Stokes Bay Area Mills
In the early days of the Bruce Peninsula when timber was the main cash crop of settlers and mill owners, there were many such mills in and around Stokes Bay, a small hamlet on the shore of Lake Huron.
by Helene Scott
One of the first mills to operate at Stokes Bay was built by the Cluff family at the mouth of the river, near where the former Harvey Kirk family home now stands. While living there, the Cluff family experiences a great tragedy when their son was drowned from a small sailboat in the Bay. (This is thought to be the only drowning incident in Stokes Bays history.)
In dates varying from 1878 to 1892, the first mill built on Tamarack Island, near Stokes Bay, was built by two men named Bible and Chisholm. This company built the dock and the bridge that connects Tamarack Island with the mainland, and also the tramroad which ran from Tamarack Island to Mud Lake, or Duncans Lake as it was once called, on the other side of Burleys Corners, now Clarkes Corners. A Mr. and Mrs. Duncan lived there in the very early days, and this is why it was known by their name at the time.
As a great time-saver and work-saver, the tranroad was built, and a wooden railroad was laid. Alas, for the best laid schemes of millmen, the engine was too heavy, and the wooden rails spread out like matchsticks when the bug engine tooted and set out. A person who was working there at the time, Murdock Martin, said the tracks were rounded and the engine wheels flanged, and when the engine started, it immediately jumped the tracks. There ended the Peninsulas one and only railroad!
The next tenants of the Tamarack Mill were the Lions Head Lumber Company. Other names mentioned in connection with the mill were Malcolm Ferguson, Jake Wolfley and a Mr. Deering.
In 1899 the Tamarack Mill was bought by the Knechtel Company of Hanover, who were in the furniture business. This company was hoping to find a plentiful supply of hardwood on the Peninsula, and rebuilt the mill and put it in operation under the management of Henry Klienscroth until 1911. By this time all the suitable timber had been cut, and many mills were forces to close down, as did the Tamarack mill.
In 1913 Tamarack Island was sold to a group of sportsmen, who formed a hunting and shooting club. This club is still in operation and is known as the Tamarack Island Club. The boarding house (much modified) and the mill building are still intact and used by club members as dining hall and sleeping quarters.
Another early mill at Stokes Bay was built by the Cranstons. The site of this mill was where the Bob Goldens built their home in 1894. Cranston also built several dams across the Big River to the mills. The river found its source somewhere in Lindsay Township and found its way down through parts of Eastnor Township to mingle with the waters of Lake Huron at Stokes Bay.
Other mills remembered were owned by Websters, who operated on the south side of the river. Jim Fletcher built a sawmill and shingle mill near the same location. Other small mills in the area were owned by Archie Cameron, Bill Stead, Sam Wyborn and Jack Boyle. In the early 1900s Thompsons mill was in operation. T.Y. Dealy, who had a store at Stokes Bay, also operated a mill. He sold his mill in 1912 to Nathan Doran who settled in Stokes Bay at the same time.
Seymour Hawk operated a mill at Pike Bay, and later one at Pine Tree Harbour. Pedwells also had a mill at Pine Tree. From 1892 to 98 a mill was owned and operated by Jerry Siebert at Pine Tree Harbour. It must be remembered that many mills ran for perhaps one season only. Some were portable and were moved to their sites as the Peninsula big timber diminished.
The only mill at Stokes Bay now is a small mill owned by Earl McArthur, and is used to cut basket bottoms. Between Stokes Bay and Spry, a mill was owned and operated by Henry Wardrop, and later was bought by Glen Bowden.
The time of the mill gangs, the limber jacks, and the sturdy pioneers of those days is becoming a dim memory in the minds of the old timers. But there was a time when great rafts of logs were brought down the river at Stokes Bay to the mills. The river drivers created a real stir of excitement in the small village as they invaded the local hotels to quench their thirst over the bar, exchanged tall tales with friends, and maybe dance a lively buck-and-wing to the tune of some itinerant fiddler.
One must also take into consideration that memories grow dim with the passing years, and dates and places get mixed up with the march of time. We can only pass on what was told to us, and what we were able to verify by research.
Pages 73-74 of Benchmarks
A History of Eastnor Township and Lions Head
Compiled by The Eastnor & Lions Head Historical Society