The Royal Navy began the harvest of timber in the area during the early 1800s, when a commissioner named Robert Barrie described the area as an ideal natural setting for defence, and reported that “the neighbourhood supplies plenty of timber and the pine is of superior quality”. The commercial worth of the great stands of White Pine in the area would not be realized for another seventy years. When the railroads were built and neighbouring towns founded, all for the sake of the lumber harvest. The area in and around the park was logged consistently from the 1870s through until the 1960s.
The area was opened to logging as never before with the completion of the Midland Railway in the 1879. With greater access to Simcoe County’s forests, large-scale timber operations were made economically viable. Canada’s vast virgin forests of White Pine were a resource waiting to be tapped. Early accounts document White Pine standing as high as two hundred and fifty feet and reaching six feet in diameter.
During the lumbering boom, large firms that maintained crews in the area conducted most of the cutting operations. Two of the largest local interests were the C. Beck Lumbering Company and the McGibbon Lumber Company. These firms had crews working and camping within Awenda’s present boundaries. Beck’s company holdings eventually affected all aspects of commerce in Penetanguishene. Beck employees were paid half their wages in Beck Co. tokens that were honoured at Beck’s two stores and many others in town.
Name: Karl (Charles) Maximillion Beck
Company: C. Beck Lumbering Co., Penetanguishene
- Certainly one of the most significant of the lumber barons operating in the immediate area of the park, Karl Maximillion Beck was born in Eckhartshausen, Germany in 1838.
- In 1868, Karl (or Charles as he was called) married Emilie Dahms who later bore him 9 children.
- The Becks settled in Penetanguishene in 1865 and in 1873, Beck constructed the “Red Mill” with two partners.
- In 1878, Charles bought out his two partners and established the C. Beck Lumbering Co.
- The two Beck Company stores in town were also very successful. Beck’s enterprises became so integral to the economic fabric of Penetanguishene that all Beck employees were able to use their Beck Co. tokens at almost every store in town.
- ‘Beck money’ was discontinued in 1920 when William Findlay Beck became company president.
- The circumstances surrounding the death of Charles are certainly odd. On May 13, 1915, Charles rode his carriage around the mill yards as he did every morning. Workers suspected something was amiss when the horse and carriage returned without their passenger. Beck had drowned after falling off his horse into Georgian Bay. Charles Beck was 76 years old.
- Beck became one of the wealthiest and influential lumber barons in Canada , accumulating a vast fortune of 12 million dollars by the time of his death.
Name: Ferdinand McGibbon
Company: McGibbon Lumber Co., Ltd., Penetanguishene
- The McGibbon Lumber Company, Ltd. was first incorporated in 1885 by Ferdinand McGibbon and headquartered Penetanguishene.
- After Ferdinand died, the company was taken over by his 3 sons Archibald, Norman and D.D.
- While the McGibbons cut primarily White pine, in later years the company cut Hemlock out of what is now Awenda Park.
- In the 1920s and 30s, the McGibbon Lumber Company employed crews and had camps below the Nipissing Bluff.
- There are visible remains of a log bridge and stable on the Beaver Pond trail.
- Many of the local early homesteaders worked for McGibbon in that location.
- The McGibbon Lumber Company operated a sawmill in Penetanguishene and exported their product by boat to Europe and the United States.
- Before the turn of the century, the McGibbon mill was producing 10 to 15 million board feet of lumber.
- By 1929, the number was closer to 5 million.
- In 1929, virtually all the lumber processed by the McGibbons was used in Ontario except a “slight amount of Hemlock sent to the border states”.
Name: Manley Chew
Company: Chew Lumber Co., Midland
- Little is currently known about the Chew family and Manley in particular. What is known is that their operations were extensive and they are one of the founding families of Midland.
- Samuel Chew emigrated from Manchester England to York (Toronto).
- Eventually he made his way north to Allendale where he involved himself in the lumber and railway business.
- In 1875, two of Samuel’s sons, George and Thomas got involved in the business in Midland. The boys set up a steam-powered gristmill that operated from 1876 until 1880.
- Two years later, they shifted to a lumber and shingle mill. George was one of three prominent citizens who provided funds for the charter that incorporated Midland as a town in 1878.
- In 1885, the British-Canadian Lumber Co. was purchased by the Chews.
- By 1900, George’s son, Manley was ready to get into the lumber business. Manley and another local lumberman, Ed Letherby operated the Midland mill until it was destroyed by fire in 1934.
- The Chew family owned a number of saw mills in the Midland area including a possible temporary steam-powered mill on Methodist Point.
- Manley Chew purchased the rights to log Giant’s Tomb Island April 7, 1910 “covering Maple, Beech, Basswood, Birch, and Hemlock Timber of nine inches and upward at the stump, renewable yearly for seven years, from the 30th April, 1910
- Chew Lumber Co. crews cut on the island and the logs floated by raft over to Chew’s Mill at Thunder Beach and possibly to Methodist Point where a number of lumber docks existed.
- The Reliever was a steamer owned by Chew’s Lumber Company. She was used to haul timber to Chew’s mill in Midland. The ship somehow caught fire on November 3, 1909. In order to protect the lumber sitting in the dock, the ship was cut loose and burned to the waterline before it eventually sank in front of Second Beach. The wreck now lies in two large pieces that overlay one another and the debris field stretches for a considerable distance. During World War I, the wreck was stripped of metal for the war effort
- Manley Chew even sat as the Liberal Member of Parliament for the local riding. In 1911, Chew was defeated by the Georgian Bay Lumber Company’s lawyer from Midland, William H. Bennett. The election defeat was engineered by the Georgian Bay Lumber Company’s president, William “Red Billy” Sheppard who offered an increase in wages to his employees to transfer their allegiance to the Conservatives.
- Manley Chew died in Preston, Ontario in 1928.
After the conclusion of industrial logging efforts, local families like the Robitailles switched to the new industry of Christmas tree farming in the 1940s. These operations existed until the purchase of the park lands in the 1970s (although there are still many Christmas tree farms just outside of the park boundary). To learn more about the Robitialle Famil, check out our online Robitaille Homestead Trail Guide!