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Recreation: The Indian Agent and the Mortgage

The backstory

In the days leading up to the testimony of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris at the Ipperwash Inquiry, I was asked to research the history of Ipperwash Provincial Park. In particular, I was asked to look at how the Park lands came to be owned by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

At the Sarnia land registry and the local archives, I began walking backwards in time from the mid-1930’s (when the Province purchased the Park lands from a local real estate agent) to the 1928 land surrender by the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation.

I was asked to keep an eye on Thomas Paul, the Indian Agent at the time of the land surrender. The Indian Agent had a set of rules he had to follow as he oversaw the surrender (those “rules” were actually laws as set out by the 1927 version of the Indian Act.) One of those rules was that he could not profit, either directly or indirectly, from the sale of First Nations land.

After doing some digging into Tom Paul, I realized that he was a Director and Shareholder at the Industrial Mortgage & Savings Company (IM&S). As it turns out, Tom Paul’s brother, W.R. Paul, was the manager of IM&S. The local Member of Parliament, W.T. Goodison, was the President of IM&S. And the Mayor of Sarnia, W.J. Scott, was the buyer who was approaching IM&S for a mortgage to pay for the Stony Point beachfront.

It appears that Tom Paul was indirectly profiting from the 1928 sale of the Stony Point beachfront. According to the Indian Act, Tom Paul should have lost his job, the sale should have been cancelled, and the land should have remained with the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point. However, the Department of Indian Affairs approved the sale, and a portion of the former reserve land was eventually sold to the Province of Ontario following the Great Depression.

To top this off, I also found an interesting letter at the local archives. The letter was from W.R. Paul to a Forest branch manager at IM&S, asking him to personally inspect the beachfront before the mortgage could be approved. The text of the letter illustrates the Indian Agent’s role in the land sale – watch for references to “Tom” in the following note:

I have an application for a loan from W.J. Scott of this city. I will explain the circumstances so that you will have a better idea of just what he wants. There was a surrender of land by the Stoney Point Indians, which surrender includes about two miles of Lake frontage. The rest of the land, as I understand it, is absolutely worthless, being nothing but drifting sand, therefore the value is in the Lake Frontage, which I am told is somewhat similar to Ipperwash Beach, only, if anything, better. For this land they are paying $13,500 plus $800 to one Indian and $1500 to another, making a total of $15,800. They would like to borrow as near $8,000 as possible, but I am quite convinced that they can do with somewhat less than $8,000. So far as the price they are paying is concerned, I know this to be absolutely correct, because the surrender went through, or will go through, Tom’s office, and he showed me a diagram of the surrender, which corroborates everything that Mr. Scott told me. We think here, that if they could get along with, say $6,000, it would be a safe loan. The Lake frontage of two miles is 10,560 feet, and if they can interest some Detroit real estate man and sell it for $5.00 or even $3.00 a foot, they will be able to clean up a considerable sum of money. I would like to have your opinion about it, and if you happen to be in Sarnia, I could have Tom meet you here and show you the dope that he has on the transaction.

This research was put on the public record at the Ipperwash Inquiry when former Premier Mike Harris, and some of his Cabinet, were asked about it on the witness stand. It caused Justice Sidney Linden to remark during the testimony of former Minister of Natural Resources Chris Hodgson that:

It is astonishing that after all these years, and all this investigation, and all this work that all of us have done that documents are still surfacing at this late date.

The scene

I decided this letter would make a great re-enactment for The Ipperwash Park Film Project. My father was kind enough to play the role of bank manager W.R. Paul, and I played the secretary typing the letter. The bank office was located in my living room, and I either created the props from scratch or purchased them from local antiques stores. I operated the camera, and shot the footage of my father about six months prior to shooting the footage of myself. Lucky for me, the footage matched.


Project: The Ipperwash Park Film Project
Scene: The Indian Agent and the Mortgage
Client: Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors

 

 

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