Frozen Rivers & Lakes
can be Hazardous 

Frozen Rivers & Lakes can be Hazardous: Icy waterways offer many benefits such as ice fishing, but beware, weak, or thin ice is not easily detected and can spell disaster.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

There's ice in the harbour!
Let's go fishing! 

This has long been a popular refrain in the Grey and Bruce region. The ice which covers our waterways has always been viewed with mixed feelings by area inhabitants. 

To the early settlers, frozen water signalled a long period of isolation from the rest of the colony. Because the roads that did connect this region to the southern parts of the colony were, at best, poor to impassable for most of the year, water transportation provided the most efficient means of moving goods and people in to and out of the area. 

The frozen rivers, lakes, and streams provided settlers with a source of refrigeration to protect food from spoiling for most of the year. Blocks of ice were harvested and stored for use during the warm weather season. This ice was such a valuable commodity that every opportunity was taken to store as much as possible. 

In fact, when the Prince Alfred became locked in the ice at Tobermory, her captain, Andrew Port, saw an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation. He hired local citizens to cut blocks of ice which were stored for the time when he could ship them to larger centres for sale. 

Although ice acted as a barrier to most travel, it did provide a benefit to area It provided a more direct route across lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. During the rest of the year, these waterways were often a barrier to direct transportation routes. Bridges were not a common sight on most of the waterways. Therefore, travellers were forced to take circuitous routes to find man-made or natural fording locations. However, after the ice had frozen over, travellers could cross directly over these watery barriers. However, danger was always lurking behind these winter routes. 

In the winter area lumbermen took advantage of the frozen rivers and lakes to access difficult-to-reach stands of trees and to carry men, equipment, and logs out of the area. Unfortunately, many teams of horses, and their drivers, fell through the ice and lost their lives.

Throughout the history of the area, there are many tales of lost lives due to travel on frozen rivers and lakes. One such tragedy occurred in 1864.

On the morning of March 7, 1864, George Wain left his Amabel Township home to go to Southampton. He was the first tax collector in that Bruce County township. He was carrying the latest tax payments which he had collected. This cargo was held in a metal container which was tucked into a rubber tube which hung around his neck. 

In order to reach Southampton, he had to cross the Saugeen River. The ice covering the river appeared to be strong enough to support himself and his team. Perhaps if he had been travelling on foot, the ice would have supported his weight, but the combined weight of man, horses and sled was too much for the icy bridge. It gave way and, immediately, the icy water of the Saugeen engulfed them. 

Mr. Wain scrambled back onto the ice, the rubber tube with metal canister containing the tax money was still slung around his neck. Perhaps this should have been the end of the ordeal. But George Wain was a strong, determined and loyal man. His loyalty to his horses spurred him to try and rescue them from certain death. He tried to free them from their harness. Unfortunately, once again, the ice under him gave way and, this time, the waters of the Saugeen refused to give up their icy grip on Amabel's tax collector. 

Although a search was conducted, Mr. Wain could not be found. In June of the same year, his body was discovered with his precious cargo of tax money still draped around his neck. The 29-year-old pioneer left a young widow and a five-month-old son. 

That youngster, George Wain Jr., would one day follow in his father's footsteps. In 1915, he became Amabel’s clerk and assessment officer. For the next 33 years, he oversaw the township's financial well-being from his Allenford home.

The death of George Wain on the ice of the Saugeen River is but one of the many tragedies which have occurred on the icy waterways over the decades in Grey and Bruce counties. Today, frozen rivers, lakes, and streams still claim lives. It has often been said that we learn form our history. But one has wonder about the truth of that statement when it comes to the lure of an ice-covered waterway.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 8, 1997 

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Bruce County History

Bruce County history is rich with stories about the development of communities along the Lake Huron shoreline and shaped by memorable events and the people.

The "Battleship By-Election" was the result of a debate that embroiled all of Canada but was settled in a rural region of southwestern Ontario prior to the First World War.

Bruce Road 3: A Colonization Road linked prospective settlers to undeveloped Crown Lands and a new life.

British Peerage a Source for Township Names. It is interesting to check the origin of the names bestowed on pioneer places such as towns, townships and counties.

Chesley Ontario Welcomes the Krug Brothers who were looking for a place to make their future and their fortune. They were not only successful, but they made significant contributions to the social fabric of their adopted home town.

Billy Crawford: Pioneering Spirit Personified. If you take the time to consider the people you have met during your life you too may know or have known, someone with pioneering spirit just like Billy Crawford.

Frozen Rivers & Lakes can be Hazardous: Icy waterways offer many benefits such as ice fishing, but beware weak, or thin ice is not easily detected and can spell disaster.

Kincardine Ontario's First Settlers using a bit of savvy and some luck created a future for themselves and their families on the Lake Huron shoreline.

The Krug Impact on Chesley Ontario was immense not only in terms of the community's social fabric but with regards to community's economic growth.

Wilfrid Laurier: Despite the town's best efforts to make Wilfrid Laurier's visit a memorable occasion, it would be clouds of dust that would remind the Prime Minister of  the Lake Huron community.

Mildmay Ontario overcame competition from other communities to claim its spot in Carrick Township on an important settlement route to the Lake Huron shoreline.

Pioneer Diaries provide Interesting Information about many topics, but sometimes information about the weather can be quite surprising!

The pioneer settlement in Arran Township was completed in 1851. The survey crew had been impressed, by the cheap cost and the potential of the land, that two members of the team, George Gould and Richard Berford, took up plots of land. 

Port Elgin Ontario Started with a Storm. A ship forced to seek refuge from Lake Huron's stormy wrath signalled to one man the idea of starting a new community.

Southampton's early history was a time of identity crisis, and with a connection to an early Arctic mystery story. 

Southampton Ontario Suffered a Major Fire in 1886: The havoc was created by a furious high wind storm that spread the flames over much of the town.

Tara Ontario's Mill Started the Village Economy and with the entrepreneurial and inventive genius of one man the community prospered!

Walkerton Ontario: The Beginning of this Bruce County town is the result of the drive and determination of one man, Joseph Walker.