La Cloche History

A Brief History of the Ernest Willis Family


By Dawn Hicks

Granddaughter of Ernest Willis


The Willis family’s lineage originated in Wiltshire, England.  Ernest Willis was the third son of William Willis and Mary Simmonds.  The family immigrated to Canada from the Isle of Wight, where they were living at the time, in 1875, aboard The Vicksberg, landing in Quebec City.  Interestingly, The Vicksberg sank on the return trip.


They settled on  Manitoulin Island, Howland Township.


Ernest and Ada met and married on the Island. Ernest remained on the family farm for a time after his father’s death in 1889. Here, Violet, Grace, Harry, Ada & Jessie were born. The family moved to Thessalon, then West River where Clara, Alena & Ernie Jr. were born and Kathleen was born in Willisville.


 Ernest was a Forest Ranger and he and Ada used to portage with canoe through the back lakes as far as Killarney checking the area for fires.  Before Cameron’s opened a store in Whitefish Falls, Ernest would canoe and portage to Espanola to purchase supplies for his family.  When the Algoma Eastern Railway was opened from Sudbury to Little Current, Ernest opened a store at Willisville and stocked supplies for sale to the residents and cottagers and for their own use.  In 1919, Ernest assumed the role of Postmaster and continued until his sudden death in 1928.


Ernest was interested in education for his children.


In the early days of St. Augustine’s Mission in Whitefish Falls, The community around the Mission consisted of mostly native people and two white families, namely the John Cameron and the Ernest Willis families.  At the beginning of WWI, more white families were moving into the area and it was decided that there was a need for a school in the Mission area.  Chief Keshigobiness, known as Big John and Mr. Ernest Willis who assisted him greatly, worked under great difficulty in procuring a school.  They were guided by Bishop Thornloe and finally were able to open a school for those who wished to attend.


The first school was in the home of Big John and opened Friday, October 13, 1916, by Rev S. H. Ferris of Garden River.  Mr. Duncan Bell was the first teacher.  The school continued until a fire burned down the log house, but a new building was soon found and some 20 children were gathered and taught until a proper school was built.  Big John and Ernest walked from one lumber camp to another and begged for lumber or money and the new building was erected in 1917.


The Willis, Golden & other children from Willisville would walk along a path to the horseshoe curve and down the track to Whitefish Falls to attend school.  In 1931, Kathleen Willis and Dewey Golden were the first two students to pass their Entrance exams at the school.  Both went on to further studies.


“Condensed from an article by Mrs. R. W. Stump”


The following is copied from and article in the Manitoulin Expositor dated 03 Jan. 1929.




Mr. E. Willis


On Xmas Eve about noon, Mr. Ernest Willis had gone into the woods to cut a little kindling wood to see him over the Christmas holidays, he had just cut a dry tree and in falling it, it broke off, & falling back struck Mr. Willis on the temple, and he fell into Mr. Ernest Spry's arms.  It killed him instantly.  Such was the sad news received in this distict almost immediately after everyone felt stunned, then bowed down with grief.  Mr Willis and his family have from the beginning been keen and zealous workers for this Mission and the school, and we deeply deplore our loss.


He was laid to rest on Wednesday last in Willisville, near his home, beside two of his loved ones.  The Rev. E. Weeks performed the last sad rites.  Indians and whites all mingled their tears for him.  Nothing that has occurred here in years has so stirred everyone living in this district.  Everyone fell strickened with grief, and we pray that God will sustain Mrs. Willis and her devoted children in there irreparable loss.


“ Article compliments of David Botting, great grand nephew of Ernest Willis”


After Ernest’s death, Ada assumed the role of Postmaster and about 1932; she married Henry Bennett, lovingly called “Bento”.  Ada passed away 13 Nov. 1943 while undergoing surgery.  Before her death, her daughter, Mrs. Jessie Spry had received word that Inco was taking over the property that the Willis family had leased for 99 years.  It is said that if she had known this news, it would have killed her, as this place was her whole life.  Henry Bennett assumed the role of Postmaster after her death until late 1943.


From the family of nine children, only Kathleen remains alive.  There are many descendants of Ernest and Ada Willis.


 Information from the Willis Family Archives



A Brief History of Willisville


 The picturesque Village of Willisville is located on Frood Lake in the heart of the La Cloche Mountains , one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Less than two billion years ago and before glacial erosion these beautiful quartzite and granite mountain ranges were as high as the Himalayas. Frood Lake, Charlton Lake and Cranberry Bay are all part of the lake system accessible from Willisville.


 The village derives its name from the first family, Ernest and Ada Willis, who settled on the northwest shore of Frood Lake in 1910. Mr. Willis became the first area postmaster on April 14, 1919 and continued until his death on December 24, 1928. He was also inspector of railway construction for the rail line connecting McKerrow and Little Current. On May 21, 1912 the line was opened.


Ada Willis was postmaster from February 25, 1929 until April 27, 1932 and was reappointed on May 13, 1932 after her marriage to Henry Bennett. She remained as postmaster until her death on November 13, 1943 at which time Henry Bennett assumed the position of acting postmaster until January 14, 1944.


The area prospered with the development of the Bousquet Gold Mine and Howry Creek Mining Camp until their close in the early 20's.


The highway to Manitoulin was completed in 1926 as a relief project and up to that time the rail line was used extensively.


The quartzite mountains, crystal clear lakes, windswept pines and abundant wildlife draw many visitors to the area to canoe, hike, camp, fish, snowmobile, hunt, photograph and paint the landscape. Many of Canada’s famous Group of Seven; including  A.J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson,  Lawren Harris and  Arthur Lismer  painted and camped in this area for numerous years. Franklin Carmichael’s summer cabin was built in 1934 and Willisville residents help construct the log building.


In the 1930’s three lodges were located where the present day village is situated. Golden’s Camp, Kinsman’s Camp and Willis’s Camp were moved when Inco opened nearby Lawson Quarry and built homes for the workers in 1941. In 1942 the school was opened for the children of the Inco workers living in the village.


It was a great place to live , work and raise a family for the quarry workers and today’s residents enjoy the same village life only 15 minutes away from Espanola, 20 minutes from Manitoulin Island and an hour from Sudbury.


In the mid 70’s Inco sold the village to Edward Bourque who made numerous improvements to the 26 residences and in 1984 turned it into one of Ontario’s most unique condominiums.


The 55 residents own their land and everything on it but share in the common areas and expenses.


The residents of Willisville share great community spirit and over the years have held winter carnivals, smelt dinners, fishing derbies, dances and the recent Village Fish Fry and Yard Sale. Over 200 dinners were served to the hundreds of people who came to enjoy Willisville hospitality on October 27,2002 . Monies raised will be going towards new playground equipment to compliment the children’s basketball court built last summer.


The famous La Cloche Art Show was held in Willisville from 1978 until 1994 when it moved to larger facilities in nearby Whitefish Falls. The ever popular children’s show Rainbow Country was filmed in the area in 1969 and the Willisville Fire Tower which is no longer standing was used in the series. The Fire Tower Mountain is still a popular hiking trail and thousands of people have made the climb to enjoy the beautiful view of La Cloche, Killarney Park, Manitoulin Island and the Sudbury area.


Charlton Lake Lodge, Bearskin Lodge and Widgawa Lodge are all close to  Willisville and summer visitors enjoy the many lakes along with water access into Killarney Park’s north end.


It’s a great place to live , a great place to visit and as long time resident Harold Golden says "You get hooked by this place. It's so peaceful and relaxing and you've got everything you need at your doorstep."


If you have a story, photo or historical fact about Willisville or the La Cloche area please let us know by sending an email to



Catching the Jewelry Thief


A True Tale of Fort La Cloche


by H. J. Moberly

Published in The Beaver, March 1923

Reprinted with permission from Canada’s National History Society

Publisher of The Beaver Magazine


 In the summer of 1853 the staff of Fort La Cloche consisted of the chief factor, clerk, and an old, trustworthy Orkney man.


The store was some sixty by thirty two feet. Downstairs it was divided into two rooms; one end was the trading shop with stairs leading to the upper rooms, the other was for furs and had a similar stairs for going up. Each end had a door to enter by. The upper room ran from end to end and was used as the reserve place for keeping the goods for trading, and was seldom entered except when a band of Indians arrived, when the chief factor handed the clerk a new supply.


The chief factor began to miss some cards of rings and earrings, and spoke to the clerk. They were compelled to suspect the old Orkney man, but on account of his long service, instead of accusing him he was sent off to an outpost at the post.


So things went on until the next band of Indians came in, when more jewelry disappeared. Now either the clerk or the factor must be the guilty party. Nothing was said until more Indians arrived. The chief factor, who was watching, saw the clerk take a lantern and the key and enter the shop.


He did the same and got in by the opposite door. Then each one, with a covered lantern, waited to see what would happen. Suddenly something dropped to the ground where the jewelry was kept. At once both lanterns were uncovered and they stood face to face. The chief factor gave a long sermon and told the clerk that he would report him to Sir George Simpson, which meant instant dismissal without a character. As soon as the factor was done, the clerk, knowing well that his word was futile against that of a chief factor, said he would as soon as he got home, publish the truth and show the outside world that one of the honorable chief factors of the Hudson Bay Company was a rogue.


During this time the card of rings that had fallen close to the wall suddenly disappeared. Both ran to the place and saw an open space between the floor and ceiling and heard the card being drawn along. They tore up some of the floor and there found all of the missing jewelry and a lot of other small things. They set a No. 1 trap, and next morning found the thief dead. He turned out to be a large grey squirrel. They decided to bury him, shake hands and wash out all the bitter words that had passed the night before.


Here was a case of circumstantial evidence. Either of the two would have sworn that the other was guilty, and both would have been wrong.


Moral - Never believe solely in circumstantial evidence.



Post Managers at Fort La Cloche


Reprinted with permission from;


Culture, Heritage and Tourism

Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Archives of Manitoba




1821-1833    John McBean, Chief Factor


1833-1834    William Cowie, Clerk


1834-1837    John McBean, Chief Factor


1837-1838    Angus Bethune, Chief Factor


1839-1844    John Dugald Cameron, Chief Factor


1844-1850    Alexander W. Buchanan, Clerk


1850-1853    Wemyss M. Simpson, Clerk


1853-1855    Wemyss M. Simpson, Chief Trader


1855-1858    George Simpson McTavish, Clerk


1858-1860    Robert Seaborn Miles, Chief Factor


1860            Robert Crawford, Clerk


1860-1862    James S. Watt, Chief Trader


1862-1866    Peter W. Bell, Clerk


1866-1872    Roderick McKenzie Sr., Chief Trader


1872-1876    Joseph Hardisty, Factor


1876-1879    George McKenzie, Jr Chief Trader


1879-1882    Alexander Sinclair, Jr Chief Trader


1882-1884    Murdoch Matheson, Jr Chief Trader


1884-1885    Donald C. McTavish, Jr Chief Trader


1885-1889    Donald C. McTavish, Chief Trader


1889-1891    Charles E. Buck, Postmaster




The History of Fort La Cloche


Reprinted with permission from;

Culture, Heritage and Tourism

Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Archives of Manitoba


Prepared and completed in December 19, 1934


    This place is mentioned as early as 1st September, 1761, by Alexander Henry, Senior, who then reports reaching:


          "An island, called La Cloche, because there is here a rock, standing on a plain, which, being struck, rings like a bell."


    It appears that no fort existed here when Henry passed, nor in 1789, when Roderick McKenzie visited the place. Ernest Voorhis in ‘Historical Forts and Trading Posts of the French Regime and of the English Fur Trading Companies’ published by the Department of the Interior, Ottawa, 1930, says the first post at La Cloche was built by the North West Company, probably around 1790, and that it was situated on the north shore of the North Channel, Georgian Bay, about ten miles east of the mouth of the Spanish River, on the direct route from Montreal to the west via the Ottawa River.


    The name of La Cloche appears on a list of N.W.C. posts which existed in the year 1820, and on the amalgamation between that Company and the Hudson Bay Company in the following year, it was transfered to the latter, when Chief Factor John McBean - formerly of the N.W.C. - was placed in charge of the Lake Huron District with headquarters here, where he remained in control until he retired from the service in 1837.


    Governor George Simpson in a letter to the Governor and Committee of the H.B.C. in London which is dated 5th September, 1827, states that La Cloche was: "situated on the eastern bank of Lake Huron about half way between the mouth of the French River and Sault St. Marys."

and that it was at this time the principal and only permanent post in the Lake Huron District.


    It is recorded that Governor Simpson passed the night of the 9th/10th May, 1828, here, when he was en route from Lachine to Michipicoten, arriving in a light canoe after sunset and leaving about 2 a.m. the following morning.


    The establishment at Fort La Cloche in 1828-29 consisted besides Chief Factor John McBean, of one clerk and four labourers, and at this time the company were opposed here by two 'Free Traders', so that there were in all three trading posts in the immediate vicinity.


    On 7th September, 1830, James D. Cameron - son of Chief Factor John Dugald Cameron of the H.B.C. arrived here:

"at the head of a Mission despatched by the Governor of Upper Canada for the purpose of opening a School at this place" for the instruction of the natives in Christianity, and Chief Factor McBean states in his next annual report that this establishment was situated: "at the end of the Company's garden on the border of the river, and on the same side with ourselves"; when he also makes it clear that he had rendered every possible assistance to the enterprise.


     Governor Simpson writing to the Governor and committee on 10th August, 1832, states that the "Free Traders" who had occupied "regular posts" in opposition to the H.B.C. in the Lake Huron District, during the preceding years, had now abandoned them, and in consequence the Company's affairs here bore "a more favorable aspect than they had done foe several years" previously.


     John McLean in his "Twenty-Five Years Service in the HB Territory" mentions visiting "the post of the Cloche" on 13th May, 1833, where he remained about two hours with Chief Factor McBean who entertained him kindly.


     On 25th September, 1833, McBean accompanied by his family, left La Cloche for Lower Canada, where he had obtained leave to spend the ensuing winter, returning again to his charge on 6th June, 1834. During the intervening period, William Cowie was tranferred from Mississagi to the charge of the district at La Cloche, where he came under the superintendence of Chief Factor Angus  Bethune, stationed at Sault Ste. Marie.


     It is recorded that a number of deaths including one man, seven women and eight children, occurred at La Cloche between September, 1833, and June, 1834, owing to an epidemic of measles which had broken out in the district.


     Chief Factor McBean, writing to Governor Simpson on 26th December, 1834, states that the "Fall Fisheries" at La Cloche had turned out better than ever before, and, that in consequence, they had been enabled to salt "60 1/2 barrels of most excellent Trout and Whitefish" which made them independent of all other kinds of provisions for the winter, so that they were able "to assist the Natives in need".


     The fall hunt in this area was also satisfactory.


     The establishment at this post during the winter 1834-35 consisted of one Chief Factor, one boat builder, one blacksmith, four men and one apprentice boy.


     Sir George Simpson, writing in August, 1836, states that at all the posts in the Lake Huron District "there are petty traders closely watching every Indian as he comes in from his hunting grounds".


     In the following year, 1837, Chief Factor McBean was relieved in charge of the Lake Huron District by Chief Factor Angus Bethune, who, in turn, was succeeded by Chief Factor John Dugald Cameron two years later. A clerk named James Anderson was apparently left in charge of the post during the short interim which occurred between the departure of Bethune and the arrival of Cameron.


     Sir George Simpson in his "Journey Around the World" mentions the fact that he entered Lake Huron before sunrise on 15th May, 1841, and, that after dining "on an island celebrated for a stone which, when struck, emits a musical or metallic sound" he reached the Company's establishment of La Cloche from eight in the evening, which derived its name from "the natural bell just mentioned".


    In the summer of 1844, Chief Factor John D. Cameron was granted leave of absence prior to his retirement from the service and the management of the Lake Huron District now developed upon Chief Trader John Ballenden in addition to his previous charge at Sault Ste. Marie.


    After visiting La Cloche in September, 1844, Ballenden left Alexander Wilson Buchanan, a clerk, in charge here for the ensuing winter, returning himself to Sault Ste. Marie.


    In or about the year 1848, the Lake Huron District was once more rendered independent of the control of Sault Ste Marie and was now placed in charge of A. W. Buchanan, Mentioned above, who had been at the post of La Cloche since 1844, and now continued to reside here as headquarters of the district until May, 1850, when he was transferred to Sault Ste. Marie. Wemyss M. Simpson, a clerk in the service, now took charge of the Lake Huron District at La Cloche. On June 23, 1851, the latter proceeded to Sault Ste. Marie where he assumed control during the summer after the departure of Chief Trader A. W. Buchanan for the Northern Department and prior to the arrival of Chief Factor James Hargrave. In the meantime Henry Sayer and Edward Sayer were left in charge at La Cloche until Simpson's return in the autumn.


    When writing to George Simpson from La Cloche on 30th December, 1851, Wemyss Simpson remarks that he had made "two trips after the Spanish River Indians" with satisfactory trading results, and that the whole band were expected at the post "according to custom to have a feast" on the following day (New Year's Eve). He then proceeds "I only hope they may not die of indigestion from the tempting looking cakes that are being made for them."


    The winter of 1851-52 was evidently a particularly severe one in the neighbourhood of Lake Huron, as Wemyss Simpson states in a letter to Sir George Simpson, which is dated 29th January, 1852, that the snow is deep and the frost very lasting, and, in addition, that the river was "quite frozen to the falls a very unusual circumstance." He then complains that he finds the winter at La Cloche nearly as dull as the previous one, but that "having now become perfectly acquainted with the business of the place and the habits of the people" he did not feel the same anxiety as the previous and, in fact, liked the place as much as any inland post although he often wished that he "was back in the old Lachine office" Sir George Simpson's headquarters - a few miles from Montreal.


    In the next three years - 1852-54 - Wemyss Simpson proceeded each summer to Sault Ste. Marie in order to assume control there, whilst Chief Factor J. Hargrave was absent at the council at Michipicoten. Writing to Sir George on 13th August, 1853, Wemyss Simpson explains that they were in the throes of hay-making at La Cloche but that "owing to the high water much trouble and difficulty was experienced in drying it".


    It is interesting to note that Henry Moberley, who died as lately as 1931 at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, when first appointed to the service as an apprentice clerk in December, 1853, was ordered to be stationed at La Cloche during the ensuing winter wjere he was to assist Wemyss Simpson in "watching the trade in Lake Huron district". He was however prevented from proceeding to that place until the month of February, 1854, owing to an attack of measles.


    In 1855, Wemyss Simpson was appointed to succeed Chief Factor James Hargrave in charge at Sault Ste. Marie, being relieved at La Cloche by George Simpson McTavish in May of that year.


    In the following year, 1856, the Indians of Lake Huron, "owing to recent changes" in their condition and habits and more especially from the fact that they were now collected at the village of Manitowaning, requested the Hudson's Bay Company to remove their establishment from La Cloche which they had frequented "for more than half a century" to some position nearer their village. Sir George Simpson in a letter to R.T. Pennefather, the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs in this quarter, dated Lachine, 23rd August, 1856, states that in accordance with the wishes of the Indians, a new site had already been selected at the "Little Current" on the Manitoulin Island, but that as the Island was an Indian Reserve, it was necessary, before proceeding further"to obtain the sanction of the Department of Indian Affairs".


    The reply to this was that the Governor in Council had approved of the Company taking possession"of the necessary land at the Little

Current for the accommodation of a Dwelling house and Store", and upon this assurance building operations were accordingly commenced and plans prepared for the abandonment of La Cloche. But, as late as August, 1857, after the store at "Little Current" had been completed and was ready to receive the Company's goods, George S. McTavish received intimation from the Indian Commissioners that "any further operations....must

be suspended until further orders", and, he accordingly withdrew all the men, with the exception of one, whom he left to look after the store which had already been erected, pending further instructions.


    The matter was again referred back by Sir George Simpson to the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, and, early in 1858, he was informed that an order had been approved by the Governor-General in Council"withdrawing the Licence of Occupation of the Little Current granted to the Company" and, there was therefore no alternative left to them but to continue their headquarters for the Lake Huron District at La Cloche as formerly.



More to come.


Do you have photos or information about Fort La Cloche?



Willisville and Area Place Names



By Derek Coleman

November 29, 2004


 The information contained in this document was obtained by searching through the records and maps at the Ontario and Canada Archives and Map Libraries as well as several University libraries (Waterloo, Guelph, York). Thus, it is based on source documents and not local usage. For the Willisville/Killarney/La Cloche area, the names of lakes and rivers seem to have been established in 1891 when a major geological map of the North Shore was published, compiling land surveys and geological studies to that date. This map shows with names Charlton Lake, Cranberry Lake, Nellie Lake, Cross Lake, Long Lake, Howry Creek, Murray Lake, Leech/Van Winkle/Hanwood Lakes and Katrine/Florence/Alexander Lakes. Prior to that date, only the Whitefish River and Penage Lake are named on plans and maps, although many of the features are shown. Additional names were added to plans when the Manitoulin and North Shore Railway was surveyed south from Espanola to Little Current in 1901 and 1910. Some changes/additions occurred in the 1930’s.


The normal Township surveys (1870-1890) on the North Shore focused on those lands where settlement was likely – i.e. between Blind River and the Sault. It was not until 1921 that a full survey of the Willisville area was completed – Plan 45S of the Surrendered Portion of the Whitefish River Indian Reserve, Curtin Township.


For the features listed below, the names described are the likely the origin.


Whitefish River: either as one or two words (White Fish in many earlier documents). Early large-scale maps (1750-1850) of Lake Huron do not even show a river feature. There is a sketch plan (1827) by Factor McBean of the La Cloche Post in the Hudson’s Bay Co. archives showing the river/lake system with some Ojibwa name notations. By 1850-60, the river and some lake features are shown, but only the river is named.


Charlton Lake: John M. Charlton (photo above 1905) was born in upper New York State in 1829. He moved at a young age to a farm near Ayr and later opened a general store at Lynedoch, near Tilsonburg. Later, he was elected as MP for North Norfolk. As an MP, he was a member of the Royal Commission on Mining (1888-89) that established the first Mining Act and was a staunch supporter of free trade.


He established a lumber company (particularly for transport of logs by towing) and, when the southern Ontario forest was depleted, he continued his lumber operations in Michigan and northern Ontario. In 1889, he incorporated the White Fish River Improvement Company permitting him to build a series of dams and timber slides at Long (originally, now Lang) Lake, Cross Lake and Frood Lake to pass logs down to the Bay of Islands where they were shipped in rafts to southern lumber mills for processing. He was also a partner in the White Fish River Booming, Towing and Rafting Co. along with Josiah C. Wells (see also Wells Island in the Bay of Islands where the rafts were put together). Both Companies operated until about 1907.


In 1906-7, Charlton negotiated the purchase from the Federal Crown of two large blocks of land on which his dams and slides were located – the Lot 23 (249 acres) containing the Whitefish Falls town site and what is now lots 25 and 31 (286 acres) in the surrendered portion of the Whitefish River Indian Reserve.


Charlton died in 1910.


A book of his speeches (1905, including his photograph) is available at the Ontario Archives and his diaries are in the rare book collection at the Robarts Library (University of Toronto).


Murray Lake: Alexander Murray was an Assistant Provincial Geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. From 1848 to 1856, he led an exploratory survey of the French and Whitefish River systems looking for mineral deposits as mining companies/prospectors were beginning to take an interest in the north shore of Lake Huron such as the Wallace Mine Location. His report and a series of very detailed maps are available in the GSC library in Ottawa and identify, but not name, most of the lakes.


Frood Lake: Thomas Frood worked for the Crown Lands Department as a “wood ranger”. He staked the early mining claims in Sudbury. He retired to build a home on the shore of the North Channel across from Little Current (see Frood Bay, his cabin is shown on the 1891 geological map). Considerable more information on Frood is available in any of the histories of mining in Sudbury. Frood Lake appears first as a name in 1910.


Howry Creek: J.W. Howry and Sons was an American-based lumber company who had timber limits north and east of Charlton Lake, as well as elsewhere along the North Shore. An 1889 plan shows their lumber camp near what now would be Casson and Little Leech Lakes. They were a part of what been termed the “North American assault on the Canadian forest”. This occurred in the last 25 years of the 19th century after the pine stands of Michigan and Wisconsin were depleted.


Lake (Lac) Penage: “penage” is an early French term for a pair of deer antlers and is shown and named such on an 1863 map. Before the Walker Lake dam was constructed, the shape of the lake is much like an antler. This seems to have morphed over time into Penache and Panache with inconsistency in usage.


Lang Lake: all the maps and plans up to the 1930’s show the name of this feature as “Long Lake”. There is another Long Lake in the Whitefish River system near Sudbury and the change to Lang Lake may have been the easiest conversion.




History of the Killarney Area




Courtesy of;

Debicki, R.L.

1982:  Geology and Scenery, Killarney Provincial Park Area;

Ontario Geological Survey Guidebook No. 6, 152 p.


The town of Killarney is located on the north shore of Georgian Bay, approximately 75 km southwest of Sudbury. It occupies the end of a peninsula underlain by red Killarney granite that juts out into Georgian Bay. Killarney is protected from direct exposure to Georgian Bay by George Island, directly opposite the town. The narrow east-west channel between the island and the peninsula has been a major factor in the development of Killarney.


Original Settlement


Prior to permanent settlement at Killarney, the site was on the main canoe route to the west. During the fur trading, exploration, and freight canoe period of Canadian history, such men as LaSalle, Marquette, Etienne Brule, and other fur traders and explorers paddled through the narrow channel. So well did this section of the route become known that it received the Ojibway name Shebahonaning, or Shebawenahning, meaning "here is a safe canoe channel". It is said that Flat Point at the eastern entrance to the channel was frequently used as a campsite. The desirability of having a trading post at Killarney was eventually recognized by Etienne Augustin Rochbert de la Morandiere, who was the first white settler of the area when he established a post there on June 28, 1820. Until the 1860s, the post was the major establishment in the area, and a few Indians, trappers and traders took up permanent residence in the surrounding area. The acceptance of the settlement as a permanent community by the Canadian government came in 1854 when a post office was opened. Although some reports state that the name Shebahonaning was not changed to Killarney until 1882, the first postal stamp bore both names in 1854.




By the early 1850s, lumbermen had moved to the upper Great Lakes in search of timber to meet the demands created by the industrial revolution. In 1868 a mill was established at Collins Inlet, some 15 km east of Killarney. Although it was far removed from road or rail terminals, the site was accessible by boat during the shipping season, and was well protected from the main part of Georgian Bay.


During the lumbering era, the entire area prospered. By 1900, however, the prime timber had been cut. Minor logging operations continued in the area until the late 1940s. The trees removed from the area were red and white pine, spruce, hemlock, cedar, ash, birch, maple and oak. Remnants of the logging era include log chutes, work camps, corduroy roads, boom rings anchored in rock faces, wharf pilings, and of course, thousands of tree stumps.




The development of Killarney as a port was a legacy of the lumber era. Many ships docked there both to pick up lumber and to deliver supplies. After 1875, a regular scheduled run between Killarney to Owen Sound was set up. The presence of the scheduled run to Killarney, and from Killarney to market, did much to encourage both the tourist and fishing industries of the area. It must be remembered that no railway has ever served Killarney, and that the road which now connects the town with highway 69 was opened only in 1961.




During the 1880s, a commercial fishing industry developed in the Killarney area. The decline in abundance of fish, and the seasonal nature of the fishing industry have combined to seriously restrict it at present. Reminders of the importance of fishing in Killarney in bygone years can, however, be seen along the waterfront of town where fishing boats rest at dry dock beside empty ice houses and warehouses.




Geological investigations of the Killarney area began in 1854 when Alexander Murray began his mapping work for the Geological Survey of Canada. Prospecting activity is recorded as early as 1880 when a Captain Tranche of Goderich investigated an iron deposit on the northwest shore of George Lake. The deposit was probably part of the hematitic sandstone and siltstone member of the Bar River formation. Continuing prospecting led to the discovery in 1911 of several deposits of gold along Howry Creek north of Killarney Provincial Park. Gold was produced from one of the deposits at the Bousquet Mine during the 1930s.


Development of the greatest mineral resource of the Killarney area began in 1911 when a silica quarrying operation began approximately 6 km west of the town on Badgeley Point. It operated seasonally almost every year until 1970 when the machinery was moved to Badgeley Island and a new quarry was started. The quarries have been excavated in orthoquartzite of the Huronian succession. The old quarry extracted orthoquartzite from the Lorrain Formation, while rock quarried at the new location is from the Bar River Formation. Orthoquartzite has also been quarried from both formations in the Little Current area.




The tourism industry in the Killarney area dates back to the lumbering era. many of the ships which called in to pick up lumber carried paying passengers to help defray their costs. For many of the passengers, their recollection of stories of good fishing and hunting, and their impression of the scenery of the surrounding area were enough to bring them back to Killarney with their friends. During the 1920s yachting in the area increased. A cottage register from Baie Fine records yachting visits of the president of Zenith Radio Corporation, the inventor of the outboard motor, and the founder of Toronto radio station CFRB during the summer of 1929. The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, and William Hale Thompson, the ex-mayor of Chicago, were aboard yachts in Baie Fine in 1932. The flamboyant Mr. Thompson was no stranger to the area for he owned a cottage on Threenarrows Lake during the 1920s, while he was in office. Speculation has it that Al Capone, the gangster, used to holiday there. A further increase in yachting activity has been noted in the area since 1960. The most recent craft have been of the cabin cruiser type , however, rather than the hundred-foot-long luxury vessels owned by the earlier visitors to the area.


Highway 637, the secondary highway connecting the town of Killarney to Highway 69, was begun in 1956, and completed in 1961. With its completion, and the opening of Killarney Park in 1964, visitors travelling by car became an important part of tourism in the Killarney area.




History of the Webbwood/Little Current Subs and the Nickel Spur


By Rick Brown

Courtesy of the

CPR Archives

Environmental Engineering Group




In 1871, exploratory surveys for a trans continental rail line had been undertaken south of lake Nipissing to Ste. Marie from Mattawa. The Canadian Pacific Railway was committed by the articles of incorporation in 1881 to build an all Canadian route to the pacific coast. However, until a feasible route could be determined north of lake Superior, water transportation between Sault Ste. Marie and the lake-head was employed as stop gap measure.



In 1881, a line was located westward to near the mouth of the Spanish River or Algoma Mills and as matter of expediency, temporary port facilities were begun there instead of at S.S. Marie. This routing was considered a portion of the main line until the all Canadian route was fixed as diverging from Sudbury junction.



In 1882, a rail line (later called the SOO branch) was begun between Algoma Mills and the main line at Sudbury. The Soo branch. completed in 1884, wasn't needed and remained languid until 1888 at which time it was brought up to standard and extended eighty four miles to S.S. Marie, Ontario, where an intermediary on behalf of the CPR had just acquired the rights to a financially troubled American line, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and S.S. Marie who had a track constructed to S.S. Marie, Michigan. A bridge jointly constructed by the CPR and the American railway company across the St. Mary's river, was completed and opened to traffic in 1889.



Consequently, what was once presupposed to be the CPR's way to the west coast of Canada, became their route to acquiring a major share of the eastbound traffic emanating south of the 49"' parallel. CPR took over the Soo line in 1890 when the intermediary ran into. financial difficulties.



About the same time, in 1888, the Manitoulin and North Shore Railway Co. (M&NSR) was empowered to build from a connection to the CPR at Sudbury, along the north shore of Georgian Bay to Manitoulin Island. In 1900, they were authorized to extend the line via Little Current to Owen Sound. The idea of course was to obtain a southern outlet to Toronto independent of the CPR from Sudbury. At the same time, the railway was projected from near what is now known as McKerrow on the CPR Sault Ste. Marie branch (Webbwood Subdivision) to a connection with the Algoma Central Railway, north of S.S. Marie.



To serve the INCO (formerly known as the Canadian Copper Co.) smelters at Copper Cliff. the M&NSR began construction in 1900 from a connection to the CPR at Sudbury. The junction with the railway of the INCO and the M&NS was called Clarabelle. The line was pushed beyond Clarabelle to the Elsie and Gertrude mines comprising a total of fourteen miles of railway.



A large pulp and paper mill was erected at Espanola on the Spanish river and in order to provide rail services to this facility, a two mile spur was built under the M&NS charter from Espanola to the CPR at Mckerrow and leased to the CPR. Although financial problems in 1903 forced the closure of the two aforementioned mines and halted construction of the M&NS railway, by 1907, conditions had improved and the M&NS railway and Algoma Central Railway extended their lines.



Due to the fact that both railways (although separated by 170 miles) were under the same management, in 1911 the M&NSR became the Algoma Eastern Railway (AER). The rails were subsequently extended to join up with the Espanola spur at mileage 47.6. Although a repair shop was maintained at Sudbury, all heavy repairs were done by the Algoma Central at S.S. Marie, reaching that point by way of the CPR.



The railway was extended another thirty nine miles by 1913 from Espanola to a point on the mainland across the channel from Little Current where a yard and docking facilities were constructed (Turner Yard). This was the end of the line, and though conceived as hauler of ore and ore by-products in the beginning, the Algoma Eastern was to do a lucrative business hauling coal to the smelters at Sudbury in the ensuing years.



In 1930, the AER became a part of the Sault Ste. Marie branch of the CPR when it was leased to the latter for 999 years. Due to the duplication of trackage between Sudbury and Espanola, the abandonment of the Algoma line was imminent. The AER shop and yard at Sudbury were closed down and in 193 1, the trackage between Espanola and Turbine was abandoned. The following year, an additional 19.6 miles from Turbine easterly was taken out of service. In 1935, the track had been lifted to 17.5 miles from Sudbury. Today, this stub is known as the Nickel Subdivision (spur) running 11.8 miles from Creighton to Sudbury. The remainder of the AER from McKerrow to just before the bridge to Goat Island 3 7.8 miles is known as the Little Current Subdivision. Presently, railroad operations use only the first three miles of track.