Upper Detroit to Historic Saugeen

Lower Lake Huron’s Métis & Trade

Shaped by the International border and geographic barriers, such as the Saugeen Peninsula and treacherous waters, the early fur trade in Lake Huron, particularly the eastern Canadian shoreline of the Lake’s proper, evolved into a south-north trade out of the military/commercial centre, Detroit. Trade stretched from the upper region of Detroit river system to the north shore of Lake Huron, near the Killarney area. Dr. Ray testified in R. v. Powley (1993)

… that the Métis community’s regional network included wintering sites, trading posts, … and gathering places … allowed … the Métis community to develop a regional cohesion and maintain significant trade and kinships connections throughout the region.

It was from such a regional cohesive network trade that the Historic Saugeen Metis community developed. Historic Saugeen is seen to be a typical Métis community developed from the fur trade.

Upper Region of the Detroit River

Previous to 1790, a number of Frenchmen built small shanties along both sides of the St. Clair River, near present-day Port Huron and Sarnia, and lived by hunting and fishing. They had come up the river in canoes from the lower Detroit region with their wives and families for the purpose of forming a settlement. [1] They first lived among the natives at Black River, a river that emptied into the St. Clair River near its mouth, and that ran parallel to Lake Huron for some miles northward.

Before long two communities developed on both sides of the Black River, one side the resident/roaming native bands, and the other side a community of mainly French and mixed-blood families. It was the sons of these early French families who married natives, and Métis, who trace both to the early Detroit trade and also to the Michilimackinac fur trade circa 1752.

From these unions a Métis community formed. Descendants of some of these Métis families eventually settled at Saugeen, raised generations of families, and are buried at Southampton, Ontario.

Minnesetung Red River Goderich Fur Trade

The Upper Detroit River Métis families are recorded as trading across the river in Canada, at the southern Sauble River (Port Franks area) and Goderich area prior to 1820. [2] In 1822, Bayfield  [3] while surveying the lake recorded traders at Goderich and Saugeen. In Canadian literature and histories, these were described as being mixed-blood traders from “Detroit,” and “the Northwest.”

….The Minnesetung (Little Red River Goderich) was a frequent calling place for the Jesuits on their way from Georgian Bay to Detroit. The Fur-traders, too, made it a stopping place, and it was through the Hudson’s Bay service that the site had upon it the huts of a few half-breeds, as well as the Chippewa wigwams, when Galt and Dunlop took it.(Lizar, Robina; Lizar Macfarlane, Kathleen.1896:85). [4]

The names of these traders and their families are confirmed in writings of the period and among them were Belhumeurs, Deschamps, Duchenes, Cazelets (Cosleys), Andres, Camerons, Tranchemontagnes, Cadottes, and others. These Métis were at Goderich prior to the signing of treaties, and were identified when Dunlop arrived in 1827 to open the Huron Tract for the Canada Company.

I was quite delighted with the situation at Goderich … A log-house beautifully situated on a bold hill, overlooking the harbour, called by Dr. Dunlop, the Castle, and a dozen or so log cabins, comprised the whole town of Goderich, most the latter being inhabited by French Canadians and half-breeds (Strickland, Strickland, 1953:199) [5]

Their burial places are Michigan, Port Franks, Grand Bend, Goderich, Kincardine, Saugeen, Saugeen Reserve, and Killarney.

Historic Saugeen

Historic Saugeen’s earliest record of possible trading activity is 1798 when there is mention that a Detroit boat, “the Weasel,” owned by fur trader John Askin Sr. having been at Saugeen. [6] The first recorded trader is Pierre Pichet, who is said to have been at Saugeen trading from at least 1818 for the Mackinac trader, Dr. Mitchell.

Pierre Pichet (Piche) was born in St. Sulpice, Quebec, and married in Detroit in 1812. He is said to have lived there for several years prior. Pichet first traded for well-known North West Company founder, Pierre Rocheblave (1815-1818) who had NWC Detroit connections, and then for Dr. David Mitchell (1818-) based in the Mackinaw straits. Pierre’s wife was Monique Desaulnier born in Michilimackinac, a Métis descendant of the famed Bourassa and Chevalier trading families of the Upper Great Lakes.

Pierre Pichet and family were known to be at Saugeen during the time when several of their nine children were born. Descendants are in the Detroit area today and many now spell the original Pichet as “Pishay.” Of note is that Monique Desaulnier’s second cousin was Augustin Gonneville Granville, a NWC voyageur, who also was an early HBC Saugeen trader.  Augustin’s son, Augustin Jr., was born at Saugeen in 1827.

During the 1820s and early 1830s when the Hudson Bay Company is known to have had a trading post at Saugeen, the main traders were the previous Detroit/Goderich Métis families Cameron, Longe, Gonneville, Sorrell, Belhumeur, Cazelet (Cosley), and traders engaged by the HBC whose first know Saugeen HBC Postmaster was Métis Alexander McKay.

It appears that Goderich during this period may have been an outpost of Saugeen as accounts of the trading activity there were often written in the HBC Lacloche journal entries. Louis Belhumeurs was said to be trading there for the HBC during the 1820s.

During this period there is often mention, well into the mid-1800s,  in the Lacloche journals also that Goderich boats were trading, as opposition to “the Company” (the HBC), as far as the Northshore and Killarney, Ontario,  Descendants of Historic Saugeen Métis are found today still along their families’ original, cohesive trading route – residing in Huron and Bruce Counties, at Historic Saugeen, Wikwemikong, Killarney, and up the Bruce Peninsula.

The rights-bearing Historic Saugeen Métis, descendants of the traders, assert a communal Aboriginal right tied to the historic Saugeen Métis community in existence from the 1820s, and a traditional harvesting territory common with local First Nations.

Killarney Connections

Historic Saugeen Métis were a distinct population along the western side of the Saugeen Peninsula. The Métis community had many connections to Killarney. Killarney’s distinct nature was recognized by James Morrison when writing of the Robinson Treaties 1850 . [7] Morrison in his analysis of Métis communities found that Killarney and Penetanguishene “appear to have formed distinct populations groups .” Likewise Historic Saugeen’s Métis community had formed a distinct population group also – due to trading patterns. That Saugeen was not mentioned is understandable given the nature of Morrison’s work.

The tie that binds Killarney and Saugeen, and gives them a common development and continuity to the present, are family connections made along the cohesive Saugeen regional trading network used almost exclusively by a small collection of Métis families on the western side of the Saugeen Peninsula. They were the earliest Métis in the shared Saugeen territory. Historic Saugeen Métis families fished, hunted and lived alongside the local First Nations.

Historic Saugeen Métis traditionally traded along the Lake Huron shoreline on the west side of the Saugeen Peninsula, from the upper Detroit River region to the North Shore of Lake Huron. Among the major families who remained over decades are Andres, Belhumeur (Bellmore), Beausoleil (Bosley), Cameron, Cazelet (Cosley), de Lamorandiere, Deschamps, Duchesne, Gonneville (Granville), Lange (Longe), Martin, Normandin, Sayer, and Tranchemontagne, and others.

Today the community remains strong, proud, and independent. This is confirmed by the Historic signing of a Métis Protocol, the first of its kind in Canada, with Bruce Power ensuring participation in the environmental assessment of  the Nuclear New Build project; and and confirmed particularly by those self-identifying as descendants of the Historic Saugeen Métis, their community with continuity from then until now.

Métis Identity

In 1956, Alonzo Gobeil, a reviewer of an historical work on Métis identity, arrived at the distinctiveness that sets the Métis apart not only from the French-Canadians and other people of European background, but also apart from the First Nations people.

Gobeil put into words what descendants of historic Saugeen knew in their hearts and from family experience. The Métis community stood in the middle – ‘ alone ‘ as Gobeil put it. Historic Saugeen Métis are today “in the middle” – proud. Historic Saugeen is the purest form of a Métis community developed from the fur trade, with continuity into the twenty-first century.

The tradition and culture of Historic Saugeen Métis reflect that the middle world where customs were adopted from both cultures, but neither was fully embraced. Gobeil wrote:

The Métis will always refuse to be assimilated into Indian society at every period of their existence. The ease with which they again take up civilized customs upon the arrival of missionaries illustrates that, although they may not have retained all of the habits integral to it, they still had a consciousness of, and the taste for living in the state of a society with which they still felt close ties. (From a book review of “ Le Métis Canadian ” in Revue d ‘ Histoire de l ‘ Amerique Francaise , Vol.I, 1948, p. 146, quoted in Gobeil, 1956: 168). [8]

[1] A. T. Andreas & Co. The History of St. Clair County, Michigan, 1883, 141-2, 262.

[2] The Pioneers of Port Huron. A Hisitorical paper prepared by Mrs. B. C. Farrand, of this city for the Pioneer Society of Detroit. The Port Huron Daily Times – Monday Evening, June 17 1872.

[3] H.W. Bayfield, Canada West, Lake Huron, Georgian Bay (London: Hydrological Office of the Admiralty, 1828, based on a survey of 1822 and corrected to 1864), Archives of Ontario, H.

[4] Robina Lizar & Kathleen Macfarlane Lizar. In the days of the Canada Company; the story of the settlement of the Huron Tract and a view of the social life of the period, 1825-1850. Toronto:Montreal: W. Briggs; C. W. Coaates, 1896, p. 85.

[5] Samuel & Agnes Strickland, Twenty-seven years in Canada West, or, The experience of any early settler . London: R. Bentley, 1853, p. 258.

[6] John Askin Jr. Papers, Wisconsin Historic Collections, Vol. Six. Letter to John Askin Sr, 1808.

[7] James Morrison, ( The Robinson Treaties of 1850: A Case Study . Ottawa: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996.)

[8] Alonzo Gobeil, Gestes francais en terre ontarienne: Epopee francaise, a la baie Georgienne 1610-1956, Vol.1, 1956, typed unpublished manuscript. Centre de recherché en civilsation canadienne-francaise, University of Ottawa, accession no. C2/377/1.