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Looking Back: The Ainslie Wharf

With many of our usual summer events and routines being changed this year, it is getting harder to see what our future holds.  So, instead of looking forward, Wanda suggested that I look back at some of the area’s interesting history.  I thought I’d start with the one that is physically nearest to us and the one that got me interested in the area’s history: The Ainslie Wharf.

When we first moved to Leith 21 years ago, I had no idea that there was once a wharf here.  Well, I guess that isn’t exactly true.  The pilings above the water certainly suggested that something once jutted out into the water.  More accurately, I had no idea how big both the Wharf and the dreams of this hamlet were.

As local historian, Andrew Armitage, describes it: “It’s a romantic ruin, a massive length of heaped stones and water-soaked pilings that at their most westerly extent vanish into the bay.”

At first, I just thought the pilings were something cool to photograph.

Sometimes they attracted interesting wildlife that perched in the bay.

And then, some time between 2014 and 2018, the pilings disappeared as Lake Huron rose to overtake them.  Around that same time, I purchased a stand-up paddleboard.  On one of my first launches from Leith, I once again had a chance to see the pilings under the surface of the water.  As I paddled out, I was amazed at how far the pilings went.

Some time later, I asked Andrew about the pilings.  Within a few days, he sent me a story he had written about the wharf.  I was stunned when I learned what an ambitious project it was.  Andrew writes, “Adam Ainslie’s dock is the story of the hopes and dreams of Leith, a village that once wanted to be a city. Settled in the 1840s by ambitious Scots, Irish and English, the rapidly growing community was touted as an important port of call, a settlement that would surely rival its neighbour, Owen Sound, whose harbour was actually a tamarack swamp.”

The more I learned about the wharf, the more amazed I was at the work that must have gone into it.  Adam Ainslie convinced members of the community to build his dock.  They worked hard, “building it straight out into the bay on the north side of the Water O’ Leith in 1861. Bee after bee was organized as area farmers drew thousands of wagon loads of rock to fill the substantial cribs that formed the dock’s foundation.”

Years later, the dock was built further out into the water and an L-shape was added to the end.  But the dock was a disaster waiting to happen.  “The first came when the schooner Maple Leaf, loaded with grain, was caught in a rising autumn storm while moored to the dock. All night the ship pitched and wrenched at the wharf, tearing off siding and ripping out pilings.”

And then, again, “In the spring of 1880, the schooner Restless lived up to her name. A gale tore her loose from the anchorage causing severe damage to the dock. The Restless ended up on the south shore, spilling her cargo of wheat. Area farmers found a ready supply of seed that spring.”

While all of this was happening, Owen Sound was working hard at improving its harbour and attracting more boats away from Leith.  “The wharf grew more dangerous year by year. After Adam died, the villagers were forced to tear the dock down. Its planking, beams, and flooring were rescued and made into new houses for the residents of Leith.”

Every time I pass through Leith, I wonder which houses have pieces of the old Wharf in them and if they could talk, what amazing stories they might tell.

You can read Andrew’s entire story here:

Be well,

John Fearnall

Good Noise

All images are property of John Fearnall/Good Noise

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