Skip to content

THEN AND NOW: Something fishy was afoot at aptly named Wonder Valley

Ten freshly painted cabins with electricity, running water, showers and new mattresses housed 1,100 guests in tourist camp's first season

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. 

Wonder Valley

In 1937, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Game and Fisheries was not satisfied with the status of angling in Lake Simcoe.

The previous year, it was estimated that $113 million had been spent on tourism and 270,000 fishing licences had been issued. He declared that everyone can benefit from the tourist trade derived from fishing.

Trout fishing, in particular, was putting many towns on the map and Kempenfelt Bay should get in on the action.

The Midhurst Forestry Station was rearing speckled trout, which need special spawning areas in order to propagate, and depositing 45,000 small trout to streams in the district. These trout ponds were located within the 400 hectares that the province purchased for a tree nursery in 1922.  

The nursery came about as a result of forest that had been cleared for farming, leaving vast tracks of pine stumps and blowing sand around the Midhurst area by the late 1800s.

The new tree nursery required a water source and the site that had been selected had springs on the property to supply it. Red, Jack and Scotch Pine seedlings from the nursery were planted on the cleared land. 

Springwater Park, named for the springs, opened in 1927 and during the Great Depression in the 1930s, government programs funded the construction of the animal and bird enclosures, park roads, gardens and picnic pavilions. It officially became a provincial park in 1958 under the Department of Lands and Forest, later known as the Ministry of Natural Resources.

In June 1939, 15,000 brown yearling fish from Springwater Park were distributed – 10,000 in Simcoe County, specifically Willow Creek. The Kiwanis Club took the minister’s message to heart and, in 1938, helped restock Kempenfelt Bay. One of their contributions was 10,000 fingerlings of Kamloops rainbow trout from the Normandale Hatchery on Lake Erie.

In 1938, George and Arthur McLean had opened what was considered one of the most unique tourist camps (and trout fishing spots) in the county, called Wonder Valley.

Located on Penetanguishene Road between Crown Hill and Georgian Drive, Wonder Valley was located in a low-lying area, even though it was 762 feet above sea level.

And wonder George Brown McLean did. He wondered if the spot would flood, wondered if the property could be drained, and wondered if it would become what they envisioned. So the name ‘Wonder’ Valley made sense!

The property itself was an idyllic, natural setting with its winding stream crossed with bridges, wild flowers and large, shady trees. The camp was reputed to have the largest ‘bamegelia’ tree in the country (we believe this was a Balm of Gilead tree or balsam poplar) which filled grounds with its enticing and refreshing fragrance.

A 140-foot deep artesian well, equipped with a bubbler, sprayed a cold, fresh fountain of water on the property.

The 10 freshly painted cabins with electricity, running water, showers and new spring mattresses housed 1,100 guests in Wonder Valley’s first season. By 1939, a restaurant and lunchroom were added for the convenience of overnight stops or longer stays.

But the premier attraction of Wonder Valley was the trout pond. Almost on cue, about 3,000 speckled trout would jump and skip in the pool when their owner arrived at dinner time with beef liver in one hand and cheese in the other. These dancing trout were a wonderment to see and the McLeans were pleased to have visitors enjoy this captivating experience and their beautiful, picturesque camp. 

By 1949, 70,000 trout were propagated annually from the four ponds at Springwater Park to stock streams in the vicinity with four- to eight-inch trout.

Now that’s a fish tale!