Wiarton's 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.
There are certain four-letter words that are taboo. Most of us know the words that I am referring to. However, at the end of the nineteenth century the Wiarton area had its own four-letter word, which I am sure many felt was the most disgusting of all four-letter words. The word that burned the ears of many citizens of that community was “beet”.
In the late 1890s Wiarton’s economic base seemed to be shrinking. The lumbering industry on the Bruce Peninsula was not as dynamic as it had been in earlier days. When the Grand Trunk Railway first laid its tracks in the area, Wiarton was its only destination point on Georgian Bay. Consequently, when goods were shipped to and from the hinterlands of the southern peninsula most of them came through the port facility at Wiarton.
However, when the railway built a spur line from Park Head to Owen Sound a large portion of the trade that had previously gone through Wiarton was diverted to the larger port of Owen Sound. Consequently, the economic and political leaders of the Colpoys Bay community decided that dramatic steps needed to be taken in order to maintain Wiarton’s economic base.
In 1896 a new industrial enterprise was incorporated in the area, called the Wiarton Beet Sugar Manufacturing Company. This Wiarton beet industry was a re-incarnation of the former Owen Sound Sugar Manufacturing Company. The leaders of the enterprise were sure that it would be a success. However, it would take a lot of encouragement to entice local farmers and investors to get involved.
Potential investors were told that Wiarton’s port facility and the cost of imported sugar would be primary reasons why they would reap a profit from their investments. To convince local farmers to replace their existing crops with sugar beets they were allowed to buy shares in the company with only a 5% outlay of cash with the other 95% coming from credit attained from their beet crop. This was the first of many mistakes made by the Wiarton beet industry company. Allowing the farmers to essentially trade crops for shares left the company with a cash flow shortage. This created a delay in construction of production facilities until more capital could be raised.
Finally, construction of the facility began in 1901. Once again, the company running the project made a serious error in judgment. They contracted the Colonial Construction Company of Detroit, Michigan to build the manufacturing complex. This was not a problem, but the contract also called for the builders to manage the Wiarton beet industry for its first year of operations.
The extent of Colonial’s knowledge of the sugar beet industry is unknown. But it must not have been too great. In the first year the company lost $63,000 and one pundit claimed that the sewers carried $50,000 worth of juice and beets into Colpoys Bay.
In order to continue operations, Wiarton issued the company a $25,000 loan and another bond issue to private investors raised an additional $110,000. Still the company floundered. The second year of production proved to be no more successful than the first. The Wiarton beet industry continued to struggle despite the enthusiasm of its backers. Finally in 1904 it was forced to close its factory doors.
The dreams of the community and the company were shattered. But there was to be one more devastating blow. In 1905 the courts decided that the farmers, who had bought shares on the promise of future crop production, had to pay in cash, the amounts owing on the shares that they had purchased.
I am sure that for a long time in the Wiarton area, there was a threat of having one’s mouth washed out with soap if they mentioned that dreaded four-letter word “beet”!
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