Harbour has long shaped Bayfield’s history
Looking down from the Hwy. 21 bridge, the Bayfield Harbour is an impressive sight — a forest of sailing boats’ masts and rows of power boats tied up at slips.
Today the harbour plays a vitally important role in the economy of the village. It’s no coincidence that the explosion of new shops in Bayfield followed the expansion of marina facilities several decades back. The mouth of the Bayfield River has provided boaters with an inviting inlet in the Huron coast for more than 175 years. In the years after farms sprung up inland, and before railways and roads provided efficient land-based transportation, Bayfield flourished as a grain port, says area native Sandra Orr in her book Huron: Grand Bend to Southampton. Despite difficulty getting grain down the steep hills to the harbour, boats were filled and grain shipped to Kingston.
In 1874, $36,000, an immense sum at the time, was spent improving Bayfield harbour, but, Orr says, townspeople felt an additional $10,000 was needed to complete the project and provide a safe harbour because in snow or fog, schooners continued to miss the harbour entrance and wreck on the beach.
One such wreck occurred in November 1882 when the three-masted wooden schooner Malta,so the story goes, saw a light from the Orange Lodge where a meeting was taking place and, mistaking it for a light at the Port of Goderich, several miles to the north, headed the boat inland. Luckily, after the boat ran aground, the Orangemen came to the rescue of the crew of nine men and one woman – and one parrot.
Long after the commercial shipping industry died in Bayfield with the coming of better inland transportation, the lack of a railway link to the village and the concentration of shipping in Goderich, fishing continued to be an important part of the local economy. Many of the scows and schooners which went out on the lake were built by local craftsmen from the oak, elm and pine trees that grew inland.