Bruce Peninsula
Travel Routes

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.


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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 peninsula pioneers recognized that overland connections to Owen Sound and other southern destinations 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 an August 29, 1879 story in the 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 region. 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 Wiarton economy.

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 was dependent upon the navigation season.

Wiarton Echo: Promoted Improved Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes

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 to improve 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. In the July 26, 1879, edition, he attacked this narrow-minded outlook, taking 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 Echo's September 26, 1879 edition 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. At six pm 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 spur line from Park Head 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.

For more information about this story and other historical events about the Bruce Peninsula check out my most recent book about the region: Journey the Bruce Peninsula Past & Present makes a great travel companion as you travel this unique part of Canada's Great Lakes region.

Discover More About the Bruce Peninsula

Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.

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.

Bruce Peninsula winters could be difficult, especially in pioneer times when transportation connections were limited to only a few months each year.

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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

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