Stokes Bay “Boomed” in the Past

The village of Stokes Bay is situated on the shore of Lake Huron, about halfway up the Bruce Peninsula. Through the village runs a river which widens at the mouth to comfortably accommodate the fishing boats. Bridges span the river at two locations. In the early years the river was much wider and was known as “Big River.”
Original settlers were, of course, the Indians. Indian graveyards are still found in a number of places in the surrounding bushlands. In 1882 the government built a road up the west shore of the Peninsula and a log hotel was built at Stokes Bay to house the men working on the road. It was about this time that the government bought up the land from the Indians and opened two Reserves, one at Cape Croker and one at Saugeen. The land around Stokes Bay was designated a town plot, to be given the name “Hardwick,” but this town never came to be.
Most of the early settlers came to Stokes Bay by land or by sail from Ripley, Kincardine and Goderich. They received land from the government for a small down payment, which would be all they could pay for many years.
A man by the name of John Shute started the first general store. Then when the people decided they should have a post office, Mr. Shute agreed to keep it in his store. However, the settlers were informed by the government that they must first name the village. A meeting was held and there it was decided that, since the first white man to sail into the village was a man by the name of Captain John Storke, they should name it “Storke’s Bay.” Unfortunately, when the papers were returned from the government, an error had been made and it was named “Stokes Bay.” It has been known by that name ever since.
Timbering was one of the big early industries. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many saw mills were in operation. Hemlock trees were stripped of their bark, which was sent to the United States to be used in the process for tanning leather. The trees themselves were left to rot or to be burned. Clearing the land for cultivation was a long hard job.
In those early years, Stokes Bay was a “booming” village. There were three stores, two sawmills, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a dance hall and two hotels.
There was no formal school in Stokes Bay for a number of years. Finally classes were started in the Orange Hall. These were taught by unqualified teachers. However, in 1903 the first “real” school was built and classes were held there until 1964 when the new Eastnor Central School was built. Then the Women’s Institute bought the schoolhouse to be used as a Community Centre.
In 1902 the Knox Presbyterian Church was built with a great many donations of lumber and many “bees.” It was the only church until 1950, when the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints was built. For many years previous to the building of the Presbyterian Church, prayer meetings were held in the homes and the church services were conducted in the Orange Hall by both Presbyterians and Anglicans.
Shortly after Stokes Bay was settled, commercial fishing became one of the industries. Everything was done by hand in the early years. Since that time, the boats have improved and all fishermen now have steel tugs with motor driven lifters.
The tourist trade has become a source of income for Stokes Bay and area. On the other hand, timbering and farming have gradually declined over the decades until now there are no sawmills and only one farm is left within the village.

Page 33 of Benchmarks
A History of Eastnor Township and Lion’s Head
Compiled by The Eastnor & Lion’s Head Historical Society
Copyright 1987