Early Travel on the Spanish River
Massey Area Museum Newsletter
May 2017 by Florence Erikson
Did you know that before there was a highway or railroad through this part of Ontario, the only way to
reach the settlements along the Lower Spanish River was by boat?
The river was a busy waterway. Logs which came down the river were corralled into booms of logs
waiting to be towed to the sawmills. The Boom company held a monopoly on the Spanish River
navigation rights. This kept passenger and freight boats off the river for much of the year.
In 1906, a group of local men, including Henry Sadowski, John Sheets and Charlie Hamilton were
determined to break this monopoly. In Owen Sound, they found an old steamer, the Arctic, and bought it for about $300. At the time the boat was bought, the logs were blocking the mouth of the Spanish. This area was called the tug gap. The situation had gotten so out of control that the river was blocked for four or five miles. The Arctic was caught in the log jam when it was bring brought to Massey. Freeze-up came, and the log booms and the Arctic were frozen in until the next spring. Each morning, Charlie Hamilton would steam up the Arctic and blow the whistle for the men to open the gap. It could not be done. The owners of the Arctic sued the Boom Company for damages for each day the boat was held up. The Court ruled that they had a right to use the river and awarded the owners $100 per day for each day the boat was blocked. In the spring, the Arctic was moved to Massey.
That fall, the logs began to jam again. The Arctic was taken down the river, once again became locked in
the jam, and spent another winter in the tug gap with the owners collecting a handsome fee. The Arctic
was badly damaged in the break-up that spring and could not be salvaged, but the little steamer had
done its job. It had broken the Boom Company’s monopoly on the Spanish River.
Later, navigation rights reverted to the Crown.
This ongoing blog is a collection of articles and photos written by volunteers, staff and you, about the history of our region!