Dorset Fire Rangers : Late 1890s through to the 1960s

The first fire station was located in the area of the current Robinson's Plaza. The 'station' moved in the early 1920s to the base of the mountain (local residents have always know this big rolling hill as the mountain) Where the Dorset Heritage Museum is located today.

In 1922 increasing attention was being given to the protection of Ontario's forests, the then Ontario Lands & Forests established a permanent branch in Dorset. The department built an office, a cabin, a small warehouse, and a fire lookout tower which was built at the top of the mountain, completed in 1928.

The site for the tower was purchased from Mr. Jerry Clayton of Dorset. Later on in 1943 when the first road was built up the east side of the hill, the land for it was donated by Mr. Clayton and by Mr. Allan McEachern. A road earlier than that, part of the old Bobcaygeon Settlement Road, is still being enjoyed today by those who enjoy a hike up to the now Dorset Scenic Tower. Today's paved road to the Dorset Scenic Tower was established in 1966.

The towermen would work on contract through the fire season of April to October, working shifts. When it was dry the fire hazard was great and the towerman was up in the tower all day. If the weather conditions were rainy and wet, he was out cutting portages. The portages aided the fire rangers to access fires that were well off any road system. They also cut trees and brush along the phone line or a 'ground circuit' line that was strung through the trees from the Dorset Branch to the various fire towers. These phones were in all of the towers and that was how they communicated, and reported any area fires. In the fifties the way of communicating changed to VHF, very high frequency radio.

The Dorset Branch of the Lands and Forests covered a very large area. Towers that reported back to Dorset were from the following locations, Vankoughnet, Stisted, Draper, Dorset, & St. Nora's.

The towerman would climb the tower in the morning, come down for lunch, go up for the afternoon, come down for supper, and then go up once more to scan in the early evening.

There were many towermen over the years but one man that most people remember, is Ferg McGuire. Towermen were encouraged to have a hobby, woodcarving, musical instruments, or reading. Ferg used to talk to the towerman at Oxtongue Lake, Tom Paris. Tom and Ferg used to like to say that they could see each other in their respective towers, that were kilometers apart and separated by a high ridge which of course made 'seeing' each other impossible! To add more antics to the mix, the towerman at St. Nora Lake, Hugh Lester, had a hobby of playing the guitar. It was not uncommon for Hugh to broadcast a live music show over the radio to Tom and Ferg.

Ferg McGuire went above and beyond the call of duty, and was the last of the Dorset towermen. His passion for the job took him past his retirement age which at the time was 70. In 1961 Ferg was 73 years old when he climbed down from the Dorset Fire Lookout Tower at the end of the season, an era gone on Dorset's mountain.

The Fire Tower was in service until 1961. Parts of that old tower was taken to Algonquin Park for an exhibit in their visitor centre.

Aircraft detection patrol, especially during periods of high extreme fire hazard, along with the ready assistance of a co operating public, had combined to give our area a remarkably fine record in the early detection of forest fire.

The Fire Lookout Tower was gone, replaced by what stands today, the Dorset Scenic Tower. The tower and area have become a huge tourist attraction, especially in the fall, for those seeking one of the best views of our colour changing rolling hills dipping down to the beautiful blue Lake of Bays.

The early development of the tower area to change into what we enjoy today was largely due to the efforts of Mr. Stan Booker, at the time, Deputy Chief Ranger, Lands & Forests, Dorset Branch.

In July of 1967 the opening year of the Dorset Scenic Tower there were 11,000 people that visited the tower area, one visitor in ten climbed the 118 steps to the top. The land since the grand opening has been maintained by local municipal government, now known as Twp. of Algonquin Highlands.

Some photos that are featured here in this virtual exhibit are of training courses that the Dorset Fire Rangers went on or held here in Dorset and area. The towermen were gone but the Dorset Branch was still used as a Lands and Forest base and employed many over the years. The men still worked cutting portages now used as canoe routes, some even are apart of today's snowmobile trails. They fought area fires, and sometimes the crew would go further north to fight forest fires.

During this time the Fire Ranger School was built just outside of Dorset on Lake St. Nora. This was a great education centre that the ministry used for training the rangers, later named the Leslie M. Frost Centre. Then a government shuffle later changed the use to an educational facility for the youth. School children came from all over Ontario, and other provinces to get a wonderful glimpse into the outdoor life and sciences. For some children this was their only trip to see rural life and natural forests. Unfortunately for us all, the government in the mid 2000s closed the Leslie M. Frost Centre.

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Dorset Fire Rangers