History of Wallbridge
Township, Parry Sound District
by Marion Belanger
first appeared in the November 1988 newsletter, Volume 4 -
The Township of Wallbridge
lies between Harrison and Henvey
Townships with Georgian Bay on it
west border. It is 90 Kilometers south of Sudbury
and 40 kilometers north of Parry Sound.
According to a mid-nineteenth century surveyor. He described
the township as being very broken by rivers and lakes and the
land generally considered as very inferior quality. There are
a few patches of fair hardwood land but the remainder of the
township is too rough and broken for farming. The Magnetawan
River flows northwesterly through the township and is
a fine large stream, and admirably adapted to the purpose of
driving the timber from this and adjacent townships. A number
of smaller streams flow into the Magnetawan, which can all be
utilized for driving purposes. Still River
which flows through the northeast portion of the township and
enters into the Magnetawan about three miles above its mouth
is also large enough to be used for driving logs.
A few miles up the Magnetawan River,
on its south shore, is the Magnetawan Indian Reserve,
which was founded under the Robinson-Huron Treaty
of 1850. It is a small Ojibway Reserve but
with many modern and progressive ideas. The young people
travel to Britt and Parry Sound
for their education and then many leave to find employment in
the cities of Sudbury and Toronto.
The people that remain, act as councilors and maintain their
reserve. Lately, new businesses have been established to bring
revenue to the reserve, and many return permanently or on an
annual vacation basis, to enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping
as their ancestors did.
The primeval wilderness was broken in
1866 when lumbering operations began. A Mr. Gibson
built a sawmill on Mill Island when the first
Timber Limit License was issued. An efficient communication
network must have existed because it was that same year that Alexis
Belanger, with his wife and five children, left Mattawa
with Indian guides to paddle down the French River to
the more prosperous life of lumbering at Byng Inlet.
In the next two years many other French-Canadian families left
the Three Rivers, Quebec
area where the lumber industry was declining, and journeyed to
Byng Inlet for more and better paying jobs. Many of these
workers built family dwellings on the north side of the river
near the mill and now the village of Byng Inlet North
In 1869 Mr. W.E. Dodge
bought Mill Island mill but only ran it for
two years when he sold it and built a large mill in Byng
Inlet South across the Magnetawan River.
The Magnetawan Lumber Company also had a mill
built here and it grew faster and larger becoming a company
town with its own tokens for currency, a public school for its
employees children and even a doctor and hospital by the end
of the century. Steam ships were now sailing up to docks built
out into the river for the south shore.
These ships were loading with the
millions of board feet of lumber, which was shipped to major
centres like Collingwood and Chicago
across the Great Lakes.
During this early history of the
area, many of the workers followed the Roman Catholic faith
and Wallbridge was considered a mission
served by the nearest permanent church. Jesuit priests visited
the area from the Wikwemakong Indian Reserve
on Manitoulin Island. They performed
sacramental duties and recorded baptisms, marriages and deaths
taking their records home with them when the event was
completed. Any genealogist interested in seeing these early
records would be wise to contact this Reserve to see what
still remains there.
In 1875, the lower mill school was
built in Byng Inlet North and it was their
first. It was a small frame school and became known officially
as S.S. #2 Wallbridge since #1
was already operating in Byng Inlet South. It
ran until 1883 when the teacher, Miss Armstrong
was drowned while skating home across the river. The school
did not reopen, partly because of declining students due to a
slackening in the lumber business, partly because of the
difficulty in finding a teacher who was willing to come to the
area. For the next three years Byng Inlet North
children went to school across the river, walking on ice in
the winter and across the log booms the rest of the year. It
is during this time that Michel Boucher with
his large family moved from Penetang and helped to increase
the Byng Inlet population from then to this day.
In 1880, a new and larger mill was
built on the north shore close to the present day site of Britt.
It was called Burton's Mill and one can still
see the foundation and dock piles. This new mill became the
centre of a new and thriving village having company houses,
church and store. There were over forty pupils making the
dangerous crossing over the river and Mr. Peter Potvin,
storekeeper and others began agitating for a new school in Byng
Inlet North. The new school was built high on the
rocks, overlooking the Magnetawan River and
opened in the fall of 1886.
One windy day early in the spring of
1891, a fire started on the roof of Burton's Mill
and the entire village including the school was wiped out when
the fire got out of control. Since they did not rebuild the
mill, many families moved out of the area to other towns and
villages. Again because of declining enrollment, the school
was not rebuilt but students had to cross the river once more
to go to school at Byng Inlet South. School
attendance laws were not strictly enforced and many children
did not attend school at all during these years.
In 1898, the mission of Byng
Inlet ceased to exist and a Roman Catholic Church was
built near the general store. It was a frame building with a
porch in front and covered with board and batten siding. The
first resident priest was Rev Fr. Pierre Hamel
and he must have then traveled north and south baptizing,
marrying and burying because the present church has all these
old records in their original form of Latin and French. Some
of the certificates that I have seen were as far north as Killarney
and the French River down the shore of Georgian
Bay to Wiarton and the Indian
Reserve of Parry Island.
After Mr. C.E. Begin
bought the general store in Byng Inlet North,
there began another petition to make this north shore an
independent village. A step in this direction was again a
north shore school. They built the new school on the site of
the one that burned in 1891 and Mr. Begin
financed the initial building expense, being later paid back
by the taxpayers. The new school opened in September 1900 with
sixty students and a teacher named Miss Minnie
Cavanaugh of Barrie. By 1911 the
attendance of seventy-five pupils necessitated the building of
a junior room and the hiring of a second teacher.
During this same time period, the
village of Byng Inlet South just kept getting
larger and larger until at its peak period just after 1900,
the population was 5,000 persons. Mr. Dodge
who had the earlier mill had sold out to Emery
and he took a partner by the name of Mr. Holland
who married his daughter and they formed Holland and
Emery Lumber Company, which in turn sold out to Graves.
Holland and Graves first cut timber on their rights in 1894
and brought log booms down the Magnetawan River.
The Graves Bigwood sawmill was built and
completed by 1902 and eventually became the largest mill of
its kind in Canada. The mill and its facilities covered over
one square mile with a large lumber yard, green lumber yard,
planing mill, 11 wood fired boilers for steam power, and dock
slips and a box factory close by. In the spring of 1912, the
original mill burnt down but was rebuilt that fall. At this
time Mr. Holland sold out and a Mr.
Woods bought into the company which changed its name
to Graves, Bigwood & Company Lumber Mill.
At the start of the operation the lumber products were still
going out by boat but the railway would soon arrive.
In June 1908, the C.P.R.
opened its Parry Sound to Sudbury
route, which passed within a mile of Byng Inlet North.
A small station was built one mile up the Still River
just south of the present day station and it was named Dunlop
after the resident engineer. On the shore, a spur line was
built from the main line to Byng Inlet South. This spur line
was also connected south and carried lumber up from Pointe
au Baril. Every two days, fifteen boxcars containing
fifteen to twenty thousand board feet of lumber left the mill.
Most of this lumber went to the Spanish River
northwest of Sudbury. The village of Byng
Inlet on the south shore now had a hotel, three
churches, a school, railway station, jail, dance hall, bakery
and even a theater where silent movies were shown. This boom
lasted until 1927 when the timber supply on the mill's
property ran out and the mill closed and was torn down one
year later. A few people remained and were allowed to purchase
their houses and lot but the majority moved to other places to
find work with many going to the United States. The village of
Byng Inlet South now known only as Byng Inlet began a
continual decline until now there is only a store and post
office. A great come down for a booming town of 5,000 only
fifty years ago.
From the state of the lumbering
decline in the 1920's, many families looked for new endeavors
and a large number turned to commercial fishing. They formed a
large fishing co-op and fished with gill nets out from the
mouth of the Magnetawan River in the Georgian
Bay as far as the Bustard Islands.
One of these families still living in the area are the Wrights
who now own a large marina.
During this decline of Byng Inlet, Dunlop
saw a new day dawn for their community in 1910. The C.P.R.
opened a huge coal dock at the junction of the Magnetawan
and Still Rivers where the waters are at
there widest. Ships up to 7,000 Tons came bringing coal mostly
from Pennsylvania. From Dunlop
the coal was transported by rail and handled a peak of 500,000
toms per year. It was shipped north for use in railways,
mines, and pulp and paper mills. The north shore was now
booming instead of the south shore. From 1910 the trend was to
build more and more along the Still River to
be near the coal docks. At first, outsiders, many from Europe,
worked at the docks and lived in company houses but they soon
became assimilated as they built houses in the village.
In 1914 the school was moved to a
more central location at the site of the present Catholic
Church. Its student population continued to get larger and by
1924 there was a definite need for a new school. The property
was sold to the church and a new school was built further up
the Still River. It was a consolidated school
with the closure of the Henvey Township school and
now had one hundred and sixteen pupils registered at it
In 1927 a post office was opened on
the north side in Dunlop but since it was a
duplication of the name in Ontario, the name of the village
was changed to Britt in honour of C.P.R.'s
general fuel superintendent. In October of 1956, the community
was dealt a crippling blow when the C.P.R.
closed the coal docks resulting in unemployment and causing
the population to decrease by half within two years. Oil
companies saw the advantages of a good harbour and installed
oil tanks and dock facilities for tankers. Much of this work
is mechanized however and relatively few people are employed
Today most of the Township, both
north and south shores are involved in the tourist trade with
many tourist parks and camps, marinas, cottages, and guiding
for fishermen. Now a boom time occurs annually in the summer
months as the population again escalates but for this short