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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Towns & Villages: The first Bruce Peninsula towns and villages had a source of water power to run sawmills and a good harbour to ship forestry products to market.
The 12th of July and Dominion Day Celebrations on the Bruce Peninsula were an outlet from the everyday drudgery of life for pioneers on the Bruce Peninsula.
Allenford United Church history details some important information about that community's church but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.
A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing (now Allenford): at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.
Land Auction in Amabel Township provided the opportunity for settlers to purchase land and begin a new life in Bruce County. On July 18, 1856, a notice signed by R.T. Pennefather, superintendent general the Indian Department, announced the public auction sale of 144,000 acres of land in the new townships of Amabel and Keppel.
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 Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a decision made that suits everyone.
Bruce Peninsula Newspapers Rivalry between the Wiarton Echo and Owen Sound newspapers promoting their communities was often vitriolic and led to acrimony between the two communities.
Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a lumbering settlement but may also have been one of the earliest points on the Bruce Peninsula to be visited by French explorers.
Elsinore Ontario: In the mid-1850s the first settlers arrived in the area just west of Allenford. However, it was not until 1865 when the North Gravel Road, or Highway 21 as it known today, was built that the village of Elsinore was established.
Hepworth Ontario: The early history of Hepworth is tied to two essential commodities, sawmilling and transportation. How Hepworth got its name is also an interesting story.
Lion's Head remained an important lumbering centre into the twentieth century. Today it is a centre of tourism, and the lion's head still guards the southern entrance to the bay. However, the same elements that created the image have continued to erode the rocky outcropping.
Park Head was an important Grand Trunk Railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula.
Sauble Beach: This popular beach in the 1950s was called Canada's Daytona Beach.
Sauble Beach Ontario is one of the most popular summer resorts in the province of Ontario. It welcomed its first summer visitors in the late 1800s and as continued to grow in popularity since that time.
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 Fathom Five National Marine Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, and, shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy.
Tobermory Pioneers were first the fishermen who came to reap the rewards of the fishing-rich waters at the top of the peninsula.
Tupper Murray was one of the first names given to the community at the top of the Bruce Peninsula
Wiarton Ontario was known for its excellent natural harbour. It seemed to be a natural choice for the location of a port community. Colpoys Bay offered a natural harbour refuge for sailing vessels from storms on the often-tumultuous waters of Georgian Bay. As well, the harbour was located at the portage route across the base of the Bruce ...
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.