Barrow Bay, Ontario a picturesque Georgian Bay community, owes its origin to the once-thriving Bruce Peninsula lumbering industry. Today it is a quiet summer get-away!
A Sunday drive in the Grey and Bruce region can take you to many interesting and picturesque destinations. Along the way one can see many unique land forms. One of our favourite trips is to travel north of Wiarton and turn east and follow the north shore of Colpoy’s Bay until we reach the road (Bruce County Road #9) heading to Lion’s Head.
After passing Hope Bay you will reach a small community, which although its nickname is “Little Scotland”, its official name is taken from that of an English baron. Barrow Bay is named after Sir John Barrow, who not only served as England’s Secretary of the Admiralty but was also the founder of the Royal Geographical Society.
The site of the community is also geographically unique. Barrow Bay is situated between Cape Dundas and Gun Point which protrude into Georgian Bay. This is not unique in geographical terms. But, what is unusual is that another body of water is located almost immediately adjacent to Georgian Bay. Little Lake was created by a narrow rocky spit of land separating it from Georgian Bay.
Judge’s Creek flows from the hinterland of the peninsula into Little Lake and on into Georgian Bay. This creek is named after Patrick Judge, one of the first settlers in the area. Judge acquired the lands surrounding the lake and the creek in the 1870s. In 1874 he built one of the first commercial enterprises in Eastnor Township, a sawmill. Later the Barrow Bay Lumber Company erected another sawmill on the rocky spit which separates Little Lake from Georgian Bay. The company used Little Lake as a storehouse for the logs which had been floated down Judge’s Creek, until they could be used or shipped elsewhere. Forest products were shipped to many Great Lakes destinations such as Detroit and Chicago.
The Barrow Bay Lumber Company contributed substantially to the development of the community. In 1877 a grist mill was erected above the falls on the creek. In the 1930s Clark Sensabaugh, the owner of the grist mill built a dam below the falls and installed an electoral system which provided the power for the nearby community of Lion’s Head. A hotel and a general store were also opened. To provide housing for its employees, the company built houses along Bruce County Road #9 through Barrow Bay. They were painted red and were known in the area as the “Red Houses”. A boarding house was also erected.
Around the turn of the century, a butter and cheese factory was built in the community. Unfortunately, its life span was short and very few records of its activities have survived.
Unfortunately, for the logging company, and the community, there was a limited number of trees that could be logged in the area. By the early twentieth century the lumbering era was but a memory. Another malady which inflicted itself upon so many early communities also took its toll on Barrow Bay. Fire destroyed many of the houses and the sawmill. The hotel met a similar fate in the early 1900s.
Early in the 1900s, the community was still dependent upon the vessels which plied the coastal waters of Georgian Bay serving the outposts of the peninsula. Road travel on the Bruce Peninsula was difficult at best. Consequently, the citizens of Barrow Bay depended upon the arrival and departure of sailing vessels as their connection to the rest of the world.
Today, Barrow Bay is a quiet hamlet on the Bruce Peninsula. Its picturesque beauty has attracted tourists to come and build cottages on the spit that once housed a humming saw mill. Little Lake, once the storehouse for timber cut in the hinterlands of the Peninsula, now plays host to swimmers and pleasure craft.
The information used in this article came from many sources. However, Benchmarks: A History of Eastnor Township and Lion’s Head, edited by Glenn Hepburn, was of primary importance.
A version of this article first appeared in my Owen Sound Sun Times Local History column.
For more information about the history of the Bruce Peninsula check out my book Journey the Bruce Peninsula Past & Present it makes a great travel companion as you travel this unique part of Canada's Great Lakes region.
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