Wiarton  had ambitions
to Succeed

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.

In last week's column I described how Wiarton had lobbied to have better rail and road connections not only on the peninsula but with the rest of Ontario. In order to achieve the dream of economic growth the citizens of Wiarton realized that a railroad represented only part of their needs. Their port facility had to be improved to attract more shipping traffic and new industries had to be developed or attracted to the area.

Wiarton Lobbies for
Better Docking Facilities

Representatives went to Ottawa to lobby for financial assistance. Wiarton successfully received a $35,000 federal grant in conjunction with $7,500 raised through the sale of local debentures. With these funds a new wharf, with frontage of 1,040 feet and a breadth of 18 to 25 feet, and extended into the water in order to give 18 to 25 feet of depth of water along the front was completed. Due to this increased wharfage capability, shipping traffic to Wiarton increased. This growth in maritime traffic was so significant that an Out-Post of Customs office was established

Throughout the 1880s the peninsula north of Wiarton continued to grow. The Port Dover, Georgian Bay and Lake Huron Railway, which held the rail charter to Tobermory announced that it would soon build a line to Lion's Head if the Grand Trunk would provide the rolling stock. Ever mindful of keeping Wiarton as the pre-eminent municipality on the peninsula the Echo urged that all rail connections emanate from Wiarton.

Wiarton's Sweet Enterprise
Turns Sour!

In their attempts to diversify Wiarton's economic base, a dramatic new industry was incorporated in 1896. Originally called the Owen Sound Sugar Manufacturing Company, the Wiarton Beet Sugar Manufacturing Company looked like it would have a large impact on the economy of the Wiarton area. Unfortunately, these expectations were never realized, and the results would be devastating to area investors.

It took many years to convince potential investors and farmers that the beets grown in the area were exceptionally high in sugar content. As well, the excellent transportation connections that the port of Wiarton provided encouraged many local investors to buy stock in the company. Local beet farmers were allowed to buy stock with a five percent cash payment with the remaining amount to be paid in sugar beets. Unfortunately, this arrangement left the company short of liquid capital and production was delayed while more cash was raised.

Construction on the factory site began in 1901. Here too the company made another fatal error. The Colonial Construction Company of Detroit was responsible for the erection of the buildings. Part of the agreement with Colonial was that the Detroit company would also manage the sugar beet production for the first year of operation. Due to inexperience and perhaps mismanagement the company produced less than half the anticipated production. Instead, it was suggested by many "...that fully $50,000 worth of juice and beets was carried by the sewers" into Colpoy's Bay.

In the first year the company lost an estimated $63,000. To keep the company running more capital was needed. The town of Wiarton provided a $25,000 loan and another $110,000 was raised through sale of another bond issue to private investors. Unfortunately, the second year was no more successful than the first.

By 1904 the factory had closed and with it went the dreams and savings of many Wiarton area citizens. To add to the misery, in 1905, the courts decided that the farmers who had taken shares using beets as payment must pay in cash the amount still owing for their purchases, less the amount of beets which they had actually sent to the factory.

After this fiasco, I'm sure that the word "beet" truly was a four-letter word in Wiarton for a long time!

Wiarton Promotes Tourism

By the 1920s many of Wiarton's industries which had flourished during the boom years of the 1880s and 1890s were reduced in size of operations, moving into other production areas, or closed. However, the 1920s marked the beginning of the popularity of automobile travel. This meant the beginning of tourism and Wiarton with its scenic charm and natural attractions became a tourist attraction. Today, thousands of tourists pass through Wiarton each year and although Wiarton never did surpass Owen Sound as a port facility it has enjoyed tremendous success as a foremost tourist centre!  

A version of this article first appeared in in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1994.

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!

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