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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Cruising Georgian Bay in 1886

Possible design of the Nellie

With the closing of boat launches, it made me think of days of yore when sail-powered craft plied the waters of Georgian Bay. One such trip was documented in a newspaper article for the Northern Advance. Incredibly detailed, I have added some historical information to bring us on a trip along the North Shore in 1886. I hope you enjoy!

Beausoleil Island

Travelling on Georgian Bay has for millennia been a staple of human existence. Whether birch bark canoe or dugout, people would travel from hunting grounds to fishing grounds, to winter quarters along the lakes and rivers, and even the Bay. People would come from all over to cruise the bay, often for business, like hunting or fishing, but sometimes to just catch up with old friends. The following is a story, I read in an old newspaper, the Barrie Advance from 1886. I have added information in reference to the people and places mentioned. You can see the hospitality of the time shines through in glaring colour.

In 1886, a self-described Racily (spirited, racy) wrote a sketch of an enjoyable trip, probably more accurate than intended, that appeared in the Northern Advance. The author had made his way to the ancient village, again probably being more accurate than intended, of Penetanguishene. He mentions the neighbouring town, accurately calling it pretentious, but little else.

Canada House postcard, courtesy Rene Hacksetter

Spending the night at the Canada House, with his host listed as Joe, he bragged of a "capital dinner" with "Scott Act" beverages. (The Scott Act being that of temperance (non-alcoholic), whether tongue in cheek or not, we may not know.)

At the Canada House, they meet their captain, Mr F.G.M. Fraser who apparently also partook in "Scott Act" beverages. He also introduces the crew, to my delight, which consisted of local characters: Louis Mecier (Messier) and stops there, so the other member of the threesome is unnamed: although he is described as a "bouncing infant of fourteen", his words, not mine.

The ship was called the Nellie, 32 feet long and schooner-rigged, which means it had two masts, one smaller than the other. The Nellie was no large ship, but probably quick little sailor.

As they exited the bay the traffic was probably not what it is today on a Sunday night, but still, craft were plying the waters. The writer suggests that the Gap (the area outside Penetang Bay) was windy. The Ojibwa name for that area was Matchedash, meaning windy, and it does live up to that name.

ed. Despite disparaging the situation, the group was still welcomed and they set up camp for the night. The village was where Kitchekewana camp now sits and was poor land for farming. Louis Corbiere and his family hosted the group for the night, and the author could be nothing but complimentary.

The next morning, after a meal cooked by Mrs Corbiere, they were off travelling in the open water, the wind must have been favourable, as they made Indian Harbour, where they met other travellers and had lunch.

There they met a group led by Robert Gowanlock. Although I have not found the Gowanlocks, it would appear they were a military family typical of the day. They seemed to have been early cottagers, as they had an extensive array of tents, one large enough to act as a dinner tent.

Typical Georgian Bay Cabin, LAC-BAC

From Indian Harbour, they were down to Moose Point, and Starvation Bay, where apparently rough weather pelted them for the night. But again, old-time hospitality came to their rescue as the tugboat Shawanaga was in the bay sheltering and the crew of the Nellie were once again hosted for the night.

Captain Featherstonehaugh was in the employ of local lumber magnate Charles Beck and his tug the Shawanaga was owned by Mr Beck to bring logs into Penetang Bay and his two sawmills. It was a large tug, to me anyway, at 80 feet long and 17 feet wide, but Beck replaced it with a 90-foot tug in the 1890s and the Shawanaga was broken up in the

Although this 1874 sketch shows the old ways were still present

The Group travelled by the wreck of the Waubano, which had sunk there in 1879.

The Waubano sunk with all hands and passengers, 30 in all, a tragic loss that travelers risked in those days. Louis had been shantying on an island close to there when the Waubano whistled in Distress. Still all hands were lost. He reminisces that it was a violently stormy night the Waubano was lost.

The wreck of the Waubano

The Nellie did not whoa there as she was on to Parry Sound and past a club from Toronto called the Chimo Club. There once again the group turned to the native population and were welcomed by Chief Madwayosh, ALTHOUGH THE CHIEF SEEMED TO BE OF LITTLE words. pe

The Nellie travel further into Parry Sound, where they were hosted by chief Peter Megis. Mr Megis would be chief of the Parry island area for 25 years. The Megis family hosted te voyageurs for a couple of days, entertained by a young woman named Maggie who turn heads with her songs.

This being a Sunday they took in a Sunday service by the Reverend Salt of the Methodist church. The men were welcomed like old friends, by the native community at the time. The community at church that day was estimated to be four or five hundred.

From here they moved on to a fishing station at Little Snake Island. Here a William Farr of Belfast Scotland hosted the group and served them whitefish. The relative loneliness of these places seemed to b welcome of guests. Little snake island s so low that during storms it often covers completely, so shanties are on stilts. Men and their families live on these precarious habitats to make a living.

The Nellie was off past the Red Rock lighthouse, past the Mink islands and into Shawanaga Bay. At Point au Baril they spent time with another native village who they stayed with the night. Not surprisingly now the men once again leaned on a local, this time a retired Great Lakes Captain turned lighthouse keeper Joseph Lamondin. (It's Written Lamonte, but research reveal it's Joseph Lamondin was the actual identity) The hospitality of the time is something I find quite incredible. Captain Lamondin had been used by Commander Boulton in the charting of the Great Lakes aboard the Bayfield. (The lighthouse was replaced in 1900)

The men went up into Byng Inlet, a bustling town at the time. Now it is almost abandoned but at the time it ad various mills and many people. The Inlet had essentially two villages, Byng inlet North and South. There were enough children for a school, two schools, but teachers were hard to come by in this secluded spot. The North village

Tom Thompson Byng Inlet

eventually took the name, Britt.

Still, it was picturesque, with mills and stores and various churches. Like many of the North Shore communities, it had a large French Canadian community, and they had a Roman Catholic Church. At the time the only way in and out was through the inlet, so many boats and ships probably plied its waters.

From there they were onto the French River, bypassing Henvey Inlet reserve, the French River was infested by what they called a whiskey boat. The whiskey boat showed it's colours, as some patrons were strewn about the wharf.

From here the Nellie returned to Penetang and the men parted ways, the article was signed simply as the guests. Mr Fred Fraser, the captain on the cruise was with the fisheries department and seemed to be a genial man as he was welcomed by all.

These early days of the North Shore were less of a string of distant villages and more of a continuous community where everyone knew each other despite the distance between them.

Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past

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