Samuel Wilmot Fish Hatchery Newcastle

Samuel Wilmot was born at ‘Belmont Farm’ beside Wilmot Creek west of the Village of Newcastle, Ontario in 1822, the son of Samuel Street Wilmot and Mary Stegmann and they raised seven children. Samuel was educated at Upper Canada College. When his father died in 1856, he took over the management of the farm while carrying on a general merchandising business in Newcastle. He was very active in local government serving at one time as municipal clerk in Clarke Township, sat as a member of the township council and held the office of reeve. In 1871 he was the warden of the United Counties of Durham and Northumberland and was appointed as a justice of the peace in 1856.

As his farm was on Wilmot Creek, a noted spawning stream for Lake Ontario Salmon, in the 1850’s he noted that the runs of salmon in the creek and other salmon streams on Lake Ontario had greatly depleted as a result of overfishing and changes in the environment. Wilmot became interested in the possibility of restocking the stream by means of artificial propagation. In the mid 1860’s, he built an experimental hatchery in his basement at ‘Belmont’ and with a large trough and spring water piped in to simulate actual stream conditions. With eggs procured from a local gravel spawning area he was ready for the test. Some of the eggs hatched. In 1866 he moved the operations out of his basement and he constructed a small building ‘Reception House’ on the banks of the creek so that water would run through it and that year he spawned 15,000 salmon.   In 1867 the government provided him with considerable capital to upgrade the hatchery to a much larger facility and leased it. A few years later the enlarged hatchery was considered the world’s first successful fish breeding operation. Salmon eggs and fry were sold in many places in Canada and the United States. Restocking creeks was no longer working and in 1881 Wilmot declared the tributaries unfit places to restock the salmon and they were then deposited directly into the lake. The hatchery reached its maximum production in 1876 when 1.5 million eggs were hatched and Wilmot was appointed as the Federal Superintendent of fish culture. After 1879, the salmon runs decreased in Wilmot Creek and being more difficult to obtain eggs, the fish hatchery closed in 1914.

The following information was obtained from the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Northumberland and Durham Ont. Belden Atlas.

The great Dominion Fish Hatchery Establishment situated near Newcastle Ontario is deserving of special mention as a new national industry and one likely to become in its development of the first importance to the Dominion. From a very small beginning, originating with Mr. Samuel Wilmot, that Fishery established at Newcastle has assumed large proportions on the edge of the stream, near Mr. Wilmot’s residence, the building, a long low structure, is situated, called the “Reception House.” (top left of photo) Here a permanent weir is thrown across the stream, which prevents the upward passage of the salmon.

samuel wilmot fish hatchery

Being thus stopped in their progress up the main channel, they are attracted by the rapid outflow of the water coming through the ‘reception house’ and rushing up the current they pass an ingeniously contrived triangle wire and become entrapped within the house, where they are kept confined until they become ripe for spawning. From this building the stream runs downwards a distance of some two miles to Lake Ontario. There are several nurseries and retaining ponds. In some of the latter the parent salmon are retained for a while to recuperate after the exhaustion produced by spawning; others as nurseries, in which the young fry are kept for a time just after they are hatched out, and have absorbed the umbilical sac.

There is a gateway and general outlet from the ponds. An old mill pond forms a large reservoir from which a sufficient head is obtained to force through an underground pipe a large flow of water into the breeding rooms, thus giving a constant and sufficient supply at all times for the hatching troughs.   The premises and ponds cover some ten acres of land. After the parent fish have been entrapped they are transferred into smaller pens – the males and females being separated. In this way they remain quiet and are more easily retaken when ready for laying their eggs. When mature, a dozen or more of these fish are again transferred for safe keeping to the breeding room.

The process of taking the ova from the fish and impregnating it is performed by lifting from the tank a ripe female and holding her over a vessel and gently pressing her body with the hand, until the eggs flow freely from her. After this is done she is dropped into the raceway and liberated. A male fish is taken and operated upon in the same manner, the milt extruded from him and mixed with the eggs by gently stirring with the hand – causing immediate impregnation. The ova are then dipped out with a small ladle and put into measures made to contain one thousand eggs each. From this they are spread evenly on the hatching trays. These trays are made two feet long and ten inches wide, with a division in the centre, and hold four thousand eggs each. When filled they are carefully laid in the breeding troughs.

After the ova are thus deposited they are closely watched and regularly cleaned from sediment or other impurities which may settle upon them during the process of incubation. The troughs are each supplied with a constant flow of living water from the tanks fed by the raceway, regulated in quantity by wooden taps. In the lower flat of the building there is a series of squares containing young salmon and other fish which are kept for observation and also for exhibition to the numerous visitors who frequent the establishment.

The original ‘Belmont’ home (top right of photo) was built circa 1815 by Major Samuel Street Wilmot and was destroyed by fire in 1895. Belmont was rebuilt later on the same foundation at 302 Given Road in the Municipality of Clarington. A classic example of Georgian and Edwardian architecture the grand old house is still occupied today. Today the hatchery grounds have changed forever with little sign of their former existence.

Regards, Ranger.

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