County History


We would like to acknowledge that the land we stand upon today is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Neutral peoples. We recognize the First Peoples’ continued stewardship of the land and water, and that this territory was subject to the Dish with One Spoon wampum, under which multiple nations agreed to care for the land and resources by the Great Lakes in peace. We would also like to acknowledge and recognize the Upper Canada Treaties signed in regards to this land, which include Treaty #29 and Treaty #45 1/2, and our roles as treaty people, committed to moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation, gratitude, and respect with all First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.

Thanks to the Huron County Library for sharing this beautifully written acknowledgement

The Attawandaron:  Huron’s First People by David Yates

            Ironically, Huron County is named after an aboriginal group that never lived here. The Huron or Wendot nation for whom the county is named inhabited the region closer to Georgian Bay.

            When “Tiger’ Dunlop made his appearance at the mouth of what is now the Maitland River in 1827, he encountered ‘wigwams’ of Chippewa Indians encamped along the river flats.   Indeed, in 1825, it was the Chippewa people from whom the Crown negotiated the purchase of the Huron Tract in Amherstburg. 

            The Chippewa who would return every summer to the Maitland, until about 1900, were not the first inhabitants of Huron County.  The earliest known settlers of the Huron Tract were the Attawandaron people.       

            Samuel de Champlain referred to them as the Neutral Nation because using skilful diplomacy, the Attawandaron were able to remain aloof from the conflicts between the powerful Iroquois Confederacy in the south and the Hurons in the north.  The Attawandaron controlled southwestern Ontario from the Niagara Peninsula to the Detroit River with present day Huron County forming the northern fringe of their settlement area.

            As the Attawandaron left no written records, everything known about them is derived from outside sources.  Even the name ‘Attawandaron’ is a Huron phrase which roughly translates into “people of a similar language’ indicating that the Attawandaron were a branch of the Huron.

            The Neutrals were a powerful native group. They controlled the vital supply of flint produced near Ipperwash.  Flint was a precious commodity necessary to make tools and fire. The Attawandaron successfully exploited their monopoly on flint production to become excellent traders with their more powerful neighbours.

            The first French missionary to visit Attawandaron territory was Father d‘Aillan, a Recollet priest who live amongst them in 1626.  His impressions are one of the few firsthand accounts of Neutral life.  Although he expressed shock at the complete nudity of the Attawandaron in summer,  he commented that their morals were “not less indecent” than the Huron.  D’Aillan could not help but notice that they were “physically the finest body of men I have ever seen anywhere.”

            Another missionary, Father Jerome Lalemant suggested that he did “not believe there is any people on earth freer than they, and less able to yield subjection of their wills to any power whatever, so much so that fathers here have no control over their children, or chiefs over their subjects. There is no punishment inflicted on the guilty.”

            A chief’s influence over his following was never absolute according to d’Aillon.  An Attawandaron chief’s status was directly related to bravery in battle and his powers of persuasion. One chief named Tsohahissen who had adopted Father d’Aillon into his lodge earned the respect of his village by his ferocity in battle. He had brought back many scalps from the 17 tribes he had fought against.

            Women could also play a leadership role.  The Attawandaron, like the Huron, were a matrilineal society who traced their ancestry through the mother.  One oral legend credits a female chief named Jikonsaseh or “Queen of Peace” with preserving the Attawandaron’s independence from the Huron and Iroquois on at least one occasion.

            All accounts agree that they were a sophisticated native group.  In addition to exercising skilful diplomacy, the Attawandaron were semi-nomadic in that they stayed in one village long enough to cultivate a wide variety of vegetables including beans, tobacco, corn and squash. Villages moved periodically to prevent soil depletion from over farming.

            In the summer, some members of the village migrated to rivers and lakes to take advantage of plentiful fishing.  Father d’Aillan even recorded seeing white tailed deer in pens to provide a ready supply of fresh meat. 

            Like their Huron blood cousins, the Attawandaron lived in lodges with up to 12 fires or approximately 48 people per lodge.  One modern estimate suggests that most native women were almost blind by age 40 because of the poor smoke ventilation in the lodges.  However, famine in an area where fish and game were so plentiful was a rare occurrence.

            The population of the Attawandaron is difficult to estimate. Father d’Aillon counted 28 villages in 1626. Jesuit missionaries Fathers Jean Brebeuf and Pierre Chaumonot in 1640-41 counted 40 semi-permanent villages in Neutral territory.  They guessed that their numbers were not less than 12 000 souls including 4 000 warriors.

            However, powerful forces beyond Attawandaron control were at work which would soon lead to their doom. The precarious balance of power that allowed the Attawandaron to maintain an independent neutrality was about to change forever.

            In the seventeenth century Anglo-French rivalry for empire, the French backed the Huron while the British allied themselves with the Iroquois.  Stone tools and weapons gave way to iron tools and muskets.  Any tribe who had access to European goods was at a tremendous advantage over those who did not.

            The Attawandaron, lacking European allies, were caught between two well-armed and now technologically advanced Indian nations.  Beginning in 1647, the Iroquois violated Attawandaron neutrality and systematically destroyed Huron and Attawandaron villages alike.

            The Iroquois massacre of the Huron and Neutrals was made all the more easy by the spread of disease that severely weakened the Neutral people. Virtually every native lodge and village was ravaged by the pox.

            By 1653, the twin disasters of war and disease drove the Attawandaron from their homeland. The surviving remnants fled north and west to seek refuge with other tribes.  They ceased to exist as a people. 

            The last of the pure blood Attawandaron is recorded as living in Michigan territory in 1780.

            “After the massacre of the Neutrals there was nothing. No settlement, no trade and commerce”, is how James Scott began his book The Settlement of Huron County (1966). The Chippewa used the area as a “causal hunting ground.” Chippewa names such as Wawanosh and Menesetung live on in Huron County but there is no reminder of the Attawandaron nation who were the first farmer-settlers of  Huron County.

Thanks to David Yates, teacher, historian and author for allowing us to share this history

Further Reading

To read the Treaties

Connecting People to Place: Great Lakes Aboriginal History in Cultural Context by Darlene Johnston


Understanding the history of Huron County, provides us as genealogists a foundation of those who lived in Huron County, long before the settlers. Settlement happened in steps and the governing bodies shifted and continue shifting over time. The initial Huron Tract included some townships now part of Perth and Middlesex Counties.

Thanks to David Yates for sharing his story of the early settlement of Huron County.

Settling the frontier of Huron By David Yates
Huron County Focus, February 19, 2005

            “All frontier and nothing else” is how the Duke of Wellington described the problem of defending Canada’s vast wilderness from American republicanism. The British government eagerly embraced any settlement scheme that would keep the British North American colonies within the fold of Empire.
            The most successful of these schemes began in a London tavern in July 1824 and was given official state approval when it was granted a Royal Charter in 1826. The Canada Company was formed as a business venture with a useful political agenda to settle the western reaches of Upper Canada with loyal, devout and industrious emigrants of the British yeoman class. 
            By the time that the Huron Tract was opened for settlement in 1827, the Canada Company was in possession of over one million acres of pristine forest on the eastern shores of Lake Huron. Most of this land was acquired by Treaty from the Chippewa Indians at Amherstburg, Upper Canada the previous year. This land would be known as the Huron Tract. Present day Huron County would be carved from the western portion of the Company’s landholdings.
            It was a remarkable cast of characters that established the western portion of the Huron Tract. 
Perhaps the most famous of the Huron County founders is Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop.
Dunlop had served as a battlefield surgeon on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812; he had seen service in India where earned the nickname “Tiger” (according to his own account, but that’s another story); and returned to Canada in 1826 to assume the grandiose title of “Warden of the Canada Company’s Woods and Forests in Upper Canada”.
            It was Tiger Dunlop, who was ordered by the Company’s first Commissioner, John Galt, to take an “exploring party” on “an expedition to the shores of Lake Huron”. Dr. Dunlop and a small survey party took “a dive into the woods” on March 9, 1827 from Guelph and blazed a trail west through primeval forest to Lake Huron’s shores.
            The Dunlop party included the renowned surveyor Mahlon Burwell, his assistant, John MacDonald, who would later survey the Huron Road, along with a Mr. McGregor who provide a team of oxen and another man history only identifies as Mr. Sproat. 
            An interesting aspect to note is the significant native involvement in the expedition to which Dunlop and the other members of the expedition gave full credit. Three natives accompanied the expedition, Captain Jacob, Louis Cadotte and John Brant, a son of the famed loyalist Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant. Dunlop’s reliance on these native guides, linguists and hunters was complete. Wisely, Dunlop heeded the natives’ advice to wait until after the “Moon of Lard” (February) was over before beginning the overland trek because that’s when fish and game would be most plentiful.
            William S. Gooding and Frank Deschamps, the proprietors of a trading post on the Menesetung River were away when Dunlop’s party finally cut line through to Lake Huron in May 1827. Upon arrival, Burwell claimed the party to be “destitute” of provisions. He gratefully recounted that local Chippewas welcomed the famished party with fish and corn. A rather sad anecdote, which in an earlier age passed as humour, was that the Tiger, himself, was able to convince the Chippewa to abandon the river flats in exchange for a keg of whiskey.
            Two days after the survey party’s arrival, the future Town of Goderich was officially founded. Burwell recorded that “we selected a site for the erection of a house in a beautiful situation on the left [south] bank of the Menesetung River … the foundation for the first house of the town was Wednesday, May 29, 1827”. What became known as “the castle” was a 22’x22’ crude log structure with a 15”x15” kitchen located on what is now Lions’ Harbour Park in Goderich. (The Tiger would have appreciated the humour of the site of his original home named after a Lion). The first permanent residence in Huron County was thus.
            One month later, Commissioner Galt sailed into the basin of the Menesetung River aboard the H.M.S Bee, he was greeted by an unkempt, bewhiskered Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop who was flanked by a flotilla of Chippewa Indians in canoes. Typically, the Tiger produced a bottle of champagne to celebrate their reunion and toast the King’s health. It can be safely assumed that the Bee had an ample supply of Navy grog to supplement the celebration well into the night.
            Although Galt would leave the river basin within 48 hours, it was an historically significant visit for the Huron Tract. It was at this moment that the Menesetung River, as the Chippewa called it, was renamed the Maitland River, after Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada…..The proposed settlement, that in June 1827, consisted of but one small and incomplete log structure overlooking the bluffs of the Maitland River and Lake Huron was to be named Goderich, after Lord Goderich, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. 
            Dunlop, for his part, could report that despite the difficulties of traversing the almost impenetrable forests of the Huron Tract, he could envision the rich agricultural potential of the land as he enthusiastically reported to the Company Directors that “it is impossible to find 200 acres together in the whole country which will make a bad farm.” The lake, rivers and forests of the Huron Tract would become Dunlop’s permanent home and final resting place.
            For John Galt, his first brief visit to Goderich was to mark the pinnacle of his tenure as Canada Company Commissioner. Within a year, Galt would be embroiled in the swirl of colonial politics that would soon lead to his controversial removal from office. 
            Before his removal from office in January 1829, Galt would pay one last, brief visit to Goderich. As his sleigh pulled away from the town that he helped to create on the shores of Lake Huron, he knew he would never return as he wrote that “my adieu to Lake Huron was a fond farewell, for from the moment I lost sight of it waters, I considered my commission at an end.”….And so it was for John Galt, but for the Huron Tract it was just the beginning….. 

Thanks to David Yates, teacher, historian and author for allowing us to share this history