Peninsula Past: November 2004 – Orrie Vail’s ‘Net Shed’ Moved to Parks Canada Visitor Centre

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Orrie Vail's Net Shed has been partially demolished and partially saved to become part of the New Visitor Centre for Bruce/Fathom Five (November 2004).
This article was originally published in November 2004.
Photo and article submitted by Parks Canada.

In the mid 1970s, a long old shingle-covered building was loaded onto a trailer in what is now the Che-Cheemaun day parking lot to be taken to the dump to be disposed of. Ontario Northland had acquired it along with the Vail family home from the estate after Orrie Vail had passed away.

On route to the dump, at the request of Stan McClellan, then Superintendent of Fathom Five Provincial Park, on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the crew were asked, and agreed, to instead drop the shed off in the yard of the “radar building” on Warner Bay Road.  This old net shed had been a well-known land mark in Tobermory, starting out as a home as early as 1903 and after acquisition by the Vail’s, it was used as a net shed and later, Orrie’s private museum and workshop.  Most of the community felt the building and much of its contents had some historic value and should be saved.

The Vail family had been fishermen in Tobermory for many years and Orrie had become somewhat famous in the 1950’s for his find in a cove on Russel Island, what an expert from Toronto and others believed was Lasalle’s long lost Griffin, the first European-style sailing vessel on the upper Great Lakes.  Orrie had worked with a diver to recover much of the wreckage.  He had the keel and many of the timbers from this wreckage in the shed, as well as a wide assortment of historic objects and items including shipwreck artifacts, pioneer implements, fishing gear and much more. Visitors were welcome to come in and look at his collection … and perhaps buy a homemade knife or fishing lure, items which he spent a lot of time making.

Following transfer of the two provincial parks to Parks Canada, to form the basis of the new national parks on the upper Bruce Peninsula in 1987, the Ministry of Natural Resources also transferred the Vail collection and this net shed/workshop structure to Parks Canada.

Unfortunately, the years were not kind to the old building and the roof had holes in it, the floor warped and most of the shingles had weathered into toothpicks. But because it was a sample of the early connection Tobermory had with the lake, community advisors to the Parks Canada Visitor Centre project wanted to include it somehow in the new Centre. Restoration was out of the question as the building was too far gone. However, parts of it were intact so the idea of having parts of it provide the setting for presenting the Vale historic object  collection, was put in the plan for the new Parks Canada Visitor Centre. 

A small room in the facility will be devoted to this collection and storage of the rest of the park collection. A gable end wall plus a portion of one wall and ceiling will be used in the exhibit gallery to introduce the collection.  It will appropriately be named the ‘Net Shed’.  The two major pieces will add an authentic flavour to the gallery.

In early November, the net shed was dismantled and the major sections loaded on a trailer and transported to the Visitor Centre site.  In order to get it inside the new building a crane was used to lift in the old sections before the roof and walls of the visitor centre are erected. Other materials and parts of the building have also been saved and will be used in finishing the special ‘Net Shed’ gallery.

Park staff expect there will be interest in this part of the exhibit from the many people who remember Orrie Vail and his private museum, or his first rate knives and fishing lures. It is quite fitting that a part of the old building and the Vail collection will be back together and available for people to see once again in Tobermory.  If any readers have in their collections one of Orrie’s knives or stamped fishing lures (we currently have two) that they might be willing to donate to the display, either Don Wilkes or Ivan Smith at Parks Canada would be pleased to hear from you.