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They travelled every winter to live with the Arendarhonon people of the Huron (Wendat) confederacy at the southern end of Georgian Bay, in the area now called "Huronia".Brulé returned to the Arendarhonon the following year.Aboriginal communities continue to live on their territories and practise their cultural traditions.The first European to visit this area was likely Étienne Brûlé, who at age less than 20, in 1610 was sent to live as an interpreter trainee with the Onontchataronon, an Algonquian people of the Ottawa River.Samuel de Champlain, the first European to explore and map the area in 1615–1616, called it "La Mer douce" (the calm sea), also a reference to the bay's freshwater.

In 1639 he oversaw the building of the mission fort of Sainte-Marie, Ontario's first European settlement, at what is now the town of Midland.

Evidence of later Paleo-Indian settlements have been found on Manitoulin Island and near Killarney.

At the time of European contact, the Ojibwe and Ottawa First Nations, both of whom call themselves Anishinaabe (plural: Anishinaabeg), lived along the northern, eastern and western shores of Georgian Bay.

In 1814, during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, one of the battles was fought in southern Georgian Bay.

On August 17, at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River near Wasaga Beach, the British schooner HMS Nancy was sunk by three American vessels.

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