Boating for Recreation:
A Brief History 

Boating for Recreation on Georgian Bay and beyond had an early start once settlement began in the region. As early as the 1850s pleasure crafts were popular.


subscribe free or become a member

The Great Lakes Raconteur

In the summertime, the Georgian Bay region welcomes visitors from all over the world. They come here to enjoy the warm sands of the many beaches, fishing, golf, or just to enjoy the scenery. After all, on the Bruce Peninsula one can wake up to a glorious Georgian Bay sunrise, and later in the day travel a short distance to the west and enjoy a romantic Lake Huron sunset! 

While all oi these reasons are a good reason to visit the Grey and Bruce region, many more visitors and residents alike choose to enjoy many of these pastimes while boating for recreation. A visit to the yacht clubs in Owen Sound and Wiarton, or a dockside stroll in Tobermory or Southampton illustrates that the recreational vessels which ply the waters in this region come in many shapes and sizes. 

On a trip along the shoreline of either side of the peninsula, one can see people enjoying sailing or fishing in vessels from the smallest rowboat and colorful sailboats to majestic yachts. Some of the larger boats have the name of their home painted on their stern. On any given day, one can see vessels which have sailed from such distant locales as Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Perhaps the yacht which came from the furthest point to sail on Georgian Bay was the Royal Yacht Britannia, when Queen Elizabeth sailed the Great Lakes, including Georgian Bay, on her Royal visit in 1959. 

Water transportation was an important factor in the settlement and development of this region. Due to difficult land travel, the early settlers found it easier to travel to and from the area by water. Therefore, it is not surprising that boating for recreational purposes became a popular pastime shortly after the first settlers arrived. Due to the fact that there was not a local newspaper in the area until the Comet began publishing in 1851 in the community that would soon be called Owen Sound, and the fact that few diaries or journals exist from the early years in this community, it is difficult to know when recreational boating actually began in the Owen Sound region. However, we do know from existing copies of early newspapers that in the 1850s there were many regattas held here. 

Boating for recreation continued to grow in popularity and as advances in industrialism created personal wealth, and more leisure time, the number of private vessels sailing for pleasure increased dramatically. 

A familiar vessel plying the local waterways was the Mizpah, whose home port was Meaford. This sturdy vessel was capable of challenging Georgian Bay into the late fall. Consequently, its owner used it to take hunting parties to the North Shore in October and November when Georgian Bay can be particularly nasty to unwary sailors.

As the number of pleasure craft increased so did the variety of shapes and sizes. As personal wealth increased more money was spent on vessels. In fact, some of the early yachts were small palaces. One of the earliest luxury yachts was probably the Skylark. Owned by Arthur Dodge of the Georgian Bay Lumber Company, the Skylark was "as perfect and as handsome a craft as sails anywhere on Canadian waters." 

Today, corporations use recreational "perks" to entice prospective clients or reward valued customers. They offer tickets to sporting events, trips, and other incentives to help secure business. This is not a new phenomenon. Around 1900, the Canadian Iron Furnace Company of Midland used their steam yacht, Voyageur, to take prospective customers and clients on tours around Georgian Bay. The Voyageur was outfitted in a majestic manner. It had overnight accommodations for 15 passengers. 

Georgian Bay's scenic vistas and challenging waters have long been an attraction to local residents and tourists from around the globe. It's just another good reason why so many visitors are envious of those of us who call the Grey and Bruce region our home. 

Most of the information used in this article came from A Maritime History of Georgian Bay by Larry Turner and Paul White. 

A version of "Boating for Recreation: A Brief History" originally appeared in my Local History column in the July 3, 1998 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times

   Get The Great Lakes Raconteur  -->   

Share this page:

More Georgian Bay Sailing Stories

Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay and Great Lakes sailing traffic. They assisted mariners in making their sailing a safe venture. 

Recreational Boating on Georgian Bay  There is a long tradition of recreational boating on Georgian Bay. Reports indicate that regattas were being held at Owen Sound as early as 1852.

Great Lakes Recreational Boating  Great Lakes recreational boating has been a popular pastime in the summertime in the Georgian Bay region for many years.

Yachts on Georgian Bay  A history of yachts on Georgian Bay.

Georgian Bay Ferry Boat Service between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island has a history that is more than a century old. Today, the Chi-Cheemaun continues that tradition.

Ferry boat service after 1930 increased in activity between Tobermory at tip of the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island

1867 Election Meant Sailing to the Soo. There was only one polling station in the Georgian Bay region in the first election after Canadian Confederation and that was in Sault Ste. Marie!

A Flowerpot Island boat trip takes you to one of the many Georgian Bay islands  dot the landscape of the waters around Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. One island features not only unique landforms and vegetation, but also a mysterious indigenous Romeo and Juliet tale of romance.

Chicora the first stage of an 1871 Great Lakes tour aboard a cruise ship on Georgian Bay.

Chicora the final stage of an 1871 cruise a foggy voyage on the Great Lakes.

Historic Vacations: King's Royal Park  Historic Vacations: King's Royal Park, opulent adventures for the wealthy of the day. It was the late 19th century and tourism was beginning to bloom.

Sailing the Lake Huron Shoreline is a step back in history and a delightfully scenic trip. But beware of the big waves that can arise anytime!

Sailing Lake Huron Shoreline Part 2 takes us through the most treacherous part of our voyage and also a most interesting part as we visit some unique islands.

Georgian Bay Sailing Georgian Bay Sailing history is a rich tapestry of tales of heroism, tragedy, and exploration. Sailing vessels traversing the rugged waters of Georgian Bay predate the arrival of European explorers and settlers.

Boating for Recreation on Georgian Bay and beyond had an early start once settlement began in the region. As early as the 1850s pleasure crafts were popular.