Waubaushene’s Lumber Era (1861 – 1924)



In the mid-19th century, several forces had combined to create a burgeoning lumber industry in this area. White pine was in plentiful supply along the shores and rivers emptying into Georgian Bay and the north shore of Lake Huron. Canadian sawn lumber could enter the US duty-free to meet the huge demand created through the construction of new towns and cities. Square timber was in great demand for British military and commercial shipping. Water-powered, then steam-powered saws greatly increased mill productivity.

About this time, several small lumber mills sprang up in the area, initially to serve mostly local markets. In 1861 William Hall (of Hamilton) built a sawmill in Waubaushene.  Development of the surrounding 260 acre town site began as the company built housing and amenities for the mill – workers and managers.


Figure 1: Waubaushene from the GBLC Mill, 1906. On the left is the  GBLC head office, in the middle the Company lower store

In the years 1869-1872, Anson G. Phelps Dodge, an American entrepreneur, arrived to buy and expand the Hall and eight other lumber mills around Georgian Bay. The Dodge mills were incorporated in three companies, including the Georgian Bay Lumber Company, with the headquarters, senior management and the largest of the mills at Waubaushene.  The consolidated company was the largest of its time in terms of annual production and geographic span. It owned all the mills on Georgian Bay except the Victoria Harbor Lumber Company mills.









                                                                Figure 3: Waubaushene Mill and Town Site c1920

The Waubaushene mill was the largest of the Company mills, located along the shoreline of Matchedash Bay. This mill employed about 250 men, including millwrights, blacksmiths, sawyers, filers, lumber pilers, and general labourers. In addition hundreds worked in the lumber camps and on drive. The company’s bush camps were close to home in the surrounding townships. As the logs were cut to length they were branded with the Company’s registered mark and driven down the Severn, Wye, Sturgeon, Black and North Rivers.


Log booms were towed to the mills, ultimately from as far away as Blind River on the north shore. Sawn lumber was loaded on to barges, schooners, and steamboats for shipment to ports in Canada and the US. After the Midland Railway from Orillia reached Waubaushene in 1875, rail transport to the south became available.


                                                                          Figure 4: Company Tug “Waubaushene”

Development at the town site had begun with the establishment of the Hall mill, but now was accelerated by the building of more free housing for married mill – workers, boarding houses for singles, two company stores, two churches, a hotel, a library, two schools, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, and several independent retailers.  Workers flowed in from Ontario, Quebec and the US. In its heyday, the town numbered over 2,000 people.

Company operations were centered adjacent to the mill in the Coldwater Road area; the “lower” Company store (facing east) and head office (facing north) were located at the present day corner of Coldwater Road and Government Dock Road.

wb-georgian-bay-lumber-co-storeStores were required to handle the food, tools and equipment needed for the mill, bush camps, river drives and towing operations, as well as meeting the needs of the mill employees and other local residents.



Figure 5: Company Store Staff. W.H. Russell on right

Stores were required to handle the food, tools and equipment needed for the mill, bush camps, river drives and towing operations, as well as meeting the needs of the mill employees and other local residents.

The store was open 6 days a week. Although rready money was often scarce, farmers could trade produce for simple needs and Company employees could buy on credit.

All Company stores were managed by W.H.F. Russell. The south wing housed the manager’s office and a post office with switchboard. The retail space included 2 floors and a basement. The ground floor featured counters and shelves on 3 sides, and display tables in the middle. There was a cold room for perishables near the post office entrance.



Faced with declining stocks of timber, the company ceased operations in 1924. Russell bought the lower store in 1922 after the mill had closed; in the 1940’s the store operations were moved to another site on Coldwater Road. A private residence on the old store foundation remains in the Russell family.

Figure 6: Former Company Store c1940


Another building to the north on Government Dock Road was originally a warehouse shed for the Company. It was located on the water so that ships could dock and drop off materials and supplies. It has since been renovated and converted into a residence, but the building’s exterior is in part original.

          Figure 7: Former Warehouse

img089At one time Waubaushene churches and schools were grouped together on Hazel Street. From left to right: the Catholic Church (now a private residence), the Senior School (burned in 1936), the Lower School, (demolished in 1964) and Christ Church (still standing).

                                                                                              Figure 8: Hazel Street c1920

IMG_7746The house at 15 Willow Street was built across Coldwater Road from the GBLC head office c1890. At one time it reportedly was the residence of the Company’s mill engineer.

The head office was destroyed by fire in 1977.

     Figure 9: 15 Willow Street 2015

For more detail on Tay heritage sites visit https://taytownshipheritage.wordpress.com


Angus, James T.  A Deo Victoria: The Story of the Georgian Bay Lumber Company 1871-1942 by  Severn Publications Ltd. Orillia, 1994. 320 pages. ISBN 0-9694197-0-8

Crichton, Howard, Waubaushene

Day, Reta M., Childhood Memories in Waubaushene, 1995

Facebook Page: Huronia’s Past and Present: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HuroniaPastandPresent/

Russell, Bill, Waubaushene

Tay Township Heritage blog https://taytownshipheritage.wordpress.com

Tay Township Heritage Committee http://www.tay.ca/en/your-municipality/tay-heritage-committee.asp

Tay Township Heritage Register and Inventory




This entry was posted in heritage, history, logging and lumbering, Uncategorized, Waubaushene and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Waubaushene’s Lumber Era (1861 – 1924)

  1. Pingback: Monday, March 25, 1901 – The Diary of Jesse James Bench

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