Foresters Island, located off the shores of Deseronto in Ontario will soon be back in the hands of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
“It’s historically important to our people, because this place is where Capt. John Deseronto led our people after we had to resettle after the Treaty of Paris of 1783 was signed” said Tyendinaga Chief Don Maracle.
It was originally referred to as Captain Johns Island before it was known as Foresters Island.
That treaty ended the American Revolutionary War but forced Tyendinaga’s ancestors north of the border.
According to Maracle, the land was gifted to Mohawk military figure Capt. Deseronto for his service to the Crown during the war.
He said in the mid-1800s, the property was purchased by Dr. Oronhyatekha, the first Mohawk physician to graduate from the school of medicine affiliated with the University of Toronto in 1867. He renamed it Foresters Island.
Oronhyatekha built his summer home on the island, and Maracle said at that time, it was full of social activity.
He built an island hotel that received visitors from all over the world in 1881.
Oronhyatekha also built a very large orphanage, a refuge for orphan children of the independent order of Foresters so their children, if they became orphans, could reside there.
“There currently there are no buildings on the island now, but there are still some parts of the foundation of the original buildings still there,” said Maracle.
Maracle said he’s not sure how the island became crown land. He said it should’ve been included in the Simcoe Deed, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
“So much of the land has been taken and taken under suspicious circumstances,” he said. “Let’s put it that way, sometimes under fraudulent circumstances, sometimes it was taken without any surrender from the people who owned it so there’s a variety of reasons that give rise to claims.”
In 2005, he made the initial request to have the island repatriated.
That didn’t happen until last month when Prince Edward County Municipal Council voted unanimously to give it back.
Steve Ferguson, took over as Mayor in 2019.
He said it was the right thing to do, to improve relations.
“We’ve been trying to build on that, particularly during this term of council and recognizing the importance of truth and reconciliation,” he told APTN News. “Where we’ve taken certain steps to strengthen our relationship, you know this step of the process of the repatriation of Foresters Island is an important part of that process.”
The next step is to start the additions to reserve process with the federal government.