City of Orillia
Moose Beach | Orillia, ON
Ice Industry Plaque
A point of interest on the Orillia Millennium Trail Audio Walking Tour available on the Tripvia Tours App for Android & iPhone.
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The arrival of the railway provided a much needed spark for Orillia to develop a major ice export industry on the shores of Lake Couchiching. Before the days of electric refrigeration, large Ice blocks measuring two square feet, 12 to 20 inches thick, with a weight of 300 pounds were removed from both Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe. These hand-sawn blocks were loaded onto horse-drawn sleighs, and transported across the ice to makeshift wooden elevators. Here the ice blocks would be stacked in wooden ice houses, and insulated with straw or sawdust to await shipment by rail to southern destinations.
Lake Couchiching ice was believed to be some of the purest ice on the market at the time, crystal clear in its thickness. Hundreds of icemen, many of whom were local farmers, would harvest the ice using their own tools and teams of horses, making one dollar a day for their efforts. The Lake Simcoe Ice Company was owned by a group of Orillia businessmen.
Business prospered during the 1880's as the demand for ice soared. Thousands of tons of ice were harvested annually and shipped to cities such as Toronto,Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
Moose Beach, were you are now, was known at the time as Buffalo Ice Bay. Ice houses are believed to have stood on railway land, near what is now The Villages of Leacock Point. This location provided easy access for rapid rail transportation to Buffalo.
A story in the Packet & Times, Orillia's local newspaper, dated January 26, 1933 and red by our historical reporter Donald, notes that
last season, trains shipped a total of 350 carloads of ice to points across the province. From 4,000 to $5,000 was paid. This money was a very helpful addition to the town's depressed economy.
Thanks Donald, exceptional reading as usual! Electric refrigeration put an end to the ice industry, although the ice harvest continued on a smaller scale until the 1950’s.
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