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Lake Simcoe Ice was Renowned for Purity

By Jeanne Hopkins

The Lake Simcoe Ice Company had been incorporated in 1870 in Toronto as the Spring Water Ice Company. This business had started that year in the hollow above Davenport Road near Avenue Road by James Fairhead. He began supplying ice to butchers, hotels and restaurants in the city. The Spring Water Ice was actually harvested from the lake and smaller bodies of water in and around Toronto - Frenchman's Bay, Ashbridge's Bay, Grenadier Pond, Bond Lake, Lake Wilcox and Lake Simcoe. Ice harvested in the winter was stored in sawdust for summer delivery.

Around 1890, James Fairhead who had set up a contracting business and brickyard in Yorkville, set up the Knickerbocker Ice Company on the shores of Lake Simcoe at Jackson's Point. At that time, there were five large ice companies from the United States that formed the Ice Union, cutting and sending ice from Lake Simcoe to various cities in the eastern United States. Ice from Lake Simcoe was considered the best - first class quality, from 12 to 20 inches thick. The lake's reputation for pure, clear water was such that, in 1894, Spring Water changed its name to the Lake Simcoe Ice Company.

Ice harvesting operations could not begin until the ice was at least a foot thick, as it had to support the weight of horses, men and equipment. Water from Lake Simcoe was pure due to the fact that impurities sank to the bottom of the lake where the water rarely froze.

Ice was "harvested" using conveyor belts and chains, cut into ice blocks 22 inches by three feet thick (weighing 325 kgs or about 715 Ibs each). Ice houses, consisting of up to 18 "rooms", were insulated with a foot of sawdust between the ice and the walls. The railway box cars had their doors stuffed with hay. Up to 30 or 40 car loads of ice could be moved out each night en rout to the city and points south.

Because of the fierce rivalry among the many ice companies, James Fairhead decided to specialise in the domestic trade. With the increasing demand for Lake Simcoe ice, Fairhead set up harvesting operations across the lake at Bell Ewart - changing the spelling to Belle Ewart Ice - to make it classier. With more than 30 horse-drawn ice wagons on the city's streets, James Fairhead soon became known as the Ice King. At one time, Lake Simcoe Ice Company had 225 horses and 25 wagons delivering ice around Toronto and its suburbs.

In 1914, the company began making plans to manufacture, rather than harvest the ice. Now, standard ice blocks were needed for ice boxes. Toronto's first ice- making plant was built on Dupont Street Over the next 15 years, Lake Simcoe Ice Company's storage depots were gradually dismantled. In 1929, the company was enlarged to market fuel and to install beating equipment. Today, the Lake Simcoe Ice Company is a thriving, independent company, specialising in ice-making machines and cold storage facilities.

Source: Georgina Advocate - Our History December 1992. Reproduced with permission