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IRONSIDE, GEORGE, public servant; b. probably c. 1800 in the area of Amherstburg, Upper Canada, son of George Ironside* and a woman who was possibly of Ojibwa descent; d. 14 July 1863 at Manitowaning, Manitoulin Island, Canada West.

George Ironside Sr joined the Indian Department in the 1790s as clerk and storekeeper to agent Matthew Elliott* at Amherstburg, eventually rising to the post of Indian superintendent. Beginning as a clerk under his father at Amherstburg about 1826, George Ironside Jr followed him as superintendent there for a 15-year period. He took part in the events that followed the rebellion in Upper Canada in 1837; on 4 Nov. 1838 he led some 40 or 50 Indians to help repulse the Patriot force that had landed at Windsor. In 1845 he succeeded Captain Thomas Gummersall Anderson* as northern superintendent at Manitowaning. Ironside was involved in the negotiations conducted by William Benjamin Robinson* which resulted in the signing in September 1850 of the Robinson treaties for the surrender of lands along Georgian Bay and north of lakes Huron and Superior; this event marked what was probably the high point of his tenure of office.

As the decade of the 1850s passed, it became obvious that the original hopes for Manitoulin Island would not be met. Sir Francis Bond Head*’s notion of using the island as a reserve for all the bands in Upper Canada had been quickly abandoned, as few even from central and north central Upper Canada went to the island. Moreover, the lesser aim of using the government supported Indian community of Manitowaning, where the Church of England was active in educational and pastoral work, as a model for others to emulate had to be given up when the Indians gradually abandoned it to return to their traditional ways of hunting and fishing. With the failure of the Manitoulin Island experiment, Indian fears of white encroachment increased rapidly in the late 1850s and resulted in growing discontent. The signing in 1862 of the Manitoulin Treaty for the surrender of the island, which Ironside helped William McDougall* and William Spragge to negotiate by persuading the Indians around Manitowaning to support the government’s intentions, brought the situation to a head [see Jean-Baptiste Assiginack].

Anti-government feeling was particularly potent among the people in the eastern end of the island around Wikwemikong. The Indians of this flourishing, predominantly Roman Catholic settlement had felt betrayed by the 1862 treaty, which they saw as part of a design on the part of the government “to deprive them of their Island.” The chiefs at Wikwemikong had, with only two exceptions (who, it was claimed by some, were not representative or had been appointed illegally by Ironside), refused to sign the treaty. In December 1862, a few months after it was signed, a number of white families were expelled from Wikwemikong, along with some Indian families who disagreed with the majority there over the treaty; Chief Francis Tehkummeh, a signatory of the treaty, was forced to seek refuge with Ironside at Manitowaning. In July 1863 William Gibbard, fisheries commissioner for the Great Lakes, came to the island to arrest the chiefs responsible for the incidents. Encouraged by two Roman Catholic missionaries at Wikwemikong, Auguste Kohler and Jean-Pierre Choné, the Indians mounted a physical force and resisted; Gibbard withdrew with his force and a captive Indian who was charged for his involvement in the expulsion of a white family from an island off Manitoulin. The confrontation demonstrated the intensity of Indian feeling after the 1862 treaty. The deteriorating situation affected Ironside’s health, and in the midst of the excitement surrounding the incident he died suddenly on 14 July 1863, probably of a heart attack.

Conscientious, humane, and knowledgeable, Ironside in many ways represented the best type of Indian Department employee, who often carried out the daily tasks of Indian administration without any recognition being given his efforts. The Indian Department was robbed of one of its most experienced officers at a time when such men were most needed. The tradition of service in the Indian Department was to persist in the family for at least three generations, George Jr’s son, McGregor Ironside, succeeding him briefly as northern superintendent.

Douglas Leighton

PAC, RG 10, 498–527, 568, 572–73, 586, 722. Enemikeese [Conrad Vandusen], The Indian chief: an account of the labours, losses, sufferings, and oppression of Ke-zig-ko-e-ne-ne (David Sawyer), a chief of the Ojibbeway Indians in Canada West (London, 1867). Evening Times (Hamilton, [Ont.]), August 1863. Globe, 27, 30 July, 3, 5–8, 12, 21, 22, 24 Aug. 1863. Irish Canadian (Toronto), 5, 12, 26 Aug., 2, 16 Sept., 21 Oct. 1863. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 1, 4, 7, 10, 12 Aug. 1863. Quebec Daily News, Commercial and Shipping List, 3–5 Aug. 1863. Quebec Gazette, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1863. Sarnia Observer (Sarnia, [Ont.]), 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1863. R. A. Douglas, “‘The battle of Windsor,’” OH, LXI (1969), 137–52.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Douglas Leighton, “IRONSIDE, GEORGE (d. 1863),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ironside_george_1863_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ironside_george_1863_9E.html
Author of Article: Douglas Leighton
Title of Article: IRONSIDE, GEORGE (d. 1863)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1976
Year of revision: 1976
Access Date: December 22, 2014