Wiarton Beet Industry: A Dream of Prosperity Dashed

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.


subscribe free or become a member

The Great Lakes Raconteur

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.

Wiarton Beet Industry:
A Boost to the Local Economy

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”!

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.

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.

Bruce Peninsula winters could be difficult, especially in pioneer times when transportation connections were limited to only a few months each year.

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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

  1. History Articles
  2. Bruce Peninsula
  3. Wiarton Beet Industry

   Get The Great Lakes Raconteur  -->   

Share this page: