The Harbour History
of Owen Sound

The harbour history of Owen Sound is rich with detail of businesses which were located at various wharves.

Although the impact of the C.P.R. locating its eastern Great Lakes terminal here had helped Owen Sound grow and prosper it seems evident by looking at the details of the harbour history that the efforts by the civic leaders to diversify the economic base of the town had also been successful. Below I have listed information from various documents such as port directories to illustrate the rich and varied harbour history of the port of Owen Sound.

Owen Sound Harbour History:
1909 Port Directory

The 1909 Port Directory lists eleven different wharves on the east side of the harbour and nine wharfs on the west side of the harbour. Located on the east side was the town dock, 450 feet long by 20 feet wide; the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, 1,900 feet long by 70 feet wide; the C.P.R. slip, 1,200 feet long by 70 feet wide; the Keenan Brothers wharf, which they leased from the C.P.R., 400 feet long by 30 feet wide, and the Keenan Brothers sawmill wharf which was 100 feet by 30 feet. Other companies which had wharfage on the east side included Davis and Malone, the Northern Navigation Company, the McQuay Tanning Company, Maitland and Rixon, the Imperial Cement Company, and the Carney Lumber Company.

The wharves located on the west side included another town dock which was 625 by 30 feet; the Grand Trunk Railway wharf, 1,000 feet long by 30 feet wide; the North American Bent Chair Company wharf, 316 by 30 feet; two wharves belonging to John Harrison and Company, one 400 feet long by 30 feet and the other 800 by 30 feet; as well as wharfs belonging to J.R. McLauchlan, the Sun Cement Company, the Owen Sound Cement Company and the Grey and Bruce Cement Company.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company had four freight sheds, measuring 350 feet by 40 feet; 300 feet by 60 feet; 650 feet by 70; and 200 by 50 feet; as well as a cattle shed which measured 50 by 30 feet.  The Grand Trunk Railway had a cattle shed measuring 75 feet by 50 feet and a freight shed 300 feet long by 60 feet wide. The two grain elevators had capacities of 250,000 bushels and 800,000 bushels.

The total tonnage entering the port during the fiscal year 1908, which does not include vessels which cleared the harbour, was 479,906. This figure illustrates that Owen Sound was indeed a bustling port.

In 1912 Owen Sound ceased to be the eastern Great Lakes terminus for the C.P.R. fleet. A railway line had been built south from Sudbury to Toronto. Therefore the C.P.R. felt that it would be more efficient to relocate its Great Lakes terminal in Georgian Bay to Port McNicoll. The ramifications for Owen Sound's harbour economy would be large. However, I believe that due to the constant efforts by the leaders of Owen Sound to diversify their industrial base these ramifications were of smaller impact than they might otherwise have been. A review of the Port Directory for 1923 reveals that although tonnage was lower than in 1909 there was indeed a broad range of wharves in operation.

Owen Sound Harbour History:
1923 Port Directory

In 1923 there were eleven wharves on the east side of the harbour and eight on the west side. The Northern Navigation Company wharf of 400 by 20 feet was replaced by the Dominion Transportation Company which had a 200 by 20-foot wharf. Otherwise the wharfs that were in place on the east side in 1909 were still used by the same companies. On the west side of the wharf ownership also remained the same, however the Grey and Bruce Cement Company wharf appears to have ceased to exist by 1923.

By 1923 the Canadian Pacific only maintained a cattle shed, 50 feet by 30 feet, and one freight shed, 300 by 60 feet. The Grand Trunk sheds remained in operation as they were in 1909.

Owen Sound's population in 1921 was 12,190. By 1920, 1,875 were employed in 101 industrial operations producing in that year $6,149,458 worth of products. During the fiscal year 1921-22, 274 vessels entered port with a registered tonnage of 155,403 and 230 vessels left port with a registered tonnage of 70,509 cleared. 

Although the business passing through the port of Owen Sound in 1923 was clearly lower than during the period up to 1912 when the C.P.R. terminus was located here the circumstances of the post-World War economy in Canada clearly indicates that Owen Sound was surviving as a viable port facility. It must be remembered that during this era Canada was experiencing an economic downturn and all port facilities on the Great Lakes were experiencing diminished traffic flow. Therefore, I think it is important to point out that the efforts of the Owen Sound business and political community to diversify the economic base in the 1890s helped the port of Owen Sound to weather the storm created by the loss of the C.P.R. terminus and the uncertain economic conditions after World War One.

More Great Information Pages
About Owen Sound

Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.

Black History: Emancipation Day celebrates the abolition of slavery and it continues to be an annual celebration in many locations that were in some way, or another touched by the impact of slavery.

Black History in Owen Sound: Who was the First Black Citizen in the community is a cause for debate.

Black History: The Underground Railway is an important part not only in terms of black history, but of the history of southwestern Ontario.

Black History of Owen Sound: Version 2: There is some debate about the first black citizen in  the Owen Sound area. Here is more information for your consideration.

A Curvy Route to Toronto provided a rail connection between Owen Sound and Toronto, the curvy part was thrilling, but beautiful for the passengers and strenuous for the crew.

Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.

John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.

Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.

Amalgamation In and Around Owen Sound is not an unusual happening. Some form of boundary changes have occurred at many different times over the years.

Canada' First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.

DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.

Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.

Owen Sound: Dry Gulch Canada Learn the reason why Owen Sound was the last city in the grasp of the temperance movement.

First Cars in Owen Sound could be purchased for less than $500.00!

The harbour history of Owen Sound is rich with detail of businesses which were located at various wharves.

Hillcrest School Memories a look back at my public school days when Owen Sound's Hillcrest Public School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998.

News of War: The 1940s was supposed to provide the world with a respite after the hardship of the 1930s depression. However World War Two brought more adversity.

Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.

Owen Sound's First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.

Owen Sound's First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.

Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.

Owen Sound's 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.

Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.

Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.

Owen Sound Entrepreneurs: S.J. Parker & Richard Notter used their wealth and their friendships to built many community-oriented businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Owen Sound 1920 Stories provide an interesting look at the community as it was about to become a city.

Owen Sound 1920s: Optimism abounded in the port city as a new decade began, The town was becoming a city and the economic outlook seemed bright.

Owen Sound Hospital History is one of a community coming together to take care of the medical needs of the entire community.

Owen Sound Softball and Baseball has a Long Tradition From the 1980s Clippers and the Wawanekas to the 1990s Selects, Owen Sound has a been well-represented in these sports.

Owen Sound Stories: On the Attack! Throughout the history of the community, citizens were not afraid to go on the attack to promote the needs of their town.

Owen Sound Street Names honour the individuals who made a contribution to Owen Sound's development. Today the streets are numbered to help visitors find their way.

O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.

Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.

Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.

Pioneer Theatre was a big hit in Owen Sound and across southern Ontario, where Vaudevillians like Perth Ontario's Marx Brothers played to full houses.

U.S. President Taft Visited Owen Sound Ontario, a Georgian Bay port in a momentous winter of events in 1920 as Owen Sound celebrated its incorporation as a ci

Some Interesting 20th Century Events in Owen Sound: One, in particular featured a mayor acting to avert a major labour-related confrontation.

The 1940's: An Eventful Decade in Owen Sound and Grey County: A war; a surprising political event; sports celebrations and much more.

Wawanekas: Fastball pioneers who were a legendary women's fastball team from Owen Sound who dominated their sport for a decade or more.

Political Corruption in 1852 Owen Sound? Does it seem possible that this could happen in a pioneer community on the Georgian Bay shores? Read on, and decide.

Emily Pankhurst Visits Owen Sound. The well-known suffragette visited Owen Sound and spoke not only about suffrage, but the bolshevik threat. 

Owen Sound Church History: First United Church was in fact the very first church in the Owen Sound community. It was preceded only Rev Neelands a circuit rider.

Lacrosse History in Owen Sound begins in the late nineteenth century and records the numerous championships that have been captured by Owen Sound teams.

Pioneer Ingenuity: Building Lime Kilns was essential for pioneers as without lime they could not build their brick homes.

Boosterism in 1890s Owen Sound targeted promoting economic development in Owen Sound. The port city showcased what it had to offer investors and visitors alike.

A pioneer home was very utilitarian. It served the pioneer family's essential needs, while the work of clearing the land and planting crops took priority.

Pioneer justice might be described as ruthless. But the question remains, did they always get the right man?

CPR Grain Elevator Fire in 1911 in Owen Sound harbour would have a profound impact on that Georgian Bay community.

Reverend Ryerson Visits Owen Sound and despite a great reception from the citizens of the community, he posts a negative newspaper story of the community.

The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family

Fenians: A Threat: The threat of an attack by Fenians was very real in Upper Canada in the 1860s and this was especially true in port communities like Owen Sound.

Inglis Falls is not only a beautiful place to enjoy nature, it is also the home of one of Owen Sound's first industries.

An Owen Sound pioneer, A.M. Stephens  provided us with a story about his early years helping to carve out a community in this part of Georgian Bay.

Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy's efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound's harbour.

Pioneer Resort: King's Royal Park From 1840 meeting to opulent pioneer resort, the citizens of Owen Sound have always worked hard to promote the economic growth and development of their community, and their part of the Georgian Bay shoreline.

Sailing stories: Owen Sound Shipbuilding from the earliest time of settlement busy shipyards dotted the Owen Sound bay where shipbuilding took place, sometimes at a feverish pace.

Spanish Flu Impacted Owen Sound, Ontario causing illness and death throughout the region. But it also illustrated the strength of the community spirit in the area.

Golf Course Review: Stone Tree Golfing at the Stone Tree Golf Club, a golfer can also enjoy sighting American Goldfinches, Purple Martins and the majestic Blue Heron while they pursue their quest to improve their golf game!

Owen Sound Ontario: A Unique Perspective: Book provides a unique and humorous perspective about this Georgian Bay port and hockey hotbed.

Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.

Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.


  1. History Articles
  2. Owen Sound
  3. Owen Sound Businesses in the 1920s were the Backbone of the Community
  1. History Articles
  2. Owen Sound
  3. Harbour History of Owen Sound