12th of July and Dominion Day Celebrations on the Bruce Peninsula were an outlet from the everyday drudgery of life for pioneers on the Bruce Peninsula.
The 12th of July and July 1st have always been occasions to celebrate in Owen Sound and Grey-Bruce region.
Of course, July 1 has been the cause for celebration in this area since 1867 and the strong influence of the Orange Lodge here has led to much merry making in the celebration of the Battle of the Boyne on the 12th of July.
As a child, I remember many July 1st weekends spent with friends and family at Sauble Beach, Southampton and other sandy and sunny spots on the Bruce Peninsula. It was time to wave small Union Jacks (in the years before Prime Minister Pearson promoted our current flag), let off fireworks and, in general, have a good time.
The 12th of July has a special meaning in our family. It was my grandmother's birthday and, these days, we celebrate my youngest niece, Miriam’s birthday. As well, my mother’s family were, staunch members of the Orange Lodge. My earliest recollection of 12th of July celebrations was to travel to Parkhead to watch with pride as my Grandfather Rowe marched in what was probably the last Orange Parade in which he was able to take an active part.
Dominion Day was a time when the world of commerce and everyday life came to a halt in the early years on the Bruce Peninsula. Chores were completed early, while the women of the family put together picnic baskets with all the treats they had baked over the previous days. When all was ready, the entire family walked, or took the horse and wagon off to the church or school yard for a community celebration. In some of the port towns and villages, special holiday excursions were planned aboard a local steamer to another bayside community where competitions, dances, and picnics were held.
Participation in these events was so widespread that the July 4, 1879 Wiarton Echo reported 'that "Dominion Day passed off very quietly in this village, the inhabitants mostly taking advantage of the excursion to Big Bay and around the islands on the Prince Alfred.
The Echo went on to describe in great detail the events of the excursion to Big Bay. The story stated that Dominion Day was celebrated with more "than the usual éclat." People arrived early by horse and wagon to prepare for the day’s sporting events. However, "the crowd was considerably augmented when the Prince Alfred' arrived from Wiarton, Colpoy's and Oxendon.”
The boat races began at 10:30 a.m. with the double scull race which had two entrants. The single scull event followed with three participants. Finally, in the final water event, five boats were entered the yacht race.
Other sporting events followed, including baseball games, organized and otherwise. For those not interested in athletic endeavours, there were other amusements. The Echo reported that by the day's end, "all were quite satisfied" and that no mishaps had occurred and that the “people of Big Bay deserve great credit for manner in which the affair was conducted.”
Although this column has featured only the July 1 events in Big Bay in 1879, all of the area newspapers detail similar celebrations being carried out each year on Dominion Day.
The Wiarton Echo also detailed similar events for the celebrations of 12th of July. In 1879, it was reported that the Meaford branch of the Orange Lodge would be coming to Wiarton on an excursion that day and that Wiarton area hotels, inns and private citizens were preparing to give their fellow Orangemen and their families every possible accommodation.
For those citizens of Wiarton who wished to travel, the Prince Alfred was offering a “July 12 Grand Excursion to Owen Sound.” Return fare between Wiarton and Owen Sound was 75 cents, return from Big Bay was 30 cents and a round trip from Presqu'ile was 25 cents.
It is obvious that both the 12th of July and Dominion Day provided the early citizens of this region with an outlet from the day-to-day drudgery of survival in pioneering conditions. For many families, these holidays continue to be a time for recreation and enjoyment and therefore a break from the regular workday routine.
The notes and other information concerning the Dominion Day and the 12th of July festivities on the Bruce Peninsula were made available due to the research efforts of Judith Coates.
A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.