Teacher, artist, photographer, historian, researcher— of these pursuits Roy may have loved the study of history the most.
Born in Kilsyth, Derby Township, in 1878, son of Charles Fleming and grandson of Alexander Fleming, Roy Franklin Fleming (1878-1958) had deep roots in Grey County where the Fleming family were pioneering settlers in the 1850s. He was almost destined to become an educationist— a specialist in education as he described himself— due to the Fleming family’s attention to education.
After formative years in the Normal School system in Ontario and several teaching assignments, Roy enrolled in the New York School of Art in 1905. Two years later (1907) he was appointed drawing master at the Ottawa Model School (later Ottawa Normal School). For many, this might have been sufficient, but Roy’s intense interest in the history of Ontario and especially in the Great Lakes and the indigenous people led him into many other endeavours.
His love of history began with a childhood filled with stories about the Scottish homeland and the emigration to Canada. As a young teacher in Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island in 1899, his curiosity about local history and native peoples deepened as he came to know the Assiginack family—Blackbird in English. In the years following he undertook further research to write about the oratorical skills and military genius of Sahgimah and Assiginack and bring recognition to both.
In January 1935 The Daily Sun Times published his long article—“Ottawas Defeated Invading Mohawks at Blue Mountain”—with the lengthy subtitle “Contingent of Warriors from Owen Sound, Saugeen, and Meaford Indian Villages Aided Ottawas and Objibways (sic) of Manitoulin Island Massacre Invading Iroquois —Chief Sahgimah Led Indians of This District in Bloody Battle.” (1)
Bloody indeed— Sahgimah, Chief of the Ottawa (Odawa) warriors, led a Confederacy against the Mohawk nation in the late 1600s. Anticipating that the invading Iroquois would depart the Rice Lake area to encroach on Georgian Bay, Sahgimah assembled allies from Saugeen and Georgian Bay areas to lay in wait at the foot of Blue Mountain near Nottawasaga. The Iroquois, detecting no danger when they arrived by canoe, stacked their arms on the shore. While they slept, Sahgimah and aids stole the weapons. At sunrise, the Ottawas attacked. They spared only six warriors and of the rest, they mounted the heads of the dead on poles. (c 1696)
Sahgimah spoke: “Go you Mohawk raiders and murderers who came here to kill and to defile; go back to those who sent you and tell them of the fate of your brothers, those you leave behind on the Blue Mountain… This lake and all the lands are ours, and worse than death awaits those who intrude here.” (2)
Roy first read this story at the library of the Victoria Museum in Ottawa in an article written by Francis Assiginack (1824–1863).(3) Francis was a member of the family Roy had known on Manitoulin and with whom he could consult. Joseph Assiginack, grandson of the “Great Assiginack” gave Roy samples of two types of weapons that were used in the battle.
Roy, in a flourish that was pure Roy, identified a parallel in Scottish history—as he wrote in his concluding passage: “[W]e may drive along Wasaga Beach of Georgian Bay through the town of Collingwood westward and remember we are on that old Iroquois trail from the Nottawasaga; and when we come to the beautiful wooded Blue Mountain rising gently from the shore, we may realize that we look upon old Sahgimah’s look-out and tread upon his Field of Bannockburn, upon which he finally triumphed over his enemies.” (4) (5)
Francis Assiginack’s father, Jean Baptiste Assiginack (abt 1768–1866), was an even greater orator and easily recognized by the blackbird painted on the right side of his face. A convert to Catholicism and a priest, he fought for the British in the War of 1812–1814. Most notably, he was the interpreter and spokesperson for the Ottawas in negotiating the treaties with the Canadian Government for Manitoulin Island (with unsatisfactory results).
Roy, in an article in The Chicago Tribune, recounted Assiginack’s role in the 1812 attack on Fort Dearborn near Chicago. (6) Through an oration of 12 hours, from sunrise to sunset, Assiginack persuaded more than a hundred Chippewas and Ottawas to journey the length of Lake Michigan to fight the “Longknives”. The warriors met Captain Nathan Heald and the group of evacuees he was leading from the fort they had just abandoned. The battle, remembered as the Fort Dearborn massacre of August 1812, was short. Assiginack opposed the killing but could not stop it. The British awarded Assiginack a silver medal, which Roy, through his connections with the Blackbird family, forwarded to the Tribune to pass on to the Chicago Historical Society.(7)
In Owen Sound, Chief Newash (Nawash) of the Objibwa was the leader most remembered. He had also been a war chief in the War of 1812-14. In 1954, nearly 100 years after the removal of the Nawash Indian Reserve from the west shore of Owen Sound Bay, Roy wrote “Surrender of Indian’s Village of Newash to Make Way for Owen Sound North Recalled”.(8)
“The story of this migration of Owen Sound’s first inhabitants to make room for the incoming white settlers is not fully known to the public and will bear retelling with some added details gained from traditions and records recently obtained.”
Roy recapped what he knew of the history—that the French met the Ottawa when they passed through the area in 1616, and that there may have been 100 Objibwe and Chippawa in the 1840s when Europeans settled in Sydenham. In the 1850s the British struck three treaties with the native peoples to accommodate the rush of white settlers. The “Peter Jones Treaty” treaty of 1857 forced the surrender of 10,000 acres along the west shore of Owen Sound Bay and the removal of the village to Cape Croker further up the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula. The village land was quickly surveyed as Brooke and the lots were sold to settlers mainly for speculative resale (including two or three in the Fleming family). Roy noted, without comment, that there was “some dissatisfaction” by the “Indians” that they were not allowed to buy back their land.
A few years later Roy responded to a letter to the editor of The Owen Sound Sun Times by Mrs. R.W. Menzies on recognizing historic figures, Chief Newash and the “Indian princess,” Mrs. William Sutton. (9) Roy, in his response on 28 August, wholeheartedly agreed. (10) Mrs. Sutton—whose Ojibwe name was Nah-ne-bah-we-qua—had lost 200 acres to the treaty arrangements. Getting no satisfaction in Canada, she secured an audience with Queen Victoria to whom she presented her case on the seizure of her 200 acres. Roy argued that “for the part she took in defending her home and her family from unjust legislation” there should be “an additional metal tablet” at her burial plot. This may have been his last published words – Roy died in Ottawa one month later on 28 September 1958.
Both spellings, Assiginack and Assikinack, are used, but Assiginack is the spelling adopted in naming the township on Manitoulin Island.
Articles from the Owen Sound papers and the Chicago Tribune were obtained through Newspapers.com.
- Fleming, Roy F., “Ottawas Defeated Invading Mohawks at Blue Mountains,” The Daily Sun Times, pg 7., 5 January 1935.
Reprinted in June 1950 In the Owen Sound Sun Times as “Sahgimah the Orator, Chief of Manitoulin Is. Ottawas Led in Battle – Story of Battle Against Invading Mohawks in Middle of 18th Century Scarcely Known to District People.”
- Roy must have read – “Social and Warlike Customs of the Odahwah Indians” by F. Assiginack, A Warrior of the Odahwah Indians – in The Canadian journal of industry, science, and art : [v. 3], no. 16 (July 1858)] pp 297–309. Available from https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.8_05122_16/19
- Fleming, Roy F., “Ottawas Defeated Invading Mohawks …”
- Cote, Philip, wrote a comment on “The Beaver Wars & Toronto in the 1600s” by Adam Bunch, 15 December 2015, about the Confederacy of the Three Fires (Odawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi Nations) and the battle at Blue Mountain. http://spacing.ca/toronto/2015/12/16/53805/
- Fleming, Roy F., “Indian who led Dearborn raid a great orator – gave 14-hour speech to rally force,” Chicago Tribune, part 1 page 8, 15 August 1952. This was reprinted in The Owen Sound Sun Times, “Chief Black Bird who Led Raid on Ft. Dearborn Manitoulin Isle Figure,” 8 November 1952, page 10. A shorter version was printed in the Globe and Mail, “Indian Chief Set Record for Long Speech” 26 March 1955 which included the image.
- Nice gesture, but the Society gifted Assikinack’s Peace Medal to Grand Rapids Public Museum where it is kept in storage. https://grpmcollections.org/Detail/objects/136299
- Fleming, Roy F., “Surrender of Indian’s Village of Newash to Make Way for Owen Sound North Recalled,” The Owen Sound Sun Times, p. 10, 6 March 1954
- Menzies, “Urges Invitation to Queen, Philip For Visit to City,” Letters to Editor, The Owen Sound Sun Times, p., 16, 9 August 1958
- Fleming, Roy F., “Need Easier Access to Historical Site,” Letters to Editor, The Owen Sound Sun Times, p., 18, 28 August 1958
ASSIKINACK (Assiginack), FRANCIS, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol IX (1861–1870)
ASSIGINACK (Assikinock, Assekinack), JEAN-BAPTISTE, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol IX (1861–1870) http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/assiginack_jean_baptiste_9E.html
“Alan Corbiere gives a historical talk on Francis Assiginack” by Expositor Staff, The Manitoulin Expositor, 28 Sept 2016 https://www.manitoulin.com/alan-corbiere-gives-historical-talk-francis-assiginack/
NAHNEBAHWEQUAY (Nahneebahweequa, meaning upright woman; known as Catherine Sutton, née Catherine Bunch Sonego), Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol IX (1861–1870)