Island History

Visitors quickly recognize the Island is steeped in history, where the past is still visible and embraced. Its oral histories, genealogy and academic research per capita surpasses all other Ontario townships but then, its very size and distinctiveness attracts this inquiry.

The name Isle Tonti still lingers from the French period, Henri Tonti was LaSalle’s lieutenant; both searched for China. Settlement of the Bay of Quinte region and the Island dates to the Loyalist period, following that unfortunate American Rebellion 1776-83 [Editor’s Note: This is obviously a very late Loyalist speaking]. Sir John Johnson, the most influential Loyalist leader, was granted the entire Island in 1788. The legacy of his feudal ownership and administration dominated the community for nearly a century.

The early community was composed of numerous wealthy Loyalists, some late loyalists, and a proportion of French Canadian fishermen. These settlers of the Island frontier had been attracted by its accessibility, water was virtually the only transportation in the Loyalist period. The shoreline of the Island was settled by the close of the 1820s. An Irish wave of immigration to the Island followed, with the population peaking at 2,000 in 1842. The Island was a convenient stepping stone; almost urban in its accessibility and its Estate policy encouraged temporary residency. Most moved on to the frontiers of Ontario and the American Midwest. The Island became insular, independent and conservative when the monopoly of marine transportation was surpassed by mainland roads and railroads.

Visitors today appreciate that the Island community still reflects an earlier time. Many descendants of those 19th century Islanders are retracing their ancestor’s steps and rediscovering their Island heritage.

For more information, please visit Amherst Island’s Neilson Store Museum & Cultural Centre.