The Penetanguishene Treaty of 1798 (also known as Treaty 5 in the Upper Canada treaties numbering system) was an early land agreement between First Nations and British authorities in Upper Canada (later Ontario). It was one of a series of Upper Canada Land Surrenders. The Penetanguishene Treaty encompasses land on Georgian Bay at the northern tip of the peninsula at present-day Penetanguishene, as well as an island in Penetanguishene harbour. The British wanted to establish a naval presence on Lake Huron before the Americans could and the purchase of land at Penetanguishene would allow this. The British also realized that they might have to evacuate their post at Michilimackinac some day and wanted an alternative location.
The 1783 Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the American Revolution, established the boundary between the new United States and Britain’s remaining colonies in North America. Part of the new border ran along the centre of Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron and Superior. The many Indigenous peoples in the area were never consulted, nor were they involved in the negotiations for the treaty. In fact, the British gave the United States much of the land they had reserved previously for Indigenous use by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and subsequent treaties. Many of Britain’s Indigenous allies were shocked by what they considered a betrayal.
Despite the new international border through four of the five Great Lakes, the British continued to occupy their western frontier posts on the American side of the line at Oswego, Niagara, Detroit and Michilimackinac for several years after the Treaty of Paris. Although this British retention greatly displeased the Americans, they did not want to risk another war with Britain and sought British evacuation of the posts through peaceful means.
In view of the possibility of Britain eventually giving up these posts to the Americans, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe, wanted to obtain land on Georgian Bay at present-day Penetanguishene. This would give the British a naval presence on Lake Huron before the Americans could establish one. It would also create a British post against the day Michilimackinac might have to be turned over to the United States, as well as help the British retain their influence with the Indigenous peoples in the Lake Huron area. As a result, Simcoe visited the location in 1793 and had it surveyed as a possible location of a naval yard. Based on the surveyor’s report, Simcoe commenced negotiations for the surrender of Penetanguishene harbour with the Chippewa of the region.
The original intention was to hold a formal council between the British and the Chippewa in the fall of 1794 at Lake Simcoe. Originally known as Ouentaronk by the Wendat and later as Lac aux Claies by the French, it was renamed by Simcoe in 1793 in honour of his father, Captain John Simcoe. The meeting was postponed, however, and rescheduled for York (modern Toronto) in the spring of 1795.
Governor-in-Chief Lord Dorchester hindered Simcoe’s plans, however, when he changed the rules for negotiating land surrenders in December 1794. Dorchester’s new instructions stated that any proposed purchases would now have to be approved by the commander-in-chief (the governor-in-chief) and contain a sketch of the area to be bought. Based on a review of the proposal and sketch, authorities would then decide the amount to be paid for the land. Additionally, any goods to be paid for the land would have to be obtained from Britain and shipped to the colony.
Because Simcoe could not meet these requirements before the Chippewa arrived at York, he asked Dorchester for permission to proceed without them. He also advised the governor-in-chief through Deputy Indian Agent Colonel Alexander McKee that he planned to let Dorchester complete the financial arrangements with the Chippewa afterward.
Simcoe met the Chippewa at York on 19 May 1795 and completed the arrangements for the sale of the northern tip of the peninsula at Penetanguishene and the island in the harbour. McKee’s message advising Dorchester of Simcoe’s intentions was only sent on 3 July, by which time the deal had already been done. The agreement was provisional, however, on the goods being received by the Chippewa, at which point the deed of surrender would be finalized.
At the council meeting, Simcoe also received verbal confirmation from the Chippewa that the agreements for the John Collins’ Purchase of 1785 and the Johnson-Butler Purchase of 1788 would be ratified. These land cessions covered the river, lake and overland route along the Toronto Carrying Place to Matchedash Bay, an inlet of Georgian Bay not far from Penetanguishene. Unfortunately, these agreements were not included in the formal treaty and by the time it was signed, both Simcoe and Dorchester had returned to Britain. Although various attempts were made over the years to clarify the treaty arrangements for this route, it was not until mid-2018 that it was finally resolved as part of the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement.
The Penetanguishene Treaty was finally signed at York on 22 May 1798 by the deputy superintendent of the Six Nations at Fort George, William Claus, and five chiefs. It purchased from the Chippewa “all the land, water, islands and land under water at Penetanguishene harbour.” In exchange, the Chippewa were to receive merchandise worth 101 pounds.
The Chippewa Tri-Council of the Beausoleil, Rama and Georgina Island First Nations believe that a 20,200-hectare (50,000-acre) tract the government took in 1811 without First Nations’ consent was not part of the Penetanguishene Treaty and remains part of their territory. The Tri-Council submitted a claim in 1986 and 1990, which Canada’s Specific Claims Branch rejected. Yet, in 2018, the government unilaterally included this claim in others with the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement. This settlement agreement dealt with issues such as off-reserve hunting, fishing and harvesting rights, which are unrelated to the Chippewa’s land claim. The Tri-Council believes, however, that their claim is a stand-alone one and should be dealt with as such. As of early 2022, the Tri-Council claim remains unresolved.