Hepworth Ontario:
The Early History  

Hepworth Ontario's early history is tied to two essential commodities, sawmilling and transportation. How Hepworth got its name is also an interesting story.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

Amabel Township is a special place in our family. My great-great-grandfather David Forsyth was the first settler there, and his daughter, Victoria, was the first non-native child born on the Bruce Peninsula. My grandmother was born in the original farmhouse that her grandfather built. 

On Oct. 13, 1854, a treaty was signed with the Saugeen Indigenous peoples, purchasing a vast tract of land for future settlement. On August 26, 1855, the public land surveyor, Charles Rankin of Owen Sound, was instructed by the Crown to survey the townships of Amabel and Keppel. One year later, on November 20, an auction sale was held in Owen Sound for the purpose of the dispersal of this land. A Brief History of the Communities of Amabel Township written in 1961 in celebration of the centennial of that Bruce County township reveals that "over 100,000 lots were sold, at an average price of 18s 6p or about $4.45 per acre." 

Unfortunately, most of the land had fallen into the hands of speculators and only a few settlers actually carne to establish homesteads. By 1861, when the township was incorporated the first assessment rolls contained only 63 names with an assessment of $21,600. 

Amabel's first post office was built in Elsinore. A short distance from Elsinore on "B" Line, the first school was built in 1863 on my great-great-grandfather's farm. The first teacher, Mr. Burr, could always count on the Forsyth children being at school no matter what the weather. Imagine the indignation my great-grandfather and his sisters and brothers must have felt about having school so close. It must have been almost impossible for them to cut classes! 

In 1862, William Spencer bought approximately 200 acres about where Highway #6 leaves Highway #70 and heads towards Wiarton. In 1865, Spencer was elected to the municipal government of the district. This municipality included Arran and Amabel townships and all the territory on the peninsula to Tobermory. 

Using his influence on the council, Spencer was able to lead the way in establishing a village, which later became Hepworth. Spencer then built one of area’s first inns at what is now the intersection highways #6 and #70. In 1867, William Plows opened another inn and the community continued to grow, Plows and Spencer decided to call it "Epworth" after the town in England where they had both grown up. In 1870, a post office with Spencer as the postmaster, was established. 

Amabel Township was originally heavily forested, and the trees had to be cleared to enable the settlers to farm Therefore, it is not surprising that sawmilling, and other lumbering activities, constituted a major commercial activity. In 1862 a sawmill was erected at Sauble Falls. In 1866, Pickard and Bowan built a sawmill near Hepworth. Sawmilling remained a commercial mainstay of that community for decades.

In the 1880s, when a railroad line was built to Wiarton, care was taken to ensure rail service for Hepworth to enable the efficient shipment of logs to the port of Wiarton.

Transportation links have always been an important aspect to Hepworth's economy. This remains true today, as Hepworth is a link for travellers heading to Sauble Beach to west, and to north, to Wiarton, Tobermory and the rest of the Bruce Peninsula.

A version of "Hepworth Ontario: The Early History," originally appeared in my Local History column in the November 11, 1995 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.  

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