Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ghosts from the Day - Part 2

In 1876, the Muskoka Milling and Lumber CO. built a village, with housing and a school for the millhand's children. There was a church, and the Rossin House Hotel for visitors (Brown, p. 91). All would have been well, except that while lumber barons were floating their logs down river, or across the bay, sawdust poisoned fish spawning grounds. They were taken to court, the case dismissed, and eventually, despite this early warning, portent of things to come, the mill shut down in 1895 due to over-cutting.

Environmental Issues

Land rights

Settlements, created by early settlers, who travelled from Paris and London, to the deep wilderness, learned to farm. Read Lost in the Backwoods  or  Book Review: Raisin Wine for more information. This is a common story for South, Central and Northern Ontario.  However, imagine the impact on the tribes who had hunted and gathered for many years in this area. (Photo from Pancake Bay Trading post!)


A royal commission in 1898 found that Georgian Bay fishermen were using undersized nets, and exceeding the number of permitted nets. They estimated that more than 2,000 nest were strung in the Bay. This combined with effluent pollution, created these ghost towns.

Excess hunting and fishing contributed to the ravaging of the land. Native Peoples knew not to take more than their share, but greedy companies (HBC & NWC) sent in map makers, and created outposts which exploited the land. Settlers, fishermen and lumber companies cleared the land, decimating the ecosystem.

Logging Operations
Communally owned land was being begged, bartered, treatied and stolen away. In the meantime, the logging business in this part of the Great Lakes ramped up big time. Unfortunately, it was the mills that did damage to precious fish stock. Fishing harbours were profoundly affected by the mills.This photo is from 2009, of Mamainse Harbour in the fog. A former busy fishing port.

There was much action from Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsula, across Georgian Bay and the North Channel. Our visit to Lake Superior Park showed us some of these quiet, empty ports. Saw mills cut logs for schooners to haul out to settlers in ports. In the winter, as with Muskoka, many worked cutting and hauling logs. This was the time when the bogs were frozen and logs were piled on riverbanks awaiting spring thaw. Log jams, and accidents took their toll on families.

These massive logging operations in Canadian territory did a booming business, if you'll excuse the pun, with the USA. There were issues with this sort of cross border shipping, and one lumberman moved his operation (in the dead of night) from the US to Canada since even in the 1800s big business was seeking to protect its own. Many began to take advantage of the great pines. Eventually, Canadians built mills.

At the peak of the White Pine harvest they were taking 400,000 trees a year. Trees that were 20' around the base. See History of Nepean for more information. Sir John A. McDonald wrote to the Premier of Ontario:
The sight of the immense masses of timber passing my window every morning constantly suggests to my mind the absolute necessity there is for looking into the future of this great trade. We are recklessly destroying the timber of Canada and there is scarcely
a possibility of replacing it.”

But the mills...and a spot called Muskoka Mills, takes its place in history and is an example of how lives were changed by development and settlement.

Milling in Georgian Bay peaked by the decade of 1910, rivalling that of Ottawa, but limited by the government dictate of 1898 legislation requiring that all timber cut on Crown Land by milled in Canada. Shaped by the West Wind quotes James Angus,  writing about A.G.P. Dodge, the owner of the Georgian Bay Lumber Company:
By then, once the mills were no longer viable, lands were sold to cottagers, who longed for the wildness and wilderness of Northern Ontario. Some mills have become heritage buildings, but many, according to *Vanished Villages, have simply gone to decay.

This is the harbour in Blind River, formerly a busy port, with fishing and logging, but now for seasonal visitors and leisure boat activities.


Ghosts from the Day -Part 1

Ontario Visual Heritage Project

*The book is called, Vanished Villages: Discover whistlestops, old mills, lost hamlets, relics and ruins of Ontario, by Ron Brown (1996)
~Some photos from Canada.ca archives, see History of Nepean.
~See also: Lament for a First Nation: the Williams treaties of Southern Ontario
 By Peggy J. Blair (Amazon.ca, $80)
~Artist Gallery: A.Y. Jackson Autumn, Muskosh River
~Shaped by the West Wind: Nature And History in Georgian Bay, by Claire Elizabeth Campbell - 2005 - History - 294 pages
The ghost of log-driver Sandy Gray haunts the falls on the Muskosh River, ...
Tugs towed log booms from rivers mouths on the Bay to American mills 


This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Jenn: Your area definitely has a rich heritage. I love to see the history of an area.

Jenn Jilks said...

Thanks fishing guy! I never used to understand or appreciate history. I had to drop it in high school as I couldn't memorize the dates. This is so much more interesting in independent research and learning about things that interest me!

Gaelyn said...

Jenn this is an excellent piece on the history of your area. I too hated history when in school, but now am fascinated by it. When young there was no relevance to life.

It is sad that most did not see what was happening as the land was raped.