“Bayfield, as you are aware, is one of the most picturesque places on the banks of Lake Huron. The various and tortuous windings of the many rills of the Bayfield River, through glens and ravines and the more notable expanse of Lake Huron together with a day when the heat of the sun was tempered by genial breezes, were sufficient to attract the most callus of nature’s admirers and offer a limner a sketch that would vie with Niagara and reveling in its delight would lose his soul to fancy porticals. Such is Bayfield and its glories.”
Huron Signal – June 1863
The Founding of Bayfield
In 1832 Carel Lodewijk, Baron van Tuyll van Serooskerken, a Dutch nobleman, purchased large holdings in the Huron Tract including 388 acres here which he set aside for a settlement. During the next decade an extensive town plot was laid out, grist and saw mills were erected and a community was established. The settlement, named Bayfield after the nautical surveyor Henry Wolsey Bayfield, developed as a centre for the surrounding agricultural community. By 1851 the hamlet contained a wagon and ploughmaking works, two blacksmiths shops, an ashery, a distillery, two tanneries, a brickyard and about 125 residents. The construction of a harbour during the 1870s spurred further growth, and in 1876, with a population of over 800, Bayfield was incorporated as a village.
The historic Victorian village of Bayfield, Ontario is situated on Lake Huron at the outlet of the Bayfield River, 20 kilometres south of Goderich. Its unspoiled charm and scenic setting have attracted visitors for over a century. Bayfield’s Main Street is now designated a Heritage Conservation District under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Early European Exploration
In 1608 the French explorer, Samuel Champlain, sent the young coureur des bois, Étienne Brûlé, west from Quebec City in search of the elusive route to China. In approximately 1610, Brûlé became the first European to visit the shores of Lake Huron. Brûlé was illiterate, so left no journals or records of his travels, but it is more than likely that he did visit the mouth of the Bayfield River.
Huron (from the French hure for ‘rough’) was the name given by the French to Indian tribes they encountered along the St. Lawrence River and in southern Ontario. During the period of the Jesuit missions and the Beaver Wars of the 17th century, the Huron Confederacy was largely destroyed by warfare, famine and disease, and the survivors dispersed. However, following the fall of New France (1759-1763) the British, unfamiliar with the history of the area, retained the French term, Huron, for the Great Lake.
It was actually the Ojibwa (Chippewa, Iroquois), who supplanted the Huron, from whom the south-eastern Lake Huron shore lands, including the Bayfield area, were purchased following the War of 1812.
Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield
The village of Bayfield, and the Bayfield River just north of the village, were named after Admiral Bayfield (1795-1885), the self-taught Royal Navy nautical surveyor (hydrographer). Bayfield conducted the first detailed survey of the Great Lakes (1817-1826) and his charts are still referred to by nautical surveyors today.
The mouth of the Bayfield River forms a natural sheltered harbour, and Bayfield recommended that location as a naval harbour for the upper Great Lakes. That harbour location is now the largest pleasure craft marina on the Canadian side of Lake Huron.
John Galt and Baron van Tuyll
In 1824, the polymath John Galt (1779-1839) was instrumental in the formation of the Canada Company, which purchased approximately 10,000 square kilometres of undeveloped land in Upper Canada (Ontario) in the Huron Tract. The Canada Company’s plan was to open up the tract for agriculture, reselling farm lots to settlers. By 1828-1829 the Huron Road (from Guelph via Kitchener, Stratford, Seaforth and Goderich) had been surveyed and opened, largely through the efforts of the peripatetic ‘Tiger’ Dunlop (1792-1848).
In 1832, Carel Lodewijk, Baron van Tuyll van Serooskerken (1784-1835), acting on the recommendation of Admiral Bayfield, purchased approximately 3,000 acres of the Huron Tract, including about 400 acres around the current location of the Village of Bayfield. Although Bayfield’s lakeside street (Tuyll Street) is named after Baron van Tuyll (pronounced “tile”) there is no evidence that the Baron ever visited the area himself.
Visit the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives on Main Street to learn more about the Village’s rich history!