Whicher's Sawmill

Figure 5A illustrates the life and demise of Whicher's Sawmill which for many, many years was the industrial lifeblood of Colpoy's Bay.

Figure 5A:  Whicher's Sawmill. (Top two images looking south and north, respectively, between 1901 and 1910; Middle two images looking west in the late 1940's and 1954, respectively; Bottom two images looking west in 1998 and 1997, respectively)

First built, in 1901 (top two images in Figure 5A) and powered by two sawdust-fired steam engines, Whicher's mill was, in fact, the largest and the last in a long line of shoreside sawmills in Colpoy's Bay.

Sawmills were the endpoint for the vast amounts of timber taken off the Bruce Peninsula in the early days. The business could be quite profitable, but was also very competetive and risky.  The largest non-economic threat of running a mill was the danger of fire.  The wooden frame buildings, the lumber itself and resulting sawdust were all very combustible.  The steam engines powering the mill were always a potential source of flames, as were the gas lamps (and later early electric lamps) that provided light.

During the relatively short history of the village, eight mills have resided upon the land used by Whicher's mill.  The first was erected in 1869 by Reverend Ludwick Kribs and Will Brown.  After some years of successful operation, this grist mill was sold in 1873 to a man named Seaman who operated it until 1877.  Seaman's mill was the first on the site to fall victim to flames.  Next, Thomas Galbraith (the original owner of the Kalbfleisch house) built a mill at that location in 1882.  As mentioned on a another page of this website (see page on "The Kalbfleisch House"), Galbraith suffered from mental problems and his mismanagement of the mill led it to bankruptcy in 1886.  It was then moved to nearby White Cloud Island and later to Wiarton (1892) under the operation of J. Kidd.   The third mill on the site was moved from nearby Hope Bay in late 1886 by a Mr. Vivian.  His mill went bankrupt within about a year and was sold to Joseph Robinson.  It is assumed the mill burned by 1888 when the site was sold to Charles Fothergill.  Fothergill did not fare any better.  Within less than a year, his mill had burned to the ground.  Next in line was Mr. Alex Davidson.  He constructed a mill on the lot in the early 1890's which appears to have been quite successful; but a terrible end in flames was not far off.  His mill burned down in 1895.  Davidson was persistent and quickly rebuilt the mill which was proclaimed as "one of the best on the peninsula".  Unfortuately, fire took its toll once again.  Davidson's second mill was destroyed in August of 1897, leaving the land empty for the construction of the much larger Whicher's mill as pictured at top left in Figure 5A.

The first Whicher mill lasted nine years before it too was burned to the ground.  The second incarnation was erected in 1910 and was powered by only a single sawdust-fired steam engine.  The mill appears in operation in the third image of Figure 5A.  This final mill on the shore of Colpoy's Bay enjoyed forty four years of successful production; but, in the end, Whicher's mill followed in the way of it's predecessors and burned in 1954.  The fourth photo in Figure 5A depicts the mill still smoldering the day after the fire (from "Days of the 'Mud Hen'").  Note in that picture, the arc of the mill fly-wheel where it still sits to this day. The bottom two images of Figure 5A show the runs of the mill, including the flywheel in the late 1990s.

Figure 5B:  The "flywheel" from Whicher's Sawmill. (Top: 1961, Bottom: 2023)

In 1961, the land around the mill was still littered with burnt lumber, as is obvious in the top photograph in Figure 5B.  Note also, the missing segment of the mill wheel.  Shortly after the mill burned down, an unlawful attempt was made to cut the wheel up into pieces and sell it for scrap metal. Only this small piece was removed before residents stepped in and protected the property. The bottom image of Figure 5B shows essentially the same view in 2023. The site has, to a significant extent, grown over with vegetation is the passing years, making it tough to replicate the 1961 image exactly.

As an interesting note, if the waves are just right, wood chips from Whicher's mill still wash up on the village shoreline nearly 50 years after the mill produced it's last board...an echoing reminder of the industrial past of Colpoy's Bay!

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Postcards From the Bay was launched April 14, 2000

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Copyright 2000 - Christopher R. Graham