Yes or no.
If only it was that simple.
In October 1928, as the men of the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation were called together for a General Council meeting, nothing was simple. The men were there at the request of Indian Agent Thomas Paul, who had called the meeting after a real estate agent had offered to buy the entire Stoney Point beachfront.
This wasn’t just any beachfront – it was part of the Ipperwash Beach Highway, packed with thousands of cars every weekend of every Canadian summer. And the real estate agent wasn’t just anybody – he was also the Mayor of Sarnia, as well as a personal friend of the Indian Agent.
The Indian Agent and Mayor William J. Scott attended the same church in Sarnia. They were both Masons, and were part of the same curling league. And, they were both active members of the West Lambton Liberal Association.
Thomas Paul’s brother, W.R. Paul, was the manager at a bank called the Industrial Mortgage & Savings Company. The bank’s president was William T. Goodison, the Member of Parliament for Lambton West. Together, Goodison and Mayor Scott had been able to secure a new international bridge that was about to join Sarnia with Port Huron, Michigan. Together, they would have been well aware that traffic along the Blue Water Highway was about to rise substantially with tourists from the nearby Motor City of Detroit, Michigan. They would have known quite well that the value of the land along Ipperwash Beach was about to increase.
On the very day that royal assent was received to build the Blue Water Bridge, Mayor Scott drove from Sarnia a half hour north-east to the Stoney Point Reserve. He struck a deal with Albert and Sarah George, two elders who possessed the location ticket for the north half of Lot 8, Concession A of the Reserve, promising to reimburse them for their improvements (such as their home and gardens). The Indian Act of the time said that buyers could not negotiate directly with Band members. But that didn’t stop the Mayor.
Around four months later, in accordance with the laws of the Indian Act, the Indian Agent held court over a meeting in which the men of the two sister First Nations on Ipperwash Beach voted on whether or not to sell the beachfront of the Stoney Point Reserve. Both the Indian Agent and Mayor Scott were in the meeting, in which it was rumoured that those attending received a small financial reward for showing up, with an additional financial reward for voting “yes.” (While these rumours are unconfirmed, they were the norm during surrender votes of this time period, and are widely documented within the RG 10 files of the Department of Indian Affairs.)
While $5 or $10 doesn’t seem like a lot of money in 2013, it was a substantial amount for those living in poverty during the 1920’s. And, there were other incentives for voting “yes” to the land sale – at the time, the Indian Agent held an enormous amount of power. Thomas Paul not only had the ability to withhold rations from Band members, but had other powers, such as the ability to pick and choose which kindergarten age children could be sent to residential school.
Yet those managing the affairs of Canada’s First Nations didn’t have absolute power – in 1928, the Indian Act specified that Indian Agents could not profit directly, or indirectly, from the sale of Indian land. Still, at the time of the Stoney Point surrender vote, Indian Agent Thomas Paul was a Director and shareholder of the Industrial Mortgage & Savings Co. – the same bank that was about to issue a mortgage to Mayor Scott to pay for the land sale. It meant that the sale should have been stopped, and Thomas Paul should have lost his job. But the Department of Indian Afffairs (helmed at the time by Duncan Campbell Scott) pushed through the sale, enabling the eventual creation in 1937 of Ipperwash Provincial Park.
Another interesting part of the story? The original owners of the land – Albert and Sarah George – were the great great grandparents of Anthony “Dudley” George. At least 18 of the witnesses to Dudley’s fatal 1995 shooting were direct descendants of Albert and Sarah.
At least one of those witnesses turned out for a recreation of the surrender vote that I filmed at the United Church at Kettle Point. Over 100 years old, the church is located next to what used to be the Council House, now torn down.
I was the only crew member on set that day, acting as director, camera operator, and wardrobe. I was so busy that I didn’t notice that some of the men had gotten in to a bag of mustaches that I’d accidentally brought along with the hats. I might be the only one to notice that some of those mustaches actually show up in the footage. It makes me laugh every time at look at it.
Project: The Ipperwash Park Film Project
Scene: The Indian Agent and the Surrender Vote
Client: Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors