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Fighter and Survivor

The history of Parry Sound and the future of its tourism identity

Maria Legault GEOG 340 Thursday, March 12 th , 2009 Professor Clare Mitchell

Parry Sound is situated on the shores of

Georgian Bay at the mouth of the Seguin River

and has a rich history of both First Nation and

European occupation (Figure 1) (Shroeder, 2008).

Around 1859, lumbering became the town’s first

identity and was later replaced by manufacturing

and tourism. Each identity developed and

declined due to environmental, economic, and

transportation factors. Tourism has proven to be

Parry Sound’s strongest identity so far; however,

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so far; however, Maria Legault Fighter and Survivor 2 Figure 1 : The location of Parry

Figure 1: The location of Parry Sound Source: Parry Sound Area Demographic Information. (n.d.).

the demographic and employment status of the town suggests that more planned economic

development along with environmental protection will be needed for its continued sustainability.

Parry Sound’s pre-settlement history involved both First Nation and European influences

which provided the base for its three identities. Huron First Nations were the original inhabitants

of the area until they were wiped out by invading Iroquoians and replaced by the Ojibway

(Wing, 1975). In 1610, the French Etienne Brule was the first European to canoe through the

area and his route was later followed by Samuel de Champlain, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and

Jesuit missionaries (Radin, 1924; Wing, 1975). Surveys done in 1820 by Commander Henry

Wolsey Bayfield of the Royal Navy established the location’s basic geography and left it with

the name Parry Sound, after the Arctic explorer William Edward Parry (Hayes, 2005). In 1858,

colonization began when William Milnor Gibson bought a timber limit for the area and built a

mill at the mouth of the Seguin River (Hayes, 2005). This mill was the beginning of Parry

Sound’s lumbering identity.

An analysis of Parry Sound’s three identities

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From 1859 to 1883, Parry Sound maintained a lumbering identity as a result of

environmental and transportation factors. After brothers James Hughes and William Beatty

purchased Gibson’s saw mill and timber rights, more settlers were drawn to the area by the

Homestead Act (Hayes, 2005). These settlers quickly found that the area’s acidic, poorly

drained soils discouraged farming but provided vast amounts of valuable white pine for lumber

(Campbell, 2003; Dahms & Hoover, 1979). Accordingly, three different lumbering companies

employed the majority of local residents and lumbermen were socially and politically influential

(Hayes, 2005). Lumbering was additionally viable due to the area’s many waterways, as they

allowed easy transport to British and American markets (Tatley, 1983). This corresponds with

Whebell’s (1969) first stage of corridor development, which explains that Parry Sound

established as a town because of its proximity to waterways for transportation and the initial

settlers perception that the forests of white pine indicated favourable land.

The lumbering identity in Parry Sound declined when these same environmental and

transportation factors failed to provide long-term economic growth. Unsustainable lumbering

practises resulted in a severe shortage of the valuable white pine by the late 1880s, awakening

local residents to the temporary and low-paying nature of resource extraction (McIntyre, 2009;

Stedman, Parkins, & Beckley, 2005). Local lumbering profits were further reduced after 1880

by Americans from Michigan purchasing large quantities of Georgian Bay timber limits (Angus,

1990). Meanwhile, transportation to and from Parry Sound remained limited to boats such as the

Waubuno, despite efforts by William Beatty and his friend Thomas McMurray to draw a railroad

to the area (Wing, 1975). The population of Parry Sound in 1882 was 800 people and the decline

in lumbering caused them to turn to manufacturing for economic survival (Hayes, 2005, p. 71).

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Parry Sound residents tried to draw manufacturing from 1884 to 1920 to replace

lumbering; however, environmental and economic forces limited the success of their initial

attempts. The area’s hilly topography created prohibitive costs for the Scotia Junction Railway,

and J.R. Booth decided to put his Canada Atlantic Railway terminus on Parry Island due to its

superior location (Hayes, 2005). Lack of employment in Parry Sound in 1893 resulted in a small

population of only 1,600 people (Hayes, 2005, p. 65). Two chemical companies did appear in

the early 1900s, but were shut down soon afterwards as a result of changing market pressures

and reduced funding (Wing, 1975). However, settlement into the area continued and required

better transportation as outlined in Whebell’s (1969) second stage of corridor development.

Continued efforts to attract rail transportation to Parry Sound were eventually successful

and allowed local residents to work at manufacturing plants in the nearby town of Nobel. From

1902 to 1908, Parry Sound received links to the James Bay, Canadian Northern, and Canadian

Pacific Railways (Wing, 1975). These railways stimulated growth in Nobel because it had a

labour supply in Parry Sound, as discussed in Whebell’s (1969) third stage of corridor theory.

Parry Sound residents benefitted from the work at Nobel’s Canadian Explosives Limited and

British Cordite Limited plants, which were most profitable during war times (Hayes, 2005). In

1916 and 1942, Parry Sound’s population peaked at over 6,000 as workers needed a place to stay

while making munitions in Nobel (Hayes, 2005, p. 172). The brief nature of these population

and prosperity booms caused residents concern and they turned to tourism as a solution.

Tourism first began in 1921 and was strongly influenced by transportation and

environmental factors. In 1938, a highway was established from Parry Sound to Sudbury and

roads in the town were paved (Wing, 1975). The road improvements allowed Whebell’s (1969)

fourth and fifth stages of corridor development to occur in Parry Sound as retailing, recreational,

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and cottage industries increased along with the dominance of roadways for transportation.

Improved transportation also opened the area to artists, such as the Group of Seven, who were

drawn to the geographic isolation and pristine environmental resources of Georgian Bay

(Campbell, 2003; Dahms & Hoover, 1979). These artists created the iconic image of the north

for tourists and continue to be a strong presence in the area today (Campbell, 2003).

Tourism began to show its lack of economic benefits in the late 1980s. The influx of

retirees and recreationists into the area in response to the tourist industry caused concurrent

youth out-migration (Naqvi, Sharpe, & Hecht, 1995). During this time, Parry Sound’s increased

connectivity with the urban core of Toronto as a recreation and live-work retreat indicates its

new status as a part of the urban field, which could have provided it with positive economic

growth (Dahms, 1998). However, Parry Sound’s long-term economic sustainability was

restricted by its lack of young workers and its transient, seasonal population (Faulk, 1996).

Despite these demographic problems, tourism has continued to be Parry Sound’s strongest

identity and provides employment to the majority of local residents to this day (Hayes, 2005).

A discussion on the future viability of tourism

Re-imaging is the process of changing the public’s perception of a rural area and Parry

Sound already experienced this dramatic shift when it changed from a landscape of production to

one of tourist consumption (Gill & Reed, 1997). The strength and importance of Parry Sound’s

tourism identity suggests that a complete re-imaging is not required. However, the towns

demographic and employment trends indicate the need for action in the form of community

economic development, an increased presence of artists, tourism planning, and environmental

protection to ensure the future sustainability of local economic and environmental conditions.

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Demographically, Parry Sound’s tourism identity has not helped it to retain a young and

stable population. The previous analysis of its three identities noted that its population was

typically below 6,000 people with the exception of war time. Tourism has not improved this

situation and from 1986 to 1991 there was only a 2.5 percent growth in population (Naqvi et al.,

1995, p. 20). Table 1 reveals how Parry Sound had the largest population in the western district

due to its status as the area’s oldest town. However, its growth was also the lowest, which could

be because of tourism’s uncertain economic future (Naqvi et al., 1995).

Table 1: Population and population growth in west Parry Sound District, 1986-1991


Total population in

Population growth


from 1986-1991 (%)

























Parry Sound









Source: Modified from Naqvi, K., Sharpe, B., & Hecht, A. (1995). Page 20.

More recently, Parry Sound has experienced negative population growth and an

increasingly older population. In 2001, Parry Sound boasted a population of 6,124 individuals,

but by 2006 there was a 5 percent decrease to 5,818 people (Statistics Canada, 2008). The

median age for the 2006 population was 46.3 years, which suggests that low fertility rates could

be a problem in the future (Statistics Canada, 2008). A study by De Coeur (2002) also found that

the majority of residents in Georgian Bay had only lived in the area for 20-29 years and were

mainly full-time retirees (36%) (p. 79). This study further highlights the lack of a young and

stable population in the Parry Sound area, which will limit its future economic sustainability.

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The unstable population and tourism identity of Parry Sound has created limited

employment opportunities and subsequent poverty for local residents. The area’s main

employers in 2006 were those in the retail, real estate, and construction industries, with a local

specialization in arts and recreation (Table 2) (Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs,

2006). Its lack of employment opportunities in 2005 caused 15.9 percent of the population to fall

into the low-income category, with a median after-tax income of only $40,336 per year for

private households (Statistics Canada, 2008). The area’s poverty and limited employment

opportunities suggest that action is needed to maintain the local economy into the future.

Table 2: Distribution of local businesses in Parry Sound, 2006


# of local businesses

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting


Mining, Oil, and Gas Extraction






Wholesale Trade


Retail Trade


Transportation and Warehousing


Information and Cultural Industries


Finance and Insurance


Real Estate


Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services


Management of Companies and Enterprises


Administrative, Waste Management and Remediation


Educational Services


Health Care and Social Assistance


Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation


Accommodation and Food Services


Other Services (except Public Administration)


Public Administration


Source: Modified from Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. (2006).

Economic development in Parry Sound could occur sustainably through community

economic development, an increased number of local artists, or more tourism planning.

Community economic development (CED) is a viable option for Parry Sound because it would

use the unique strengths of the town to advantage (Naqvi et al., 1995). In CED, community is

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defined as being people’s geographic, social, or psychological proximity to each other and is

maintained through an individualized approach to development in each rural area (Koster &

Randall, 2005). The first step in the CED process is becoming aware of the problem and

assessing its cause (Daniels, 1989). After that, the community needs to set defined goals and

establish leadership, with local priorities for development being central to this process (Naqvi et

al., 1995). For Parry Sound, CED could occur with more local development organizations and

financing for start-up businesses from the federal and provincial governments.

Drawing more artists to the area would positively benefit economic development in Parry

Sound, as it would increase the human capital of the community (Hoyman & Faricy, 2009).

Human capital is a highly skilled and educated work force that can increase productivity and

attract younger workers (Petrov, 2008). Parry Sound is well-positioned to draw artists due to the

influence of the counter-urbanization movement, in which urban residents move to rural areas to

enjoy the pleasant surroundings (Mitchell, Bunting, & Piccioni, 2004). Further, many of these

migrations are part of the growing trend of ruralisation, in which residents give up all ties to their

previous urban surroundings and thereby keep wealth within the rural community (Mitchell et

al., 2004). Parry Sound could attract more artists by developing ties with other artistic

communities such as Elora, increasing promotion efforts, and maintaining its natural resources.

Tourism planning could encourage long-term economic development in Parry Sound by

safeguarding the community against future hazards. Integrative tourism plans assess economic,

social, and environmental factors to ensure the sustainability of each (Marcouiller, 1997). These

factors are considered sustainable when they provide lasting benefits to the local community; for

example, jobs would be assessed for their ability to provide workers with sufficient pay,

permanence, and training opportunities (Marcouiller, 1997). Proactive planning ensures that the

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tourism industry is not consumed by international companies, which can cause environmental

problems, import seasonal workers, and strain local utilities (Bergstrom et al., 1990). Parry

Sound could begin implementing this form of planning by establishing a Citizen’s Tourism

Advisory Committee to guide the future development of tourism in the area (Gill & Reed, 1997).

Demographic trends in Parry Sound also suggest that action is needed to protect the local

environment. Heavy, seasonal use by urban tourists from Toronto is causing degradation of the

area’s natural resources, a situation further exacerbated by the impacts of climate change

(Egunyu, 2004). Parry Sound currently protects its natural resources through several provincial

parks such as Grundy, Killbear, and Oastler (Hayes, 2005). However, more environmental

protection is needed to preserve the unique environments found in this area (De Coeur, 2002).

Stewardship is one example of a protective environmental initiative which could benefit

Parry Sound; however, it is complicated by First Nations claims on local natural resources.

Stewardship is defined as the care private owners give their land and is motivated by an ethical

commitment to conservation (Egunyu, 2004). A study by De Coeur (2002) found that Georgian

Bay residents were concerned about local natural resources and were supportive of

environmental protection such as stewardship. Parry Sound could use education, technical

assistance, and other incentives to generate stewardship for local resources (Egunyu, 2004).

However, because stewardship requires complete local cooperation, recent First Nations

actions could complicate such an initiative. The Ojibway First Nations have continued to live in

the Georgian Bay area despite the financial hardship and racial discrimination they have been

forced to endure (Brownlie, 2008). In order to re-establish their culture and identity, they are

currently attempting to claim their rights to the water and lakebed resources of Lake Huron and

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Georgian Bay (Avery, 2004; Hibbard, Lane & Rasmussen, 2008). Despite the importance of

their legal battle, this dispute could cause barriers to complete local participation in stewardship.

Conclusions on the future of Parry Sound

Parry Sound has a long, rich history and three main identities. These identities developed

due to environmental, economic, and transportation factors following with Whebell’s (1969)

corridor theory. Its lumbering identity developed due to the poor soils for farming, the plentiful

white pine, and the many waterways. Lumbering was strongest from 1859 to 1883 and as it

declined local residents tried to replace it with manufacturing. Their attempts resulted in only

limited success until they got railway transportation after 1900 and were able to travel to the

nearby Nobel for manufacturing employment. Tourism replaced manufacturing in Parry Sound

after 1921 as a result of improved transportation and the area’s pristine natural environment. The

tourism identity has since created problems with slow or negative population growth, an aging

population, and limited employment opportunities; further, along with climate change it is

causing degradation to the natural resources which draw artists and tourists to the area.

The economic and environmental problems with the tourism identity suggest that action

is required for its continued sustainability. Solutions could involve community economic

development, drawing more artists to the area, or more proactive tourism planning. Beginning

with initiatives such as stewardship, more stringent environmental protection will also be

required to help protect the environmental resources upon which the community relies, despite

the barriers such actions would face. Throughout Parry Sound’s history, it has overcome great

odds and shown itself to be both a fighter and a survivor; it is with hope that it turns itself to the

future challenges inherent in its tourism identity.


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