Up until the mid-1800s, the area known as the Bruce Peninsula was territory controlled the Saugeen Ojibway Nations. The nations included the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation (CapeCroker) and Chippewas of Saugeen Unceded First Nation (Chippewa Hill). Archeological evidence from the area suggests that approximately 2500 years ago that the peninsula was occupied by the Odawa. Oral history from Saugeen & Nawash suggests their ancestors have been here as early as 7500 years ago. The area of Hope Bay is known to natives as Nochemoweniing, or Place of Healing.
The Saugeen Ojibway signed a treaty with Sir Francis Bond Head in 1836 for lands south of the peninsula in exchange for proper housing, assistance in becoming “civilized” and for permanent protection of the peninsula. In 1854, the Saugeen Ojibway were pushed into signing another treaty – this time for the peninsula. The Saugeen Ojibway launched a land claim for part of their traditional territory in 1994 – claiming breach of trust by the crown in failing to meet its treaty obligations to protect Aboriginal lands. The claim seeks the return of lands still held by the Crown and financial compensation for other lands. This claim is still active – it has yet to be resolved.
European settlement began on the peninsula in the mid 1800s. Attracted by the rich fisheries and lush forest, settlers found the land known then as the “Indian or Saugeen Peninsula” to be irresistible. In 1881 – the first sawmill appeared on the peninsula in Tobermory. In less than 20 years most of the valuable timber was gone. Fueled by the waste left behind by the rapid logging and land clearances – intense fires sprung up around the peninsula. By the mid 1920’s the beautiful forest rich land of the peninsula was nearly barren. When the lamprey eel was introduced to the Great Lakes in 1932 – the devastation on the fish supply made the peninsula a less attractive place for settlers, and many left for “better pastures” The peninsula would continue a steady decline in population until the 1970s. The peninsula did start to attract a new kind of settler – the cottager. Today – seasonal residents out-number permanent residents.
The beauty of the Niagara Escarpment – with it’s spectacular cliffs, the rare and wonderful orchids and other fauna and flora, the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay & Lake Huron, the caves, shipwrecks – all these have made the Bruce Peninsula a haven for tourists. Recreation & tourism are now the top industry in the region. Forest is now protected, and the Niagara Escarpment Commission controls the rugged shoreline from over-development. Tourists and travelers also navigate through the peninsula to ride the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which ferries passengers to and from Manitoulin Island. This ferry carries on average 260,000 passengers a year. The original ferry – the Kagawong, could only carry 8 vehicles per trip!