A lifelong love of history and a curiosity about exploring forgotten places drew me to Cooper’s Falls, a ghost town north of Orillia near Washago, Ontario. I visited the area several times and was inspired by the natural beauty of the forests, trails and waterways, as well as the story of resilient founders and residents who built the town to cater to a thriving industry that was intent on exploiting the natural resources of the area. Over approximately three decades, that industry depleted the forests and then moved on, eventually leaving the town without a purpose or an economic base to sustain it.
Through this photo essay I wanted to share the story of this forgotten town with other Ontarians. It is a story that continues to be repeated today in various parts of the province, as industries come and go and we allow them to profit from the exploitation of the natural resources of the area. The industries do create jobs and promote economic growth, however, it is often at the expense of the environment and the natural resources of the province. And if they do not replenish what they take, once depleted they will move on, leaving cities, towns and people to struggle for survival or disappear from the area altogether.
A brief history of Cooper’s Falls: The town’s story began in 1864 when Thomas and Emma Cooper left their home of Fawkham, Kent in England and emigrated to Upper Canada. They took the new Colonization Road north to the Black River and settled in a cabin near the falls, surviving first by farming. The town grew and prospered under the leadership of Thomas, who named it Cooper’s Falls in 1878 when he officially opened the first post office. Heavily reliant on the logging industry, the area was home to 1,000 lumberjacks and many businesses grew to cater to them. The waterways became highways for transporting logs to be sold in the towns and cities to the south. A school was built, along with two churches and a community centre that served as gathering places for the new settlers. By 1900, the logging industry had moved on, and the town began to decline. A handful of residents still live in the area, along with the crumbling evidence of more prosperous times.