History of Parry Sound

by Wendy Shroeder

The area of Parry Sound, at the mouth of the Seguin River, on Georgian Bay, was well-known long before it became a town. Natives living in and around the area used the mouth of the Seguin as a meeting place. Fur trappers had a trade stand near here, and Jesuit priests on their missions used rivers in the area, including the Seguin, as sheltered canoe routes into the interior of the land from the Great Lakes.

Parry Sound (the bay from which the town gets its name), was named by Commander Henry Wolsey Bayfield, who was commissioned to map Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in 1820. When he found this beautiful, safe, well-protected harbour, he named it after Sir William Edward Parry, the explorer of the Northwest Arctic Passage.

Written history about the area is minimal before 1856, when William Milnor Gibson came to the area as a land surveyor. He saw a great potential for lumbering; extensive logging in the southern and eastern parts of the province had left few trees, and people living in those areas were running out of good lumber. He applied for a timber limit (a geographical boundary from within he could cut timber), and erected a mill at the mouth of the Seguin. The river provided a means of power to the mill and a way to transport sawlogs cut inland to the mill.

In 1863, brothers William and John Beatty bought the fifty-square-mile timber limits and mill from Gibson. On May 14, 1867, they also bought 2198 acres of land at the mouth of the Seguin River - the land where the town of Parry Sound now stands - at a cost of four hundred and thirty-nine dollars.

William Beatty's second son, also named William Beatty, (1835-1898), soon took over as manager of the operations, and is considered the "founder" of the town. With his arrival at Parry Sound, the mills began to hum, and the area began to grow. Settlers came in to take up land, start businesses, and work for the lumber companies. Beatty had the site of the future town surveyed in 1869, and built roads inland to provide a connection with the outside world in winter, and to encourage settlement. His company owned much of the property on which the town was built. He established the first grocery store in town, operated a fuel business, a grist mill (which became the power house), two more successive sawmills, and a shingle mill. He owned a shipping company, ferrying settlers and goods from Collingwood to Parry Sound, and as far north as Sault Ste. Marie. He owned the first tugboat in town, used to haul sawlogs to the mills, and to carry supplies to camps . His industrious nature, and his "rule" over the town, rned him the title "Governor."

Between 1869 and 1885, farmers were lured to the area by the "Government Free Land Grant" which offered land grants of 100 to 200 acres to settlers who would come and establish farms. The extensive tracks of pine and pristine lakes gave the area an appearance of possessing rich and fertile soil, but the opposite was true. The soil was in fact thin, infertile and acidic. The land was not conducive to farming. In order to sustain themselves and their families, farmers would hunt, trap, and cut and sell timber. They also sought employment with the lumber companies, working in the bush in the winter and returning to work at their farms in the summer.

The town and the settlement across the bay, Parry Harbour, were incorporated in 1887. "Governor" Beatty had a clause in land titles, banning the sale or production of alcohol on lands purchased from his company. Since only Parry Sound was covered by the "Beatty Covenant", Parry Harbour was known as being the "wet" side of town. This is where the lumbermen would gather after coming out of the bush, to celebrate the end of their hard work, for a month, and to spend their money. The area, known for its rowdiness, was dubbed "Parry Hoot."

There have been many different types of industries in Parry Sound besides the obvious lumbering. Businesses included a tannery; furniture making store; soda pop producer; wood turner who made, among other trinkets, Monopoly pieces; boat works; cloth board factory; coal handling plant; and smelter, to name but a few. Each industry in some way shaped the town, giving it the character it has today. This site is designed to remember the past and what it has done for us.

Follow Us

  • w-facebook
  • Instagram - White Circle
  • White YouTube Icon
  • Pinterest - White Circle

© Parry Sound Public Library.