Written by Justin Brett
Have you ever wondered who first defined points of the land we call Sault Ste Marie and even named a few of our first streets?
Well, I'm going to tell you...
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are in Robinson-Huron Treaty territory and that the land on which we are gathered is the traditional territory of the Anishnaabeg, specifically the Garden River and Batchewana First Nations, as well as Métis People.
Throughout this story, I tried my best to find resources to fill in the gaps of the story in regard to the indigenous people who inhabited this land before us. I spoke with the people at the Algoma University Library and Collections, to see what they had on the matter and I will share some of that knowledge gained from their resources. I still feel unclear on the story from the indigenous point of view as all my resources are written by settlers points of view. But I will share what I have found and maybe we can work together to fill in the gaps of this story dating back 177 years ago
With all that said, let’s get in to it...
Alexander Vidal, a 26 year old Provincial Land Surveyor, arrived by boat in Sault Ste. Marie in the spring of 1846 to survey the town.
At that time, most of the settlement was along the waterfront.
Vidal and his chainbearer, a person who measured distance, using the sections on surveying chain, set up camp in the west yard of the Ermatinger house, which in 1846 was a hotel owned by businessman, and the first post paster David Pim.
Vidal started his survey of the town at West Street, which was the city boundary. If you're thinking in today's world West street is by Algoma Steel. Then North to below the hill (Bruce Hill), then east to East Street This is where the museum is, then South to the river.
While doing his survey, Chief Shingwauk approached Vidal with concerns that the land being surveyed belonged to the Ojibway people. Vidal promised to bring the matter to the Commissioner of Crown Land, D. B. Papineau.
We are unsure if the matter was discussed and what other proceedings occurred with Shingwalk.
Vidal hoped the Chief would understand that the survey could not be delayed in a country of short summers. The Chief understood, so it is said, and the survey continued.
Next came the naming and layout for the streets. Vidal wanted the town to reflect the British heritage of the incoming settlers and as a representative of the British Crown himself; hence the names Queen, Albert and Wellington streets.
The posts to mark these streets were cut from cedar trees that were found just past the northern boundary of the town.
The first post was erected on the South side of Queen Street at East Street, which at that time was Mr. Lafond's farm, now where the memorable Muio's Restaurant building is, just across from us here at the Sault Museum. We have this land post on display in the Second floor Skylight gallery if you are interested in seeing it for yourself.
Vidal carried on surveying eastward past the town plot.
He explained to the settlers that, as the Crown representative; he would ensure that the land they had cleared, worked and occupied was measured and its ownership transferred to them. A proper title would guarantee this ownership.
The land to the north was surveyed into Park Lots.
With the job finished, Vidal left Sault Ste. Marie August 22 and returned to his home and family in Sarnia, Ontario
Just a few years after, the Roberston- Huron Treaty Territory came about. A treaty is a legally binding written agreement between two or more sovereign Nations.
This treaty set-aside land for the exclusive use of Anishinaabe community would identify an area suitable for their people, and future generations, to live as they always had un affected by the settlement of Europeans. Hunting and Fishing was guaranteed with unrestricted access to hunt and fish. And Lastly, to compensate for loss of land due to European settlement, each Anishinaabe family was guaranteed and annual payment to offset living expenses.
As you can gather from Shingwaks first interaction with Vidal, there was lots of friction and lack of communication between the two communities. The intentions of the British were unknown and the Indigenous population did not like what they were doing.
I love this quote from Chief Shingwakonce stated in the late 1840s “You wish to know why we call this our land, we think the answer is very plain... The Great Spirit placed us on this land long before the Whites crossed the Great Salt Lake. Our ancestors then lived in happiness- there being plenty of animals for food, at that time we had everything we could desire – the animals supplied us with food, the skins were taken from their back and placed on our for covering.”
In 1849 Vidal came back to Ontario from September to November. He travelled up to Thunder Bay and down to Toronto speaking with people other representatives of the British Crown and Indigenous groups gathering documents and important information while discussing the formation of the treaty. When in the Sault, He met with the local indigenous groups 2 days in a row. Through the journal of Alexander Vidal there was definitely lots of tension in these gatherings. The indigenous were dogging determinations Vidal wrote. They had to take lots of breaks and Vidal even left in frustration and let the discussions happen without him and wrote letters for the day in solitude.
Vidal even spent time across the river on this trip with Mr. Johnston too. Then went to Garden River with 3 men in a canoe. Shinguukuse and the sub chief were present and Vidal talked to them about the objects of their mission. It is written that Shinguukuse made a favourable reply to Vidal and left.
Augustin Shingwalks son and another came by after dinner tho, and ask explanation of some matters. They conversed some more then Augustin left to council more of their people.
I can assume there was a lot of miss communication with 2 very different languages over such an important subject matter. And that lack of communication and understanding of the treaty made a further divide and lack of trust in the treaty in years after this moment.
As controversial as it was Vidals maps in 1846 laid the groundwork for the future development of Sault Ste. Marie. You can see the names of the first settlers with their blocks of land along the waterfront in his settlers' sketch. There were only 43 plots of land all designated to a last name who owns the land. We even have what was on the land. If there was A home, an enclosure, and/or barn and whom lived there, even if it was not the owner (for example the sister of the male owner actually lives on the land.
He then turned that sketch and list of settlers into a well-planned map where streets are formed.
In later maps of Vidals you see that layout that he set out come to life and expanded upon. Growing past west street to grow the Hudson Bay Co. and canal district we can recognize today in 1854.