Remains of mill siteSource: Killarney promo pamphlet, 1986
The first lumberjacks began arriving in the area as early as 1865, after the province opened up timber booths. In 1868 a small mill, specializing in sawed lumber for pickets, laths, boxes and ship building, was opened under the name of the Collins Inlet Lumber Company.
The lumber company operated camps farther north on various lakes such as Bush, Bell, Balsam, David and Great Mountain Lakes. The lumber was cut and stashed in large piles until spring when timber would be floated down the Mahzenazing River from its bountiful tributaries. The firm also floated down salvaged culled logs from other companies who dealt only in the squared timber trade. These firms took the great pines only to the first knot and, in the name of quality, culled the remainder. Thousands of boardfeet were left to rot for absolutely no good reason.
Once the mill had a large supply of good cheap lumber, it began to thrive. After John Bertram purchased the mill in 1886, he enlarged it to produce rough lumber and added a 100 ft high sawdust burner. He also improved the settlement by replacing older structures, which in reality were mere shacks, with proper cottages. The town site had by then grown to include a boarding house, a company store and post office, school, the boat works, along with a number of cottages.
Bertram was a former politician, who sat in the House of Commons from 1872-1878. He was a strong proponent of responsible lumbering. As a member of the Commission on Forestry in Ontario, Bertram advocated early on for a total ban on the export of saw logs to the United States. This finally occurred in 1899. He also advocated responsible harvesting, reforestation, and the establishment of protected areas, near rivers and around unstable grounds.
Bertram was a man who was way ahead of his time. He wrote in his report: "It is time the Dominion and Provincial Governments [gave] more care to their property. Forests are becoming of increasing importance, and the study of the part they play in the welfare of the nation should be encouraged. The time is long past when trees were looked upon as enemies, and they should be grown wherever considered the most profitable crop." That was an extremely enlightened view for a lumberman from the 19th century.
Unfortunately Bertram's fight for responsible logging and milling ended in 1904 when he died. As a result of his forestry practices, the mill carried on and prospered until it was destroyed by fire in 1918. Following the devastating fire, the mill's scrap machinery was salvaged for the war effort, the town abandoned and the company's schooner scuttled. Timber was still cut within the limits and then floated down to other mills in Georgian Bay for sawing right up till the late 1930s.
Collins Inlet had a post office that seesawed back and forth between opening and closing for almost 100 years. It was first opened in 1869, closed in 1877 then reopened in 1883, this time lasting until 1938. It came back for a last hurrah as a summer office in 1938 and survived until 1941, when a popular lodge first exploited the site for tourist dollars. The office was finally closed for good in 1945.
The Lodge converted the former company boarding house into a guest house that still continues to operate. Known as the Mahzenazing River Lodge, it is accessible only by boat. Canoes are recommended. A few houses still stand along with the ruins of the mill and burner. The City of London, a ship built in 1865, sank off the shore in 1875 and can still be seen. The few buildings that are still standing are now part of the Mahzenazing River Lodge.