Remains of a lime kiln©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
There was nothing in William Gunn's background to suggest he would become the founder of a prosperous community or that he would spend many devoted years in the public service of Bruce County. William Gunn's accomplishments were many. They included five years as superintendent of schools, reeve of the township of Bruce, census commissioner for the Bruce County census in 1861 and deputy clerk of the Crown and of the Surrogate Court, a position he held until his death in 1894.
Gunn, who was born in Scotland, arrived in Canada around 1836, at the age of about 20. He spent a couple of years in Prescott and then settled in Kingston for 10 years, where he worked for a shipping firm. In 1848 he moved west to Napanee, where he ran a general store for a few years. Then he headed even further west, arriving in Kincardine in 1852, where again he ran a general store for a short time, before heading up to Inverhuron, where he immediately established a new store.
First settled in the 1840s, Inverhuron was known by various names such as "Sauble town plot," "Little Sauble River" and "Sauble." The first non-native settlers were reportedly two families named Leduc, who were fishermen. Other early settlers included the Hodgins, Stantons and McManemy brothers. The Sauble town plot was first laid out in 1851. The name "Inverhuron" became official when William Gunn established the post office, the second in the township, that same year. A log school, S.S. No. 1, Bruce, was opened in 1854, likely due to the efforts of William Gunn, who was also Superintendent of Schools during this period. In 1856, Inverhuron had the distinction of becoming home to the county's first library, boasting a collection of 39 volumes.
The 1850s saw a spurt of commercial activity that included saw and grist mills, and a quarry, operated by John Brown. By 1856, there were 53 households that included a tailor, and five merchants. An 1856 survey extended the town plan and identified three potential mill sites. By 1858, the village boasted a blacksmith, two joiners, three wheat merchants, three coopers, two carpenters and a cabinet maker. Many of the fishermen and coopers lived and set up shop near the shore where they could be close to their trade. Local townspeople, encouraged by Inverhuron's commercial success, sought to establish a "harbour of refuge" on Lake Huron. With William Gunn at the forefront, residents petitioned the Governor-General for funds to build an extended harbour. They got the money but chose instead to build a pier. In the days before rail travel, a pier offered distinct short-term advantages to the community in both transportation and shipping.
During the 1860s Inverhuron was booming. In 1862, the log school, was re-established as U.S.S. #1 Bruce and Kincardine, with Miss Roach as the first teacher. Other school teachers during the 1860s included Isabella Sinclair and Johanna Morrison. In addition to the store, and school, the village included a grist mill, three sawmills, a quarry and lime kilns. William "Boss" Grey, a stonecutter from Scotland, took over the mills and invested in a number of other activities such as salt mining and shipbuilding. He built a huge home for himself, known locally as "the Castle." Many of the townspeople worked in the mills as labourers or in supporting trades. Workers could also supplement their incomes by logging and fishing. Inverhuron's residents were described as "prosperous." In the evenings they could quench their thirst at the local tavern down on the beach. The tavern was said to have such done such brisk business, that its owners were able to relocate to Tiverton and build the "best house in town." By this time Inverhuron's population had grown to around 200.
By the mid 1860s, roads were gravelled through to Inverhuron and work was completed on the harbours. Besides the mills and the lime kiln, the village included two carpenters, David and Michael Scott, two coopers, V. Oliver and James Watson, a cabinet maker, Hugh Matheson, a leather dealer, John McDonald and B. Green, a shoemaker. Inverhuron boasted two hotels, operated by Alexander McLellan and H. McCrae along with a money-order and telegraph office. Dressing well was never a problem in Inverhuron. Fabrics were woven by M. McKinnon and tailoring was provided by Alexander Anderson. Mrs. S. A. Funk, a milliner, made hats for the ladies. John Scott was the Justice of Peace. The area surrounding Inverhuron supported a number of farms and improved land was valued at $30 an acre. By 1865, the mills were owned by Martin Cook and James Lothian. Lothian, along with Peter McRae, Hugh Matheson, former mill owner William Gray and a number of other prominent citizens all served as school trustees at various times.
Inverhuron was able to reinvent itself during the 1870s, after the lumber supply became depleted. The village added three grain-warehouses and the residents began focusing their energies on trade and shipping. Since the harbours at nearby Port Bruce and Malta had been destroyed by fire, Inverhuron had very little competition. Steamers travelling between Goderich and Southampton stopped daily at Inverhuron's busy harbour during the shipping season. In 1872, 60,000 bushels of grain were shipped from Inverhuron's warehouses, valued at $972,000, a substantial sum in those days. This represented an average price of $115 per bushel to the farmers. The largest reported grain shipment was 100,000 bushels. Much of the grain originated from the farms near Tiverton.
Peter McRae's store was now selling dry goods, groceries, patent medicines and clothing. In addition to serving as postmaster, McRae was also a grain dealer and Justice of Peace. Other improvements included a new yellow brick schoolhouse, built in 1875 at a cost of $945. A well was added shortly afterwards. Although Inverhuron never had a church, the community built an affiliation with the Knox Church in nearby Tiverton, which led to the advent of Sunday school classes during the early 1870s. Inverhuron's population had reportedly grown to around 500, although that claim seems somewhat exaggerated.
Inverhuron's days of success came to an abrupt end on April 13, 1882 when fire struck the grain warehouses and the pier. An estimated 30,000 bushels of grain were stored in the warehouses at the time, resulting in a devastating financial loss to the farmers and the county as a whole. Arson was suspected but never proven. Although the grain warehouses and pier were never rebuilt, Inverhuron struggled on. One of the sawmills continued operating and the flour mill carried on for a while. The lime kilns shut down. Residents began to concentrate more on fishing and by 1886, there were four fish dealers living in the village.
Tragedy struck again in 1887 in the form of a second fire. This time, almost the entire town site was reduced to rubble. A few farmers remained in the area, although farming was virtually impossible due to the devastating ecological damage wrought by the fires. The sawmill continued operating into the early part of the 1900s. By 1901 county valuators declared the land as virtually worthless. The area where this bustling village once stood was now little more than bare sand dunes.
The Inverhuron that shows on today's maps is not the same town site as the busy little commercial centre of the 19th century. In the early 1900s, a new town of Inverhuron took root along the beaches, southeast of the older community. Although the new village supports a small permanent population, it functions primarily a summer community for cottagers and vacationers.
The remains of the earlier town site now sit within the boundaries of Inverhuron Provincial Park on Lake Huron. Interpretive displays can be found near the location of the former town site. The sand dunes, where Inverhuron once stood, are constantly shifting and changing, resulting in varying amounts of debris and rubble from the old village resurfacing from time-to-time. Evidence of Inverhuron's commercial activities still exists in the remains of the lime kilns and quarry. Inverhuron's schoolhouse managed to survive both of the fires and remained in use until 1953, only to suffer the ignominy of being demolished around 1990. A yellow brick from the schoolhouse was salvaged and forms part of the display in the park.
The Inverhuron Cemetery, now identified as the 'pioneer cemetery', dates back to the 1850s. It was used for about 75 years before falling victim to abandonment and neglect. A fence was put up during the 1950s. The cemetery was cleaned up, restored and is well-maintained and is now one of the park attractions. Geological excavations in the park are ongoing and a number of pioneer lots have been identified and marked.
Due to its proximity to the Bruce Nuclear Plant, access to Inverhuron Provincial Park was severely restricted for many years. The plant stopped producing heavy water in 1998 thereby opening the door for the government to upgrade the park and re-establish it as a popular tourist destination. Areas of the park, formerly closed to the general public due to safety concerns, have now been reopened and are fully accessible. The government has ambitious plans that include a full redevelopment of the park.