A Brief History of the Settlement and Administration of the Area Around Lake Manitou

The History of the Indigenous Peoples of Manitoulin Island.

There is good evidence that Indigenous peoples occupied or visited portions of Manitoulin Island as far back as circa 10,000 to 11,000 following the retreat of the continental glaciers. This is evident by the well studied quartzite rock quarries at Sheguiandah that were operated by these early inhabitants.

More recently, Manitoulin was home to the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes. Many of these people were run off Manitoulin Island in the 1650’s by the Iroquoian tribe. They fled westward to Lake Superior, Michigan and Wisconsin. By the 1800’s at least some of the descendants of these people had returned to the Island. The Treaty of 1836 between the Indigenous occupants of the island and representatives of the British Crown secured the Island as a home for Indigenous people of many tribes.

The 1836 treaty, drawn up by the Crown of Upper Canada, designated the entire Manitoulin Island as a home for Indigenous peoples. The idea was that Indigenous people from in and around the Great Lakes area would settle on the Island, as many had become displaced from their traditional lands. However, fewer than expected moved to the Island.

In 1862 the Crown again entered into a second treaty. From this treaty 6 reservations were established and these remain to this day. A seventh, Wikwemikong, (Wiki for short), was not a signatory of the 1862 treaty and remains under the terms of the 1836 treaty. The majority of the Island in 1862 was then opened up to a survey and settlement by people largely of European descent. The Island, as we know it today, is a product of the 1862 treaty.

Post European Settlement

Originally the district of Manitoulin was part of the Algoma District but in 1888 it split off to become the District of Manitoulin. There are currently 3 townships and 1 town that border Lake Manitou. The Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) is located around the Green Bay section of the lake. The Township of Billings just barely touches the lake along a short stretch of the Rockville Road on the west side of the lake. The Township of Central Manitoulin stretches along mostly the west side of the lake down into the Sandfield area. The Township of Assiginack takes in much of the east central side of the lake. Several of these administrative bodies are the result of the amalgamation of townships from earlier days.

The name Assiginack comes from the Odawa first Nation chief by that name. He tended to side with the British and encouraged the signing of the 1862 treaty that resulted in the Indigenous people surrendering much of their Island home to European settlement. The name Sandfield comes from the First Premier of Ontario, the Honourable John Sandfield Macdonald.

The township where a home or cottage is located, will dictate where taxes are paid, who maintains roads and the bylaws that are in effect. All but NEMI are covered by the Manitoulin Official Plan that is administered by the Manitoulin Planning Board. NEMI has their own plan.

Sandfield, once the administrative centre of the now dissolved Sandfield Township, is the largest settlement on the lake. Historically, it was an important mill town harnessing the waters of the Manitou River for power. The dam at Sandfield controls the outflow from the lake into the Manitou River. The river empties into Lake Huron at Michael’s Bay. The dam partially controls water levels in the lake. The mills are gone from Sandfield but an important government fish hatchery continues to operate there.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry operates the Dam at Sandfield and frequently conducts fish surveys on the lake. Two NGOs (Non-Profit Organizations), the Lake Manitou Area Association and Manitoulin Streams work cooperatively to monitor water quality, help maintain fish stocks and lobby for the preservation and conservation of the high quality natural environment in and around the Lake Manitou Watershed.