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THEN AND NOW: Little Lake always a big attraction

Not only was the area enjoyed by skaters and duck hunters, prospectors also sought uranium and oil

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, as well as the story behind them

Little Lake

At the headwater of the east branch of the Nottawasaga River, sometimes referred to as Nottawasaga Creek or Willow Creek, is Little Lake.

As part of the trails and waterways in the area, it was not considered a significant route of the Ouendat, but the Algonquins made use of it later as a canoe portage. The early Hurons used almost every peak of land along the hills fronting Little Lake and the north edge of Willow Creek for their sites.

The real importance of Little Lake came later. Known as the Nine Mile Portage, it was part of the sytem connecting lakes Huron and Ontario. It was of great value to explorers, the military, fur traders, and settlers.

But by the 1890s, the small, secluded Little Lake had clearly become a year-round recreational area.

Reports in December 1897 spoke of large numbers of skaters seen on Little Lake. A sleigh load and several cutter loads were spotted visiting an open rink on Little Lake one January night in 1901, enjoying themselves.

Fishing was, and still is, a popular sport on Little Lake. In 1902, Jas. Russell organized a fishing expedition for the young people of the 3rd Concession of Midhurst, a wildly successful outing as a large number of fish were apparently caught. Little Lake is said to be home to pike, pickerel, crappie, perch, small- and large-mouth bass.

Little Lake was also an autumn hunting destination, though there was some skepticism in 1897 in the ability of the hunters: “Duck shooting opened last week, but we have not heard of any large bags having been made by the local nimrods, although considerable shooting has been done in the vicinity of Little Lake."

Could the ‘local nimrods’ the reporter is referring to be the band of gentlemen duck hunters pictured here at Little Lake in 1902?

Interestingly, at exactly the same time a lacklustre duck-hunting season was being reported in 1897, Bank of Toronto teller L.D. Beatty suggested that considerable free gold could be found in Vespra Township near the vicinity of his Little Lake hunting grounds. Not enough to make him give up his day job, but still.

Beatty went on to say that given the amount of shooting he has done in that area over the last 20 years, he would not be surprised to discover a lead mine instead of gold.

Aim or luck must have improved for Luke Beatty and his friends, such as J. Shrubsole, smoke shop owner and acting fire chief, merchant and new owner of the B. Hinds and Co. store J.C. Irwin and F.D. Haight a Dunlop Street jeweller/watchmaker, as these photographic records of September 1902 indicate there would definitely be duck for dinner.

Did the gold-mining ever pan out? We’re not sure.

However in 1954, mining engineers surveyed and placed claim stakes around Little Lake, in search of uranium and oil.