Aboriginals – Hurons, Ojibway and Algonquins
The first people to inhabit the region were the tribes of Aboriginals: Hurons, Ojibway and Algonquins. They used the area as their communal hunting and fishing grounds. They also made maple syrup. They wintered on Georgian Bay in the Parry Sound area. Maybe they should be called our first “summer people”. They realized how valuable the area was to them and their way of living. And so the occasional hunter or fishermen came to the area, by common consent, they guided them away from their best hunting and fishing grounds. For many years the natives were the only inhabitants of this part of the country. Their way of travel was by canoe—their highway, the Magnetawan River system—or by foot on well-known paths established in the forest. I have heard no mention of horses being used in the days before logging and settlement came to disturb the native way of life. There were some private explorations made in the early eighteen hundreds. Rev. Firman was minister of the United Church in Magnetawan from 1864 to 1869. He wrote a small work which he called “God’s Country”. He speaks of these explorations in his book. These brought about no settlement of the area. In government files the area went by various names. In 1788 it was called the Nassau District, Province of Quebec. In 1872 it was renamed the Home District of Upper Canada. As late as 1859 the area remained relatively untouched by the white man. The government planned to turn the entire district into a gigantic Aboriginal reservation.
But, time was running out for the peaceful life of the natives in God’s Country. The great white pine forests in Southern Ontario had been depleted. Lumber companies were looking to the north for new sources of pine. They moved into the area bringing their crews.
In 1853 a Free Grant Land Act had attempted to open up areas for settlement but progress was slow because of the lack of roads into the areas offered for free grants. By 1861 the government had changed its mind about leaving this area as a large Aboriginal reserve and decided to take steps to offer it for free grants. The first step was a colonization road. This was the Rosseau-Nipissing Road running from Rosseau on Lake Joseph to Nipissing on Lake Nipissing, a total of 70 miles. It was plotted in 1864, surveyed by Ontario Public Land Surveyor J.S. Dennis in 1865 and started in 1866. The rest is history.