From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
The Rise of an Early Lumber Company
In the late 1880s the town of Sault Ste. Marie was growing as people began to find their way here. This meant that people needed places to live and therefore building materials for these homes were needed. While timber was readily available in the area, it needed to be cut and brought to town so that people could build their homes.
In May of 1888, Mr. Wilson George Sims, his wife, Elizabeth, and their family travelled from Plymouth, Nova Scotia and arrived in the newly incorporated town of Sault Ste. Marie. Upon Wilson Sims’ arrival, he recognized the community’s growing need for building materials so he entered into a partnership with Mr. W.H. Plummer and together they started a lumber yard located on the south side of Queen Street, just east of Pim Street. This lumber yard was located on the property opposite the current site of Leo Avenue. William K. Sims, the 18-year-old son of Mr. Sims and another son, Gordon H. Sims, worked with their father in the lumber yard.
An agreement was reached with Mr. Olmstead and Mr. Lothian to set up a lumber mill in the centre of the lumber yard. Within a short time, Mr. Sims and Mr. Plummer had more than 100,000 feet of lumber stored in the yard around the mill. The greatest danger in a lumber yard is fire and unfortunately disaster struck in the fall of 1890 when a fire broke out in the mill. The fire destroyed the mill and spread to the stored lumber, destroying everything. There was an insurance policy on the mill for $1,000 but the lumber was uninsured so financially, the losses were catastrophic.
The Sims family made plans to rebuild but they had to raise the funds so progress was slow. By 1892, they started to rebuild a mill on the same site, getting their lumber from Garden River.
As the demand for lumber increased they rapidly outgrew their original site and began looking for a new location for their lumber mill. In 1896, they bought land at the base of MacDougall Street on the south side of Bay Street. With the arrival of Francis H. Clergue in 1897 the town began to experience rapid growth and the development of its industrial base, prompting a greater demand for lumber. When Mr. Clergue turned the old Block House into his home and office, Mr. Sims delivered the lumber which was used to put partitions into the building.
Wilson Sims died on February 5, 1901 at the age of 61, but his sons continued to run the business. William K. Sims worked in the lumber business until approximately 1922 when he began working with Canada Steamship Lines at the New Ontario Dock. He continued to work for the Canada Steamship Lines up until his death on February 5, 1947 at the age of 77.
According to the City Directories, the Sims Lumber Company continued to be listed on Bay Street until 1925. Although there is no documented date when the business closed it appears that it may have operated until the early to mid-1920s.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.