Publisher’s Column: A Nosegay of Historical Tidbits

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By John Francis

In the process of researching articles for our Shop Local magazine, I ran across the following bits of history that didn’t fit in the articles. But they were too tantalizing to ignore. My late uncle Roy Spracklin of Paisley was a history buff. I had the good fortune to inherit his Bruce County collection. Included in that collection was a copy of the 1906 History of the County of Bruce by Norman Robertson. It offers some fascinating insights into pioneer times.

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One of the great philosophical questions of the 21st century: y’know that harbour south of Dorcas Bay — is it Johnson, Johnson’s, Johnston, Johnston’s, Johnstone or Johnstone’s?

Well the 1906 history book says Johnston’s Harbour but offers no insight into how it came by that name.

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The 1870 census said there were approximately 21 people in Lindsay Township. But only nine years later, there was a school —  a log structure, built approximately 1879 at Lot 4, Con 1 WBR. As near as I can figure, that location is SE of modern day Clarke’s Corners, but the location was referred to then simply as ‘McDonald’s”. Ira Lake appears on the 1905 Lindsay Township map as Duncan Lake; Ague Lake appears as Rose Lake.

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In the early days, cattle farmers had to drive their cattle to Owen Sound (later Wiarton) to sell them. That’s drive as in “cattle drive”, not drive as in load into a trailer and hook it up to a truck. There was a lot of buzz about the proposed extension of the railroad up the peninsula to Tobermory and what a boon that would be to farmers. 

Norman Robertson, the historian who compiled and wrote the history book, mentioned the proposal several times. Robertson was also the County Treasurer. I wonder if he knew it would never be built.

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In the 1890s, a Mr E Clendenning operated a silver mine at Lots 9 and 10, Con 4 EBR. He sank a shaft over 300 feet deep but the ore recovered did not show sufficient concentrations of silver to warrant the effort.

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The road to Tobermory was a work in progress for close to a hundred years.

The 1881 Atlas of Bruce County shows the road ending at Thomas Cockwell’s property at Crane River but mentions a trail across a “desolate, burnt, rocky district” with “not a single settler” until it reaches Tobermory, where about fifteen families reside. 

The 1906 history says “In 1872, Cockwell and Grant erected a large sawmill and shingle-mill on the Crane River at what is now called “McVicar’s”.” (Peter McVicar purchased the mill in 1880.)

The 1906 history says “The Post Office at Tobermory was established in 1881, the mail being carried on foot from Stokes Bay. Mr Benjamin Butchart was the first mail carrier.”

From Stokes Bay to Tobermory. On foot. All year. Other sources have mentioned that mail delivery was erratic in those days. I’m not surprised.

Conventional wisdom has it that the first automobile came to Tobermory in 1916, but a Chevrolet map of Ontario from 1923 still shows no roads north of Lion’s Head. An Ontario Department of Highways (DOH) map from 1926 shows an “unimproved” gravel road running from Stokes Bay to Tobermory. South of Stokes Bay, it shows an “improved” gravel road. A century later, one wonders what was the difference?

By 1934, things had improved quite a bit. The DOH map for that year shows no pavement north of Wiarton but shows an “improved” unpaved road all the way to Tobermory, via Stokes Bay. In fact, by that point, the East Road and the West Road also qualified as “improved”.

But the current route of Highway 6 does not appear until approximately 1960.

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Stokes Bay used to be a big deal. In 1900 it had three hotels and several boarding houses. It had a sheltered harbour with extensive wharf space to trans-ship cargo. It had “roads” running north, south and east, to distribute supplies brought in by ship and to bring lumber, fish and produce to load onto ships.

The road to the northern peninsula ran through Stokes Bay for a long time.

I suspect there are a lot of good stories there. I will try to research them in coming months.

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After prohibition ended in Ontario in 1927, Tobermory and Lion’s Head stayed “dry”. But Eastnor didn’t. Eastnor was “wet”. Taking advantage of that, an entrepreneur bought the former “Handicraft House” at the corner of Lindsay Road 5 and Ira Lake Road and turned it into Colonel Clarke’s Tavern.

Before the tavern opened, there had been three bootleggers in the neighbourhood of that corner. I wonder how the tavern affected their business.

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Until the late 1950s, Highway 6 came across Lindsay Road 5 from Monument Corner to (what became) Clarke’s Corner, then followed Ira Lake Road north from there. Driving Ira Lake Road now offers an insight into what passed for a “highway” as recently as the 1950s. The narrow bridge over Spring Creek was part of that highway, built by the Province of Ontario in 1925.