The Burnt River Quarry
January 6, 2024
The IB&O abutment at Howland Junction was built from limestone from the Burnt River Quarry. The High Trestle on the Victoria Railway (now rail trail) can be seen in the distance.
By Guy Scott
The village of Burnt River is located on a contact zone where the Canadian Shield meets the Great Lakes Lowlands. The Canadian Shield is composed mostly of hard granite rocks. The Great Lakes Lowlands contain a lot of limestone rocks. Limestone, a softer rock, has many more uses than hard granite. Just west of the village is a limestone ledge, often called the Pinery Ledge. An outcrop of limestone at this point made quarrying very practical. The Victoria Railway passed right past this site in 1976, the same year Alexander Rettie opened the Burnt River Quarry. The quarry was later acquired by Samuel Suddaby, who really expanded the business.
Limestone has many uses, including lime for agricultural uses and building materials. The great lime kilns at Coboconk were built for these purposes. It can also be crushed easily to gravel for road building. Due to its softness, it can also be carved into building blocks. These last two purposes were the main objectives of the Burnt River Quarry. Burnt River limestone building blocks were sent to various places all over Ontario. They were used in railway trestles all over the area. They can be seen at Crego Creek Trestle south of Kinmount and the old IB&O bridge abutments at Howland Junction. At its peak, the old quarry employed as many as 40 men. To find the necessary workforce, Suddaby recruited workers from Britain. At the peak, 14 carloads of crushed rock were shipped every day.
The old quarry operated sporadically until 1924 when it was sold to a Hagersville quarry company who simply closed the site to take it out of production and set a monopoly in the limestone industry. It stands abandoned to this very day.
The old village quarry was not the only such one in the area. To the east of town, two limestone quarries were later (1980s) established to exploit Burnt River limestone. Crushed stone and armour stone or landscape stone are still hauled from these sites. Many local limestone landscaping walls have been built by Dudman Construction, masters of the art, in our area. Some prime examples can be found in the Austin Sawmill Park and the Kinmount Fairgrounds.