South River, Ontario: Canadian History in Vintage Postcards
Welcome to South River, Ontario! The South River postcard seen to the left is a c. 1950s aerial view “chrome” postcard. This website highlights in vintage postcards the history of towns and townships in the greater Lake Nipissing and Lake Temagami areas of Northern Ontario, Canada, including the Nipissing District and portions of the Parry Sound district which are in the “Blue Sky Region.” These Canadian postcards are shown in digital, virtual museum format for educational purposes. If you have images or historical information which you’d like to share with our virtual museum, feel free to do so. To navigate these pages, mouse over the top navigation bar. Drop-down menus will appear of the areas of interest. Click on the thumbnails for larger images. Close the larger image before opening another thumbnail. The occasional duplicates for sale can be found using the search box on the main (home) page of VintagePostcards.org. This is an ongoing project; comments and questions to the webmaster at webmaster - at sign - vintagepostcards.org are welcome. The South River postcard seen to the left is a c. 1950s aerial view “chrome” postcard. If you have images or historical information which you’d like to share with our virtual museum, feel free to do so.
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Located in the Parry Sound District, South River, Ontario dates to the 1860s, when Fraser Lumber began logging in what’s now Algonquin Provincial Park (see below). Hotels were built in 1881, the town incorporated on 20 April 1907, and electricity arrived in 1910. To the left is a 1907 pioneer-era real-photo postcard (RPPC) of Ottawa Ave. (South River’s Main St.), with The Sovereign Bank of Canada in a frame building in the foreground. On the same side of the road, a sign can be read for the “South River Meat Market,” with a smaller sign on the building advertising “camper for rent.” Behind the South River Meat Market is the three-story frame Queens Hotel. On the opposite side of the road, in the foreground, is McDermott’s Millinery. There is an intersection with Isabella St., followed by Vincent’s Store and Hall, a frame barber shop, James Prunty’s brick house (out of sight behind the spruce tree), South River Mercantile and, lastly, the King Edward Hotel.
The sender of the above vintage postcard, who was in the area hunting, mailed the postcard on 14 November 1907 to Mr. George Barclay of 119 Wabash Ave. in Detroit. He wrote: “This is a shot of the nearest village within 25 miles of where I have been for two weeks. It seems good to get back in civilization again. We shot seven deer and had a fairly good time, only walking in and out of camp.”
The Sovereign Bank of Canada was quick to open an office in South River, after the Standard Chemical Company (see below) built a plant in South River. The presence of the Sovereign Bank is also interesting because it was one of four important banks which failed in Canada after 1890. (The others were the Commercial Bank of Manitoba, the Banque du Peuple of Montreal and the Ontario Bank.) In June 1907, the Sovereign Bank wrote off $1.25 million in the reserve fund and $1 million of capital and the bank reorganized. However, reorganization failed, and the bank closed its doors on 18 January 1908, with over $16 million in liabilities owed to the public. Another bank found the Sovereign’s assets sufficient to assume the liabilities; the bank reopened the following day under a new name, and customers were given the option of withdrawing their funds or remaining with the new bank. (Four smaller banks closed between 1893 and 1908, with one of them being the Banque Ville Marie, only 132 miles away. The Ville Marie bank’s activities were considered fraudulent at the time; it only had capital and reserves of about $489,000, with liabilities of nearly $1.8 million. The Banque Ville Marie customers were less fortunate than the South River customers, as Ville Marie patrons received only 17 percent of their assets back. Ouch!)
A 1911 RPPC of Ottawa Ave. shows the King Edward Hotel at right forefront. Beyond the King Edward is a series of frame falsefront Victorian stores including (in order) South River Mercantile, N. Duval’s barber shop, and Vincent’s Store and Hall. Importantly, electricity had arrived as well. (In correspondence, Thornborrow wrote: [The] “South River Lumber Co. installed a steam dynamo for their holdings and perhaps several buildings close by the mill in 1902…The mill was destroyed in a fire [in] 1909 and never rebuilt. The S[outh] R[iver] Hydro Dam and Power Generation Plant were completed in 1910-11, supplying all of the electricity to South River under bylaw.”) Fast forwarding to the 1940s, a CKC real-photo postcard shows many changes in South River. Three teen-aged boys are in front of Chequers Restaurant, with a taxi stand next door. Who ran the taxicabs in South River? A sign on a telephone pole indicates that the distance to North Bay is 37 miles. The R. R. Wood grocery store is on the same side of the street as Chequers. McGirr’s general store is at left front, with signs for Sweet Caporal cigarettes. A hardware store and “Quick Lunch” are also visible. The date for the 1940s CKC postcard is post-1943: McGirr’s as seen in this postcard is a replacement building after a 1943 fire which destroyed the original Vincent’s Store and Hall building. McGirr rebuilt on the old foundation, using a different design. Note the railroad crossing down the street. Below is a 1912 view of Ottawa Ave. Published by Rumsey & Co. of 1528 Queen St. West in Toronto, it is finely detailed, which is a characteristic of Rumsey postcards.
The large two-story falsefront Victorian store seen on Ottawa Ave. (not Main St., as the post card indicates) was W. J. Elliot’s general store when this c. 1930s real-photo postcard was made. The store was originally the South River Lumber & Mercantile Co., managed by part-owner W. J. Ard, who was also the South River’s first Reeve. After Mr. Elliott’s ownership, this became Harkness’ store and then the Harkness Apartments. Today, the building contains two smaller rental storefronts. In the right foreground, one can see a brick building which went through many name changes: Originally the King Edward hotel, it was renamed the New Queens and then the Norland hotel. It’s since been destroyed by fire. On the far side of Elliott’s store is a brick house built for Rienhart Cook, a partner in the South River Lumber & Mercantile Co. Home ownership then passed to James Prunty, who owned the Old Queens Hotel (Prunty purchased the King Edward Hotel, renaming it the New Queens when the Old Queens hotel was destroyed by fire in 1909.). The brick house remains today. Beyond Mr. Prunty’s house was Duval’s barber shop and McGirr’s store (the aforementioned Vincent’s Store and Hall). The final building visible on the right side of the road, on the other side of Isabella St., is Don Johnson’s BA Service Station. At the time this photo was made (pre-1943), part of Ottawa Ave. and Isabella Street were the Ferguson Highway (Highway 11). Many thanks to Keith Thornborrow for this fine description. A larger view of the Queens Hotel is seen below.
A handsome c. 1957 postcard, sent by tourists to Darwin Whitehair of Terra Alta, WV, shows the Art Deco-influenced Fox theater in South River at top left. A school, the community arena and the Chequer’s Inn are also shown. The Chequer’s Inn, located at the southeast corner of Ottawa Ave. and Isabella Ave. beside the Royal Bank, was built c. 1933- 1935 and operated by Mrs. A. Howard. The business was sold to P. C. Johnston and a partner, Jack Root; they continued to operate the restaurant. The restaurant closed in 1953 and, over the years, served as a drug store and a dentist’s office. In 1969, the building was converted into apartments by Mac Drummond, and the former Chequer’s Inn remains an apartment building as of November 2008. The Fox Theatre is now a physical fitness center, the South River public school has had many additions, and the arena shown in the postcard has been replaced with a newer arena on the same site.
A scarce real-photo postcard (left) shows the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) railroad station in South River. A sign on the building says “North Bay, 39 Miles.” The train station, still present in South River, was repainted in 2007 using historic colors of the GTR which were found beneath layers of siding and paint on the building. According to Keith Thornborrow, a contract was let by the Northern Pacific Juntion Railway (NPJR) to the J. M. Hendrie Co. in July 1884 for construction of 111 miles of railroad track, with surveys to begin immediately. The South River station was built by the Northern Pacific Junction Railroad in 1884, with the original location being on the east side of the track. The South River station was moved to the west side of the main line in 1907. South River was named as a divisional point for the railroad that year. Sidings and a turn around “Y” were installed, so the station building had to be moved to the west side of the main track. To the right is a 1907 real-photo postcard showing the opposite end of the GTR train station in South River. The postcard below, also of the GTR railroad depot, has a Cyko stamp box on the reverse, which dates the postcard to 1905-1906. A steam engine is pulling into the railroad station, where many people are gathered. Was this the earlier location on the east side of the track? At any rate, this vintage postcard shows a wider view of the area immediately around the railroad depot.
The NPJR ran from Gravenhurst to Callander, a total distance of about 106 miles. Thornborrow wrote: “About 111 miles of track were laid, so I presume the additional five miles would be sidings, etc. South River alone had at least five sidings and a turn table, which was eventually replaced by a turn-around siding. Heavy freight trains picked up an extra locomotive in South River to make the grade to North Bay.” Behind the scenes in 1886, the Grand Trunk Railroad (GTR) was quietly buying up NPJR shares. They had a controlling interest in the NPJR by 1887, and finally took over the company in 1888. Under GTR’s management, the line was later extended from Callander to North Bay. You can read more about the GTR and other area railroads on the North Bay page.
The South River train station co-existed with the Old Queens Hotel property unil a 1909 fire which destroyed the Old Queens Hotel. The South River train station, which had been relocated to the west side of the tracks in 1907, survived. Only four of the original NPJR train stations remain:
Burk’s Falls (moved off site and renovated as a private business)
Gravenhurst (out of service)
Huntsville (still used by the railway) and
South River (out of service)
Iverson’s restaurant and cabins were on Mill St., which was also part of the Ferguson Highway (Highway 11) at the time. The real-photo postcard, postmarked in 1947, shows the two-story home of Martin and Hannah Iverson, to the right of the restaurant. The photo was taken post 1938; in addition to the 1947 postmark, we know this because the highway was gravel until 1938. The Iversons were one of many people who built establishments catering to the tourism boom surrounding the Dionne quintuplets. After Ferguson Highway was re-routed, the road once again became Mill St.
Another 1930s (Quint era) development was Elliott Park Lodge, owned and operated by the Elliott family and probably built c. 1935. Elliott Park was located north of the South River falls on the right-hand (northeast) side of Hwy. 11 (formerly known as the Ferguson Highway). The office is seen in the real-photo postcard to the left (postmarked in 1948), with an old advertising sign for Coca-Cola seen to the right of the office door. What’s most remarkable about the office image is that it clearly shows the unusual construction materials used to build the office: the corners of the building were cut granite stone, and what appears to be a cobblestone-type wall surface is actually cordwood and masonry used as infilling to create the walls. This is known as stackwall or cordwood construction. The lodge served everything from hot dogs to steak. Once the Ferguson was relocated in 1949, and with this section of the old highway being bypassed (reverting back to its Mill St. name), traffic dropped drastically and was primarily confined to local use. Elliott’s lodge and cabins were eventually abandoned, and then destroyed in a fire set by vandals. Modest frame cabins are seen to the right in another real-photo postcard.
Elliott’s is also remembered for its pet moose, “Nancy.” Nancy came to town on a Standard Chemical Co. train along with teams of horses which had spent the winter at Standard Chemical bush camps. Nancy had been fed along with the horses, and became quite tame. At the end of the winter and rather than leaving Nancy behind, the workers loaded her on the train with the horses, which were being taken out for the season. Upon her arrival in South River, Nancy was taken to Elliott’s, where she remained.
And where was Harvey’s Inn, a log cabin described as being halfway between Sundridge and South River? This real-photo postcard dates to approximately c. 1920 to 1940.
Algonquin Camp is a relatively unknown lodge, located on the Ferguson Highway just south of South River. It has undergone many name changes…Algonquin Camp (Hiawatha Lodge), Algonquin Lodge, Algonquin Motor Court and the Algonquin Motel are all the same place. The earliest vintage postcards of it are seen to the left, in two c. 1920s real-photo postcards. At top left is the main lodge (with a Union Jack on the front door) and entrance. One of the Algonquin Camp and Hiawatha Lodge cabins is also seen to the left. It’s believed that only one cabin remains on the property. By the 1960s, the Algonquin Motel and Trailer Park is seen to the right in a deckle-edge (scalloped) postcard, advertising comfortable and quiet year-round accommodations in modern, fully furnished cottages. The Algonquin also advertised an up-to-date trailer park with all hook-ups, hot showers and flush toilets. The photograph was taken by Lloyd Gough of South River.
The Southwind Motel, seen to the left in a c. early 1970s postcard, is now a seniors’ retirement home. The Southwind (then called the Almaguin) is described in a 25 June 1959 issue of The Arrow and the Echo: “A very attractive addition to South River is the lovely modern auto-court being buit by Wally Tough at the southern entrance to the village. The court, to be known as the Almaguin Motel, is being rapidly completed in preparation for opening on July 1st. Mr. and Mrs. Tough, who will operate the 8-unit Motel, will live with their family in the central part of the structure, which has been enlarged for adequate living quarters as well as an eating room, where breakfasts will be served. The various units are being finished with attractive two-toned panelling, with tiled floors, and modern lighting, heating and bath facilities. The overall length of the building is 175 feet and it presents a very attractive appearance to Highway 11.” To the right is a chrome aerial view postcard of Silver Springs Camp, near South River.
Sports and Recreation
Two scarce early Atkinson Bros. patriotic postcards focus on the natural resources of the area: the 1904 private postcard (left) is entitled “A Day’s Sport at South River, Ont.” and shows two rifle-bearing hunters with numerous slain deer, while the 1905 Atkinson Bros. postcard (right) shows a trusting gentleman perched precariously at the tip of a large boulder while the falls rush past him. In the background, one sees numerous early buildings. If you can identify any of the buildings or the gentleman on the rock, let us know and we’ll include that information. We’ve included a portional view below, to aid in identification of this man. Update: The man on the rock has been identified as the Reverend William Halliday Alp (1869 - 1921), a Presbyterian minister who was a brother-in-law of postcard producer J. A. Strang (See the Northern Ontario Postcard Photographers page for more information on postcard producer Strang.). Alp, born in Essex, England, was married to Janet Rollins and had 3 boys and 1 girl in England. They emigrated to Canada in 1901. One girl was born there, but mother and child died. Alp then married Christina Houston Strang and had three more girls. The family appears in the 1911 census at Sturgeon Falls.
Fairy Falls is part of the South River falls, and this real-photo postcard probably is of the railroad water weir built to hold back water for the trains (This is because of the long flat drop-off edge.). Photographer Lilley Faulkner probably liked the falls as a great background setting for photos.
While Algonquin Provincial Park is located primarily within the unorganized south part of the Nipissing District, there is access to the park from South River by canoe via Kawawayamog (Round) Lake and the Amable du Fond River. The formal western entrance to Algonquin Park, shown in a c. 1950s chrome postcard to the left, is reached via Highway 60 east of Huntsville. Established in 1893, Algonquin is the oldest provincial park in Canada. Over time, the size of the park has been enlarged to about 2,955 square miles, or 7,653 square kilometres: about 1-1/2 times the size of Prince Edward Island. Highway 60 runs through the southern part of the park, while the Trans-Canada Highway bypasses it to the north. With over 2,400 lakes and 745 miles (1,200 kilometres) of streams and rivers, Algonquin has always been popular with sportsmen and nature lovers. The park, located on the Canadian Shield, is part of the “border” between Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario, in a transitional area between northern coniferous and southern deciduous forests.
Algonquin Park was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1992 in recognition of heritage values, including its role in the development of park management; pioneering visitor interpretation programs which were later adopted by national and provincial parks across Canada; its role in inspiring artists — particularly the Group of Seven, which gave Canadians a greater sense of their country; and historic structures such as administrstion and museum buildings, camps, cottages, entrance gates, hotels, lodges and a railway station.
Standard Chemical Company
South River was once nicknamed “Charcoal Town,” due to operations of the Standard Chemical Company (SCC). In 1904, Standard Chemical, then headquartered in Montreal, decided to open a South River plant to manufacture wood alcohol. The earliest vintage postcard we have of the SCC is seen at top left. It dates to the early 1900s and is #3474, published by Warwick Bro’s & Rutter of Toronto. Until World War I, chemicals were the chief products manufactured at the South River plant. The South River plant was the largest employer in town, at one time employing over 500 area residents. This was one of six Standard plants built in Ontario to produce wood alcohol, other distillates such as acetone (used to make explosives) and acetic acid, acetate of lime, and charcoal (An additional four Standard plants were in Québec, with additional factories in England and Europe.). The South River employees worked at the chemical plant, company railroad, lumber camps, or the sawmill. During World War I, the company’s chemical department used cordwood to make wood alcohol, formaldehyde, and charcoal.
With less demand for these products in the 1920s, the company entered a transition period. After the First World War, the plant closed briefly; A. F. Cooper re-opened the plant in 1926, with a new emphasis on its sawmill operations. Wood alcohol was the primary product, with charcoal production gradually taking on increased importance. The South River operation had a sawmill added to its chemical plant to utilize the local forests (The mill in South River was located beside the GTR railroad depot.). The lumber was cut out of both soft and hard wood logs. Cordwood was also logged for the chemical operation.
As the Depression began, the SCC was a lifeline for many local people who were out of work. Desperate farmers from Trout Creek drove teams of horses to the SCC, to obtain work. During the 1930s and 1940s, the SCC also owned 26 houses in the east end of South River. Monthly rent ranged from $3.75 to $10.00; a few of these homes still survive.
A c. 1940s real-photo postcard (left) shows SCC’s rail yard. A box car waits to be loaded. Split cordwood is ready to be loaded into charcoal buggies, the destination being the ovens. A large pile of coal is behind the cordwood. Beyond many buildings in the yard is a large smokestack and a water tank. With the advent of World War II, local laborers were hard to find; German POWs worked at the Camp 10 logging facility. A May 1946 fire caused company officials to question the need to rebuild at South River. Keith Thornoborrow wrote about the danger of fires and explosions on the job: “Yes to explosions and fires; charcoal dust is like coal dust and highly explosive…The insurance undwerwriters demanded better fire protection and the original water tower was replaced with a much higher one to generate higher water pressures for fire extinguishment purposes…The buggies full of charcoal right from the ovens were extreme hazards; if they came in contact with fresh air (oxygen), they burst into flame…It took days deprived of oxygen for them to cool down and be safe to be handled by the buggie un-loaders (men with rakes)…A dirty hot job to say the least.”
Although the local SCC was rebuilt, 1946 marked a turning point for the company, insofar as profits from its Québec and Ontario plants began dwindling. In 1951, the SCC sold its timber limits and sawmill to Hay & Co. of Woodstock; the chemical plant was sold to the Dominion Tar and Chemical Company. In 1955, the chemical company was sold to Ray Industries of Oxford, Michigan. A further resale to another United States-based company, Arcan, occurred in 1959. Ultimately, the SCC was closed and the buildings dismantled. The town has reclaimed much of the former SCC site, grooming it as Tom Thomson Park. In more recent years, there was a campaign to rename Chemical Road to something more politically correct; however, documents at the South River-Machar Union Public Library succinctly describe the importance of the SCC to South River’s heritage, and provided a reason to retain the Chemical Road name: “The Standard Chemical Company will always be remembered by the people of South River. It gave the town the economic boost that was badly needed when times were difficult.”
Tall Tale and Exaggeration Real Photo Postcards
Above are three real-photo postcards that fall within the tall-tale, or exaggeration, genre of photography. While tall-tale postcards often celebrate local agricultural products, these three extoll the virtues of South River area fishing. The first and third vintage postcards bear CKC stamp boxes and are from the 1940s, while the center image dates to 1931. The first and third images also advertise Wilson’s Restaurant, which was located on the west side of Highway 11 South (the Ferguson Highway), south of Ottawa Ave. When the Wilsons owned the property, it was also a Supertest gas station. Wilson’s Restaurant is long gone: over the years, the building has served as a bus stop, community police office, a residence and a variety store. Part of the building, with additions, still exists as an ice cream parlor, chip stand and sit-down lunch room.
For an explanation of the photographic process used to make these postcards, see the Wisconsin Historical Society’s web page about photographer Alfred Stanley Johnson and the American Museum of Photography’s page on “trick” photographer William H. Martin. Other examples of tall-tale postcards are on the Sturgeon Falls page.
For collectors of vintage postcards, old postcards and the antique postcard. Deltiology, the hobby of collecting vintage postcards, is one of the fastest-growing collectibles hobbies. Old postcard collections interest collectors of antiques, memorabilia and ephemera; collectables such as old vintage postcards are used by museums and historians to document what was.