Hidden by Time
It’s hard to imagine that this tranquil woodland was once the site of a bustling lumber operation. For hundreds of lumbermen in the mid-1900s this was home-away-from-home comprising numerous dwellings and outbuildings including a mill, cookery, bunkhouse and sheds. But time has reclaimed this space and today orderly pine plantations hide the clearings where once row upon row of sawn lumber was neatly stacked.
In 1929 John Omanique founded the Barry’s Bay Lumber Company by building a large mill in that town. Soon his business expanded to include a mill operated by his son Joseph at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. In 1943, when the supply of Algonquin Park timber had been diminished, this mill was moved to Beaverdam Lake on the Little Bonnechere River.
Today, a large depression near the river’s edge is all that remains of the main mill. Step back in time and imagine standing inside this building: the whine of saws, the rumble of leather drive belts and the smell of pine and hemlock resin. From dawn till dusk, smoke and steam billowed against the sky. In 1955 Omanique’s Mill was sold to the Shoosplin Lumber Company, which operated it until circa 1963.
The Unsung Hemlock
Many historic sites along the Little Bonnechere are linked to red and white pine logging but the Omanique Mill site is tied to a different tree species – the unsung hemlock. Omanique processed hemlock at this site for many years, much of it coming from the north facing slopes along the Little Bonnechere.
Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a short-needled, small-coned aesthetically pleasing evergreen tree that grows in cool, moist habitats along the Little Bonnechere. Back when the horse was king of the road and leather was as vital as today’s rubber tires, hemlock bark provided tannic acid for leather tanning. Later in the 1900s, huge quantities of hemlock were cut for railway ties and support timbers used in the construction of the Toronto subway.
Today foresters wisely spend huge amounts of time and money to regenerate the valuable pine forests, but not so the lowly hemlock, with its knotty, brittle wood. Originally lost to the axe, now it appears the hemlock will be lost to economics.
- pine plantations
- loading ramps
- apple trees
- inundations found in forested areas
- hemlock forests
- views of the river