Long Point Environmental Folio, Chapter 4 J.G. Nelson and K.L. Wilcox, Editors, 1996

Historical Economies of the Long Point Area*

Steven Wilcox

*This chapter is largely derived from Wilcox, S.A. (1992). "The Historical Economies of the Long Point Region" Long Point Environmental Folio Series. Working Paper #1. Heritage Resources Centre, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Pre-Settlement (Prior to 1780)

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Long Point area was inhabited by the Neutral Indian Nation. This tribe was exterminated by the Iroquois in 1650 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). For many years afterward the area was known as "the beaver hunting grounds of the Iroquois", but gradually tribes from the north migrated into the area. One of these tribes, the Mississaugas, eventually occupied the Long Point area. Although they were a semi-nomadic people, fairly permanent villages apparently existed at Port Dover and Turkey Point (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963).

The Neutrals and Mississaugas relied entirely upon natural resources and agriculture for their survival. Important crops were corn, squash, beans and tobacco (Chanaysk, 1970). These agricultural activities allowed large numbers of individuals to occupy villages. For example, when Jesuit Priests first visited southwestern Ontario they reported about 40 villages and estimated that they contained at least 12,000 individuals.

The Pioneer Years (1780 -1880)

The Long Point Region was within a tract of land purchased May 22, 1784, by the British Crown from the Mississauga Indians (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). Irregular settlement occurred from 1789 to 1794, with systematic settlement beginning after townships were surveyed in the late 1790's and early 1800's. As part of these pioneering activities, the United Empire Loyalists established what they called "the Long Point Settlement" between 1791 and 1794 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). Initially, economic activities of the Long Point settlers were based primarily on agriculture and lumber (Figure 1). In the 1850's and 1860's, manufacturing began to rise in importance and the first hints of the tourist potential of Long Point became apparent in the 1860's and 1870's.

Figure 4.1 Long Point Region About 1846 (from Wilcox, 1992:adapted from, Big Creek Conservation Authority, 1953)


Commercial fishing was not a major activity along the north Lake Erie shore before 1850 because of the lack of an accessible market (Greenland, 1974). The only exceptions were in the vicinity of population centres where fish were caught for local use. Commercial operations increased during the 1860's and 1870's, and especially after 1888 when the Great Western Railway improved fish transport from Long Point's Inner Bay. Fishing methods involved the use of seine and pound nets. The species most important to this fishery were Lake Trout and Whitefish (see Chapter 6 on fisheries for scientific names).


Wildlife appears to have been abundant in the Long Point area during the pioneer years. One local farmer, claimed to have killed over 100 bears and numerous wildcats between 1802 and 1877. The last bear in the Long Point area was reportedly killed near Big Creek Marsh in 1866 (Peterson, 1957). White-tailed Deer reportedly were eliminated from Long Point peninsula by about 1864 (Barrett, 1977).

Huge numbers of waterfowl made use of the Long Point area during spring and fall migration. In the early years, there were few restrictions on the shooting season and on the size of the bag, or sale of game. "Pot hunting", both for subsistence and for market, was common practice and an additional resource for punters and villagers of Port Rowan (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963).

Concern over the quality of the hunt prompted a group of sportsmen to form the "Long Point Company" which bought most of the Point in 1866. In 1874, the Long Point Company reintroduced deer to the Point. W. Anderson also released deer on his 90 acre (36 hectares) site near Gravelly Bay in 1881. Since then, deer have repopulated the peninsula to the point where culling has been considered necessary to reduce browsing and other damage to tree regrowth and vegetation.


Commercial lumbering was not a major industry in the Long Point district until about 1840 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). Prior to 1840, sawmills were usually built in close association with grist mills and operated by millers or farmers on a part time basis to supply local settlers with sawn lumber.

Table 1 illustrates the expansion of lumbering during the early 1800's in the townships of the Long Point area. Big Creek was used to float millions of board feet of mainly pine and oak lumber to the Bay. The bulk of this lumber was exported through Port Rowan and to a lesser extent Port Royal. In 1849, exports from Port Rowan were dominated by lumber.

Table 4.1 Number of Saw Mills 1817-1850 (from Wilcox, 1992) Source: Otter Creek Conservation Report, 1957; Big Creek Conservation Report , 1963.

Township 1817 1825 1829 1835 1839 1842 1845 1848 1850
Bayham - 7 11 14 17 28 25 - -
Houghton - - - 1 4 4 6 12 14
Middleton - 1 3 5 3 7 7 9 12
Walsingham 2 1 2 2 5 7 7 14 18
Charlotteville 3 1 3 5 7 8 9 9 7
Woodhouse 7 7 5 10 10 9 13 14 12

The volume of lumber increased in the 1850's and then declined throughout the 1860's with exports becoming more varied and increasingly dominated by agricultural products (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). Barrett (1977) and Chanaysk (1970) indicated that the harvest of virgin forests was so rapid that by 1860 the best timber was gone and by 1880 local demand could not be satisfied.

When mainland timber became scarce, loggers turned their attention to the Long Point peninsula. Boughner (1898) listed White Pine as the major species removed. The logging of this area had severe implications, with blowouts caused by wind and water destroying sand dunes (Figure 2). After its purchase in 1866, the Long Point Company restricted extensive logging activities.

Figure 4.2 Location and Date of Logging on the Long Point Peninsula (from Wilcox, 1992)


During the pioneer years wheat was the most important crop in the Long Point area. In the early years of settlement it was the only crop that could be exchanged for cash or goods. The first field of wheat in the Long Point area was grown by Lucas Dedrick in 1793 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). This field is now the Bayside cemetery, which is located beside Dedrick creek, near the town of Port Rowan.

The early development of grist mills is illustrated in Table 2.

Table 4.2 Early Development of Gristmills (from Wilcox, 1992) Source: Otter Creek Conservation Report, 1957; Big Creek Conservation Report, 1963.

Township 1817 1825 1829 1835 1839 1842 1845 1848 1850
Bayham - 3 4 3 4 3 3 - -
Houghton - - 1 1 - - - - -
Middleton - - 1 1 - - 1 1 1
Walsingham 3 1 2 1 2 3 2 2 2
Charlotteville 3 2 3 2 3 4 2 3 3
Woodhouse 3 3 4 3 3 3 3 4 4

Surplus wheat was converted into flour or and exported. Exporting was a profitable venture for settlers with barrels of flour selling for $12.50 to $15.00 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). When the purchasing power of a dollar in the early 1800's is taken into account, these prices are very high compared to today's standards. Prices declined somewhat in the 1820's and early 1830's but rose by 1835.

Wheat growers in Norfolk county began to experience competition from western wheat suppliers in 1870 and by 1871 wheat production in Norfolk County had declined by more than 30 percent (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963).

By 1880, the production of wheat had declined dramatically and was replaced primarily by barley. The prairie provinces produced substantial quantities of wheat, with buyers often preferring western grain (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). The Long Point and Turkey Point marshes were used extensively for grazing and as sources of hay for range cattle in the early years of settlement (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). These marshlands were extremely valuable to farmers because they provided a source of pasture and winter fodder that did not have to be cleared of timber. At first, settlers took hay from wherever they wished in the marshes.

After 1795, with new settlers constantly arriving, several of the landowners fronting the marsh became concerned about their supply of hay and applied for grants of marshland. By the turn of the century, grants of land were given to most of the landowners who fronted the marsh in Walsingham township (Big Creek Marsh). Cattle ranged at large before 1870, and were often left out the entire year during the early pioneer days. The marshes provided a vast area of grazing without much danger of stock becoming lost.

Although fruit farming was not extensive on the Long Point Peninsula, a number of small operations did exist before the establishment of the Long Point Company. These operations included: 1) a small section of Ryerson's Island, which had some grapevine and a few peach trees; 2) fifteen hectares on the north end of Courtright Ridge, which were cultivated as a vineyard and which had a few peach trees; 3) an area of five hectares on Clark's Bluffs (now Bluff Point), which was under some sort of cultivation including a vineyard and peach orchard; 4) a garden of one hectare at the north end of Little Creek Ridge; and 5) a clearing of about 2 hectares at the north end of Squire's Ridge (Figure 3). Barrett (1977) indicated that the Long Point Company purchased these small parcels and did not support further cultivation.

Figure 4.3 Areas of Agricultural Activity on the Long Point Peninsula (from Wilcox, 1992)


One of the earliest manufacturing activities in the Long Point area was the production of "pig iron" at the Van Norman Furnace (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). The first record of successful operation was in 1823. Bog iron was hauled from a ten to twelve mile radius of Normandale. As the supplies of bog iron were reduced, the operation of the furnace became unprofitable and it closed in 1847 (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1953).

During the pioneer years, the major centres of manufacturing were located at Port Rowan and Port Dover, where ready access to shipping was available (Figure 4). At one time, the Port Dover Tannery was considered to be the best in Ontario and employed 10 to 15 people (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). A woolen mill, carriage-maker, and cabinetmaker were also present in Port Dover during the 1860's and 1870's. As the Long Point area became more populated, the number of manufacturing establishments increased. The first industries that developed were distilling, wool-dressing, tanning and lye and potash production (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). As more equipment became available, additional industries developed.

Figure 4.4 Long Point Area about 1856 -1859 (from Wilcox, 1992: adapted from Big Creek Conservation Authority, 1963)


The Long Point area apparently was first used for recreational activities, in the larger sense of the term, during the late 1850's and early 1860's (Barrett, 1977). One of the first visitors to frequent Long Point was Egerton Ryerson. He had inherited Ryerson Island from his father in 1854 and first visited the Point in 1859. Although his initial use of the Long Point area was for sport hunting he eventually began to spend his summers there as well.

During the 1870's summer vacations and summer cottages were becoming common in Ontario (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). No longer were hunting and fishing the only recreational activities in the Long Point area. Bathing and boating were becoming popular and beach sites were in demand. As the pioneer period ended, Port Dover and Port Rowan began to benefit substantially from tourism and the "cottage trade" as commercial and service industries increased (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963).

The Years of Decline and Change (1880-1950)

The economy of the Long Point area appears to have experienced a substantial decline toward the end of the 19th century. This decline is most explicitly suggested by population trends for the townships of the area (Figure 5). The reasons for this decline are not clear, but may be linked to large scale removal of forest, declining soil fertility, increased competition from agricultural commodities produced in other areas, and possibly the absence of a lake shore railway which would have provided an economic stimulus.

Figure 4.5 Population Trends in Long Point Area 1815-1850 (from Wilcox, 1992; source: Big Creek Conservation Authority, 1963)


During the period of decline and change, commercial fishery operations remained very active. Whillans (1979) indicated that seine operations peaked between 1896 and 1905, with 15-17 seines being licensed in 1894, and 27 in 1906. Lake Trout and Whitefish continued to be important species for the fishing industry, while Herring, Blue Pike and Walleye increased in importance. In addition, the importance of the Lake Sturgeon to the commercial fishing industry increased dramatically (refer to Chapter 6 on fisheries for scientific names).

Whillans (1979) argued that the construction of the Long Point causeway in 1928 interfered with fish movement and habitat and contributed substantially to the disappearance of Muskellunge and to decreased populations of Northern Pike, since there were no other apparent stresses at the time of their population declines. Northern Pike apparently shifted their spawning grounds from the now blocked Big Creek marsh eastward along the south shore. Whillans (1979) also indicated that there is evidence that the construction of a dam in Big Creek between 1889 and 1894 probably had a negative effect on Walleye and Yellow Perch populations in the Inner Bay.


Although hunting and trapping was a common practice in the area, no published sources of data were found. Further examination of historical records of the various hunting clubs in the area will be required in order to assess the economic impact.

Lumbering and Forestry

Fuel wood and maple syrup were important forest products in the early years of the century (Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1963). As a whole, however, the forestry products industry was substantially reduced in economic importance in the mid 1800's.

The establishment of the St. Williams forestry station in 1908, opened a new chapter in the natural resources sector of Long Point and of Ontario. A total of 1,650 acres was purchased by the provincial government to form the nucleus of Ontario's first forestry station (Zavitz, 1963). In 1926, Norfolk Forestry Station No. 2 was built on 1,950 acres of land near Turkey Point (Figure 6). This forestry station came under the management and supervision of the St. Williams Forestry Station. The accomplishments of the province's first forestry station are twofold: 1) the production of nursery crops, and 2) the planting of forest demonstration sites.

Through the provision of seedlings, the St. Williams Forestry station was largely responsible for the reforestation of large cut-over areas of Norfolk county and the establishment of extensive wind breaks. By the 75th anniversary of the station (1983), the St. Williams Forestry Station had produced 370 million seedlings, which is sufficient to reforest an area of 308,000 acres (Robertson, 1983). It also has been a source of employment for residents of the area. In 1909, the forestry station employed 10 full time staff. In 1960, the number of employees increased to 120. In 1983 there were 12 permanent staff and approximately 150 seasonal staff (Robertson, 1983).

Figure 4.6 St. Williams Forest Station No. 1. and Norfolk Forestry Station No. 2

Today (1994) the St. Williams Forestry Station (which includes Norfolk Forestry Station) owns 3000 acres of forested land (1 215 hectares) (Photo 1). This property is used for multi-use recreational purposes by bird-watchers, photographers, and hikers. In addition, 265 acres (107 hectares) of land are also owned and used by the station for growing seedlings (Kington, pers. communication). Ten full time staff are employed by the station, as well as six temporary and six short term staff.

Photo 4.1 Pine Plantation, St. Williams Forestry Station (photographed by K. Beazley)


As the 19th century came to a close, production of grain for export declined in importance and mixed farming increased in Norfolk County. In some areas, however, the sandy topsoil was so badly depleted that "blow-sand deserts" developed. In the words of local residents, the Norfolk soil moved about so freely that a "roving deed" was essential. The land was deemed useless for anything but reforestation and sold for as little as five dollars an acre (Zavitz, 1963).

Photo 4.2 Tobacco Farming on the Norfolk Sandplain (photographed by P. Lawrence)

In 1920, the first experimental crop of Burley tobacco waas growm by Henry Freeman near Lyndock (big Creek Valley Conservation Authority, 1953). The tobacco industry grew and thrived on the Norfolk sandplain. By 1930, 17,200 acres were planted and by 1950 production had increased to 53,287 acres (RMHM, 1989) The decline in the agricultural economy of the Long Point area was reversed. As tobacco consumes high levels of nutrients, fertilizer was heavily applied and a rotation system was used to built humus. (Photo 2)


The southend or "neck" of the Long Point sandpit or pennisula was designated as Long Point Park in 1921. (Heffernan, 1978) In 1923 the Ontario government commissioned "A Plan of Subdivision of Part of the Long Point PArk" (Speight and VanNostrand, 1923). In 1928 a causeway was constructed from the mainland to Long Point. The causeway provided better access to the new park and cottage development was initiated. Heffermen (1978) found little information on the earky development of the park except for aa 1938 London Free Pree article that reported roads being built throughout the park.

In 1940, Wilson (1974) reported less that 100 summer cottages and one permanent residence within the Long Point Park. Cottage develpment increased in 1944 however, when the provincial government began to supply new cottage lots on a 21 year lease.

Summary and Additional Research Needs

Figure 7 in intended to summarize the importance of various economic activities up to 1980 and to identify information gaps. Two main comments can be mande with respect to Figure 7. First, ther is a major information gap for all economic sectord and activities during the Years of Decline and Change from 1885-1950. Economic information on natural resources, amnufacutring and tourism is limited in the literature reviewed for this period of time. To deal with thus short-coming an expanded literature search and a review of the census Canada data is needed. Second, activities such as resource extraction and manufacturing have never been important parts of the economy at Long Point. even today, these activities are located at the perophery of the Long Point study area - with the exception of natural gas extraction in the Outer Bay and exploration in the Inner Bay and along the Long Point Pennisula - and thus do not have a direct affect upon the area

Figure 4.7 Matrix of Economic Activity During Different Periods of Long Point's History (from Wilcox, 1992)

Work Cited

Barret, H.B. 1977. Lore and Legends of Long Point Burns & MacEachern Ltd. Don Mills, Ontario.

Big Creek Valley Conservation Authority. 1953. Big Creek Conservation Report. Department of Lands and Forests. Conservations Authorities Branch, Toronto, Ontario.

Boughner, L.J. 1898 "Notes of the Flora of Long Point Island Lake Erie, Province of Ontario, Canada" Canadian Field Naturalist: 12

Chanasyk, V. 1970. The Haldimand-Norfolk Evnvironmental appraisal: Volume 2/Synthesis and Recommendations. Onatario Ministry of Treasury, Economics and Intergovernmental Affairs, Toronto, Ontario.

Greenland, G. 1974 Fishing on Lake Erie Shoreline. Ontario ministry of Natural resources, regional Office, London, Ontario.

Hefferman, S.E. 1978 Long Point, Ontario: Land Use, Landscape Change and Planning. M.A. Thesis School of Urban and Regional Planning, university of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Kington, B. December 1994. St. Williams Forestry Station, Personal Communication.

Otter Creek Conservation authority, 1957. Otter Creek Vallet Conservation report. Department of Lands and forests, Conservation Authorities Branch, Toronto, Ontario.

Peterson, R.L. 1957 "Changes in the Mammalian Fauna of Ontario" In Changes in the Fauna of Ontario (Urquart, F.A.ed) University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario:43-57

Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk. 1989. Economic Base Study 1989. Department of Planning and Development, Townsend, Ontario.

Robertson, D.J. 1983. "Ontario's First Forest Station" Port Rowan Good News 75th Anniversart of the St Williams Forestry Station Special Edition.

Speight and VanNostrand, 1923. Map showing the plan of subdivision of part of the Long Point Park. Department of Lands and forests. Toronto, Ontario.

Whillans, T.H. 1979 "Resonose of Fish Communities to Stess: a Historical Study of Inner Bay, Long Point" Contact: Journal of Urban and Environmental Affairs. 11(1): 1-18

Wilcox,S. 1992 The Historical Economies of the Long Point Region. Long Point environmental Folio Series. (Nelson J.G. and Lawrence, P.L. eds) Working Paper 1. Heritage Resources Centre, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Wilson, D.L. 1974 Long Point: Its Historical Geography. Undergraduate Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario A History of the Lake Erie Forest Department of Lands and Forests, Toronto, Ontario.