Access to transportation routes has been key to the creation and development of towns and villages on the Bruce Peninsula. The peninsula did not open for settlement until a treaty was signed in 1854 with the Saugeen Ojibwa nation. But it was not until land auctions and crown timber lease auctions were held in the late 1850s and early 1860s that settlement in the region began in earnest.
During the mid-1800s the harvesting of forest products dominated the economy of the Canadian colony. The demand for colonial timber products had begun in the early 1800s as Britain needed large amounts of wood to build and maintain their armada of naval vessels. As the forests of the Atlantic coast and the St. Lawrence River valley were depleted of quality timber the lumbermen moved north to the forests along the Ottawa River. Gradually, they headed west through the “Nipissing Gap.” This route was known to early fur traders as an efficient path to the interior of the continent. Once forests of the Mattawa River, Lake Nipissing, and French River region could no longer sustain the demands of the British market, lumbermen cast covetous eyes on the virgin forests of the unsettled Bruce Peninsula.
The Bruce Peninsula was the last region of significant size in southern Ontario to be settled. Consequently, when the first settlers and the lumbering companies arrived on the peninsula their only means of travel were either on foot through dense forests, or via vessels bringing them to either the Lake Huron or Georgian Bay shorelines.
The first Bruce Peninsula towns and villages were created to meet the needs of the lumbering industry. Sawmills, located on rivers or streams to generate a source of power, were the first need of the forest products industry, followed closely by the need for a good harbour location. As some of these locations grew, service industries were established at these locations, to assist not only the forest products industry, but also local settlers. Some communities grew larger than others for reasons such as a better harbour facility, and numbers of services offered to the hinterland regions.
For a more detailed description of the impact of the forest products industry on the growth and development of the Bruce Peninsula follow this link to upload a free copy of my MA Thesis from the University of Western Ontario, “The Impact of the Forest Products and Tourism Industries on the Development of the Bruce Peninsula, 1850-2019,”
Bruce Peninsula towns and villages such as Tobermory at the northern tip of the peninsula has prospered despite the demise of the timber trade in the region. Tourism has become a driving force for the economies of many towns and villages that originated as lumbering communities. While tourism has become an important part of the economy of the peninsula, others, such as Wiarton and Owen Sound, have become regional hubs of influence. Along the southern limits of the peninsula towns and villages such as Allenford, Elsinore, Hepworth, and Parkhead have become commuter communities for the two larger centres in the region, Owen Sound and Wiarton.