Historical Collections of the Great Lakes

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W. H. Wheeler Fish Company - GLMS 78

Introduction | Organizational History | Scope and Content | Series Description | Order of Microfilming


The original company records for this collection of three microfilm reels were loaned to Bowling Green State University for filming in 1973 by the Province of Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. Steven Nepszy coordinated this project for the Ontario government.

Literary and property rights were dedicated to the public. Copying from the microfilm is permitted for research purposes.

Organizational History

The turn of the twentieth century witnessed a rapid growth in commercial fishing centered in Ontario's Lake Erie ports. Founded in ca. 1900, the W. H. Wheeler Fish Company began operations at Selkirk, Ontario in the eastern basin of Lake Erie.

Construction of rail lines such as the Tillsonburg, Lake Erie and Pacific Railroad in the 1890s permitted fishing companies on the Canadian shore to rapidly distribute their processed catches to cities in the United States and Canada. Companies such as Wheeler found the years around 1900 opportune moments to begin commercial sales of fish due to the increased ease of reaching large urban markets.

The boom of the 1890s and early 1900s was sparked in large measure by the herring catch. In 1904 a record harvest for herring was noted at 2,644,300 pounds. Records for the Canadian fishing industry showed 648 men licensed in the Canadian Lake Erie fisheries in 1904. Increasingly large catches were making substantial incomes available to these men.

The growth in numbers for fishing companies meant competition became more intense. The Wheeler company followed other fishing interests in moving toward greater use of steam tugs in the 1920s to retrieve nets. Less reliance on pound net fishing resulted.

As the fishing companies became more cost conscious, they looked for ways to keep more profit for their harvests in their own hands. In the 1890s, the New York City-based Peek Slip Market bought most of the Lake Erie catch from the Canadian fishing companies in annual contracts paying fixed rate prices. These prices were often subject to reductions when Peek Slip agents said the fish arrived in New York with too much spoilage. The fishermen could not verify if this was really the case.

Companies such as W. H. Wheeler began to build freezing and filleting plants of their own to avoid dealing with markets using fixed rate contracts. The better preserved fish could be sent by rail to customers of the Wheeler Company's selection who paid competitive prices.

The W. H. Wheeler Fishing company was part of the long term trend on the Great Lakes that saw the dominance in the fishing market of the United States over Canada begin to diminish from 1900 to 1970. Around 1900 the United States harvested 80% of the overall annual catch. This figure stayed around 75% until 1950. The United States portion of the Great Lakes is about 64% of the total surface area. One can see the disproportionate share of the harvest obtained by the United States fishing companies. By 1970, a change had occurred to where 40% of the harvest came from Canada's 36% of the Great Lakes.

The career of fishing companies such as W. H. Wheeler marked a stable component of Ontario's economy for most of the twentieth century. The Lake Erie fisheries are as relatively important to Ontario's financial picture as they were a century ago. Wheatly, Ontario is reportedly the largest freshwater fish-processing center in the world.

Scope and Content

This microfilmed collection documents financial transactions of the W. H. Wheeler Fish Company of Selkirk, Ontario for 1905-1938, 1950-1951. Researchers seeking information on the expenses and profits involved in Great Lakes commercial fishing for the early twentieth century would find the detail of the account records useful. Wage information would assist examination of labor conditions in Ontario. Changes in species of fish caught, and in the quantities harvested, reflect ecological shifts in Lake Erie marine life.

Information appears in the form of ledgers that combine Day Book, Cash Sales and Financial Journal headings. Entries were made on a daily basis throughout each year.

Series Description


1905-1938, 1950-1951
Reels 1-3
Arranged chronologically
Series contains financial records of the W. H. Wheeler Fish Company of Selkirk, Ontario maintained in combined ledgers. Sales of fish to other companies are recorded with information on type of fish sold, quantity involved and price. Company equipment purchases reflect routine business for the Wheeler operation. Day book entries report fishing locations in Lake Erie and destinations for other business trips. Wage information for employees is also included.

Order of Microfilming

Reel 1: Day Book/Cash Sales/Journals 1-9, 1905-1928


  1. V. 1: 10-03-1905 to 08-06-1910
  2. V. 2: 09-01-1912 to 12-08-1916
  3. V. 3: 04-27-1914 to 12-04-1915
  4. V. 4: 04-26-1917 to 12-10-1919
  5. V. 5: 12-02-1914 to 12-06-1920
  6. V. 6: 04-04-1924 to 12-13-1924
  7. V. 7: 04-03-1925 to 11-28-1925
  8. V. 8: 04-04-1927 to 12-05-1927
  9. V. 9: 07-25-1927 to 06-28-1928

Reel 2: Day Book/Cash Sales/Journals 9-15, 1927-1938


  1. V. 9: 07-25-1927 to 06-28-1928
  2. V. 10: 04-15-1930 to 12-02-1930
  3. V. 11: 04-03-1931 to 12-12-1931
  4. V. 12: 04-08-1932 to 10-02-1935
  5. V. 13: 04-18-1933 to 12-04-1933
  6. V. 14: 04-27-1935 to 11-26-1936
  7. V. 15: 05-01-1928 to 12-03-1938

Reel 3: Day Book/Cash Sales/Journals 16-17, 1928, 1950-1951


  1. V. 16: 04-25-1928 to 07-06-1928
  2. V. 17: ca. 1950-1951

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