Be a History Buff in Grand Bend

Where is the grand bend?

Grand Bend is one of the oldest communities in Lambton County. Fishing and tourism were early industries, but it was the majestic pine and oak forest that led to the actual founding of the village.

On old French-Canadian maps, the area is shown as “Eaux Croches”, meaning Crooked Waters and Jesuit Mission were located somewhere nearby. Natives traded flint tools at the river’s bend which they secretly mined at Stoney Point.

In the 1830’s the first settlement began with the purchase of lots from the Canada Company by English and Scottish pioneers. About this time, William Brewster, an American, secured rights to dam the river and erected a saw mill. The area was then known as Brewsterville and consisted of the families of the mill hands and fisherman. The mill existed for 20 years until angry upstream families, believing the mill was the cause of frequent flooding, organized a vigilante group. Under the cover of darkness, they burned the mill to the ground, never to be rebuilt. Evidence of the mill pond can still be seen by looking north from Lakeview Avenue at the entrance to Southcott Pines.

The opening of the highway to Goderich meant the village was no longer dependent on forestry. New opportunities emerged and in 1875 the village boasted a gristmill, planing mill, shingle and oatmeal mill, along with two hotels. John Dalziel’s Caledonia Flour Mill was located in the loop of the great hairpin turn of the river. Although this little hamlet assumed a variety of names throughout is history, such as Brewsterville, Websterville and Sommerville, the final name, Grand Bend, came from the tight hairpin turn, the grand bend, where Dalziel established his mill.

Digging for a canal was begun in 1892 from the grand bend to the lake to relieve upstream flooding and to create a harbor. The grand bend is no longer, however if you walk west towards the lake on River Road, at Albert Street you will see the last remains of the Old Channel that has never really disappeared. It is now a beautiful and interesting lagoon water course, running 13 miles south, paralleling the lake, through Pinery Park until it eventually arrives at Port Franks.

Grand Bend opened its first Post Office in 1872. The arrival of the automobile brought profound change to the village. Businesses sprang up to serve and supply the travellers’ needs. More people discovered the charm of Grand Bend with its beautiful blue waters, clean refreshing air and magnificent sunsets. Family gatherings and picnics; holidays and sunshine; romances and new friends, are the defining character of our precious place.

You are now prepared to take an historical walk down our Main Street, following the path of many before you. Enjoy, have fun, thanks for visiting Grand Bend and remember … this is where the fun never sets!

1. The Colonial Hotel (Main Street)

Built prior to 1880 and formerly called the Brenner House after an early proprietor – Joe Brenner, The Colonial is the oldest established hotel in Grand Bend. For many years, a large carbide lamp mounted on the verandah lit the main intersection, the necessary chemicals for which were stored in a cement shed on the riverbank – which still exists today. Apparently, a horse misguidedly walked upstairs and was unable to turn around.

2. Welcome Arch (Main Street)

A welcoming sight to many visitors. Originally erected in 1927, rebuilt in the 1960s and reintroduced in 2010 as part of Main Street’s rejuvenation program.

3. Ripples Fashions (9 Main Street)

William Amos, a Londoner, operated The Amos Emporium from 1902-13 offering a variety of goods, post office and telephone service. Mrs. Amos sold hats and ladies’ made-to-measure items. A dairy cow, tied at the rear of the store escaped one day only to be chased right down Main Street across the beach and out onto the pier before being corralled.

4. akSence Gift Shop & Cafe (6 Main Street)

What is now akSence Gift Shop & Cafe, previously The Aria & The Shore Shop, prior to that Periwinkles and originally The Treasure & Tea Room, had was also known as the Riverside Restaurant. The shop was run by Marge Brown in the 1950s, with the main level restaurant, kitchen below and staff quarters below again. One young waitress recalls earning a $10 tip to iron a white shirt for a customer so he could look good on a Saturday night!

5. Ladies Fashions (21 Main Street)

Built at the request of the then Liberal MP in 1936 by W.H. Love with white ash grown on his farm. One Halloween night, pranksters pushed a Model-T car into the basement. Imagine the reaction! In 1942 the Post Office moved to this location along with an informal bank. Mail was received twice daily; postage was 3 cents a letter. During WWII mail was the only means of communication and workers near Port Franks walked to town for mail.

6. Tender Spot (20 Main Street)

In 1912 was known as The Bake Shop, owned by Frank Geromette, baker and confectioner. Early risers were treated to the smell of baking bread, cakes and pies. Geromette made year-round deliveries by horse-drawn wagon, blowing a whistle to announce his arrival. It also had a Lunch Room and offered “a tasty lunch at any time”. Transitioned to Wally’s Meats before becoming the Tender Spot.

7. J Dee’s Summerhouse (23 Main Street)

Behind J Dee’s you’ll find the remnants of Wondergrove Roller Rink, a popular recreational destination during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Back then, roller skates were clamped to shoes and tightened by key, which would often loosen much to the amusement of on-lookers. Check out the patterned terrazzo floor of the rink and the ‘old oak tree’ in the rear patio where many skaters carved their initials.

8. Coco’s (62 Main Street)

Formerly The Hotel Imperial, constructed in 1905 by Harry Bossenberry, replacing an earlier frame building called The Woodbine. It was the first hotel on the eastern shore of Lake Huron to have hot and cold water in all rooms. The new build was a three-storey hotel boasting large rooms and rates were $6-8 a week. An autobus brought train passengers from Exeter to Grand Bend for 50 cents. Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks headlined here to capacity crowds in the 1950s and 60s. Various incarnations as Kelly’s, RD’s and Hotel Mainstreet.

9. Oak Lodge (67 King Street)

The oldest cottage in (Plan 24) Grand Bend’s downtown core was built in 1898 by John Spackman of Exeter, named Dotheboys Hall from a Dickens’ novel. Spackman obtained the surrounding 26 acres for $450 and envisioned a cottage and recreational centre, initially constructing an office and 12 cottages. William Levitt of Exeter purchased the development and continued construction and land holdings to 45 acres from 1902 until George Eccleston of London purchased the property in 1916 for $9,100. Part of this project was the Lakeview House located at the lower end of Main Street, constructed as a summer boarding-house with stables for guests’ horses. Eccleston built Main Street (1917) and the first dance hall on the beach at the end of Main Street.

10. Lakeview Casino (Beach at foot of Main Street)

Of great significance to Grand Bend’s history and development was the construction of the Lakeview Casino dance hall, which opened July 29, 1917 to the music of the Lombardo Boys and continued entertaining visitors for 50 years. Lakeview Casino hosted big bands such as Louis Armstrong, the Glen Miller Orchestra, Bert Niosi, Gordie Tapp, the Haines Sisters, Wally Koster, Stan Patton, Juliet, Lionel Thornton, Tommy Dorsey, Rudy Vallee and the McKinney’s Chocolate Dandies. Eric McIlroy, Eccleston’s son-in-law, continued as proprietor with jitney dancing (pay-as-you-dance tickets). Day-time visitors enjoyed baseball at the ball diamond behind the Casino, rented bathing suits and purchased giftware. The building was also available for Sunday Church services. McIlroy also operated the successful Merrywoods Racehorse Farm on Highway 21. His grave stone in the Grand Bend Cemetery is inscribed with the words “He gave to his community”.

11. Main Beach

Lake Huron’s clear blue waters, refreshing breezes, soft sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets have always attracted visitors to Grand Bend. In the 1920s, Henry Ford brought his entire staff to enjoy the beach for their annual company picnics. The 2008 beach enhancements (boardwalk, playground, splash pad, gazebo & landscaping) continue the tradition. Grand Bend’s beach is designated Blue Flag status, an international symbol of clean, safe swimming water and beach management.

12. The Pier

In 1892 a canal was dug by horse-teams and scraperbuckets to create Grand Bend’s harbour and drain farmland subject to flooding. The cut eliminated the sharp turn in the Ausable River, increasing channel width to accommodate boats. It also deprived a 13-mile stretch of river flowing south from Grand Bend to Port Franks, today known as the “Old Ausable Channel”, which is fed by springs and rain. In 1905, the pier was constructed of timber cribwork filled with stone to prevent silt and sand from blocking the harbour mouth. Later, the cribwork was encapsulated by concrete and a south pier added to further protect the harbour. In 1908 the fishing industry was flourishing so much that A.W. Selkirk Fish Company of Port Huron (Michigan) sent a tug three times weekly to collect the catch. In the early days, pickerel, whitefish and herring were plentiful. In 1913, a run of sturgeon entered the River, some reaching five feet long. Excursion boats with US visitors frequently visited – pictured here is the steamboat “Arabian” docked at the pier (1900).