What’s under the Civic Centre and Casino?

BRANTFORD – Brantford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Brantford and District Civic Centre last week with all of the usual pomp and pageantry a moment like this deserves; although, one aspect of the celebration was not mentioned by dignitaries and local politicians alike.

The civic centre was built on land that was once the main factory complex of Massy Harris Farm Implement company. It was a huge sprawling complex of buildings that occupied space. But it’s what happened to that land before Massey Harris that remains a bone of contention between Six Nations and Brantford.

Some Six Nations residents believe that the land known as the Nathan Gage Tract is in fact Six Nations land. When John Brant and Lewis Burwell mapped out what was to become the town plot of Brantford, it was to be 600 acres; however, by the time it was mapped, it had somehow grown to 807 acres. Canada says the deal included what was known as the flats, which would eventually be registered under Nathan Gage.

Six Nations contested that assumption almost immediately. They say that if John Brant increased the acreage allotted for the town plot, it was without their consent. Subsequent petitions were filed through various Indian Agents throughout several years but were rejected. The government’s position was that John Brant made the deal on behalf of Six Nations, and if there is an issue, it is within the Six Nations community.

This particular claim was discussed during the negotiations between Canada Ontario Six Nations Elected Council and the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council for a peaceful settlement of the Caledonia land reclamation of 2006.

Both Canada and Six Nations agree at that time that if it was illegally added to the town plot or not, that either way, Six Nations did not receive compensation for that 20 acre of land.

The government pointed to February 19, 1823 when Six Nations leased approximately 20 acres to Marshall Lewis for the symbolic, one peppercorn per year. This was for the expressed purpose of constructing a gristmill and that Lewis could continue to use the land as long as the mill was operating. Six Nations agrees that the lands were leased and with these conditions. The mill operated until around 1849.

Six Nations recommends that more research is required to sort out a side deal that was made somewhere along the line with an Esther Hill but agrees that the lands in question were intended for lease only.

There were other transactions made on the land, which eventually put it in the hands of Nathan Gage, but Six Nations says the Chiefs, as required, did not approve these transactions.

It is clear that the Chiefs agreed to allow the Crown to sell this Town Plot land off in small plots, but the proceed were to go to the Six Nations Trust Fund. However, they say the Nathan Gage–Brant Farm land were not part of that surrender for sale. In fact, the Hepburn Commission Report rejected Gage’s claim to this land. Two of the three assigned trustees overseeing the establishment of the village of Brantford testified they were not consulted, as required, before Gage received two Crown Patents for the land.

Although the government lists several other later land transfers and patents relative to the Gage lands, Six Nations’ position is that none of that matters if the original patent is invalid.

In conclusion, Canada states that it is their view that surrender No. 30 was voluntary and agreed to; and that Six Nations concerns at the time related to how the lots would be disposed of—who would get to purchase them and for how much.

But Six Nations stands on its position that the ‘flats’ were not a part of any purported surrender they were aware of, and that a required description of the lands agreed to would have clarified the discrepancy over the 600 acres versus the 807 acres actually surveyed. It is also worth reminding all parties of the initial intention of the town plot was to clear the Six Nations lands of squatters, which never happened.

Canada agrees that Gage acquired land under lease and as such should not have been issued a patent without compensation to Six Nations. Although Six Nations concurs, the Haudenosaunee still maintain the land was never part of any surrender and therefor still belongs to Six Nations. That claim is still active.

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