Killarney Virtual Exhibit
Welcome to the Killarney Virtual Exhibit: a collection of historic photographs, newspapers, artifacts, and heirlooms from the community of Killarney in Ontario, Canada. Killarney, founded in 1820, is a vibrant municipality located on the northern shore of Georgian Bay. This exhibit celebrates the community’s over 200-year history, using artifacts to explore the area’s unique heritage and the legacies left behind by those who lived and worked there over the centuries.
Nestled between the rocky shores of Georgian Bay and the rolling hills of La Cloche mountain range, Killarney is a well-situated community with an expansive history. The area was historically known as Shebahonaning, an Ojibwe term meaning “safe canoe passage,” for its strategic location along the channel created by George Island and the mainland. In 1820, French-Canadian fur trader Étienne Augustin de la Morandière arrived in the area and constructed a trading post, around which a village composed of European settlers and Indigenous peoples flourished.
For many years, Killarney was accessible only by water and secluded from neighbouring communities. To support themselves, early settlers planted crops, raised cattle, and worked in the fur trade. Many residents engaged in industries like logging, mining, and fishing, taking advantage of the plentiful natural resources in the area. In 1962, Highway 637 was completed, connecting Killarney to the Trans-Canada Highway and opening the community to tourism.
Today, Killarney continues to thrive as a close-knit community. Many of the current residents are descended from the town’s founding families, and they continue to honour the legacies of those who came before them.
Killarney through the centuries
Explore two centuries of Killarney’s history through artifacts, photographs, newspapers, and more.
Toronto Public Library
“Shebanwanning, Georgian Bay”
This watercolour painting by William Armstrong captures a peaceful scene on the Killarney Channel in the mid-1850s, with sailors tending to their vessels, canoers paddling across the narrow, and a steamship passing by in the distance. At the time, boats were the only mode of transportation into the community. Despite its remoteness, Shebahonaning (or "Shebanwanning"), the Ojibwe name for the area, thrived as the site of a bustling fur trading post and fishing hub.
Killarney Centennial Museum
Kerosene lamps were a popular source of lighting in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Prior to the arrival of electricity in Killarney, kerosene lamps offered a safe and decorative way to light indoor and outdoor spaces. This glass lamp, featuring a floral motif around the chimney, may have been in use up to the 1950s, when Ontario Hydro was first established in the community.
Library and Archives Canada
The waters surrounding Killarney feature two lighthouses: the East Lighthouse and the Northwest Lighthouse. The structures were originally built in the 1860s as the fishing industry developed and travel along the channel became more common. Because the community could only be reached by water, the lighthouses served an essential purpose, warning mariners of dangerous shores and pointing to safer passages.