Croft Township

History compiled by Waity Croswell and Nora Huyck, June 1993

The little village of Ahmic Harbour is listed in the Ontario Road Map of 1989 as having 61 inhabitants. By actual count in the spring of 1993, there are 85 permanent residents living in the village. There are 30 cottages with residents who come regularly each summer.

Ahmic Harbour is situated at the end of the most westerly arm of Ahmic Lake in Croft Township in the District of Parry Sound. It has two stores, post office, Hotel (tavern), restaurant, fire hall, recreation hall, and ball field still operating.

It wasn’t always such a quiet place. The history of its settlement begins in the last half of the nineteenth century. After first thinking that the whole District of Parry Sound should be made into one huge Indian reservation, the government changed it’s mind and decided to open the area for settlement and for logging and trapping. It had been the fishing and hunting grounds for the tribes of Indians who wintered on Georgian Bay. In 1850, a treaty called the “Robinson Treaty” was made with the Indians.

In the fall of 1866, two young men, Charles Croswell and John Paul, came from Southern Ontario to Parry Sound. Like those who followed them, they wanted to get some of the free land being granted on certain conditions by the Government to those who would settle in the area. They had come by boat to Parry Sound and walked form there to Ahmic Lake since there was no road yet for vehicles. They spent the fall and winter near the western end of Ahmic Lake. Charles was the son of John Croswell, then 38 years of age, whose trade was brick making. John and his family followed Charles in the next spring, in 1867. John and his three sons chose land in the area amounting to several hundred acres. The outline of Croft Township was surveyed in 1866 but the survey dividing the Township into lots and concessions wasn’t made until 1969. Charles found his land was Lots 23 and 24 in Concession 10, his father’s property was Lots 21 and 22, concession 9. John Paul settled on Lots 25 and 26 of Concession 9. John’s sister Elizabeth and two brothers, Edmund and Samuel followed John the next year too.

John Croswell and his son Charles exchanged properties and in 1886 John registered a plan for the village of Ahmic Harbour on parts of the two lots close to the lake. Charles reserved a block of this land for himself. In 1897, he added further lots to the plan south of the original survey. The village was originally called “Croswell’s Landing.”

Others followed these two families settling in the area. To get cash, many of the men worked in lumber camps in the winter.

Samuel Armstrong had lumber camps in the area as early as 1865. His men came from Rosseau, following a trail to the south end of Ahmic Lake. By 1870, he had outlined a road to Ahmic Harbour from Parry Sound. The Dodge Lumber Company was active in the area also. It was granted 250 acres around Ahmic Lake and Lake Cecebe. It’s first depot was at Port Anson at the south end of Ahmic Lake. Eventually the depot was moved to Ahmic Harbour.

There was much activity in the area from Burk’s Falls right through to Parry Sound. The railroad had reached Burk’s Falls in 1885. Since roads were very poor, the best way to travel was by boat. A boat built in Magnetawan in 1879 called the “pioneer” carried goods and passengers from Burk’s Falls to Magnetawan. The falls at Magnetawan stopped further travel. In 1885, Samuel Armstrong moved a boat called “Ada” to Ahmic Harbour so it could meet the “pioneer” at Magnetawan. Now it was possible for passengers and goods to travel by train to Burk’s Falls, by boat to Magnetawan, transfer to the Ada at Magnetawan, then to Ahmic Harbour and by road to Parry Sound.

A year later the trip was made even easier. The locks were completed at Magnetawan and passengers could go from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour. This really opened up the whole area from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour and beyond for development. The previous routes into the area were long—arduous—to Magnetawan and Burk’s Falls. The route was by train to Gravenhurst, by boat to Rosseau, by stagecoach to Magnetawan and by boat to Burk’s Falls or Ahmic Harbour. Another route from Ahmic Harbour was by train to Collingwood, by boat to Parry sound and by road to Ahmic Harbour.

With the parents who came to settle were children, so one of the early concerns was a school. One was authorized on October 14, 1887 and Wm. Croswell was appointed to call a meeting to name three trustees. These were John Croswell, chairman, Wm. Stanyer and John Paul. Three years later the first school was built on land donated by John Croswell. School started in 1880. Samson Paul, brother of John, was the first teacher. In 1893, Samson Paul built a new brick school. It finally became outdated and a new school was built in 1950. The old school became the Community Centre. In 1966 the school closed. Public school children were taken by bus to Dunchurch and the High School children went to Parry Sound.

Another early concern was a church to take care of the spiritual needs of the community. As early as 1885, prayer meetings were held in homes with local people as leaders. Dunchurch and Magnetawan were included. An old notebook of minutes of a few of these meetings called these “meetings of the Christian Band”. It is believed these were Salvation Army Meetings.

At one time there was Salvation Army Hall where services were held on Lot 11, n/w of Mary Street where Don and Ona Wager live, beside Arnold and Beatrice Wylie. There was also a Methodist Church built on land donated by John Croswell. It later became a United Church. It was closed about 1969 and the building sold in 1970. For a period of time an Anglican minister from Broadbent came to the village and held services in one of the private homes.

News from the outside world and letters from friends and relatives were important and in these early small communities the Post Office became the central meeting place at “Mail time”, even as it is now where small communities still retain their local post office. The one in Ahmic Harbour was established February 1, 1881 with John Croswell as the first postmaster. Ahmic Harbour never had a separate building as a Post Office. It was always in the home of the postmaster.

John Wylie was postmaster for 45 years, retiring when he was 80 years old. Beatrice Wylie succeeded him and held the position for 25 years, retiring August 31, 1985 when Regina White took over. On May 31 1988, Ahmic Harbour lost its post office. Mail is now handled at a Retail Postal Outlet operated by Joyce Crossman at the Ole Guitar Picker’s Restaurant which is owned and operated by Joyce and her husband Carl.

In the early years game and fish supplied meat for settlers; gardens supplied vegetables, wild raspberries, strawberries and blueberries supplied fruit. Other supplies had to come from Dunchurch or Parry Sound at first, then with the start of boat travel on the lakes, from Burk’s Falls as well. As soon as the road was navigable, John Croswell drove a team and wagon to Parry Sound for supplies for the community. Others walked to Dunchurch and dragged back bags of flour in deerskins.

The first store in the village was build by Wm. Robinson in 1884. It was located on Lot 5, s/s Ahmic Street in the village plan. Jules Brown built a large brick store where the restaurant is now located. John Newell bought Wm. Robinson’s store in 1905. He used this store until 1920, then moved to the larger store which he purchased from Jules Brown. He stayed there until about 1931. At this time the road went through the village and in the early thirties the corner was blasted to widen the road. This weakened the structure and it was further weakened by an earthquake which occurred in 1933 or 1934.

John Newell then moved back to the original store on Lot 5 on the south side of Ahmic Street. In 1940 the store on the corner was torn down. Dwight Newell had a little house on the corner lost and in 1964 Carl Crossman build a store and added a restaurant in 1979 and in 1992 after 30 years in business Carl and Joyce added a craft room and patio.

John Newell sold his store in 1946 to Norman White. Then it was sold to Art Demberline and then to Earl Tiffin. The store burned in 1959. Ahmic Harbour was without a store till 1962. There is a store near-by on Highway #124 west of the village operated by Ted McEwen.

The first hotel in Ahmic Harbour was build by Art MacDonald where the Harbour Tavern now stands. It was destroyed by fire in 1908. Three years later the new one was finished. It was a big three storey building. In the first half of the century it was busy place especially in the summer. The summer people came by boat from Burk’s Falls, some to cottages on the lake, others to resort at Cedar Croft and still others to the Lakeview Hotel in Ahmic Harbour. Waity Croswell remembers dances held weekly in a pavilion on the shore. Their dances were sponsored by the hotel owners. Tourists were attracted by the beauty of the lakes and surrounding area and by the boating and fishing.

Then the automobile arrived and roads had to be improved. Travel by automobile became faster than by boat. People were able to go farther away to explore new areas and tourist business at the hotel and resorts declined around 1950. There were not enough tourists to keep the hotel in operation in the summer. The third storey was no longer used and finally was removed about 1986. It is now a tavern and no longer supplies accommodations.

There are no industries operating in Ahmic Harbour now, but there were several in the early days. One was brick making carried on by John Croswell and John Paul. Clay was found suitable for making bricks on the opposite side of the road between the fire hall and church. The brick houses still standing from that time are made from Croswell bricks. Each brick is marked with the initials J.C. They were and orange red colour. The last bricks were made about 1910.

There was boat building by two Croswell Bros. – Tom and Jim. They started building rowing skiffs around 1890 and about 1905 changed to power boats. There is still one of the original row boats on Ahmic Lake owned by Bill Webb who still comes regularly to his summer cottage. The Croswell Bros. continued the business in the village until 1917 when the entire operation was moved to Parry Sound. An article in the North Star, Parry Sound, January 10, 1985 describes their boats as “long and narrow with a knife edge bow that cuts through the water. They were known as displacement boats which gave a smooth, quiet ride.”

About 1895 Charles Croswell started a blacksmith shop. He also traveled to McKellar to do blacksmithing. There was also a sash and door factory located on the east side of Mary Street. It was run by John Croswell. There was a sawmill in operation too and in 1887 John Croswell had just completed a saw and shingle mill and intended to add a grist and chopping mill.

As the years passed, changes crept in and Ahmic Harbour’s population and activities began to decline. Many of the farmers close to the village were disappointed in the quality of the soil—sandy, and when the trees were cleared away much rock was revealed. Then it was discovered that the lands of the prairies was very fertile and Federal Government was promoting settlement there from Eastern Canada. Many left to take up land there and never came back. Others left because the supply of the great pine trees, which seemed so plentiful at fist, started to run out. Lumbering operations by the big companies were gradually phased out in the area. The lumber workers had to seek employment elsewhere.

In early years, travel between Burk’s Falls and Ahmic Harbour by boat was easy and pleasant, nor was there any difficulty in transporting goods and supplies. As long as that continued, Ahmic Harbour was an important port. The advent of the automobile brought road improvements and travel speedier than by boat. In 1925 a new road was completed to Burk’s Falls. The road at that time traveled behind Ahmic Lake, coming out at Spence Cemetery the out past Midlothian corners and onto Wiseman’s Corners then into Burk’s Falls.

The boats were no longer needed. The Croswell Bros. may have foreseen that, which prompted their move to Parry Sound. This threw more people out of work. Tourism continued to be a big business until the middle of the century, then it too declined, and with it disappeared more summer jobs.

There is no work available in Ahmic Harbour for the young people aster they graduate from High School in Parry Sound; there is only limited work in the towns nearby. They have to go further afield to North Bay or Sudbury or the cities of Southern Ontario. There they marry and raise their families. A few may come back to retire in the area, but mostly they don’t return.

A new trend is being noted in the last decade. People who have retired in the cities of Southern Ontario are finding it financially difficult to continue to live there. For some the pace of life is too fast and hectic. They have no childhood ties to this area but are attracted by its beauty, its friendly people, and its quiet atmosphere. They are also finding enough activities and interests to keep them busy and happily.

Jewel Crossman adds the following note. The residents of today are mainly descendants of the pioneers who have either stayed or moved back home in retirement. The permanent year round residents number about 48 to 50. The population increases greatly in the summer.