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.

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 the inhabitants of this area. 

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, lurking behind these winter bridges there was always danger. 

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 home in Amabel Township 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 from area residents. 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 financial well-being of that township 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 

History Pages

12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.

1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.

Land Auction in Amabel Township provided the opportunity for settlers to purchase land and begin a new life in Bruce County in the 1850s.

Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler arrived on the western shoreline long before any other settler reached the area.

An Unlikely Hero From Grey County (Part 1) found his way from the farming community of Flesherton to missionary work in the Ottawa Valley, and beyond.

An Unlikely Hero Vs. The KKK (Part 2) Our hero from Grey County took his missionary zeal south of the border and ultimately crossed paths with the infamous KKK!

Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity as it provided settlers with an opportunity not only to build a barn, but also build a community.

"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.

Baseball History in Southwestern Ontario is rich, and surprisingly longer than one might expect, actually setting historical precedents!

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.

Census Takers in 1891 Canada faced difficult obstacles to gather the necessary information but the results were revealing then, and today.

Ceylon Ontario: How it Got its Name: It is always interesting how a community got its name, but I doubt any place received its name from a more unique source!

Chatsworth Ontario: First Settlers took advantage of fulfilling the needs of pioneer travellers and built a thriving community in the Upper Canadian wilderness.

Chesley Ontario Welcomes the Krug Brothers who were not only successful, but made significant contributions to the social fabric of their adopted home town.

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.

Clearing Trees a Daunting Task for Settlers as they worked to fulfill their obligations for their land grant.

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.

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

Dornoch: or is it Smithville? Originally it was Smithville, then it became Dornoch. But, surprise it is still, in reality Smithville!

First Pioneer in Durham: Archibald Hunter established his family, and a hotel, in what would become the centre of the town of Durham.

Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.

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.

Grey County Bylaws to the 1890s reveal a lot about the financing of local government, especially education in the early days of the region.

John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.

The Glorious Twelfth: A Tradition from Across the Pond which served to both unite and divide pioneer communities.

A Heroic Woman From Grey County who made great changes as a doctor in China in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!

Kilsyth's Train Engine was one for the history books. It brought an evening of joy followed by disappointing news soon after.

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

The Knight's of Meaford have long history in that Grey County community. Their business forged by early settlers employed many locals and supported the economy.

Leith: Tom Thomson's Birthplace is part of the rich heritage of this community located on the east shore of the bay north of Owen Sound.

The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family.

Agnes Macphail was a political trailblazer in a part of Ontario that one could hardly expect such radical action for the era in a rural region.

Markdale Ontario: The Beginning: originally known as Glenelg East, but the coming of the railway and the name of owner of the land for the station led to a change of identity.

Maple Syrup: A Pioneer Necessity and a trading commodity for indigenous peoples is now a Sunday morning breakfast treat with pancakes!

Meaford Ontario, first called Peggy's Landing located on the shores of Georgian Bay has a rich history.

Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.

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

Paris Ontario: Who Knew this community had such a unique origin and how the local citizens used that history to protect the environment of their region?

Pioneer Doctor: Dr. James Smith, a local boy who became a doctor and served his community for his entire life was a testament to Grey County community spirit.

Pioneer Healthcare in Grey and Bruce counties was not administered by doctors, nurses, or pharmacists, no it was the responsibility of the women of the community.

Pioneer ingenuity created many labour-saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.

Pioneer Christmas: A Family Tradition as told to me by may grandparents who experienced Christmas as children in the 1880s and 1890s.

Pioneer Settlement in Arran Township was encouraged through the offer of inexpensive land for sale, but the offer of free land was another enticement offered elsewhere.

Pioneer Settlement Plans for Grey County began almost two decades before the rest of Grey County was available for settlement.

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

Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.

Plowing Match in Grey County in 1933 the first International Plowing Match held in Grey and Bruce counties and it's success led to more such events in Grey.

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.

Settling Osprey Township: Parts of Osprey were considered too rugged to settle, but today they are prime real estate because of the great view!

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.

Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.

Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.

Tara Ontario mill was founded in 1851 by John and James Tobey. In later years, under different ownership, the Tara mill would be the site of important innovations. 

"Thank You to a Veteran" - should be something everyone of us should think, and especially say, every day!

The Impact of Snow is not what is Used to be! As snow removal equipment has improved the impact of snow on our lives has reduced significantly from previous eras.

Unique Characters: Nathaniel Herriman lived in Grey County and owned an inn to provide food and and accommodation to early travellers. Each day he performed a unique practice.

Unique Maps: Quilts Guided the Underground Railroad to enable runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom from the shackles that enslaved them.

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

From Lochnaw to Manitoulin - A Review this book details through a soldier's diary a trip from Penetanguishene to Manitoulin Island in 1839.

History Pages introduces the readers to interesting people, places, and events that I have researched and written about in my writing career that spans more than three decades.

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