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History Texts

A Short History of Barry's Bay


Many thanks to Angela Lorbetskie and the Barry's Bay Public Library for  providing the following excerpts from a booklet prepared for the 50th  Anniversary Celebration of the Village of Barry's Bay.

"This is the story of Kuaenash Ne-ishing.--- It's Algonquin for 'beautiful bay' on the turbulent  Madawaska River. The local people call it Barry's Bay... But from the far  reaches of the past, this peaceful cove was a place of rendezvous, a  pow-wow land, not for purposes of war but a happy summer hunting ground, where bands of aboriginal Indians, from the Papineau and the south,  feasted on the beauty and the fruits of a lavish and unspoiled nature."(excerpt from Barry's Bay Review, November 24, 1960)

Then a lonely cabin appeared on the shore of the bay, right where St. Hedwig's Church now stands. A white man, James Barry,  who was a foreman for McLaughlin's Lumber in Arnprior, had constructed it  as his head-quarters. Lumbermen referred to this camp on the Kamaniskeg  Lake as Barry's Camp on the Bay... Hence the name Barry's Bay. This was about the time the Opeongo Line was being completed and the townships surveyed.

In 1857, in order to encourage and keep up the settlement of the region of the County of Renfrew, the government made an  official announcement regarding the building of 'settlement roads'. The  roads were to be known as the Ottawa and Opeongo Roads, the Addington Road, and the Hastings Road. "The construction of the first of these roads started in 1854. It ran roughly westward along the Bonnechere Rivet and Madawaska River to the Great Opeongo Lake. On Completion, it extended 100 miles inland from the Ottawa River."(excerpt from "History & Integration of Poles In Canada" - William B. Makowski, Canadian Polish Congress, Canada. 1967) It was to build this road that the first settlers arrived. The first men who  worked on the road construction were offered 100-200 acres of land for  settlement. Thus the Opeongo Road witnessed the arrival of immigrants  heading towards the forests of the Madawaska Valley in 1860. By the end of the 19th century the immigrants had settled in the Barry's Bay area called  Siberia, in Sherwood, Jones & Burns Townships, in and around Lake  Kamaniskeg and especially in what we now know as Barry's Bay Village  itself. These settlers, who left their homelands primarily due to  political and economic conditions were predominantly of Polish and Irish extraction. The employment brought about by the major road construction (the Opeongo Road) and the lumber boom going on at this time in addition to the land grants provided ample reasons for the immigrants to come and settle in this beautiful portion of the Ottawa Valley. In a report dated June 23, 1862, A.J. Forrest, Provincial Land Surveyor recommended the head  of Barry's Bay as an eligible site for a town plot. The reasons cited for  this recommendation were that the proposed site could be approached by the main road (the Opeongo Road and was well toward the centre of the township  of Sherwood). It also had the advantage of water communication (very  important in those days) with the county on the south side of the  Madawaska River.

As noted earlier, McLaughlin's Lumber Company  already had its lumbering operations in progress for some years and 'a depot for that company had been erected within the area now within the village. A stage coach depot and a post office which was used a lot by lumbermen writing letters to their families were situated at Cuthbertson's  Inn on Bark Lake six miles west of Barry's Bay. later this post office was moved to Kavolski's farm and then again to the building site where Donna  Chapeskie's gift shop now stands.

In 1879 the first hotel (also the first  established permanent dwelling) was built in the area which was later to become the Village of Barry's Bay. This hotel, the Blueberry Hotel, served  as a stopover for travelers, lumbermen and settlers. It was later named the Windsor and served spirits until 1916 when prohibition came. It then  became an eating place and apartment house. The Blueberry Hotel, owned by  James Drohan, started the nucleus for the village settlement.

During the next four decades the main means of employment was farming, lumbering and some mining at the Craigmont mines.  During this time transportation consisted of the stage coach, horses, the Mayflower steamer which provided a seasonal daily communication link, mail and passenger and freight service between Barry's Bay and Combermere and of course, the railroad.

In 1888, at the time when the first school in  the district was being started at Siberia Forks, the J.R. Booth Lumber Company of Ottawa incorporated the Ottawa-Arnprior and Parry Sound  Railroad Company, (This was later sold to Grand Trunk in 1905). In 1894  the arrival of the railway train was a major milestone in the history of  the area. It almost immediately replaced the Opeongo Line stage coach and the telegraph service and it stretched from its origin in the east to  Arnprior and Golden Lake to Barry's Bay and Madawaska. Barry's Bay became a supply depot and a site for a sawmill. Sometime during the 1890's, the  heavy timber industry primarily under J.R. Booth shifted its location and Mr. Booth sold out to smaller companies. One sawmill in the Barry's Bay  area was owned and operated by Joseph Prince who is credited by many for  owning the first sawmill in Barry's Bay. Without a doubt, the coming of  the railroad had a great influence on the development of the area since  the new services gave it economic stability. With the coming of economic stability came more business establishments. 1893 saw the first general  store in Barry's Bay. It was owned by Frank Stafford and managed by Henry  George. This store was damaged by fire and rebuilt and expanded several  times and later was purchased by C & D Murray and, in more recent times, by the Madawaska Valley Occupation Centre. A second hotel was constructed by Josh Billings, from lumber purchased from the Prince's  building supplies store, now F. Yakabuski Ltd. At the same time the first  passenger train arrived in Barry's Bay (1894). This hotel, the Billing's Hotel, was destroyed in'1899 by fire and rebuilt. It is now called the  Balmoral Hotel. The post office was located in this hotel for a time until it was moved to its present new location on Opeongo Line in 1936. A  blacksmith shop was also located opposite Drohan's Hotel to shoe the many horses which were used by farmers and lumbermen alike. In 1895 County  Council designated Barry's Bay for a town site - such was the development of this community.

1896 saw the erection of the first mission church for Barry's Bay, the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin  Mary, 2 miles southwest of the village and in the following year the St.  Lawrence O'Toole chapel was constructed. Later, when the congregation increased in size, St. Hedwig's Church was built in 1914 under the  direction of Monsignor Peter Biernaski where it is presently located on the north shore of Kamaniskeg Lake and the St. Lawrence O'Toole Church was built in 1907. Later, in 1966, Father K.J. O'Brien and his parishioners of the St. Lawrence O'Toole Parish demolished and rebuilt on the same site, the present St. Lawrence O'Toole Church. These churches serve the  Roman Catholic denominations of the village. By this time another church  had also been built. The Church of the Epiphany was completed in 1956 on the same site as the old Methodist mission had stood for many years before that.

Two schools within the village were also in  existence by this time, the old separate school built in 1902 which was  located where the Brewer's Retail store now is and the St. Joseph's  separate school which was built in 1928. More schools were constructed  later. St. Mary's red separate school in 1959, St. John Bosco separate  school in 1965 and the Madawaska Valley District High School in 1967 all  stand as proof of the value the people of this area place on the education of their children.

In the year 1905, Barry's Bay was an active  little community. Around twenty trains passed through it daily carrying  passengers and lumber. Just three years before, Mick and Tom Murray had  formed M & T Murray Lumber and they had now received their first  timber limit. J.R. Booth, an Ottawa Valley lumberman, had been pulling his  lumbering operations out of the valley since the 1890's due to the fact that the big stands of pine had almost all disappeared and the square timber trade was dwindling. A smaller, more localized lumber industry now  took the place of the lumber baron's operations. M & T Lumber had their logs sawed at Martin's sawmill on Cybulskie's Pond. In 1911 they went into partnership with J. Omanique and by the winter of 1914 were employing about 150 men. This partnership lasted until 1929 and the  following year saw the beginning of the Murray Brothers Lumber Company as  we know it today. A mill was erected at Cross Lake and business was  carried out there until 1952 when they built a sawmill at Madawaska and an office in Barry's Bay. This company is now one of the largest employers in the area and their planer is situated in Barry's Bay. The lumber industry which played such an important part in the development of the village in  the early part of the twentieth century, still plays a vital role in the economic situation of Barry's Bay and the surrounding area.

In 1912, the area lost an important link in the  chain of communication and transport between Barry's Bay and Combermere.  The Mayflower, a sternwheeler which had been carrying mail, passengers and  freight went down in lake Kamaniskeg taking all lives on board with the  exception of three persons who survived. Within the next ten years the  road services had improved. By the time the Dominion Government had  purchased and merged the Grand Trunk and the Canadian Atlantic Railway  into the Canadian National, the improved roads and the depletion of the  timber resources were steadily and surely contributing to the decline of the rail service. The divisional headquarters had been dismantled at  Madawaska and the engine house and turning facilities had been constructed  at Barry's Bay. The railway station (now owned by the village and used by  the Opeongo Trailblazer's Senior Citizen's Club) still stands in Barry's  Bay as does the water tower, possibly the only remaining wooden water tank in Eastern Canada or in all Canada. Both structures have been repaired by  interested groups in order to preserve another part of our rich heritage.

Other services were being expanded upon too. The telegraph office quit operating in the area in 1894 but it wasn't too long before the People's Telephone Service installed a switchboard at the post  office operated by W. Kerwin in the building where Donna Chapeskie's gift  shop is now located. Then in 1922, a group of about 25 citizens purchased this Service and installed a switchboard at Skebo's store where it was  called the Sherwood Municipal Telephone Company and later the Madawaska  Valley Telephone System. In 1958 it became part of Bell Telephone and moved to its new location where the Barry's Bay Public Library stands today.

Hydro was also introduced in the Village in the  1920's and 1930's. In 1927 a power plant was located at Omanique's. Later it was moved to the late Frank Cybulskie's garage, then to Jack Conway's  Planing mill. At this time the cost of producing hydro services prohibited the extension of services to the rest of the town.

But in 1937, after the village was incorporated  for four years, the village passed a by-law to authorize the Barry's Bay Electric Light Company to erect poles and wires. In 1943 by-laws were  passed authorizing the purchase of the Barry's Bay Electric Light Company and the plant by the village. In 1949 an agreement was signed to obtain power from the Hydro Commission of Ontario (now Ontario Hydro). Barry's Bay Hydro now serves over 500 customers.

In 1933, seventy-one years after being recommended as a town site and thirty-eight years after being designated  as one, the village of Barry's Bay was incorporated under by-law 1184 of  the County of Renfrew out of 520 acres of the Township of Sherwood. The  first Reeve was Henry J. Chapeskie. The rest of the council consisted of  H.G. Taylor, the late John Vitkuskie, Charles J. Murray and John J. Coulas. The first Clerk was H.L. Landon followed later by H. Skuce. The  meetings were held in the old Roman Catholic Separate School No. 6. In subsequent years the Clerks kept the village's records in their homes and  then at the building used as a post office operated by W. Kerwin. It wasn't until 1959 that the village built its own new municipal offices.

Progress was slowed down in Barry's Bay during the duration of the Depression and the second world war but resumed again  afterwards. A volunteer fire department was established and a municipal  police force was in operation until the Ontario Provincial Police assumed  the policing responsibility for the village in 1967. In 1946 a Legion Branch No. 406 was operating in Barry's Bay and in 1950 the first community centre in the village was built. Later in 1980 another one was constructed in co-operation with the United Townships of Sherwood, Jones &  Burns after the original one was considered a safety hazard. A movie  theatre was built in 1948 by the late Frank Oybulskie and the same theatre is being used today under a different ownership. Previous to the theatre being built, movies were shown by Father Biernaski in the St. Hedwig's  Roman Catholic Parish Hall. In 1959 the first newspaper in the village of  Barry's Bay was born. The Barry's Bay Review, whose editor and publisher was Arthur Ritza, ran a weekly edition from June of 1959 until early 1963.  There was no newspaper within the village for the next 8 years (but the  people still could obtain the Eganville Leader, a weekly paper from Eganville) until John Zylstra opened the This Week newspaper in 1971. This paper was later purchased by William and Inez Boehme.

By 1960, the population of the village was 1,468 persons and 75 establishments carried on businesses in and around it. Garbage collection was door-to-door and a village roads superintendent was  hired to supervise the roads maintenance and projects.

Due to the number of vehicles and better roads and main highways leading to and from the area, passenger trait service was discontinued. In 1960, a group of residents approached village council  with regards to establishing a public library. The council agreed with the request and a library was set up in the new municipal building. Later the  library was relocated to its present location on Opeongo Line after Bell Canada went to the direct dialing system in Barry's Bay. In 1960 the St. Francis Memorial Hospital was completed in the Township of Sherwood right next to the village on land donated by the late H.J. Chapeskie. In 1962  the Bank of Montreal was expanded on its present site to accommodate the  increasing population and business.

In 1961, the village fathers decided that a  coat-of-arms should be made up and registered for Barry's Bay. This task  was given to Frank J. Ritza and the coat-of-arms was registered on December 27, 1961, twenty-eight years after its incorporation. The white eagle on it represents the Polish settlers; the harp, the Irish. The rising sun symbolizes the bright future to the immigrants and the heirs of all nationalities in the village.

1975 saw installation of water and sewer municipal services for the village and in 1980 an Official Plan was adopted by council for the designation of areas in the village for  residential, commercial and industrial purposes, etc. It is hoped that these will be instrumental in attracting new industry to the area to ensure the economic progress of the community. In 1981 the first municipal  park was established with a play structure to be installed under the  sponsorship of the Lions Club and completed in 1983. The first municipal  garage was built in 1982.

All these community services have been brought about and carried on by the industrious, hard-working people of Barry's  Bay and area. In 1933 the taxable assessment of Barry's Bay was $143,225.  Fifty years later, the total taxable assessment is $1,243,055. The biggest  industry in the area is still lumbering although tourism plays a very  important part in the economy. It provides income to many businesses in the village although many stores would not be operating were it not for  the local market (i.e. 25-50 mile radius).

It may be hard for us living here today with our paved roads, our automobiles, our services and facilities to imagine what  it was like for those early pioneers who through their hardships and  initiative fashioned the Barry's Bay we know from the "happy summer hunting ground" of the Algonquins. Let us all keep in mind the heritage our forefathers have left us and continue to pledge ourselves in this year of our 50th Anniversary of incorporation to the continued growth of our village, our cultures, our religions and our most important  resource, our children.


Postscript (2009)

This brief history of the Village of Barry’s Bay to 1983 was researched and written by Angela Villeneuve Lorbetskie for the Village of Barry’s Bay’s 50th Anniversary Book. It was included (at the beginning) of the booklet of histories regarding the village and the community gathered together by Mrs. Theresa Sullivan, the coordinator of the 1983 Village Anniversary Celebrations.

It is important to add that since this was written in 1983, local historian Bob Corrigan has investigated this further and that in a letter to the editor of the Barry’s Bay This Week on January 28, 2004, he states that in a letter he received in 1983 from the Archives of Ontario, it stated that the only existing collection of McLachlin records failed to turn up a foreman or anyone else by the name of Barry in the company records. He goes on further to state that surveyors Alexander Murray (in 1853) and James Haslett (in 1847) had done surveys on the area’s lakes and rivers and that on Mr. Haslett’s map of 1847, a decade before the Ottawa and Opeongo Road reached Barry’s Bay, it was already named as Barry’s Bay. Mr. Corrigan’s theory was that since in their reports, both surveyors mentioned the name of only one inhabitant, an Irish farmer by the name of William Byers, whose farm seems to have been on Kamaniskeg Lake, possibly near today’s Chippawa Lodge, the Bay off Kamaniskeg was written down as Barry’s Bay instead of Byer’s Bay as accents can differentiate. The water  known as Barry’s Bay is not just the part of Kamaniskeg Lake close to the Village. It stretches all the way from the Village to the big body of water, a distance of about nine kilometers. So the Village may have been named from the Madawaska River end, not too far from Byer’s farm. Many thanks to Bob Corrigan for this correction. Of course, since Barry’s Bay was covered in berries and locals could pick them almost anywhere until the area was settled, they may still tell you that perhaps the original spelling was really Berry’s Bay. Tom Murray, one of the founders of a local lumbering business, former member of  Provincial Parliament and wonderful storyteller,  in an interview with Joan Finnigan for her book on the Opeongo Line stated that  “ I think they made a mistake. They intended to call it Berry’s Bay but somebody couldn’t spell. It was one vast blueberry plain. Families used to come from 15 or 20 miles away by horse and buggy to pick blueberries there. I came here myself 92 years ago to pick blueberries.” (excerpt from Life Along The Opeongo Line - Joan Finnigan, Penumbra Press, Canada. 2004.)  These are the stories that make the area so unique.

The Village of Barry’s Bay was officially incorporated, together with the Township of Sherwood Jones & Burns and the Township of Radcliffe into the Township of Madawaska Valley on January 1, 2001.

Angela Villeneuve Lorbetskie