The first fire lookout towers in Ontario appeared on the scene in the 1920's. These early towers were constructed of wood; some were simply platforms in tall trees. By 1947, there were 52 wooden, and 227 steel towers across Ontario.
The 1950's and 1960's marked the glory years for fire lookout towers in Ontario. By 1962, there were a total of 316 steel towers in operation throughout the province; by which time most or all of the wooden towers, save one, had disappeared (Ontario Resources Atlas, 1963).
Ontario's lookout towers were generally named after the townships in which they were located, or after nearby prominent geographic features such as lakes, rivers, mountains or towns. Smoke from a distance of about 15 statute miles could be spotted from these towers, which provided a coverage of over 700 square miles of terrain. Each tower was situated in such a manner so as to provide overlap with at least two of its neighbours. In this way, the location of a smoke could be determined - using a device, with which most mariners are very familiar, called an "alidade" - through triangulation. The alidade was mounted on a map of the immediate area with the geographic position tower located at the centre of the map. The entire map/alidade platform was mounted on an ingenious sliding device which could be offset to sight fires which would otherwise be obscured by the corner posts of the cupola windows.
Towers were organized into divisions; in each division, a "key" tower was established. All of the towers in a particular division reported to the key tower, which in turn, reported to Chief Ranger's Office, who reported to the Forest Protection Office and the Forest Protection Supervisor. Key tower operators were always the most experienced and reliable. The regular routine called for the key tower to conduct a roll call to determine local conditions such as rain, lightning, etc. All divisions operated on the same radio frequency so that if a smoke was detected, its location could be determined, by triangulation, even between different divisions. By the late 1950's and early 1960's, all towers were connected by telephone lines; in fact at one time, the former Department of Lands and Forests had more miles of telephone line than Bell Canada.
Towermen were a very unique and solitary breed. "…requiring freedom of fear of heights, good eyesight, intelligence, and a contentment with his job great enough to overcome the loneliness of the life".