YE OLDEN TYME - Early Days of Thessalon

6 March 2020

In this edition of Ye Olden Tyme, J.B. Dobie harkens back to this early years in Bruce Mines and Thessalon before the 1900’s , and gives some insight into his relationship with the Indigenous peoples of the Ojibway Tribe. Several of his letters to the Editor of the Algoma Advocate titled under Ye Olden Tyme make reference to the great relationship J.B. and his Father-in Law Sam Lobb had with these peoples native to the area before the arrival of settlers in the mid 1800’s.

From his tales in this particular edition, it is clear that he had great respect and admiration for Joe Bomegezic in particular, then chief of the Thessalon Band, as their daily lives often seemed intertwined in early Thessalon days (we have seen other spelling of Chief Bomegezic’s name however for the purpose of transcribing this article we have used the spelling used by Mr. Dobie when he wrote the letter in 1926 – also the name Thessalon was derived from the Ojibway name Ta-suh-nong).

J.B. relates some great stories of this fine man and mentions others whom he thought highly of as citizens as they coped with their lives changing forever in their native Algoma.

Ye Olden Tyme

J.B. Dobie


Komta Cottage, Basswood Lake

June, 1926

Dear Sir

Years ago when I was having an excavation made for a cellar under my house on Genelle St., the workmen found the bones of a man several feet under the surface. Only the very large bones were there and a very large man he had been. There were all sorts of theories as to the length of time he had lain there, and whether he had been drowned, or murdered or fallen in battle.

I had the opinion he had been a stalwart of the North American Indians, who had hunted and fished for a living in the woods, lakes, and streams of this beautiful and wonderful north land, long before the discovery of North America by Christopher Columbus.

While we were talking it over Joe Bomegezic came into the store and I told Joe about it, and asked him to go up to the house and see the bones and give me his opinion about it. So Joe went with me and stood silently looking at the bones for some time, and then said, “Well, there is one thing I can tell you he is no relation of mine.”

It was quite easy to understand why Joe had been elected Chief of the Thessalon Band of the Ojibway Tribe here when he made such a guarded and indisputable statement as that. He said that probably where that man lay had been the bank of the river hundreds of years ago. He might have been drowned and washed up on the bank, and been gradually covered up with sand which was piled up by the action of the current coming down the river, and the waves of Lake Huron driven in by the high winds from the south east.

He also thought there might have been a meeting place at the mouth of the river where hosts of Indians gathered for pow-wows, and perhaps fought battles there. He also thought the mouth of the river had at one time been in the bay between where Asam’s mill and the Hope mill are when both the lake and river had been much deeper than they are now.

Click HERE for information on Asam's Mill & Hope mill

It is only fifty years since Thessalon point was the place where the Thessalon Band of the tribe met to receive their treaty money, and I can remember 54 years ago at Bruce Mines seeing a whole fleet of canoes, probably 15 to 20 passing during a heavy wind from the west, each canoe having a little sail, most of them using a blanket or shawl for a sail. All the canoes were birch bark and some contained a large family and a dog.

Click HERE for more information on birch bark canoes

They camped on Thessalon Point and waited for the arrival of Mr. J.C. Phipps, the Indian agent at Manitowaning, who used to come in a large sail boat, or some times on the steamboat and meet the Indian people and pay them their annuity at Thessalon Point.

The Indians came from points along the shore, on St. Jo’s Is., Campment De’Ours, Bruce Mines, Neebish, Caribou Lake, and some from the Mississauga and Cockburn Island. It was after I moved to Thessalon 46 years ago, that the Thessalon Band was moved to the present reserve in Thessalon Township and became permanent residents there.

There were large numbers of them too. The outstanding figures in the band were Joseph and Julien Bezio, Dr. Chevalier, Peter Coocrosh, Louis Kewaidin, and Joe Bomegesic who succeeded Chief Lahquakimick.

Joe was a very interesting man and had a wonderful sense of humour and a very musical laugh and was a very popular companion on a cruising or fishing trip. He had a good memory and was a good conversationalist, and we enjoyed Joe’s companionship when he would come into the store in the evenings and tell stories of by-gone days in the forest of Algoma, and adventures in trapping, hunting, fishing, etc.

One of Joe’s choice stories was as follows: He was down on his knees setting a trap, his gun leaning against a tree 10 or 12 feet away. He heard a noise behind him, and turning quickly saw a moose charging down on him so close that he had no time to reach his gun and he just went up a tree in time to escape the horns of the angry moose. Several times it went some distance away but before Joe could get down and recover his gun it would rush back at full speed.

Joe broke branches and threw them at the moose, shouted with all his might until he was hoarse. He had just made up his mind that he would have to spend the night up in the tree, when an idea came to him and he spoke very gently to the moose and said “Kimmer-aha-shumdhu” and the moose looked up startled, gave a snort and ran off through the woods so fast that Joe’s language in describing it would take up too much room for me to publish.

After the story was finished and a few moments of silence someone said, well, how did that have such an effect on the moose? “Why”, said Joe, “don’t you see, that moose had never heard an Indian talk Gaelic before!”

Another favourite story of Joe’s was an occurrence at Basswood Lake. He was fishing with a hook and line and had stepped out onto a ledge of rock jutting out over the water. A bear came along and jumped onto the ledge and walked toward him. Joe could not climb back up the ledge, and was afraid to jump into the water for fear of being drowned and he found himself in a very bad fix. Joe stopped his story

then and after waiting for him to finish it someone asked, “well, what did you do Joe?” “Oh”, he said, “I just sat there and let the bear eat me,” and Joe’s musical laugh afterward was much better than the story itself!

When the Indians were playing “Hiawatha” many years ago at Kensington Point for L.O. Armstrong, he decided to take the party to Chicago and stage some Indian plays there. Joe was one of the “wild men” selected for the trip. (See the following link for some background on the C.P.R.’s Algoma colonization agent Mr. Armstrong’s role in this program which he promoted to the status of being world renowned back at the turn of the last century)

For additional information on Mr. Armstrong's role click HERE.

The “saloon” was very much in evidence at that time and a party of young fellows who had seen the play in Chicago, met Joe one day and decided to give him an outing. Joe had been advised by his employer that it was just as well for him to know nothing of the English language, as Joe talked Indian and made signs. They took Joe to a saloon restaurant and under-took to get him intoxicated. Joe had a very jolly time and heard a great many remarks about himself, which the young fellows had no idea he understood. When Joe reached a time where he decided to call a halt to the charade, he pulled a dollar out of his pocket, laid it on the counter and said, “Well, boys I guess it’s time to have one on me.” If Joe had fired off a gun they would not have been more surprised, and the laugh was on them as Joe laughed hilariously and continued the conversation in good English, and the boys enjoyed the joke that Joe put over on them.

I once bought a pony for Joe at an auction sale and gave him time to pay for it, Joe made good use of the pony, but was very slow about paying and in fact had disposed of it a year or two before I got any return for it. One day I joked to Joe, “you must get that bill paid or I will have to sue you and size all your possessions to pay the debt.” “Oh”, responded Joe in kind, “I haven’t got anything but the old lady and some ducks and you can have them all without going to the law about it”, and Joe’s laugh was almost good enough to cancel a debt. However Joe did pay the debt alright, he came in one day with enough furs to pay me up and have a good balance in his favour.

One lovely September day, years ago, Mrs. Dobie and I were on the big island in Basswood Lake fishing with Harry Foulds and Ed Gooder, and their wives from Cincinnati. On the island was a pile of birch bark which we determined for probably intended for use in building canoes or teepees, done up in bales weighing 20 or 25 pounds. Mr. Gooder was wondering who owned it as he would like to take a bale of it home with him. A few days later I saw Joe Bomegezic and asked him if he knew who owned it and he said, “Yes it’s mine.” I said, “Are you not afraid of someone stealing it?” “Oh, no” said Joe, “white people never go there.”

One of Joe’s excuses for drinking “scoada-wa-boo” was that “too much water would kill any man” and Joe very sadly and regretfully proved it by falling out of his canoe and being drowned near the beach in front of his home.

As was the case with Joe, there were some very fine men amongst that Thessalon Band of the Ojibway Indians and I believe that their lives averaged up better than ours, and any faults they had could have had would most certainly be traced back to the intervention of the white race.

J.B. Dobie