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McGREGOR, WILLIAM BRUCE, Ojibwa chief; b. 1844 near Sydenham (Owen Sound), Upper Canada, son of Alexander MacGregor and Mary Wahbahdick; m. c. 1865 Philomène Nadjiwon (Onahjiwan) at the Cape Croker Reserve, Upper Canada, and they adopted a number of children; d. 22 June 1907 at Cape Croker.

William B. McGregor belonged to the Nawash band of the Saugeen Ojibwa, which at the time of his birth lived on a large reserve north of Sydenham, on the Saugeen (Bruce) peninsula in Upper Canada. His Scottish father was a respected trader and fisherman from Goderich, and his mother was the daughter of a hereditary head chief of the Saugeen Ojibwa. Growing up with his mother’s people, McGregor acquired a native culture, but he also obtained a rudimentary English education from two Methodist ministers, David Sawyer [Kezhegowinninne*] and Conrad Vandusen*. When he was 14, the members of the band were forced from their frame-houses and cleared farmlands in order to make room for the expansion of Owen Sound. They were moved to Cape Croker, where the land was unproductive and where they underwent an extremely difficult period of resettlement.

A tall, handsome young man, McGregor replaced Peter Jones Kegedonce as chief of the band in 1867, and he would hold the post for almost 40 years. His parentage, education, and appearance no doubt contributed to his success, and his marriage must have been helpful as well. His wife was one of a Potawatomi band which had fled the wars against native people in Michigan and had been adopted into the Nawash in large numbers. Under the supervision of the Indian agent, McGregor had authority over the whole Cape Croker Reserve and he carried out his responsibilities with tolerance and good sense. His popularity waned only once, when he signed the surrender by the Saugeen Ojibwa in 1885 of the numerous islands off the west coast of the Bruce peninsula. He lost office but was re-elected two years later. Much of his time as chief was spent in attempting to keep the Indian agent and department honest in their management of band funds and in preventing them from laying claim to unrelinquished lands. He also worked to promote harmony. He succeeded in bringing the reserve and the white settlements together in sports activities, and the Cape Croker musical band often entertained the residents of Wiarton on festive occasions. At home, by means of patronage appointments and band welfare distributions, he achieved a balance between the Roman Catholic and Methodist factions. He strove to protect his people’s legal rights when, for example, whites stole the band’s timber, poached its fish, or cheated its members out of their wages, and he encouraged farming, fishing, lumbering, education, and sobriety.

McGregor was active on the Grand Council, a predominantly Ojibwa body which met every two years to discuss problems confronting the native people of Ontario. In 1879, for instance, he was one of 85 delegates who met at the Wawanosh (Sarnia) Reserve to discuss the Indian Act of 1876. Many delegates perceived the act, which enfranchised educated people, as a potential means of forcing acculturated Indians off reserves on the grounds that they were no longer band members. McGregor favoured allowing the educated to decide for themselves whether or not to accept enfranchisement. He advocated compulsory school attendance on reserves, arguing that it would enable status Indians to compete in mainstream society. Kegedonce, a fellow delegate, added a demand for better education in the residential schools as well as in those on the reserves. Some traditionalists at the council were opposed, however, to the abandonment of native culture that schools encouraged. Since the government failed to recognize or support the Grand Council, the organization was little more than a forum to air grievances and a means to preserve the continuity of Ojibwa leadership that had existed from time immemorial.

In 1885 the government of Sir John A. Macdonald* extended the federal franchise to all men on the reserves of eastern Canada, subject to a fairly low property qualification. McGregor successfully rallied the Nawash band to support the Conservative candidate for Bruce North in the 1887 election but no further record of such important political activity on his part exists. In 1898 the Liberal government rescinded the franchise.

Because of sickness, McGregor resigned his chieftainship on 20 June 1907, and he died two days later. He had led his band at a troubled time, but even in the restrictive atmosphere of government paternalism he had preserved its integrity, and he left it the richest of the Ojibwa in Canada. There was “universal mourning” at his death, the Wiarton Echo reported. His funeral symbolized the blending of cultures for which he had worked: the Sons of Scotland assisted in giving burial to their honorary member in the Ojibwa cemetery.

Peter S. Schmalz

[A photograph of William Bruce McGregor at council, in Euro-Canadian dress, and one of his wife, in native attire, appears in R. M. Vanderburgh, I am Nokomis, too: the biography of Verna Patronella Johnston (Don Mills [Toronto], 1977), 118.

Information concerning McGregor and the Cape Croker Reserve (Ont.) was drawn from oral tradition on the reserve as well as from the council minute-books for 1880–1910 and other band records in the band’s archives; these records are also available on microfilm at AO, F 1418 (access restricted).  p.s.s.]

NA, RG 10, 416, 541, 549. Wiarton Echo (Wiarton, Ont.), October 1879; 7 May 1884; 1885–88, esp. 2 March, 23 Oct. 1885; 8 Feb. 1889; 20, 27 June 1907. Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec, Minutes (Hagersville, Ont.), 1884. P. S. Schmalz, The history of the Saugeen Indians ([Toronto], 1977); The Ojibwa of southern Ontario (Toronto, 1991).

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Cite This Article

Peter S. Schmalz, “McGREGOR, WILLIAM BRUCE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 13, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcgregor_william_bruce_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcgregor_william_bruce_13E.html
Author of Article:   Peter S. Schmalz
Title of Article:   McGREGOR, WILLIAM BRUCE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   April 13, 2024