Bayfield, Ont. honouring its 'unknown' namesake
BAYFIELD, ONT. -- He’s the explorer you haven’t heard about, until now.
“He’s probably one of the 50 most significant explorers and historical figures in Canada, but he’s been totally ignored,” says Bayfield-based historian, Dave Gillians.
Henry Bayfield is the explorer you've never heard of. At the age of 22, the British naval officer was sent to Upper Canada to survey the Great Lakes. He started on Lake Huron in 1817.
“Here’s this 22-year-old kid that’s named the chief surveyor of Canada and then sent out in a couple of open boats with one lieutenant and a few Métis that helped him survive with no food. He was never closer than a month away from provisions,” says Gillians.
Bayfield was also tasked with finding suitable settlements for military bases or villages. Upon seeing Bayfield’s shores, he reported back to Bayfield’s eventual founder, Baron von Tuyll, a Dutch nobleman, that this area would make for an excellent port.
“Von Tuyll then named it Bayfield, and the River Bayfield, and that’s how it got its name,” says Bayfield Historical Society president, Ruth Gibson.
Admiral Bayfield would go on to spend the next 40 years mapping the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, and the eastern coast of what became Canada.
“His charts have saved a lot of lives for vessels who are navigating these waters as early Canada developed. So his role has been significant,” says Doug Brown, also with Bayfield’s Historical Society.
To mark his achievements, and the fact so few people know about the namesake - who founded the town 50 years before Confederation - the young admiral’s maps and plaque are now on display in what the historical society plans to one day name Admiral Bayfield Square.
“What distinguishes one village from another is its stories, its background, the pride of place. That’s what this project is a little bit about, just adding to our pride of place to say, hey this fella was pretty darn significant,” says Gillians.