Fort Frances Times and Rainy Lake Herald
June 28, 1972

Robert John Nicholson Pither


Robert John Nicholson Pither, whose residency on the point of land where Rainy Lake discharges into Rainy River, gave rise to its name as Pither's Point, was born on October 29, 1824 in Montreal. His parents were Robert and Margaret (Nicholson) Pither, of English birth. He was educated in Montreal and Quebec and in 1846 entered the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, remaining with the company for 23 years.
During his Hudson's Bay Co. career, Mr. Pither was listed on the company records as being in charge of the Fort Frances post from June 1st to May 31st for two different periods: 1853 to 1856 as postmaster and 1858 to 1863 as clerk.
In 1870, with the outbreak of the first Riel Rebellion, Mr. Pither assisted Simon J. Dawson and Wemyss Simpson, M.P. for Algoma, in securing rights of passage for Col. Garnet Wolseley's troops from Shebandowan to the NorthWest Angle of Lake of the Woods. In 1871 Mr. Simpson, then the General Indian Agent, Mr. Pither and Mr. Dawson concluded Treaty No. 2 on August 3 in Fort Frances, securing the surrender of the tract of land from the watershed of Lake Superior to the Northwest Angle. This treaty was superceded by Indian Treaty No. 3, in October 3, 1873 which Mr. Pither signed as a witness.
On March 16, 1871, Mr. Pither was appointed Indian Agent at Fort Frances at a salary of $1000 per annum. On January 14, 1888 he was transferred to the Lake of the Woods district by Order in Council and made his headquarters in Rat Portage, later Kenora, where he retired in August 1891.
He died in Kenora on May 31, 1918 at the age of 93 years. He was predeceased by his first wife Sarah who died on August 31, 1878, and he is buried in Fort Frances cemetery.
"His ability to speak the native tongue, his knowledge of the character of the aboriginies and his long record of fairness in dealing with them proved important factors in the successful negotiations with them" his biographer later was to write in connection with his negotiations with the Indians. "His success paved the way for treaties with other bands of Indians and he was highly complimented by the Dominion Government for his work."
To this was added the following comment:
"Mr. Pither never lost the distinguishing features of the cultured gentleman. To men of the calibre of Mr. Pither is due to great credit for laying the foundation of settlement in the west and the high respect for law and order."


Fort Frances Museum


Man of Mystery, Robert Pither, Was prominent

Pither's Point Park, often abreviated by patrons to "The Point", bears the name of a man pivitol in the shaping of Fort Frances.
Yet most area residents sunning themselves on the lazy, long beaches in July know only that Robert John Nicholson Pither served as the Indian Agent sometime in the 19th century who signed Treaty Three. He isn't studied in any school, but maybe he should be.
This mysterious map maker was born October 29, 1824, in Montreal of English parents. Robert and Margaret Pither saw to it their son received a gentlemans education. He entered the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company at the age of 22 and remained with the "fur trading factory" until 1971. During his Hudson's Bay career, the very literate Mr. Pither ran the Fort Frances version of a post office.
At the outbreak of the first Riel Rebellion in 1870, he helped to negotiate rights of passage for Col. Garnet Woseley's troops to "quell the uprising". The confidence on the Ojibway "in his word" was credited by newsmen of the day with "saving" the young Dominion. Fellow "middle men" were Simon J. Dawson of Dawson Trail fame and Algoma M.P. Wemyss Simpson.
In 1871, Mr. Simpson, by then the general Indian Agent, with help of Mr. Pither and Mr. Dawson, concluded Treaty 2 on August 3 in Fort Frances. This treaty secured the surrender of the tract of land from the watershed of Lake Superior to the Northwest Angle, but was superceded by Treaty No. 3, more commonly called the "Northwest Angle Treaty", on Oct. 3, 1873, when Mr. Pither again, signed this time as a witness. A lively depiction of the 1873 proceding written by a really roving reporter for "The Manitoban" exudes the tenor of the talks.
The article "Dateline Northwest Angle, Third Day" reads as follows:
"The Lt. Governor and party, and the other commissioners appointed to treat with the Indians, arrived here on Thursday, having enjoyed delightful weather during the trip from Fort Garry which the Aboriginies insist on calling Win-ni-peg. The Ojibways now assembled number about 800 all told; among them are many fine physically developed men, who would be good looking were it not for the extravegance with which they besmear their faces with pigment.
"The council broke up at this point, and it was doubtful whether an agreement would come to or not. The Rainy River Indians were careless about the treaty, because they can earn plenty of money cutting wood for boats. The treaty was finally closed Friday afternoon, and signed on Saturday, after which a large quantity of provisions, ammunition and other goods were distributed.
"The chiefs covered every predictable contigency in arguing their position and, while these tiresome tactics were answered by persuasive patience or thunder from the commissioners, Mawedeponais, a chief from the Fort Frances region, won many concessions. He would welcome in addition to certain muddled bargaining tables in Europe."
THE TALKS
Following is one act from the Northern Ontario drama, as reported by the Manitobian.
"Chief: If you should get into trouble with the nations, I do not wish to walk out and expose my young men to aid you in any wars.
Governor: The English never call the Indians out of their country to fight their battles.
"Another Chief: I see your roads here passing through our country, and some of you boats-- useful articles you use for yourself. Soon we shall see things that run swiftly, that go by fire-carriages- we as you that us Indians may not have to pay their passage on these things, but go free.
"governor: I think the best thing I can do is become an Indian. I can't promise you that.
"Chief: All of us wish to have the reserves marked out. There is not one tribe who has no laid it out.
"Commisioner: As soon as it is convenient to the government to send surveyors to lay out the reserves they will do so, and try to suit every particular band in this respect.
"Chief: We so not want anybody to mark out our reserves, we have already marked them out.
"Commissioner: There will be another undertaking between the government and the Indians among themselves to select the land; they will have enough good farming land, be sure of that.
Chief of Fort Frances: What I say is this, where I have chosen for my reserve I see signs that the Hudson's Bay Company has surveyed. I do not hate them, I only wish they should take their reserves on one side. Where their shop stands now is my property.
"Governor: I do not know about that matter; it will be enquired into."
FIRST TREATY MONEY
A copy of the treaty was then prepared and duly signed.
On Saturday, Mr. Pither, local superintendant of the Indian Affairs at Fort Frances, began to pay the treaty money-- an employment that kept him busy far into the night. As soon as the money was distributed, the shops of the Hudson's Bay Co. and other traders were visited "Hudson's Bay alone made $4,000 in thirty hours."
Other references to the man our charming park is named after are tantilizingly brief
He was present at the historical turning points of his time, however, and a sense the urgency and signifigance his role can be gleamed from gossipy tone with the intimidating title "The Treaty of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, including the Negotiations on which they were based and other information Relating Thereto."
The Author was an irrepeachable source -- the Hon. Alexander Morris, the Governor who spoke for "The great White Mother, Queen Victoria".
Comments Mr. Morris in his 1880 memories: "In the year of 1971, the Privy council issued joint commission to Messar Simpson, Dawson and Pither authorizing them to treat the Ojibway Indians for the surrender to the Crown of the lands they inhabited -- covering the gateway area from the watershed of Lake Superior to the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods, and from the American border to the height of land from which the streams flow into Hudson's Bay.
"This treaty was one of the great importance since it not only tranquilized the large Indian population affected by it, but eventually shaped the terms of all the treaties, four to seven, which have subsequently been signed with the Indians of Northwest Territories, who speedily become apprised of the concessions granted to the Ojibway Nation."
UNDERSTANDING
The governor praised "Mr. Pither's understanding of the Ojibway which arises naturally from his eloquence in their tongue."
Robert Pither held the post of Indian agent in Fort Frances at a salary of $1,000 a year, a tidy sum in those pre-inflammatory days. The correspondence between the agent and the "Manitoba Superintendency", on display at the Fort Frances Museum, provides a glimpse into the nature of his duties.
Mr. Pither had apparently passed along a request by the Rainy River Bands that the next payment of Treaty money take place at the Long Sault. The Winnipeg inspector's reply in the pinncale of paternalism. The letter, dated March 15, 1886, states; " . . .I have to inform you that the practice of collecting Indians in the later number is most demorilizing, affording them an opportunity of perpetuating heathenistic ceremonies, and of indulging in gambling, etc., and for these reasons, the request ... cannot be approved of." In whatever light Mr. Pither's relations with the Indians may appear to modern sendibilities, they appear to have been a model of enlightment for the late Victorian age.
TRANSFERRED
In January of 1888, he was transferred to the Lake of the Woods district and was stationed in Rat Portage present day Kenora, where he retired in August 1891. He died in Kenora on May 31, 1918, at the venerable age of 93. He was predeceased by his wife Sarah on August 31, 1878, who is buried in the Fort Frances Cemetary.
"Pither's Point is owned by four Indian Band Couchiching, Stanjikoming, Red Gut and Northwest Bay, it is leased to the town until the year 2009 for the sum of $3000 annum.
Because the park's future will be "open for discussion" and the fate of a proposed open water" in front of the Rendex-Vouz (The Rendez-Vous Restaruant) awaits the resolution of a land claim by the same bands, Robert John Nicholson Pither is still a great man".

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