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Growing awareness of the importance of treaty commissioner Daniel G. MacMartin’s diary at Queen’s University Archives has led to a new chapter in the James Bay Treaty story. The diary records the thoughts and experiences of the provincial government’s representative during the 1905 treaty expedition, including significant passages documenting the oral promises that the commissioners made to Indigenous signatories.

“Henry Reuben says he was sitting there and saw them [the treaty commission party] writing the important things. There was someone there that did the writing. So this is what is lost. Maybe one day it will show up. I believe in the Bible. It says in the Bible that the things that were told in darkness will also be told in light. That’s how I understand it. … It will be told yet one day.”

-James (Jeemis) Wesley, Omushkegowuk Elder
Treaty Promises Conference, Kashechewan, November 17, 1987


Like many archival records, the MacMartin diary has had a complicated journey. Following MacMartin’s death in 1923, the diary came into the possession of his son, who gave it to poet Wallace H. Robb in the 1950s. Robb donated the diary to Queen’s in 1968. For many years, the diary was mislabelled (possibly by the donor), which clouded the record’s importance. Not until the 1990s did researchers begin to realize its full significance to the interpretation of Treaty No. 9.


Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

[Daniel MacMartin, detail from photo of Commissioners Stewart, MacMartin and treaty party, ca. 1905]
Duncan Campbell Scott fonds
C 275-2-0-1 (S 7680)
Archives of Ontario, I0010638


Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Photo of pages from the MacMartin diary
Image courtesy of Queen’s University Archives

The MacMartin diary contains information, written in pencil, about different aspects of the 1905 trip, including the route, the weather, and opinions on the mineral potential of the territory. Yet it is his passages about the treaty ceremonies that may be of greatest importance: documentary evidence that the commissioners promised Indigenous signatories that their communities could hunt and fish as they always had. Of note, the diary is silent on any explanation of the so-called “Taken Up Clause.”

Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Diary of Daniel G. MacMartin [page 30], 1905
Daniel George W. MacMartin Collection
CA ON00239 F00149
Queen’s University Archives

“When it was explained to them that they could hunt and fish as of old and they were not restricted as to territory, the Reserve merely being a home for them where in which no white man could interfere or trespass upon, that the land was theirs forever, they gladly accepted the situation, and said they would settle the reserve question later on ”

-Marten Falls, July 25, 1905
(emphasis added)




Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Diary of Daniel G. MacMartin [page 44-45], 1905
Daniel George W. MacMartin Collection
CA ON00239 F00149
Queen’s University Archives





“…that a Reservation would be set aside for them, giving each family of 5 a square mile, that they were not obliged to live on it until they felt inclined, that they could follow their custom of hunting where they pleased; the area of land simply being set aside as their own on which no white man could trespass or enter upon, without their permission …”

-Moose Factory, August 9, 1905
(emphasis added)



Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Diary of Daniel G. MacMartin [page 53-54], 1905
Daniel George W. MacMartin Collection
CA ON00239 F00149
Queen’s University Archives



“This morning three representative Indians of the band assembled in Council and had terms of Treaty explained to them …. a reserve or tract of land would be set aside and surveyed in the near future for their sole use and benefit that they were not obliged to live on same, were also allowed as of yore to hunt and fish where they pleased …”

-New Post, August 21, 1905
(emphasis added)

Why did MacMartin write these passages in his diary? Since he records more details of the ceremonies as the 1905 trip progressed, some scholars believe MacMartin had grown skeptical of how the commissioners were explaining the treaty to Indigenous signatories compared to the words on the written document.

Documents written by the others in the treaty delegation also record similar passages.  

Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Diary of Samuel Stewart, 1905
Library and Archives Canada, RG 10, volume 11399, pages 126-127, microfilm reel T-6924, MIKAN no. 2099559

“As usual, the point on which the Indians desired full information was as to the effect the treaty would have on their hunting and fishing rights. On being assured that these would not be taken from them, they expressed much pleasure and their willingness to sign the treaty, which was accordingly done, and the signatures duly witnessed.”

-New Post, August 21, 1905
(emphasis added)

Letter from David Ciglen
Click to see a larger image

Duncan Campbell Scott, “The Last of the Indian Treaties”, Scribner’s Magazine (November 1906), Page 578
Miscellaneous collection
F 775
Archives of Ontario, F-775_MU2128_006
[Article also available online]



“… they were assured that they were not expected to give up their hunting-grounds, that they might hunt and fish throughout all the country just as they had done in the past, but they were to be good subjects of the King, their great father, whose messengers we were.”

-Duncan Campbell Scott describing treaty signing at Fort Hope
(emphasis added)

“Ontario … has purchased almost all its lands with a price, and still conceded the Indians all the hunting and trading privileges which they have ever possessed.”

-Pelham Edgar, 1906 treaty commission expedition secretary, November 1906



Since the 1990s, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in R v Marshall, R v Morris, and other cases that oral promises made during negotiation are part of the treaty. Indigenous signatories of the James Bay Treaty have begun to include the MacMartin diary as foundational evidence in court proceedings related to treaty issues. As research continues, more information about the ceremonies, promises and other aspects of the treaty are bound to be uncovered.

How could the MacMartin diary change our understanding of the James Bay Treaty?

MacMartin diary


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