Great Lakes Recreational Boating

Recreational Boating On Georgian Bay

Great Lakes recreational boating has been a popular pastime in the summertime in the Georgian Bay region for many years.  Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy  the warm sands of the many beaches, fishing, golf, or just to enjoy the scenery. Of course you could drive to the region, but many choose another option, recreational boating. 

Great Lakes recreational boating can take you to many incredible destinations on Georgian Bay. One of those awesome sailing locations is the Bruce Peninsula. A visit to the marinas in Owen Sound, Lion’s Head and Wiarton, or a dockside stroll in Tobermory, Ontario illustrates that the recreational vessels plying the waters in this region come in many shapes and sizes! 

On a trip along the shoreline of either side of the Bruce Peninsula one can see people enjoying sailing or fishing in vessels from the smallest rowboats, or 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 that have sailed from such distant locales as Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. But, perhaps the yacht that came from the furthest point to sail on Georgian Bay was the Royal Yacht Britannia when Queen Elizabeth sailed the Great Lakes, 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 evolved into 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 Owen Sound Comet began publishing in 1851 and the fact that few diaries or journals exist from early pioneering days, it is difficult to know when Great Lakes recreational boating actually began in the region. However, we do know from existing copies of early newspapers that in the 1850s there were many regattas held in the western Georgian Bay area.

Great Lakes recreational boating 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. Perhaps the first of the large yachts to sail on Georgian Bay was the “Alice Smith”. Owned by Dr. Frances Smith, this vessel sailed Lake Huron and Georgian Bay between 1867 and 1871.

Another familiar vessel plying the local waterways was the “Mizpah”, whose homeport 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 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, the “Voyageur”, to take prospective customers and clients on Great Lakes recreational boating 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 who enjoy the Great Lakes Recreational Boating. 

A version of this article appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.


More Georgian Bay Sailing Stories

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.

Georgian Bay's 1st Pioneer Settler 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. 

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.


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  2. Georgian Bay Sailing
  3. Great Lakes Recreational Boating