Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, St. Joseph Island was inhabited by the Ojibway. Around 1798, the British government negotiated Treaty No. 11 with the Ojibway which resulted in St. Joseph Island becoming British property.
European immigration to the Island occurred in the late 1770’s with the arrival of the fur traders. The Northwest Company established a trading centre on the southern tip of the Island in 1783. By the late 1830’s, permanent settlement had begun with Major William Rains obtaining a charter to colonize the Island with one hundred families.
The first township, St. Joseph, was formed in 1876; Hilton Township was formed in 1883 and Jocelyn Township in 1886. The Village of Hilton Beach, formerly known as Marksville, separated from the Township of Hilton in 1923.
Early industries included the fur trade, fisheries, lumbering and agriculture. Wharf facilities were built to service boats travelling through the North Channel.
Until early in the 20th century, residents relied on small boats to reach the Island. Ferry service was introduced in 1919 and continued till 1972 when a bridge was constructed connecting the Island to the mainland.