First the arrival of the railroad, then the highway changed everything.
The original name was Sucker Creek, and until June 1908 that pretty much summed things up. It was the buggy backside of a few scruffy farms, and not only was it a long way from the “Village” that had established itself out by the Bellevue Hotel and the lighthouse, it offered little reason for anyone to make the trip.
It was well known that the CPR line was going to be extended north of Parry Sound to Sudbury years before the first spike of the extension was hammered in. The steamers from Midland, Penetang, Collingwood and Parry Sound were charming and colourful, but they weren’t exactly speedy and they were not always reliable. Hamilton Davis, a former railway agent, opened the Ojibway Hotel in the summer of 1906, confident that the train was on its way. And he was proved correct. Two summers later, the arrival of the railway changed Pointe au Baril forever.
At first, the station was little more than a transit point between the train and the small steamers that ferried hotel guests to the Ojibway and cottagers to their islands. A horse (reputed to have enjoyed chewing tobacco) and a wagon carted the trunks and hat boxes and fishing gear down the steep slope from the train platform to the dock.
If it became necessary to spend the night at the station as a result of bad weather, late trains, or both, travellers found shelter in a guest cabin, operated by Emily and John Perks. The Perkses also ran the first supply and taxi boat, driven by Joe Emery. Eventually, a general store, managed at first by the Perkses and then by their daughter Edna and her husband, Crosley Kennedy, was built on the dock, across the road from where Kennedy’s store stands now. Soon the station boasted a post office. In the 1920s, Gordon Jacobs opened a restaurant at the CPR station. Those who had arrived on the overnight train from Toronto could always enjoy a hearty breakfast at Jacobs’ restaurant.
In 1913, James Oliver Reid built six cabins on Pioneer Island out on Frederic Channel, far from the mainland, and for three summers operated a camp there. Reid then began work as a contractor in the area, and in 1922 he charted the islands, channels, markers and cottages of Pointe au Baril. He mapped 1,500 islands between the lighthouse and Twin Sisters, an area roughly five miles by ten miles. This exhaustive work was used for the first Pointe au Baril Islanders’ Association map, and it was no wonder that the CPR eventually awarded the Reids the contract for ferrying passengers and freight from the train out to the islands and the Ojibway Hotel. Nobody knew the area better than J. O. Reid.
J. O. Reid’s business was eventually taken over by his sons, Wallace and Bruce, and it is Wally whom older Pointe au Baril islanders remember as the driver of the Reid’s Boat Service. Over the years, the fleet included the Islander, the Island Cottager, Waukon, Little Waukon and Osso.
But in 1937, Pointe au Baril changed again. That summer, Highway 69 came through, and the station had to adapt to a new reality. Suddenly, travellers came at all times of day, instead of the regular arrivals and departures of the train. Parking was required, as were marinas to service the growing numbers of private boats. The bustling community was a far cry from the days of Sucker Creek, but the old families of the area continued to run the local businesses. Reid, Woodward, Desmasdon, Kennedy, Thorkilson, Penfold, Green – all are names woven into the history of Pointe au Baril Station.