Bronte Harbour
Stonehooking
Bronte Stonehooker (Provided by Bronte Historical Society)
Bronte Stonehooker (Provided by Bronte Historical Society) Details
A significant era in the history of Bronte Harbour began in the 1830s when the Stonehooking trade was born in Lake Ontario. The practice of stonehooking is uniquely Canadian, with four ports along the shore of Lake Ontario taking it up, including Oakville and Port Credit, which was the centre of the industry.

Many buildings in Oakville built before 1910 have foundations made of stones obtained from the lake bottom through this method. Early settlers built houses from wood, as strong wood was readily available and abundant in the area, but threat of fire pushed builders to change to brick. Unlike wooden houses, brick houses must be built on a foundation due to frost, and shale, being easily found in the lake, was great for this use as well as sidewalks and roads. Later, stonehooking as a source of stone, sand, and gravel for building would be replaced by quarries and sand pits, and concrete would become the building material of choice.

To obtain the stones, a boat would anchor close to the shore and send out a smaller vessel where the stone would be piled. Unique long stonehooking rakes, invented by local Bronte blacksmith Samuel Adams, allowed the stonehookers to stay above the water and pull up stones from the bottom of the lake. When full, the stones would be unloaded into the main boat.

The material was measured in stacks six by twelve feet, and three feet high, equivalent to 216 cubic feet. Each of these stacks were worth three to five dollars. Small crews were happy to have two stacks per trip.

The practice also caused some headaches for locals. Some stonehookers would wade into shallow water near the shore to pry up shale with crowbars. When done too much, this caused the land near the shore to become unstable, angering lakeside farmers. A law was passed in 1857 preventing stonehookers from taking stones within 49 ½ feet of the shore, but according to residents this only caused the stonehookers to operate more covertly.

The trade peaked before the 1900s when just over one million cubic feet of stone would be removed from the lake each year.

To learn more, visit the stonehooking exhibit run by the Bronte Historical Society in the Sovereign house.

Dundas Shale on Pier (Provided by Bronte Historical Society)
Dundas Shale on Pier (Provided by Bronte Historical Society) Details
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