Can you imagine what the Killbear peninsula would be like today if it had never been made into a park? Thankfully it was.
Killbear Provincial Park sits on a peninsula which has been called Killbear Point for over 140 years. For years, stories have been told about a logger killing a bear (or a bear killing a logger) as a log boom was towed around the point on the way to the large sawmills in Parry Sound. The trouble with these stories is that the logging era here took place between 1860 and 1920. Meanwhile the local Anishinabek (Ojibway) people called the peninsula Mukwa Nayoshing (which translates into 'Bear Point') long before there were any loggers or Europeans in the area.
So why did the First Nations call the point Mukwa Nayoshing? To this day, bears regularly swim back and forth from the tip of the point to Parry Island, where the Wasauksing First Nation is located. Perhaps they named the point in recognition of this natural corridor for bears.
As for why it was called Killbear Point instead of just Bear Point, it's a bit of a mystery, but we think it was just a mis-translation.
Killbear's (Not-so-Profitable) Farm
A walk through boulder-strewn Killbear peninsula is enough to convince anyone that it is not fit for farming. And that was what the surveyor of Carling Township, Francis Bolger, concluded too. The one exception was the 450 acre parcel adjacent to Kilcoursie beach - the present Day Use Beach area.
In 1885, the Scott brothers laid claim to these 450 acres under the Ontario Government’s Free Grant and Homestead Act. This Act gave crown land to settlers provided that within five years the settlers had 15 acres of land under cultivation, a 16’ x 20’ house built, and were residing on the property. Otherwise the settler would have to forfeit the land.
The farm wasn’t very profitable and to make ends meet the Scott brothers (like most farmers in the district) augmented their income through trapping and working in lumber camps. Even those efforts weren’t enough; in 1904, the Scott brothers were in arrears for back taxes and Charles Alonzo Philips, a big-dreaming business man, bought the 450 acres from them for $1,500.
Killbear's (Not-At-All-Profitable) Hotel
In September 1904, Charles Alonzo (Lon) Philips, scooped up the rest of the Killbear peninsula (1866 acres) from William Rabb Beatty, a Parry Sound sawmill operator and MPP for the district. Lon got it for $4000 - however, Beatty had bought it four years previous for only $933.
Lon had big dreams for the Killbear peninsula now that he owned the 450 acres of the Scott homestead and 1866 acres from Mr. Beatty. His business was hotels. He previously owned and managed the Canada Altantic Hotel in Parry Sound.
Lon Phillips tried to develop Killbear Point with his company - The Georgian Bay Park and Hotel Company Ltd. which was incorporated in June 1910. There were plans for a 5 story hotel, 800 cottage lots, bowling greens, tennis courts and golf course. Lon put together a prospectus and tried to sell shares in his company (12,500 shares for $10 each). However the venture came to naught and the sum total of development was a large sign indicating that a hotel would be located on the point in the future.
Killbear's (More Profitable) Logging
Killbear was logged for all of its major tree species at some time from 1898 to 1930, beginning with its majestic white pine.
White Pine Logging
Many of Killbear’s large white pines, as well as the other species of trees, are part of a second growth forest. Beginning in 1898, Killbear’s pines were cut and scowed to the sawmills in Parry Sound.
The work of the white pine logger was done in the winter months when the logs were easier to maneuver through the bush. “Jobbers,” men contracted to cut a specified amount of trees on the timber limits belonging to someone else, worked with small crews on the Killbear peninsula until task of clearing the pines was completed in 1902.
Stumps of large pines from this era can still be found in Killbear. Can you find one?
Hemlock were valued for their bark, which were used to tan cow hides used for making all leather items like shoes, boots and gloves. The bark of Killbear's hemlocks, and hemlocks all along the Bay, was towed by Galna and Danter's tug boats to the Breipthaupt Leather Company's tannery in Penetanguishene, ON.
Hemlock logging was done in the spring of the year, right at the peak of the black flies and mosquitoes, when flowing sap made the bark easier to peel. Unfortunately, it made logging these trees pretty unbearable.
Killbear was logged of its hardwoods - its maples, birch and beech - for the Standard Chemical Company during the years of 1913-16. The Standard Chemical Company had a plant located near the present day Salt Docks in Parry Sound. The main products of the plant were methanol, acetate (an essential ingredient of the cordite produced in the explosives plant in nearby Nobel), and wood charcoal as a by-product.
The hardwood from Killbear was only one source for the plant in Parry Sound as the plant had a capacity of 48 cords per day. Hardwood was purchased throughout the district, from farmers and jobbers along the rail lines. The plant had six kilns, each with four kiln cars. Each kiln car held two cords of wood and ran on tracks through the kilns.
At the plant, the cordwood was loaded onto kiln cars. Each car was in the kiln for about 26 hours, then went through a system of cooling sheds. The smoke given off from the wood in the kilns was condensed to distill the wood alcohols and acetate. The entire process took six days from the time the cordwood went into the kiln until the final product could be bagged and shipped as charcoal. The kiln cars had to be hosed down and watched carefully after being removed from the kilns for they had a habit of spontaneously bursting into flame. When the plant was running to full capacity the men worked around the clock with eleven-hour day shifts and thirteen-hour night shifts.
The Killbear Lighthouse is not actually part of Killbear Provincial Park. It sits on a 3.5 acre parcel of land owned by the Coast Guard. The first light was built in 1904 to help guide the grain ships, iron ore carriers, passenger ships and logging vessels into Parry Sound and Depot Harbour. The base of the light was a large acetylene gas canister that would be filled every spring and would last the shipping season.
Filling the large acetylene canister was a risky business and in the spring of 1908 the Department of Transport ship "Pilot" tied up alongside the buoy at Ten Mile Point near Cameron Island (which is just to the southwest of Killbear, about 3 km from the Park). Seven crew members were on board when an explosion sunk the ship, killed the captain and blew some crew members into the icy April waters. The survivors rowed towards Parry Sound and they spent the night at Pratt's Dance Pavilion on Mowatt Island. After an explosion at the acetylene plant in Parry Sound killed two men they switched to using smaller tanks (like welders use).
In 1966 the lighthouse was changed to electricity and in 1994 the original light was replaced with the present structure.
Becoming a park
The land was acquired to create Killbear in 1958. On July 1st, 1960, Killbear Provincial Park was officially opened to the public. At this time, 135 campsites had been completed in Beaver Dams campground and the main road completed to the Lighthouse Point. The initial development took place under an unemployment relief program.
The Harold Point and Granite Saddle campgrounds were built the next year. Lighthouse campground was developed in 1962-63, Kilcoursie campground in 1964 and 1965, and Blind Bay campground in 1965-8. In 1965-6, the amphitheatre was built and nature trail cut and the interpretive program began in a small way in 1965.
Perhaps the best indication of the park’s growth can be obtained by an examination of some of the statistics from the years 1960 and 1970. In 1960, there were 135 campsites and 43,000 visitors annually. In just ten years the number of campsites had grown to 1018 and the visitors totaled more than 260,000 annually. There are now 882 campsites and between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors annually.
Many of Killbear’s visitors today are members of families who have been camping in the park since it opened. It is a place that makes you want to come back. Killbear Provincial Park is working hard to protect its ecological integrity, so that what makes this place special will be there for the visitors to come.