Bruce Peninsula travel routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike. The only connection to the outside world was by water and that was only available for part of the year.
We have all travelled the many scenic Bruce Peninsula travel routes which take us from Owen Sound to Wiarton and on up to Lion's Head and Tobermory. My personal favourite is to follow the shore of Georgian Bay up through Big Bay, and on to Wiarton. The view of the islands and steep bluffs as you enter Colpoy's Bay is to me one of the most beautiful sights to be found anywhere in Ontario!
The existence of good roads, or for that matter, the existence of roads at all was not always the case on the Bruce Peninsula. The early pioneers on the Bruce recognized that overland connections to Owen Sound and other points further to the south were a necessity for the development of the area.
Although maritime connections existed, they were only of use during the navigation season. Therefore, every effort was made to affect the building of road and railway routes to connect the area with the rest of Ontario. The early issues of the Wiarton Echo are full of editorials concerning the advantages of building an effective overland system of Bruce Peninsula travel routes. Therefore, it is not surprising the elation shown by the Echo when it reported in its August 1, 1879 issue that a new road was opening between Dyer's Bay and Lion's Head. This same delight occurs in a story in the August 29, 1879 Echo which tells its readers that "...the 20th Side Road in Eastnor, connecting the Colpoy's and Lion's Head road on the east side of the Government Road, on the west side will be open for vehicle traffic about October 1".
Wiarton interests viewed the building of roads as not only important to the growth of the peninsula but as essential to the goal of making Wiarton the centre for trade for the area. These roads would make it easier for area farmers and other business interests to bring their products to Wiarton to sell or to trans-ship on to other markets. As well, Wiarton merchants would have a larger market for their merchandise. Consequently, good roads throughout the peninsula meant a flourishing economy in Wiarton.
Wiarton’s ambitions did not stop with being the centre of trade and commerce on the peninsula. The ultimate aim of the town's leaders was to compete with and surpass Owen Sound as an important Georgian Bay port. For this ambition to be successful Wiarton needed a railroad connection. A railroad to Wiarton would mean year-round commercial trade not just an economy which relied upon the navigation season.
Acting as the spokesman for Wiarton, the Echo constantly editorialized the value of a railroad system with its terminus in that town. As well as economic growth, the improved access to the region for prospective settlers was a major theme of these editorial barrages. In order to prove the need for a railroad as a vehicle for economic growth, the Echo illustrated the impact of a railway on Collingwood. Stating that in 1879 "...there are fifteen regular passenger trains arriving and departing" from that town on a weekly basis.
When a vote was to be put to the citizens of the United Townships of Eastnor, Lindsay and St. Edmunds for the purpose of granting $8,000 by way of issuing debentures and a bonus to assist in the building of the Stratford and Huron Railway, the Echo urged all voters to support this proposal. However, when this bylaw was defeated the editor of the Echo was enraged and, in the July 26, 1879, edition attacked this narrow-minded outlook from the position that what was good for Wiarton was therefore necessarily good for the rest of the peninsula
Despite various setbacks the campaign waged by the Echo and its community leaders, Wiarton received the long-awaited good news. The September 26, 1879 edition of the Echo reported on its front page that on September 22 contracts had been awarded for the construction of the Stratford and Huron Railway from Listowel to Wiarton.
In order to receive the bonuses, set out in the contract railway construction went at a furious pace. On November 29, 1881 track layers reached Wiarton and at six p.m. the same day a locomotive hauling a few flat cars entered the town and the result was jubilation.
However, regular train service to Wiarton did not begin until August 1, 1882. For almost the next two decades the Wiarton's economy grew and flourished. In the 1890s the Grand Trunk, which now ran the rail service to Wiarton, made a decision which would have dire consequences for that town. The Grand Trunk built a line into Owen Sound. Many historians feel that this new access to a larger more diversified port attracted many businesses and people to bypass Wiarton and use Owen Sound's transportation facilities. Thus, Wiarton's growth was stifled and the dreams of the editor of the Echo and other citizens of Wiarton were thwarted.
The information used in this column was gathered by this author for a Parks Canada project, A Maritime History of Fathom Five National Park 1800 to the Present.
A version of this story first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1994.
Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.
Barrow Bay Ontario a Picturesque Georgian Bay Community owes its origin to the once-thriving Bruce Peninsula lumbering industry. Today it is a quiet summer get-away!
Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.
Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula.
Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone.
Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.
Aboriginal History: Bruce Peninsula has a long indigenous heritage not just for the native nation living there today, but for other native groups as well.
Aboriginal History: the 1836 Treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.
Aboriginal land history continues the story of aboriginal land issues on the Bruce Peninsula. How it happened is a point for discussion by everyone.
Settler Impact on Bruce Peninsula Natives was not only from the imposition of treaties, but also from British military plans.
"Half Mile-Strip" Treaty made it possible for a relatively smooth overland connection to be built between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.
Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.
Allenford United Church history details not only some important information about that community's church, but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.
Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!
Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a Lumbering Settlement and today it is a wonderful vacation retreat.
Elsinore Ontario is the southern-most point on the Bruce Peninsula, located about half-way between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.
Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.
Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.
Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.
Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!
A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing, at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.
Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.
Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!
Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.
Lighthouses Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.
Sauble Beach Ontario has seen it all. A fishing outport; a sawmilling centre; and an internationally acclaimed tourist resort area!
Sauble Beach This popular beach is known as Canada's Daytona Beach.
Lion's Head Sailors often sought refuge from the stormy Georgian Bay waters in its well-protected harbour.
Park Head Grand Trunk Railway in Park Head Ontario was an important railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula when in 1894 the first train chugged through Park Head.
Stokes Bay Welcomed fishermen as their first non-native visitors. Today, if you are a fisherman, you will also probably want to try your luck landing a walleye, lake trout or any of the other game fish that live in the coastal waters of Lake Huron.
Tobermory Ontario has a rich history and, is the northern- most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula.
Tobermory Ontario Tourism is focused on shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy.
Tobermory pioneers experienced a life in a community that was anything but the tourism hive of activity that it is today.
A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!
Wiarton Ontario This historic community was a great place to live in the early settlement days and still is a busy tourist stop on your way up the Bruce Peninsula.
Wiarton had ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.
Wiarton Ontario’s First Newspaper A catalyst in supporting road construction and bringing the railway to Wiarton in hopes of making the town the economic leader of the area. But disappointment looms...
Wiarton news: 1890s, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper revealed problems typical of today's communities
Wiarton Beet Industry was to be a great boost to the town's economy. Instead, it left most people with a bad taste in their mouths.
Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.
Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory Relaxing and historic journey.
Bruce Peninsula The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!