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THEN AND NOW: Midland Harbour was once a shipping hub

Harbour has provided steady stream of visitors and commerce for more than a century

You’re more likely to see small sail boats, yachts and speedboats delivering people in search of ice cream at the harbour in Midland these days.

More than years ago, you would have seen dogsledders in the winter and lumber in the summer. While shipping continues on a smaller scale than it once did, and the harbour is still home to a few steamships over the course of the year, Midland Harbour is not the hub of shipping activity it was at the turn of the century in the 1900s.

The mill that operates on the shore of the harbour, ADM Milling Company, continues to ship and receive flour imported from the Prairies. The mill distributes Five Roses flour from Midland to the surrounding area.

The ship that ferries the flour from the harbour is the Canadian Steamship MV Frontenac.

In the winter, shippers and boat enthusiasts might see the CCGS Samuel Risley breaking the ice at a speed of about three knots, taking out one foot of ice, although it is certified to break two feet of ice.

Around the turn of the last century, in the 1900s, large shipments of lumber and coal passed through the port daily. Mid-century, the town dock had transformed into a tourist destination for cruise and passenger ships sailing the Great Lakes. Currently, Midland Harbour is a winter berth for grain ships with the town dock being a tie-up for recreational vessels and the occasional coast guard ship.

“The harbour used to be like a shipping yard years ago with cargo going in and out of Midland,” says Rick Dalziel, the harbourmaster in Midland.

These days, the Midland harbour is a tourist attraction for people visiting from local cottages, loopers — people travelling the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Welland Canal by boat, typically from the United States — and the occasional cruise ship.

“The Pearl Mist comes in eight times a year and stays overnight,” explains Dalziel.

The Pearl Mist cruises the Great Lakes with 210 passengers enjoying the beauty Canada has to offer, starting on the East Coast and travelling down the St. Lawrence Seaway through Quebec to Thousand Islands and Toronto.

According to the Huronia Museum, at one time it was common to see three cruise ships lined up at the harbour, such is the appeal of the bay.

Dalziel says there were more tourists last year at this time than this year, and he blames that on the unprecedented number of wildfires that affected air quality and the weather for the early part of the season this year.

“Last year, we had lots of tourists because everybody was held back with the pandemic before then,” explains Dalziel, who has run the harbour for nearly a decade and has been the town’s operations manager for more than 30 years.

The bay still holds a great deal of appeal as the weather warms and the summer months see kids out of school and vacationing with their families.

All of the seasonal slips are taken.

“Once kids are out of school, weekends will be busy,” says Dalziel.

Dalziel was called away from this interview to make sure the Pearl Mist was well received, and so starts another season of boating on beautiful Georgian Bay.