This story of the founding of Willisville is re-printed from the Willisville website (see sources below).
Dawn Hicks, granddaughter of Ernest, kindly gave me information about many of the descendants of George Humphrey & Elizabeth nee Enever. George & Elizabeth were the parents of Ada, who married Ernest Willis in 1896 in Assiginack, Ontario and together founded the township of Willisville. It was George & Elizabeth who emigrated to Canada in 1874, having been born in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire in the UK.
The picturesque village of Willisville is located on Frood Lake in the heart of the La Cloche Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Less than two billion years ago and before glacial erosion these beautiful quartzite and granite mountain ranges were as high as the Himalayas. Frood Lake, Charlton Lake and Cranberry Bay are all part of the lake system accessible from Willisville.
Ernest & Ada Willis 1915
The village derives its name from the first family, Ernest and Ada Willis, who settled on the northwest shore of Frood Lake in 1910. Mr. Willis became the first area postmaster on April 14, 1919 and continued until his death on December 24, 1928. He was also inspector of railway construction for the rail line connecting McKerrow and Little Current. On May 21, 1912 the line was opened.
Ada Willis was postmaster from February 25, 1929 until April 27, 1932 and was reappointed on May 13, 1932 after her marriage to Henry Bennett. She remained as postmaster until her death on November 13, 1943 at which time Henry Bennett assumed the position of acting postmaster until January 14, 1944.
The Willis family in Willisville
The area prospered with the development of the Bousquet Gold Mine and Howry Creek Mining Camp until their close in the early 20's. The highway to Manitoulin was completed in 1926 as a relief project and up to that time the rail line was used extensively.
The quartzite mountains, crystal clear lakes, windswept pines and abundant wildlife draw many visitors to the area to canoe, hike, camp, fish, snowmobile, hunt, photograph and paint the landscape. Many of Canada’s famous Group of Seven; including A.J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris and Arthur Lismer painted and camped in this area for numerous years. Franklin Carmichael’s summer cabin was built in 1934 and Willisville residents help construct the log building.
In the 1930’s three lodges were located where the present day village is situated. Golden’s Camp, Kinsman’s Camp and Willis’s Camp were moved when Inco opened nearby Lawson Quarry and built homes for the workers in 1941. In 1942 the school was opened for the children of the Inco workers living in the village.
It was a great place to live, work and raise a family for the quarry workers and today’s residents enjoy the same village life only 15 minutes away from Espanola, 20 minutes from Manitoulin Island and an hour from Sudbury. In the mid 70’s Inco sold the village to Edward Bourque who made numerous improvements to the 26 residences and in 1984 turned it into one of Ontario’s most unique condominiums.
The 55 residents own their land and everything on it but share in the common areas and expenses.
The residents of Willisville share great community spirit and over the years have held winter carnivals, smelt dinners, fishing derbies, dances and the recent Village Fish Fry and Yard Sale. Over 200 dinners were served to the hundreds of people who came to enjoy Willisville hospitality on October 27,2002. Monies raised will be going towards new playground equipment to compliment the children’s basketball court built last summer.
The famous La Cloche Art Show was held in Willisville from 1978 until 1994 when it moved to larger facilities in nearby Whitefish Falls. The ever popular children’s show Rainbow Country was filmed in the area in 1969 and the Willisville Fire Tower which is no longer standing was used in the series. The Fire Tower Mountain is still a popular hiking trail and thousands of people have made the climb to enjoy the beautiful view of La Cloche, Killarney Park, Manitoulin Island and the Sudbury area.