The Natives had long traded in the abundant fur pelts (beaver, wolf, fox, bear) available throughout the area and it was the lucrative fur trade that brought the Europeans. Etienne Brule was a scout and pathfinder looking for an east-west route to connect Montreal and the Ottawa River system (via the Mattawa River) with Lake Huron (via Lake Nipissing, the French River, Georgian Bay).
A trading post, Fort Laronde, was established (in the late 1700s or early 1800s) at what is now the mouth of the La Vase River where Natives brought fur and fish to trade for European goods such as nets, corn, tobacco, or other supplies. This location had long been a native rendezvous site so it was a natural spot for the Northwest Company of Montreal to build a trading post. In 1821, after the merger of the Northwest Company with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the trading post at Fort Laronde was closed and moved to a new location on the north shore of Lake Nipissing. The trading post built there was called the Nipissing Lake Post and in 1848 it was moved to a new site at the mouth of the Sturgeon River on the east bank. In 1879 that trading post was closed. In 1967, a replica of that early trading post was constructed as a centennial project and is still a major tourist attraction for the area.
In 1882, with the coming of the railway, Lake Nipissing entered a new growth period. That same year (1882), a newcomer to the area, John Ferguson, built a log cabin, served as the first postmaster, and purchased a large tract of land which today comprises downtown North Bay. Much of that land he sold or donated to schools and churches. He donated the land used to build the first school in the area. It was a small, two-room school that was painted blue. So it was known as the ‘Blue School House.’
By 1890, the small village of Cache Bay, situated on the western end of Lake Nipissing, was a hive of industry that centred around a sawmill built by JR Booth. Employees of his mill purchased building lots in Cache Bay from Booth and established a community that soon thrived. His loggers used the lake to drive huge log booms across Lake Nipissing to Callander Bay. Those logs were then sent by rail to the Mattawa River system. Eventually they ended up at Booth’s sawmill near Ottawa.
North Bay officially became a town in 1891and the first mayor was John Bourke, a businessman who owned a sawmill. But it wasn’t until 1925 that North Bay had grown large enough to be considered a city. North Bay has grown and prospered because of its proximity to Lake Nipissing. In the early days the lake was a source of food, a transportation route, and a trading centre.
By the 1900s, Lake Nipissing was essential for the growing lumber industry. Today, it is the centre of the area’s tourist industry.