By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian

Salt. Ice. Refrigerators.

Humans have always been aware of preserving food hunted or bought to be put away for when food is scarce. That need made Lake Simcoe very important for pioneers.

Lake Simcoe, southern Ontario’s largest interior lake, was formed by glacial melt water. Its location and the purity of its water, during pioneer times, made it and, consequently, the land around it, very important before refrigerators became a common household appliance. So important was ice from Lake Simcoe, a case about its collection was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada: Lake Simcoe Ice and Cold Storage Co. (defendant) v. D. W. McDonald (plaintiff), date: 1901-02-19.

The official case: “The defendant company in harvesting ice on Lake Simcoe, outside of water lots in a bay, at Jackson’s Point, cut a channel through said water lots in order to float the ice harvested to the shore for storage in their ice-houses.” The court found in favour of the ice company. One reason why: “It is also satisfactory that the result advances the interests of trade, one of the main purposes of law.”

And so, one company, owned by a Mr. Weatherill and employing 14 men, working on the lake and in their sawdust-filled ice houses (sawdust encased the ice blocks to preserve them), was able to stay in business until 1952 when refrigerators put them out of business.

Then, the old was replaced by the new. The lake became important in the winter for skating and other sports. But the summer was when the lake took on a new, major economic importance: tourism.

In the photo, pioneer ice tongs, courtesy of History of Simcoe County, commissioned by Victoria and Grey.