Reporter’s Notebook: SON Court Case Nears Conclusion; STA Regulations Coming

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By John Francis

The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) represents two separate bands, the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation (known colloquially as Saugeen and Cape Croker).

SON has been working for decades (arguably for centuries) to obtain redress for commitments made in Treaty 45½ (signed in 1836), commitments which SON alleges were never fulfilled.

A court case was initiated by SON in 1994. That case finally went to trial in April, 2019 at the Ontario Superior Court. The defendants are the Attorney General of Canada; Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario; the Corporation of the County of Grey; the Corporation of the County of Bruce; the Corporation of the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula; the Corporation of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula; the Corporation of the Town of Saugeen Shores and the Corporation of the Town of Georgian Bluffs. SON is demanding $80 billion in restitution and $10 billion in punitive damages.

SON reached a settlement with Grey County on Sept 24, 2020, which included transferring to SON a 275 acre parcel of forest on Mountain Lake (southeast of Wiarton). 

Closing arguments with the remaining defendants began on October 19, 2020 and were completed on October 23, 2020. No timetable has been posted regarding a decision in the case.

The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula is one of the named defendants in this action. In addition to the demand for restitution, SON is asserting that it never surrendered “the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron [from Goderich to Collingwood], and SON is asking the court to recognize SON’s ‘Aboriginal title’ to those waters” in addition to all parcels of land within their traditional homeland which have not been sold to third parties, such as unopened road allowances.

MNBP Council has discussed this issue many times, but always in Closed Session so no information is available. Excellent information (from the SON perspective) is available on the SON website, www.saugeenojibwaynation.ca

Tourism Advisory Board

MNBP Council will be moving ahead in cooperation with Parks Canada to establish a Tourism Advisory Board. Other stakeholders, such as Ontario Parks, SON, Bruce County, the Bruce Trail and the Tobermory Chamber of Commerce, will be invited to participate. Council representatives on the TAB will be Megan Myles and Smokey Golden.

STA Meeting in November

At its Oct 13, 2020 Meeting, MNBP Council voted to move forward to create a licencing process for Short-Term Accommodations (STAs). Mayor Milt McIver requested that a Special Meeting be scheduled in November to discuss STAs and the Strategic Plan.

Heron Point Bridge Alternative

Heron Point Bridge in Stokes Bay has deteriorated badly in recent years; the previous Council discussed it at length several years ago. To replace the bridge would cost close to three quarters of a million dollars, all in. Forty or fifty years down the line, it would need to be replaced again. Was there a cheaper alternative?

Public Works Manager Troy Cameron was tasked with exploring the possibility of finding an alternative way to access the Heron Point community. He reported back to Council that there was, indeed, an alternative: a “land route” to Heron Point. There is room to put a road on municipal property between the Stokes Bay Community Centre and Knox Presbyterian Church, but it would require purchasing a tract of land behind the community centre in order to connect with Heron Point Road. That land would be expensive enough to make the cost even higher than building a new bridge.

But Council persevered. If the Municipality built a road to Heron Point, the land on both sides of that road would now be accessible by road, which would considerably increase its value. The municipality could buy the tract of land, put a road down the middle, then sell the newly-accessible lots on both sides. This would drop the overall cost well below the cost of a replacement bridge and it would be a permanent solution to boot. The municipality negotiated with the landowner and the tract of land is now a municipal asset.

Council voted on Oct 13, 2020, to move ahead with a survey and a Class II archeological study of the preferred roadway route. A public information session is tentatively scheduled for next spring.

The existing bridge would be retained as a pedestrian bridge for as long as it remains safe.