The Croft Lumber Company sawmill and Knoepfli Inn, situated on Ahmic Lake and subjects of my previous column, were but two examples of the business enterprises of a remarkable family of Muskoka–Parry Sound pioneers named Paget.
The enterprising Pagets, Muskoka-Parry Sound pioneers.
George Paget, Muskoka pioneer, industrialist, and inventor.
Courtesy of Garry Paget
The Pagets, farmers and grain merchants in England since early times, established a foothold in Canada in 1865 when newlyweds Henry and Mary Ann Paget settled on a farm near London, Ontario. Later, Henry’s brother George joined them, and thus a dynasty of Canadian entrepreneurs was born.
In 1879, George and one or more sons or nephews came north to try their luck in Muskoka, the new frontier. Family lore, not entirely trustworthy, suggests this may have involved plans to carve out homesteads in the wilderness, and that a miserable winter spent holed up in a shanty somewhere up the Big East River cured them of that notion. If true, it turned out for the best, for the Pagets were cut out for greater things than scratching a living from the lean Muskoka soil.
By 1890, the year that George’s brother Henry and family also came to Huntsville, George was an established figure in the timber industry, and the Croft Lumber Company and Knoepfli Inn enterprises of the brothers and their sons followed, as described in my previous column. Other endeavours included a land venture in the Little Clay belt (a syndicate headed by George subdivided the site of the town of New Liskeard), and the Highland Inn tourist hotel deep in Algonquin Park.
However, a humble, eight-foot-square assembly of lumber and ironware stands out as probably the most lucrative of all the accomplishments of this inventive clan.
One version of the story says that the idea germinated one fall when one or more Pagets went west to work in the wheat harvest, and noticed that grain shippers had a problem with leaking railcars. Wheat went to market in ordinary wooden boxcars, the sliding doors of which tended to bulge outward as the grain compressed with each bump in the rail bed.
Just which of the three had the inspiration is forgotten, but in 1909, George Paget, his son Arthur Edward, and George’s nephew Charles Edward, secured the first of several patents on the bulge-resistant “Paget grain-car door.”
The Paget Cooperage Car Company then began manufacturing the doors in Buffalo, N.Y., perhaps because Buffalo was an important grain trans-shipping hub at the time. So successful was the invention at curtailing spillage (and allowing cars to be loaded heavier) that it was widely adopted. Like factory shipping pallets, the doors were returned westward for re-use, and family lore speaks of one junior member, Alan Paget, “riding the rails” as he kept the units in circulation.
“It was one [more] source of revenue for the Pagets of Huntsville,” says Garry Paget, my chief informant in all this, “and I’m told their approximate share amounted to a tidy $275,000. Don’t forget this was at a time when a man earned four to six dollars a day.”
I know Garry Paget, a great-grandson of Henry and Mary Ann, the newlyweds who spearheaded the family’s move to Ontario, only through the Internet. However, I expect to meet him later this summer while he conducts an English cousin, John Paget, (who Garry has yet to meet) around the district. Using the man’s trip diary as a guide, the pair will be retracing the footsteps in Muskoka–Parry Sound of an English relative, Alfred Frank Paget, who in 1927-28 made a grand tour of North America.
Once thick on the ground, the descendants of brothers Henry and George Paget today are few and far between in the local population. However, the so-called Paget House, the fine home erected by George Paget and now designated as a Heritage structure, still stands in Huntsville as a monument to their once-robust presence hereabouts.