Forest Products
on the Bruce Peninsula 

Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.

Maritime commerce has indeed been a major focus of this column in the past months. The trans-shipment of people and produce into and out of the region was an important factor in the economy of this region. However, it was the forest products industry which in fact ignited the population growth and economic expansion in the Georgian Bay region.

Long before settlements began to develop on the Bruce Peninsula the forest products industry was driving the economy of the Canadian colony. Throughout Quebec and the Ottawa River valley the forests rang with cries of "Timber!" and the rivers were highways for timber booms heading down to saw mills and on to Montreal for shipment to markets across the Atlantic. The ships that carried the square timber and saw logs needed ballast for their return trip to Canada and to fill that need thousands of Irish, Scot, and English immigrants found a cheap means to bring their families to the new colony to begin a (hopefully) better life.

As the timber was cleared from the Ottawa Valley and these new settlers flocked to the area to establish farming communities the quest for forest products brought the lumber operators across the Mattawa and French river regions into the Georgian Bay area. With a huge demand for forest products in the now developing American Midwest, trans-Atlantic markets, although still important, efficient transportation to ports such Chicago and Duluth became necessary. Therefore, many logs were processed at sawmills which sprang up along the shores of Georgian Bay. To facilitate these new markets a maritime transportation industry developed. An examination of early Owen Sound and Wiarton newspapers illustrates a closer connection between these two ports and Chicago, Detroit, Duluth and other American ports than with Canadian centres.

When the Grand Trunk Railway came to Wiarton the number of timber booms floated across Georgian Bay increased. At one-point peninsula area sawmills were producing 300,000 cedar railway ties a year to accommodate railway expansion across North America. One Wiarton area pioneer recalled that at one point the Grand Trunk was taking twenty-five carloads of ties and other wood products out of Wiarton on a daily basis.

Local Sawmills: A Forest Products Industry Necessity

Two of the earliest sawmills were built at Colpoy's Bay in 1860 and at the mouth of the Sauble River in 1862. The 1870s witnessed more sawmills being established and the peak was reached with Grand Trunk arriving in Wiarton. For nearly four decades, ending with World War One, Colpoy's Bay featured eight saw mills and there were at least thirty other mills located at other points on the Bruce Peninsula. 

In 1891 two Wiarton lumbermen, Seaman and Newman, won the contract to supply squared hemlock timber to the construction site of the Canadian Canals at Sault Ste. Marie. For the next six years the company rafted six million feet of squared timber to the Sault. In order to efficiently transport such a large quantity of timber Bruce Peninsula ingenuity was summoned and the result was a distinctive log boom which changed the manner of boom transport from that point onward.  Sherwood Fox in his excellent book, The Bruce Beckons described this distinctive log boom.

"A raft consisted of a crib made of the timbers to be transported; it was 125 feet long and 25 to 35 feet wide according to the length of the timber in the consignment. The basic framework of the crib was a rectangular boom floating on the water. Into the logs of each long side was bored a row of perpendicular holes, the space between each pair of holes being equal to the thickness of a single timber. Through each hole was thrust upward from the underside of the boom-log a heavy iron rod about thirteen feet long. This was really a bolt with its head under water and its thread aloft. On each pair of opposite bolts was laid a timber whose ends had been bored to receive them. In this manner layer after layer of timbers was piled up to a height of thirteen feet. Nuts were then screwed tight on the projecting threads of the bolts. This bound all the timbers together into a firm single unit."

This was not the only innovation created by the ingenuity of the Bruce Peninsula forest products industry, other inventions such as the lumber hooker also were developed here. In fact, the lumber industry on Georgian Bay spawned a whole new form of maritime ships and shipping methods.

I have often written about the special ties that long time Grey-Bruce families have to maritime travel, this is also true of the forest products industry. My own grandfather, John White, worked in sawmills, mostly on the Bruce Peninsula, for close to fifty years, losing an eye and a thumb, in this often-dangerous profession.  

Discover More About the Bruce Peninsula

Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.

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!

Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.

Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula. 

Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone. 

Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.

Aboriginal History: Bruce Peninsula has a long indigenous heritage not just for the native nation living there today, but for other native groups as well.

Aboriginal History: the 1836 Treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.

Aboriginal land history continues the story of aboriginal land issues on the Bruce Peninsula. How it happened is a point for discussion by everyone.

Settler Impact on Bruce Peninsula Natives was not only from the imposition of treaties, but also from British military plans.

"Half Mile-Strip" Treaty made it possible for a relatively smooth overland connection to be built between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.

Allenford United Church history details not only some important information about that community's church, but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.

Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!

Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a Lumbering Settlement and today it is a wonderful vacation retreat.

Elsinore Ontario is the southern-most point on the Bruce Peninsula, located about half-way between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.

Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.

Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.

Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!

A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing, at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.

Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.

Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!

Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.

Lighthouses  Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.

Sauble Beach Ontario has seen it all. A fishing outport; a sawmilling centre; and an internationally acclaimed tourist resort area!

Sauble Beach  This popular beach is known as Canada's Daytona Beach.

Lion's Head  Sailors often sought refuge from the stormy Georgian Bay waters in its well-protected harbour.

Park Head  Grand Trunk Railway in Park Head Ontario was an important railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula when in 1894 the first train chugged through Park Head.

Stokes Bay  Welcomed fishermen as their first non-native visitors. Today, if you are a fisherman, you will also probably want to try your luck landing a walleye, lake trout or any of the other game fish that live in the coastal waters of Lake Huron.

Tobermory Ontario has a rich history and, is the northern- most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula.

Tobermory Ontario Tourism is focused on shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy. 

Tobermory pioneers experienced a life in a community that was anything but the tourism hive of activity that it is today.

A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!

Wiarton Ontario  This historic community was a great place to live in the early settlement days and still is a busy tourist stop on your way up the Bruce Peninsula.

Wiarton  had ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.

Wiarton Ontario’s First Newspaper  A catalyst in supporting road construction and bringing the railway to Wiarton in hopes of making the town the economic leader of the area. But disappointment looms...

Wiarton news: 1890s, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper revealed problems typical of today's communities 

Wiarton Beet Industry was to be a great boost to the town's economy. Instead, it left most people with a bad taste in their mouths.

Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton  A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.

Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory  Relaxing and historic journey.

Bruce Peninsula  The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!

  1. History Articles
  2. Bruce Peninsula
  3. Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula