Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound you will discover is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!
One Sunday evening, my parents, who are the ultimate road warriors when it comes to exploring the back roads of this area, dropped by and suggested that we go for a short drive. They had a surprise for us!
We followed Grey Road No. 1 to Kemble, but instead of following the main route, we continued straight through on Kemble Rock Road. After climbing the steep and winding hill, we drove for a few kilometres until we reached an intersection where we turned left on Concession 24. At the next right, Big Bay Sideroad, we turned.
When we reached the top of the first hill, before us lay an incredible view! The entrance to Colpoys Bay and the shoreline of Georgian Bay stretching northward lay below us. The panoramic vista was breathtaking! White Cloud, Griffith, and Hay islands; and the north shore of Colpoys Bay with its sheer cliffs looming large, like some prehistoric sentinels dispatched to provide a safe haven for seafarers and their vessels weary from battling the raging forces of a storm-frothed Georgian Bay.
Descending the hill, we soon arrived in Big Bay. This picturesque village has a long tradition as an important way station for the early coastal vessels which plied the waters between Owen Sound and Manitoulin Island.
These vessels stopped here to renew their fuel supplies or to load cargoes of timber for transport to sawmills. Some of the wood cut near Big Bay found its way to such far away ports as Chicago. While vessels loaded their goods, the passengers strolled through the forests, often taking a picnic lunch, and picking the wild berries which were found in abundance in the area.
Big Bay was a popular destination for early area travelers. Coastal vessels such as the Prince Alfred advertised charters to this 19th century port of call. For many years, there was no direct road connection between Owen Sound and Big Bay. Therefore, it was dependent upon water transportation to bring visitors and cargo to the village. The Wiarton Echo often reported regattas, picnics, and special events celebrating holidays such as Dominion Day and July 12th being held at Big Bay. Other area newspaper also reported various summer events being held at Big Bay.
As the lumbering activities on the peninsula moved northward, fewer vessels stopped at Big Bay for cargo and refueling. With the onslaught of road building, it became easier for area travelers to travel to other centres. Area residents could travel to the larger communities of Wiarton and Owen Sound for their supplies. Gradually, commercial interest in Big Bay's port declined.
In the past few decades, Big Bay has experienced a population growth. The picturesque scenery, water sports, and fishing have lured year around residents as well as summer visitors. Cottages and new homes have been built and the once busy port community attracts visitors from far and near.
Since I first found this new route to Big Bay and its majestic vista, I have returned many times. Each time I linger a little longer. Early in the morning, when there is a heavy mist over the water, I have caught myself straining my eyes looking for the image of an ancient schooner or steamer plowing through the waters.
Perhaps one of these mornings, a ghost ship will appear on the horizon. Wouldn't it be the perfect way for a Georgian Bay historian to start his day by seeing an image of the Prince Alfred with Captain Port at the helm, emerge from the mists that shroud Colpoys Bay?
A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on August 17, 1996.
For information about other historic and picturesque Bruce Peninsula routes check out my recent book about the area: Journey the Bruce Peninsula Past & Present makes a great travel companion as you travel this unique part of Canada's Great Lakes region.
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