Once Upon a Time: ‘Early history of Oliphant’

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Now that summer has favoured us with its annual and welcome arrival, year round residents of our County will be joined by summer folk and visitors. For many years, a popular destination has been Oliphant. In 1983 Mrs. Bertha Hyatt wrote about her love for this little Lake side community.

In 1856, at the time of the Rankin Survey of the Townships of Amabel and Albemarle, the town plot for Oliphant was laid out in streets. Though there were many settlers, it never developed into anything like the town hoped for, mainly because of the shallow water which would not permit large vessels to dock near the shore. However, much timber and lumber was rafted out to boats lying at anchor at the Outer Islands. Shallow water along the shore did not prevent Oliphant from becoming a thriving summer resort land.

Amabel Township was opened for settlement in 1855 and soon after the earliest settlers began to arrive.

The first sawmill at Oliphant was built and operated by a Mr. Field about 1876. It was situated on the Oliphant beach by Preacher’s Point. Mr. Albert Schell later bought this business; he also owned a store and ran a large boarding house. Workers at the mill were expected to take their wages in groceries or dry goods. Other mills were then built in Oliphant and further afield at Sauble Falls and Spry Lake.

The first bridge over the Pike River was built in 1872, replacing a makeshift foot bridge made by the settlers. Mr. John Hutchinson was appointed Post Master and mail courier in 1875. He walked to and from Wiarton carrying incoming and outgoing mail and to Sauble with mail the following day. Later he owned a horse, the first one in the community.

(Later in her article, Mrs. Hyatt added a poem she had written. Here is an excerpt.)

Have you ever been at Oliphant Beach on a pleasant summer day,
When a soft south breeze is blowing as the fishes leap in play,
When the sun shines on the water in an iridescent light,
And the white gulls rise in splendour ere they soar away in flight?
 If you have not, then you know not, the beauties that adorn
Oliphant on Lake Huron on a pleasant summer morn.

This article was first written for the Bruce County Historical Society’s 1983 Yearbook  And adapted by Bob Johnston