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Nostalgia Tripping: the Toronto Purchase

Posted by Agatha Barc / June 18, 2010

the Toronto purchaseLast week, I stumbled across a then little known aspect of Toronto's history that sheds light on how the city came to be placed on the land upon which we now reside.

On the 9th of June, the Mississaugas of New Credit and their chief, Bryan LaForme, visited Toronto to meet with Mayor David Miller and City Council to celebrate a deal with the federal government to compensate the Mississaugas $145 million for the original sale of the land that is now Toronto, a deal which is often referred to as the Toronto Purchase.

Robert M. MacIntosh, the author of Earliest Toronto, notes that in 1783, following the American Revolution, an influx of United Empire Loyalists moved to British North America (what is now parts of Canada). Those who had sworn allegiance to the British monarch were persecuted by the revolutionaries and had their properties confiscated. They came north as political refugees. British North America, still a colony at that time, offered protection to those who wanted to escape the turmoil of the national uprising. Upwards of 40,000 people arrived in their new homes of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Lord Dorchester, the governor general at that time, was charged with the task of resettling the refugees.

Some of the settlers expressed disdain for the idea of life in Quebec as a minority under French civil law. As a result, the colonial government decided to resettle them further up the St. Lawrence River, in the direction of Cornwall and Kingston, while the Crown had to purchase additional land from the Natives.

According to G.T. deT. Glazebrook's The Story of Toronto, in the mid-eighteenth century, British officials established a precedent that followed two principles, which were supposed to guarantee the interests and rights of the Native populations. The British government recognized that Natives were legally entitled to the land, which they occupied or used for hunting, and that only the Crown was able to buy it from them (the price, however, remained an issue ...).

the Toronto PurchaseIn 1786, Dorchester took a long and hard look at the map of southern Ontario and decided to acquire some land along the north shore of Lake Ontario, thinking that the harbour that he spotted would be a good location for a naval base and would at the same time be surrounded by enough land for the Loyalists, who could be settled there. A year later, he set up a meeting at the Bay of Quinte, between three Mississauga chefs and John Collins, his deputy surveyor-general, with regard to a purchase of an area of 250,880 acres.

The area extended eastwards from the mouth of the Etobicoke River for fourteen miles to the Rouge River, and northwards for twenty-eight miles, almost reaching Lake Simcoe. The settlement was signed between Collins and his colleagues, as well as three chefs, Wabukànne, Neace, and Pakquan. The price was just 10 shillings, roughly $60 in today's currency. Historians agree that the Mississauga weren't properly apprised of what they were agreeing to. It was later clarified that the land they sold stretched from Etobicoke Creek to Ashbridge's Bay and 45 kilometres north of the waterfront. Another piece of land in present day Mississauga was sold for the same amount.

The Toronto Purchase, as it came to be known, was signed in September of 1787. In July of the following year, Collins instructed Alexander Aitkin to survey the site of Toronto harbours, which was the first step in the founding of Toronto.

Today, the Mississaugas of New Credit live on small portion of the Six Nations of Grand River Reserve, where they moved after selling their land. Most of the money from the land sale will go into a community trust, but each of the adult members of the 1700 person community will receive $20,000. This land claim has been in process since 1986, and now Torontonians live on land that was (more) fairly purchased from the area's earlier inhabitants.

the Toronto PurchaseImages from the Toronto Archives.



Keith / June 18, 2010 at 10:51 am
Interesting bit of history. I am not amused by the fact that today's taxpayers are being sorely ripped for the sins or negligence of the ancestors (both WASP and Indian) of this country. I'm wondering if the years of monthly compensation and benefits that the Indian people receive from the Federal Government was calculated into this $145 million. I wonder if my people could go back and slap the Russians or Poles for their misappropriation of our lands.
Matthew Gray replying to a comment from Keith / June 18, 2010 at 11:00 am
The way I see it, it's not that we're responsible for something our ancestors did. It's that our institutions, which have persisted since then, are responsible to them. The Government of Canada has existed in various forms since that time, and since there is great 'institutional memory', there is a requirement for accountability for past trespasses such as this.
W. K. Lis / June 18, 2010 at 11:11 am
Or the Normans invading England from France, or the Saxons taking over from the Celts from Germany...
stopitman / June 18, 2010 at 11:20 am
No Keith, the $145M is what they should've been paid in today's dollars simply using inflation. If you read many of the accounts of when the treaties were signed, the British and Canadians knew they were screwing over the Natives. Furthermore, the Natives were never conquered and never lost a battle for the land in some war, but they actually prevented us from becoming Americans during the American Revolution (ex: Joseph Brant and his Mohawks) and during the War of 1812 (ex: Tecumseh) and they were then awarded land for their loyalty to the King and the Crown. Even if you look at many of the older reserves, you'll notice that they're placed at choke/strategic points of where armies would invade from the States.

Another important point, too, is that the King proclaimed that the Natives living within the Americas would be treated fairly and would deal with the King (the Crown) directly with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. All treaties and the Constitution are based off of this document.

If you think we're being ripped off, visit a northern ontario reserve, it's like going to Africa but without any international aid whatsoever. The government has taken their lands and their resources (and so they can't make money) and tried to "kill the Indian in the child" with residential schools, so I do believe that this is a fairly good outcome in a concrete sense that signals the government may begin treating natives like they should be treated.
gadfly replying to a comment from stopitman / June 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm
Or perhaps they could just join the 21st Century and forget about the quaint lore of centuries gone by? Oh, but that doesn't fit into the 'everybody is a victim' mentality of our revisionist history today...
I know, I know, the White Man should have stayed 'over there' and left this god-forsaken, mosquito infested tundra to the Natives, since they were doin oh, so much with it then. But, then, they could always 'give back' the snowmobile, high powered rifles, depth sounders, automobiles, penicillin...well, see how silly all of this sounds?
You're either part of Canada, or you're not...pretty simple, no?
Oh Really replying to a comment from gadfly / June 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm
Godforsaken, mosquito-infested tundra? Maybe you should go back 'over there' if you dislike it so much.

Ever been to a reserve? Ever seen how they sometimes feel like a victim? What's that? No you haven't? Oh, well then, obviously you're just able to extrapolate and guess. Well done sir.

And as to your comment about giving things back, perhaps they'd also like to give us back alcoholism, substance abuse, poverty, racism, disease, dirty water and several decades of institutional and sanctioned abuse from those in power. Think they'd like to keep that? I don't.

How can anyone join the 21st century when they don't even have the infrastructure of the mid 20th?

Does your attitude about being part of Canada extend to Alberta and Quebec? The PQ and the Wild Rose parties?
keven replying to a comment from gadfly / June 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
keven replying to a comment from Oh Really / June 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm
I wonder how long gadfly would last if we dropped them and a few friends on a piss-hole lake 500 miles north-east of Winnipeg with no roads and no hydro?
Mike W replying to a comment from gadfly / June 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm
They were actually doing pretty well before the Europeans arrived. Snowmobiles? Rifles? Even penicillin. You think they'd trade their culture for those?

Elizabeth replying to a comment from gadfly / June 18, 2010 at 02:09 pm
Umm, no, it's not that simple. I'm teaching a class in Aboriginal History of the Great Lakes. History that you could really benefit from.

The idea that First Nations people aren't allowed to "modernize" and use snowmobiles, guns etc., and also maintain cultural traditions is totally ridiculous.

First Nations people ALLOWED Europeans onto this land, helped us to explore it and to survive on it. We would NOT live here in this amazing place if it wasn't for their help. Don't you think this land is worth something? Worth more than 12 shillings? And payments that aboriginal people get have to do with treaties and land sales which the British and Canadian governments initiated, and aboriginal people were generally forced to take. It's not welfare. It's based on deals struck centuries and decades ago. Are you just suggesting that we renege on deals made in the past?

I generally try to avoid comments on posts like this because the ignorance, racism and hatred are disgusting and un-Canadian, in my opinion. And because I can't teach you enough in a comment. But I'll recommend a couple of books written by academics/professors, not activists, for all you ignoramuses:

Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, Fourth Edition, by Olive Dickason and David T. McNab. Oxford University Press.

A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999. by John Milloy.

Read those and them come back and re-read Agatha's post. And if you don't like it here, go back to wherever your ancestors originally came from. I'm sure it's alot better than Canada.
Nat replying to a comment from Keith / June 18, 2010 at 05:40 pm
ummm the proper term is Native.

Also, if you're going to include injustices that you've encountered by "Russians and Poles" I think you should be slapped for the discrimination against Eastern Europeans and the internment of Japanese, Italians, Ukrainians etc. It's only fair.


Nonetheless, I feel like $145M isn't decent enough or perhaps I keep taking into account that there are more Natives out there who have been screwed over by British settlers.
Metis / June 18, 2010 at 07:27 pm
Read American Holocaust by David E. Stannard. Its about the complete and utter destruction of the native population from South American to North America, right on our doorstep 100 million native americans murdered by the conquest of the europeans.


This is like having a family bbq and a stranger shows up, your family is loving and friendly so you invite the stranger. The stranger looks around, likes what he sees. fish, game, vegtables, laughter, friendship, a appreciation of the earth and life. Then the stranger brings his friends in and murders the entire family, eats all the food and burns down your house, then actively destroys your entire culture for 250 years, until they say 'woops sorry, here's some pocket change'

James / June 19, 2010 at 07:59 am
PAY UP SUCKERS!!!! 20,000 wont take me far should have recieved 40,000 each
sigh / June 22, 2010 at 05:03 pm
Forgive me if I'm wrong... but is the article saying "The settlement was signed between Collins and his colleagues, as well as three chefs, Wabukànne, Neace, and Pakquan." or is it supposed to say: "The settlement was signed between Collins and his colleagues, as well as three CHIEFS, Wabukànne, Neace, and Pakquan."

If there were three CHEFS there, hopefully they made some food for Collins and his Colleagues after they got f%cked over.
Jessethistle / December 10, 2012 at 08:53 am
The Toronto purchase was left blank in 1787. Meaning, those Cheifs that were there at the carrying place in the Bay of Quinty did not even sign the document nor did they have an idea of land ownership; merely land use. In short they thought the English wanted to use and occupy the land, not own it. They couldn't have consented to sale because it was a concept that wasn't even in their language lexicon then. Also, the signatures or doodems of the native peoples were added after the document was ratified (up to a year after), therefore the document was never consented to by the Mississauga nation. Imagine someone asks to rent your house rents for ten dollars, a one time payment, drafts a document and signs your name to it after you're gone (doesn't explain it to you in terms you understand) and then owns the land forever; well that is exactly what happened to the Mississaugas. Moreover, because the document was so shady it had to be re-drafted in 1805 because even then the Imperial Brits (who at that time were extremely prejudice) realized that the agreement was fraudulent and that it had no legal basis. The land was basically stolen and the Mississaugs were given next to nothing and if you look at the value of the land now 145 million is still basically pocket change. Hey Keith, just a little example that your dense skull might understand. Imagine the Nazi's never left Poland, destroyed your people, your culture, your language, your customs, your religion, and your traditions, and all that was left was a hand full of damaged Poloks that couldn't remember who they were. They had no land, no rights until 1960 and spent 250 years being forcefully assimilated into a society that felt justified annihilating them. Then after the genocide was complete they re-populate Poland with ignorant immigrants who didn't care what the Nazis did, or how they did it, and felt that the Polocks should shut the fuck up and take it. Still these descriptions fall short of what actually happened to native peoples here, so next time you feel like talking about something you know nothing about think about your dear Poland and Hitler and try and side with that asshole because that's what you're doing when you try and justify what happen to the Mississaugas.
The Emir of Schmoe / February 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm
Why do we persist in allowing the farcical notion of 'First Nations' to persist? Anyone born in this country is a Canadian and owes NOTHING to the Indians, who are nothing more than Canadians as well. Ending this laughable extortion and money-grab is long overdue. It ain't 1800 anymore and hasn't been for some time.
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