Georgian Bay's 1st Pioneer Settler

Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler arrived on the western shoreline long before any other settler reached the area.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

The first week of October 2018 will mark a significant moment in Georgian Bay history. One hundred and seventy-eight years ago John Telfer and Charles Rankin met in a clearing approximately where Owen Sound’s city hall now stands.

On that historic day in the first week of October 1840, John Telfer and two compatriots paddled around the point that separates Nottawasaga Bay and Owen Sound and headed towards the native encampment on the west shore of the bay. When they were told that a white man was encamped on the east shore of what would became known as the Sydenham river they paddled off to their historic meeting.

For more information about the early settlement of Owen Sound,

please see my book Owen Sound: The Port City.

That notable date in 1840 signaled the beginning of a concerted effort by the Colonial government to settle the region which would become Grey County. But long before Telfer and Rankin met on the future town site of Owen Sound, another man made a historic canoe trip to this area to become Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler..

Georgian Bay's 1st Pioneer Settler Arrives

In 1825 or 1826, depending upon the source, a lonely figure in a birch bark canoe could be seen paddling the waters of Georgian Bay. He was traveling from Nottawasaga Bay towards Owen Sound. As he paddled through the strong waves and currents he kept turning his head towards the shoreline, looking for the ideal location to land his craft and set up his camp.

This early traveller was John Vail and he was in quest of not just any campsite, but a location where he could establish a permanent home. As he headed westward a gigantic clay bank loomed on the horizon. To Vail, in his small canoe, this towering land form stretching out into the water must have resembled a northern Rock of Gibraltar.

Vail had discovered Cape Rich which had been named by Captain Owen a decade earlier in honour of his brother Sir Edward William Campbell Rich Owen.

Vail paddled on past Cape Rich and after a mile or so, he passed a small island. It was then that he found the Eden of his dreams. He was sure that his quest was complete. Beyond the small island Vail discovered a small cove with water which reached a depth of eight feet. On the north side, the cove was protected by an evergreen-covered elevation which jutted out for a distance of about a mile. The south shore of the cove was protected by a projection of land known as Wa-va-dik Point.

Vail landed his canoe and began to build a shelter. When he wasn’t chopping logs for his cabin Vail canoed the streams and coves of the area. Once he had established himself Vail traveled to Port Hope and later returned to his new home with his bride.

The northern promontory which protected the cove had been named Point William by Captain Owen. But as a small community, including at one time a post office, developed around Vail’s original log cabin Point William came to be known a s Vail’s Point in honour of Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler.

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