The Wiarton Gates

By the mid-1920's, Wiarton's traditional industries had nearly faded from view. The sugar beet factory and cement factory had painfully failed years before. The once-thriving sawmills were all but gone as well. Even the furniture industry had been reduced to a single modest factory (the Wiarton Furniture Factory). However, the Wiarton Board of Trade and the Women's Institute had charted the way of the future...tourism!

The Board of Trade was marketing Wiarton to a new generation of automobile travellers, while the Women's Institute strived to convert the once industrious waterfront into a tourist haven complete with a sandy beach, rentable cabins and a public kitchenette. June of 1923 marked the coining of a phrase still synonymous with many in Wiarton today. At that time, the Board of Trade first adopted the phrase "Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula" as the town's slogan. By 1925, the Board had issued its first tourist brochure, aimed directly at the stream of American tourists flowing toward Wiarton on the new Blue Water Highway (Highway 21 travelling from Port Huron, Michigan northward along the east coast of Lake Huron and then west over to Owen Sound).

To welcome all travellers into the town, Wiarton's Board of Trade completed construction in the last week of August 1928 on two distinctive gates, one on each side of Berford Street at the southern entrance to the town just north of the intersection with Elm Street. Each gate consisted of a stone pillar with a frosted glass orb on top and a wooden door painted white and overlayed with black words. Drivers entering the town from the south read the slogan "Wiarton the Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula," while people heading south and leaving town were jovially asked "Will Ye No' Come Back Again?" in a tribute to the town's deep Scottish roots. Figure W23A shows the front and back of the gates, respectively, in their original state. (The top image was adapted for use as the banner at the top of each page in the Wiarton section of this website.)

Figure W23A:  The Wiarton Gates in their original form (front ~1930; rear ~1940)

As the years passed, the gates welcomed many a visitor to town as Wiarton's status as a tourist centre was cemented. The gates themselves became a tourist attraction as shown in Figure W23B.

Figure W23B:  Photograph of the gates taken by tourists 1938.

While the gates stood watch over the town, things were not without some drama. On May 19, 1945, just eleven days after the end of WWII in Europe, one of the gates was "near fatally" smashed by a car after its driver had left a Saturday-night dance. The gate was dutifully repaired (and a settlement arranged with the driver). The gates were repainted the following year then renovated and painted again in 1959. I suspect this is the iteration shown in the top image of Figure W23C. Council had the gates painted in April 1966 as well.

Figure W23C:  The Wiarton Gates (about 1960, late 1970s, 1980 [Source: V. Last], 2004)

In 1968 Berford St. was widened, so the wooden part of the gates were removed, leaving only the stone pillars. By the early 1970s, new wooden gates were placed in an open position so they sat away from the road and in front of the southern side of the stone pillars as shown in the second image of Figure W23C. The lights and glass orbs atop the pillars were also gone by this time (possibly having been removed in 1968 as well). This incarnation of the gates lasted at least into the mid-1980s. The third image in Figure W23C shows a fantastic view of the gates in Wiarton's centennial year of 1980, with a complementary sign in the background reiterating the town's role as Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula. A few years later, a September 1984 study on potential future development of the town recommended building on the foundation of the gates to create an archway across Berford St. emblazoned with the town slogan. (Figure W23D) As impressive as it might have been, this recommendation was not adopted.

Figure W23D:  Most recent incarnation of the Wiarton Gates (c. 2001)

I'm unsure exactly when the gates were removed. It was sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s. The bottom image of Figure W23C above shows their former location in 2004 well after the gates had been removed.

Taking on a second life, of sorts, the gates were resurrected around 2000-2001 as part of a large sign situated significantly further south of Wiarton, at the northeast corner of Highway 6 and Boat Lake Road. This time, they featured white wood doors somewhat similar to the original incarnation, although the writing had been replaced by the phrase "The Gateway" next to a large textured representation of the Bruce Pennisula. (Figure W23E) Like an echo over the years, if one took an up-close look at the stone pillars, you could still see the hole and wiring that at one time connected to the lights and glass orbs that sat upon the pillars.

Figure W23E:  Most recent incarnation of the Wiarton Gates (c. 2006)

Unfortunately, as eye-catching as this sign was, the coloured backdrop soon faded from sun exposure and the gates were removed once again in 2013 to be replaced by an entirely different sign. The new sign simply featured a hanging panel with the word "Wiarton" on it flanked by a statue of Wiarton Willie. (Figure W23F) After 90 years, the marketing slogan "Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula" was replaced by the concept "Basecamp Wiarton" although this phrase is not featured on the new sign.

Figure W23E:  Sign erected in 2013, replacing the most recent version of the Wiarton gates.

The Wiarton gates greeted millions of people to Wiarton over eight different decades. Featured prominently in historic images, its easy to see why. They were a very effective marketing tool that helped build what is now Wiarton's key tourism industry. At the time they were last removed from public view in 2013, I wrote to the Wiarton Echo along with other concerned citizens to enquire what was being done with the iconic gates. I was told by the town at the time, that the gates were safely in storage. I earnestly hope this is still the case. I for one would love to see them featured publicly again for a new generation of visitors, linking today back to the birth of Wiarton as a tourist destination in the 1920s. Wiarton is and always will be the "Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula." In fact, they became so synonymous with Wiarton they were featured on the town's police cars for many years. (Figure W23F)

Figure W23F:  The gates featured just above the word "POLICE" on the doors of Wiarton's police car in 1979. [Source: V. Last]

I'll end off, with one final picture of the gate on the east side of Berford St. in 1931, only a few years after they'd first been erected. Interestingly, Highway 6 was still gravel at that point!

Figure W23G:  Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula (1931) [Source: V. Last] featured just above the word "POLICE" on the doors of Wiarton's police car in 1979.


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Postcards From the Bay was launched April 14, 2000


� Copyright 2000 - Christopher R. Graham