Governors that heard firsthand accounts of day to day operations of the Gaol including escape attempts and notable prisoners. I also heard from Gaol volunteers that gave important insight into how the Gaol and its inmates were viewed by the community it served.  I hope that the stories I heard and transcribed can be use in the future to aid with research and the creation of further exhibits.