Tales of the Tall Timber Early Stokes Bay

     The Peninsula’s heavy growth of virgin forest was a major attraction for the entrepreneurs of those early days on the Bruce. Such vast tracts of trees brought an influx of “timber barons” who were anxious to make their fortunes from the Bruce’s most valuable crop.

     At one time there were huge stands of hard maple, red pine, jack pine, black spruce, hemlock, tamarack, white cedar, birch, elm, white ash, black ash, red oak and basswood. Since timber licenses could be readily secured from an agent for the Department of Indian Affairs, or later from the Crown, the timber operators were able to move in and cut all the big pine for export to Britain. This unfair and unwise policy was not halted until Sir John A. MacDonald became Prime Minister at the time of Confederation in 1867. The lands, which were first offered for sale in 1870, had been so cleared of their big timber by 1879 that the price had fallen to $1.50 per acre.

     The timber was shipped out in sailing vessels or in great rafts. One raft seen in Lake Huron in 1892 contained 91,700 logs; it was towed by three tugs to Tawas, Michigan. In 1891 a half-million feet of squared hemlock timbers from the Peninsula were sold and rafted north to be used in the construction of the Soo Canal. In one season alone, 300,000 ties were cut on the Bruce and taken by rail from Wiarton. The best maple sold at $9.75 per M, elm was $9.00 per M, and hemlock went for $5.50 to $6.00 per thousand board feet.

     In those early years, the riverside at Stokes Bay was always piled high with logs, posts, square hemlock sticks, and tan bark (which was also big business for a time 4,000 cords of hemlock tan bark were shipped by one company in a single year).

     D.S. “Shanty Dan” McLay was one of the first men to timber in Stokes Bay. The shanty of Mr. & Mrs. McLay was the only habitation at Stokes Bay when the first settlers began to arrive by water in those early days.

Page 73 of Benchmarks
A History of Eastnor Township and Lion’s Head
Compiled by The Eastnor & Lion’s Head Historical Society