Bying Inlet & Britt Then And Now
The community of Britt is located on the north shore of Byng Inlet, approximately four kilometres west of Highway 69, at the end of Highway 526. Byng Inlet is also the name of the community across from Britt on the south shore of the water body, Byng Inlet.
In 1868, Clarke White & Co. opened the Page Anson saw mill on what is now called Old Mill Island, just east of Wright's Marina. Also in 1868, Anson Dodge started his saw mill located in the community of Byng Inlet.These two saw mills were consolidated and came under the ownership of the Maganettawan Lumber Company in September, 1876 and in 1883 became under the ownership of the Georgian Bay Consolidated Lumber Company. Over the winter of 1883/84, the Burton Brothers saw mill was built on the site of the former Britt Inn (formerly The Little Britt Inn and now a private residence). Each of the three saw mills had extensive docks and some of the pilings and cribs still lurk below the water. In 1898, the Holland & Emery Lumber Company moved their Michigan mill to where the Anson mill had once stood. The Anson saw mill was destroyed by fire in 1891 with the Burton Brothers mill following in 1893. In 1890, Holland and Graves took over from Holland & Emery and in 1906, Graves, Bigwood & Co. continued the business. Pine logs were the main harvest for the mills although some hemlock was cut and sawn in later years.
At one point the mills in Byng Inlet grew to become the second largest in Canada and the biggest in Ontario. Because the lumber industry was booming in Byng Inlet, additional housing for mill workers was built adjacent to the Byng Inlet mill. Byng Inlet had a theatre, hotels, post office, bakery and a school. The Byng Inlet Post Office opened July 1, 1868. In 1875 enough children were living in the south shore community that a school was built called the S.S. #1 Wallbridge. The school was given the #1 designation because Byng Inlet North (today's Britt), already had a school. S.S.#1. & S.S. #2 which closed in 1950. A young lady school teacher drowned while skating home across the river to Byng Inlet in 1883. During the non winter months boats were used to ferry workers between Byng Inlet and the community on the north side of the river. When a another post office was opened on June 10, 1885 in the community north of Byng Inlet, it was given the simple name of Byng Inlet North. The lumber industry peaked prior to the building of the CPR railway between 1903 and 1908. In 1911 the community on the north shore was further established as a port for receiving coal for the railway's steam locomotives (and later diesel fuel). A train station was built in Byng Inlet North and it was called Dunlop while the Byng Inlet train station was built in 1908, the year the C.P.R. tracks first crossed the Byng Inlet water body.
In 1912, the mill caught fire and burned down (a second fire followed in 1920 in the box factory). The Byng Inlet North post office continued through 1927 and on September 1, 1927 was renamed as the Britt Post Office. The mill was rebuilt and in 1912 and 1913 and was operational in 1914.The post office changed its name to Britt effective September 1, 1927, named after Thomas Britt who was the head of the CPR fuel depot in Montreal.
Byng Inlet and Britt were essentially one industry towns. At it's peak, the communities had a population of about 4200 but when the mill finally closed down for good in 1927 the majority of workers left as there was no work except at the coaling facility. But the reality was that once a lumber person, always a lumber person ... so those young enough to work, headed to northern Ontario and western Canada.. The mill was demolished shortly afterwards ... but there are still some remains lying along the shoreline on private property. After the lumber mills closed, the Britt train station sat empty for many years. The CPR company had decided to demolish the Britt station (built 1912) just as they had done to the Byng Inlet station (built 1908). Some folks from southern Ontario that were former area residents wanted to preserve the station and approached the CPR company. CPR agreed to allow the family to move the train station to private property. CPR covered the cost of transportation and the station was sold for a dollar. Due to impassable bridges at both the northern and southern sides of Highway 69 it didn't get very far and the Britt train station can be found along Station Road just north of Byng Inlet.
Britt was a fuel oil distribution depot. About four times per year, large ships over 350' used to bring fuel from Sarnia into a Britt tank storage farm from where it is trucked further north for distribution. The C.P.R. railroad also uses Britt for storage and fuelling its trains. The big ships no longer come with the water levels being so low over the past number of years.
Today things are looking up for Britt and Byng Inlet. Britt is known around the Bay for it's fresh Pickerel and a commercial fishing boat works from Britt and Byng Inlet and they come back with a daily catch of whitefish and some pickeral. It also has a seasonal recreation industry and it has become a logical stopover for boats cruising north and south on Georgian Bay. Britt is a safe sheltered port to refuel, get boat repairs, provision and just enjoy the comings and goings of yachts while eating as much fresh fish as possible during a stay.
One of the most important businesses in Britt is Wrights Marina Limited. Sixteen year old George Wright settled in Britt in 1930 while his father, Carson returned with his tug to the family home in Collingwood after a summer of fishing. The Wright family moved their summer fishing base to Britt from the Squaw Islands because of low water to continue to fish commercially. In 1947 George Wright brought the first diesel powered engine onto the Georgian Bay and since the highway at that time ended at Britt - tourists, fishing parties and hunters could then be delivered from Britt by boat to their more remote camps by Wright's Transfer Service. The Wright's Marina Limited was established in 1950 by George Wright and his wife Elaine. Their son Doug and his wife Doreen became the owners in 1971. In 2000 the third generation of the Wright family daughter Karrie, and her husband Graham Lacey took over the business. The water taxi service survives to this day as part of the marina operation.
Karrie and Graham are known throughout the marine industry on Georgian Bay and Graham Lacey is Past President of Boating Ontario. Their marina is true to it's principles of quality work, fair prices and good value for cruising boaters. They are Lieutenant sponsors of the Americas Great Loop Cruising Association and they always offer a warm welcome to cruisers stopping in for a visit. Wright's Marina http://wrightsmarina.on.ca/ is an authorized sales and service dealer for BRP Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors and they can make repairs to all boats small or large. The marina can haul boats to 48' for repairs and they can take yachts up to 100' on their docks. During the summer season, Wright's Marina stocks some of the basic requirements for boaters and local cottagers in their store. The marina offers food, shelter, art, entertainment, private showers, laundry facilities, pump outs, gas & diesel fuel, Wi Fi and 30 & 50 amp power at the docks ... and quality friendly service.. Wright's marina is at mile 61 on the Small Craft Channel chart 2203 right at the west end of Britt and it provides excellent shelter in bad weather and the route in is very scenic.
Remember when planning your cruise, Britt is the logical marina stop heading north from Parry Sound and you won't likely find cheaper fuel than Britt if you are heading upbound or downbound. It is worth a stop in Britt.
If you are interested in more in depth information on area history check out Fred Holmes book The History of Byng Inlet and Its Shoreline Communities.It is available at Wright's Marina or via firstname.lastname@example.org