Grey Highlands, Ontario

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georgian explorerThe Georgian Bay Explorer - Squaw Island Fishing Station

It is no secret that commercial fishing on Georgian Bay may well be but a memory of the past. Still, there was a time when hundreds of Collingwood skiffs, Mackinaw boats, and trawlers cast their nets far and wide, harvesting bumper crops of whitefish, lake trout, chub, and even sturgeon, fish that were just waiting to be caught. From the southern shores of the bay to the North Channel, fishing stations were established. One of the biggest was on Squaw lsland in the northwest reaches of Georgian Bay. Lining its southern shores was an unbroken string of fishing shanties that housed anywhere up to 100 fishers and their families. They came from all over the bay, Collingwood, Lion's Head, Meaford, and Killarney. With a promise of five dollars a month hard cash and an extra $50.00 if they guaranteed to stay all season, fishermen gravitated to Squaw lsland. There was even a rumour of a man who, from the proceeds of selling just one sturgeon, was able to buy a fine suit, a gallon of whisky, and a cow.

By the turn of the 20th century, Squaw lsland's summertime fishing fleet numbered over 50 skiffs and a dozen tugs. Life was good on the bay during the golden age of commercial fishing. The men of Squaw lsland's fishing station even had time to challenge the fishermen from nearby Club lsland to fishing boat races.

By the end of the First World War, declining fish stocks had reduced the labour force on Squaw lsland to fewer than 20 men. When the 1930s rolled around, with the invasion of lamprey eels into Georgian Bay and a huge increase in smelt, the few faithful tugs that remained in the water had pulled in their nets forever