When the area was first settled, it was a rich farming region. Logging and other industries were established. The potential of the region is written about in Edith M. Cameron’s book “Pioneers in a Land of Promise”. In the book it is quoted,
“The North Shore of Lake Huron presents an undulating country, rising into hills which sometimes attain the height of 400 and 700 feet above the lake. These occasionally exhibit ragged escarpments, naked rocky surfaces, but in general, their summits are rather rounded, and their flanks, with the valleys separating one range from another, are most frequently well-clothed with hard and soft wood of large growth, and of such species as are valuable in commerce, in many places giving promise of good arable soil”.
The book profiles the stories and history of families settling into the area, the lifestyle and problems they endured, and the day-to-day living of people. In this era, canoeing from Bright Lake to Tally Ho or Blind River was common for people. To go to a doctor’s office in Thessalon or Bruce Mines, people would often walk there or go by horse. During the US Civil War, a road was built from Bruce Mines to Sault Ste. Marie by the Canadian Government for protection reasons. Horse and wagons became a common mode of transportation. The ships that were popular in the Huron Shores/Algoma area included The Asia, The Algoma, The Silver Spray, The Pacific, The Baltic, The Telegram, The Emerald, the Midlan, Harmonica, Majeska, The Caribou, The Premier and The Germanic. By 1887, the railway for the Sault line was completed, and the Dayton Railway Station was opened. The Dayton Railway Station burned down in 1909, but was rebuilt. With this station, trips to Pembroke, North Bay, Sudbury and Western Canada became common. In 1908, a car was reported in Blind River on Trunk Road. In 1903, the telephone was introduced to Sowerby and Day Mills at the general stores.
The early churches in the area included the Methodist Church in the Algoma area with Minister William Rickard, the Knox Presbyterian Church in Sowerby with Preacher Charles G. Hamilton, the Baptist Church in Sowerby (completed in 1904 with donations by William McMillan) with Reverend H.P. Humphrey who preached there until 1919, the Presbyterian Church at the Portage, the Bright Presbyterian Church established in 1895, and the Dayton Methodist Church in 1912 with Minister J.C. Cochrane.
Social and recreation activities included social events after a work day (usually a house or barn raising). The social included square dancing, folk dancing, and music consisting of violin, organ, accordion, and banjo. Food and drinks were always available. Activities and games included crokinole, dominoes, sleigh rides and skating. By 1920, gramophones and records were often seen at these parties. Football was also popular by 1900 and the Mississauga Rangers of Iron Bridge was competing against teams from Thessalon, Richards Landing, McLennan, and Sault USA. The team captain was Thomas Doig, and they won medals and cups in the 1900 – 1906 era.
Township of Day and Bright
The first school was opened in 1883; this was located in the Day Township and called the Day Mills School. This school ran until 1899 with various teachers, until a new school was built by Thomas Cordukes at Bright Lake. Thomas Cordukes was also the builder of the Historic Cordukes-Weber 12-Sided Barn in Sowerby. This was a larger school and it remained opened until 1966. Students would walk 4-5 miles, some carrying lanterns to school, even during the harsh winter and would arrive with frostbitten noses, fingers and toes. They would learn the basics of education including songs, skits and speeches.
Aside from farming, the early economy was driven by the lumber industry. In 1871, the Dyment Mill was established in Thessalon. The Mill was started by Nathaniel Dyment. Another local person, William Harris built a sawmill in Day Mills in 1883. His son, James Harris built another sawmill in 1903, which was purchased by the Smith Lumber Company in 1910. In 1918, J.J. McFadden purchased the lumber mill in Blind River, where many workers from Huron Shores were employed.
The early camps for lumber were rough. They often included a cook house, a sleeping camp with double beds, a blacksmith shop, and a stable for horses. Everything was made from lumber, and the sleeping camp was made with white birch or poplar poles. Food was stored in barrels. The operation itself, consisted of horses hauling the cut logs to the river, where they were shipped to the mills. The logs had log runners or drivers to ensure they flowed properly and did not jam.
The Township is said to be named after Lord Sydenham, Governor-in-Chief of Canada from 1839-1841, whose name was Charles Oulett Thompson. The Thompson Township was established in 1860 and incorporated in 1896.
During the early 1900s, the Dean Lake area had many large farms operating there. Lumbering was the main industry and there were many transient workers coming to work there. Dean Lake grew until the Great Depression hit. The Denney Hotel was the first hotel in Dean Lake and was built shortly after the railway was completed. During the 1890’s, it closed, but started up again as the Plante Hotel. This hotel burned down in 1908 and was never rebuilt.
The major lumber company, Hope Lumber Company, ran from 1914 until 1924 when it was sold to the McFadden Lumber Company. During the 1940’s, the Mattan Mill was in operation. Another lumber mill ran from 1920 to 1930.
The first general store was built in 1902, which included a gas station, boarding house, post office and residence for the storekeeper. The store operated until 1960. A second store opened in 1905, but closed by 1915.
There was a livery that started in 1915 by Odule Dube.This closed in the late 1920’s, when horses were being replaced with vehicles.
The first school was built in 1897, which was a one room log building. The school closed down in 1960 and the building was torn down.
Farms built during the 1920’s are still in the Thompson Township today and are still the homes of farmers today.
Some of the settlers’ homes did not live on in splendor; this is evident en route to Blind River along Highway 17. On the North side of the highway you will come upon two foundations of homes that once housed pioneers of the Thompson area. The abandoned buildings for many years presented excellent opportunities for photographs and exploration but ultimately had to be torn down for safety reasons.
The western most foundation of the two (approximately 5 km from Iron Bridge), the ‘Daigle House’, was a timber framed house built by Alexander Daigle, from France, in the 1870’s. Daigle was one of the first settlers of the Iron Bridge area.
Iron Bridge History
In 1876 the Township of Gladstone started, and the early families to settle were the Tullochs, Taits, and the Nicholsons. In 1886, the town, originally called Tally- Ho, was renamed Iron Bridge when the new bridge, built by the Hamilton Bridge Company, was completed. The bridge was the first iron bridge in Ontario. In this same year the post office opened.
John Boyd opened the first general store in 1885. Robert Arnill purchased the store which later burnt in 1896. Mr. Arnill rebuilt and constructed a boarding house, which would later become the Rod and Gun Hotel. Mr. Arnill also established a sawmill at Horseshoe Hill that operated on waterpower. In 1923, Alex Tulloch purchased the general store, and built a new one on Main Street in 1935. It would later become a hardware store and a print shop.
In 1908, Thomas Grigg, a clerk-treasurer for Day and Bright, purchased a store & hotel in Iron Bridge and called it Grigg’s Hotel. Ten additional rooms were added along with a balcony. In 1943, Thomas’ son Dougal took over the business after his father died. In 1966, the business was purchased by Joseph Hagger. A devastating fire destroyed the business in 1970.
The single lane Iron Bridge was replaced in 1950 with a two lane concrete bridge. The old Iron Bridge was sold for $1 to a local logger. In 1973, the old bridge fell in the Mississagi River, when both approaches were cut by a cutting torch. Ontario Hydro helped to remove the old landmark.
Prior to the settlement of the area, Ojibway Natives occupied Thessalon. In the wintertime, they lived deep in the forests and spent spring & summer along the Thessalon River where they would use birch bark canoes along the channel.
In 1783, Captain Daniel Robertson of the Loyalist Army expressed concern over the security of Fort Michilimackinac because of the American War of Independence, and recommended for a fort to be located at Thessalon. The recommendation was ignored.
In 1785, the Northwest Fur Company recommended to the federal government to establish a settlement at Thessalon, but this did not happen.
Lieutenant Robert Livingstone, a hero in the War of 1812, traveled to Thessalon in his vessel. It is said he abandoned his vessel in Thessalon to live there, and froze to death near a creek. Lieutenant Livingstone was in the British Army and put together a troop of Natives to capture Mackinac. He was stationed at St. Joseph Island.
In 1814, a cache was established in Thessalon for the British Army; this was carried out by Captain Robinson. It established a building to store supplies for Fort Michilimackinac, which was recaptured by the Loyalists. The Thessalon area was known for its rich farmland. By 1840, a copper mine was discovered at Bruce Mines and this resulted in lumbering and settlement in the area.
During 1867, the John McBain family settled on the Thessalon River. Other families to settle soon after included Donald, Malcolm McLeod, John Gregar and Peter Genelle.
Early settlers into the Township included the Fegans, Collvers, Dodds, Wards, Vances and Ansleys.
Lumbering near the Thessalon Township started in 1869. The timber cut in this era was shipped to England. The timber license for the Thessalon Indian Reserve was transferred to the Thompson Brothers, then to Nathaniel Dyment in 1871. In 1871, the Dyment Mill was established in Thessalon. It was the first mill on the North Shore to be steam-powered. The mill provided 40,000 board feet per day during the summer, and had an annual cut of 3 million board feet. During this time, White Pine and Hardwood was cut from the Kirkwood Forest, located 3.4 km north of Thessalon. Later on, the Kirkwood Forest would suffer from large sections of clearance for cattle farms around 1910. In 1928, Jack Simmons initiated a re-plantation process. The Thessalon Tree Nursery began in 1956 and by 1973, over 7,000 hectares were restored.
Thomas Holcombe built a gristmill in 1879 on the Little Thessalon River. Little Rapids became established with a sawmill (also owned by Thomas Holcombe), hotel (The Arlington House), a blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, school, church and general store.
From 1880 to 1915, George Shaw ran a planning mill to coincide with the Dyment Mill. J.R. Struthers and Theodore Clinton also operated planning mills. Frank and Howard Miller ran a sawmill, gristmill and shingle mill until 1920. These were smaller operation from the mill owned by the Dyments.
In 1887, the Thessalon Township was established after the Thessalon Indian Reserve had its boundaries identified. Timber licenses were issued shortly after.
In 1888, forest fires had destroyed three of Dyment’s mills including Thessalon and Kincardine. The mills were rebuilt, and were larger than before. In 1906 the mill was sold to the Thessalon Lumber Company, where it was dismantled and relocated to Nestorville, Ontario. This mill had an output of 165,000 board feet per day with an annual cut that averaged 25-30 million board feet. In 1915 the mill was sold to the Bishop family of Chicago and became Bishop Brothers Lumber Company. In 1925 the mill was sold again to J. J. McFadden of Blind River. Under McFadden, the mill continued operation until it burned down on June 3, 1928. During all the years of the mill, white pine was the dominant species harvested and eventually the species became rare and the cutting of it had to end.
The Burtis Mill was established in Thessalon in 1903 on the west bay of Thessalon (currently the location of Carolyn Beach Motel) using parts of the Gordon Mill Complex.
The Cronkhite Brothers established a woolen mill in 1897 in Thessalon. The four brothers were William, Willett, G.H. and Albert. The products included yarn goods, blankets, mackinaw garments and yarn. The facility employed 35 people, including teenage girls. By 1909, the mill was bankrupt and there was not enough wool in the area to keep it operating.
In 1907 a smelter plant, Algoma Customs and Smelting Co., was built, which was to process copper from the mines at Bruce Mines. The smelter plant closed soon after opening as it could never achieve its goal.
In 1919, a box factory was located at the property of the old smelter plant, which was successful for a short period. It also manufactured blueberry baskets and banana crates. Unfortunately, by the early 1930’s the economy was in poor condition (The Great Depression era) and the factory closed.
Also during 1919, Asam Basket Factory opened in Thessalon, which employed 18 people and relied on yellow birch. This was successful until the Great Depression. In 1934, the factory had to close down.
Information from this section is from “This Point of Land” by J.E. MacDonald, and “Once in a Lifetime 1887-1987” by J.E. MacDonald.
Note: All photographs on this website are from the book “Pioneers in a Land of Promise” by Edith M. Cameron.