Sauble Beach now in the hands of Saugeen First Nation after landmark court decision








It’s a victory for Saugeen First Nation following a decision today, April 4th, by Justice Susan Vella of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice who ruled that “… the entirety of Sauble beach belongs – and has always belonged, to Saugeen First Nation.

The decision was handed down after more than 30 years of litigation for the land claim that dates back almost 170 years.

In a Facebook media release by Saugeen First Nation, Chief Conrad Ritchie said, “This is a huge victory for our community and our people.  We have been fighting to have the beach recognized as part of our reserve for generations.  The beach is central to our way of life and, out of all our vast traditional territory, this is the land our ancestors chose to reserve for their future generations.  And finally that has been confirmed by the Court.  The judge was clear that the entire beach is always has been part of our reserve.”

The Chief went on to say that “This win truly belongs to our whole First Nation and without our people’s unwavering commitment to this fight for nearly 170 years and our people’s fundamental belief that this was always their land, this victory would not have been possible.  This has been a long fight, over many decades, but the hard work has paid off and we have achieved a huge victory.”

The Court also declared that the Federal Government breached fiduciary duties and Saugeen First Nation treat rights by failing to protect and preserve all reserve lands following the signing of Treaty 72 in 1854.  The Federal Government subsequently recognized its mistake in the 1970s and supported Saugeen First Nation in its lawsuit claim to Sauble Beach in 1995.

Both the Government of Ontario and the Town of South Bruce peninsula opposed the lawsuit.

“We appreciate that the Court acknowledged our proper reserve boundaries were not being respect and that the problem had to be fixed,” added Chief Ritchie. “Justice Vella acknowledged that the status quo is unacceptable and that to achieve reconciliation means the status quo had to change.  That is a powerful message. While the Court recognized the importance of Sauble Beach to our people,  we recognize it is important to others as well, including as a tourist destination.  We look forward to working with all our neighbours to keep it a special place as Saugeen First Nation resumes our traditional stewardship over our entire beach.”

With the legal ruling, the reserve’s northern boundary extends past the Welcome to Sauble Beach sign to about 6th Street North, adding more than 2.25 kilometres (1.4 miles) of sand beach to the First Nation boundary.

In 2014, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula turned down a mediated settlement in an attempt to maintain ownership of the popular beach north of the Welcome Sign.  The settlement would have ensured public access while turning the ownership of the beach over to Saugeen First Nation.

In a statement, South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Garry Michi said, “This is a complex issue that requires time to formalize a position. Council understands how important this issue is to the Town and thanks all residents in advance, for their patience.”

Future court proceedings may determine potential damages owed to Saugeen First Nation for breaching the 1854 Treaty.