Wiarton had Ambitions
to Succeed

Wiarton  had ambitions to succeed. But while success brought them a railroad and other ventures, some did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

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 Wiarton region's economy. 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 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 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.

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Wiarton had Ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures, one attempt did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.

Wiarton News: 1897 Town Council Report. By 1897 Wiarton was an established community and was experiencing some of the growing pains consistent with a community which was constantly expanding its physical borders. A November 1897 Wiarton council meeting reveals some the problems which that community was facing.

Wiarton Beet Industry: 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.

Wiarton Ontario's First Newspaper: The Echo viewed itself not only as a messenger of the news of the day, but also as a medium to promote the development of the interests of the Bruce Peninsula, and more particularly those of Wiarton.