Meaford's History: The Story of a Small Georgian Bay Port

Meaford's history is one of hardy and entrepreneurial pioneers carving their lives out of the wilderness of what would become Grey County.

In 1840, the year of Telfer and Rankin's historic meeting on the banks of the Sydenham River, the first settler also arrived in the Meaford area. That year marked the beginning of the survey of Owen Sound's town plot. However, St. Vincent township had been surveyed seven years earlier in 1833. At the same time, a town plot of 200 acres was laid out at the mouth of the Big Head River. 

At first settlers arriving in St. Vincent called the town plot "Peggy's Landing" after the wife of the first settler David Miller. However, it was not long until the community was officially named. In 1845, William Gibbard, who had been assigned the task of subdividing the lots in the town plot, decided to call the new settlement Meaford. This name originated with Meaford Hall in Staffordshire, England, the home' of the Earl of St. Vincent. 

Although the town received the name Meaford in 1845, the post office maintained the name St. Vincent until 1867. This was the closest post office at the time in the region and early Owen Sound area memoirs relate stories of settlers in that region having to walk to St. Vincent to get their mail. 

Although a seventeen to twenty-mile hike to get one's mail is an ordeal, consider how the mail arrived in St. Vincent in the first place. The postmaster, William Stephenson, walked 60 miles to Barrie to collect all the mail for the region! 

Meaford's harbour, and its proximity to Collingwood and Owen Sound, attracted the vessels which not only served the coastal trade in Georgian Bay, but also the larger ships that plied the entire upper Great Lakes. As a result, the community grew quickly as businesses and settlers moved into the area. In 1874, when it was incorporated as a town, Meaford boasted a population of 1700. 

At the turn of this century, the Grand Trunk Railway built a harbour terminus in Meaford which included an elevator. This event signaled further growth in the community. Some of the new industries included wheelbarrow, boat building, and furniture factories. In the 1890s an industry began in the Meaford area which to this day still brings the community nationwide attention. It was in the 1890s that it was discovered that the area had the perfect conditions for growing apples. 

Like all of the settlers in the Grey and Bruce region, the men and women Meaford were a hardy and determined lot. Disasters and hardships onIy made them stiffen their backs and defy the odds. Although there may been other incidents in Meaford's history, the events of August 1883 and the spring of 1912 stand out as illustrations of the grit and determination of the citizens of this community to survive and prosper. 

In August 1883 a small fire started in the newspaper office and within a short time it grew to a fiery inferno consuming in its path of destruction 20 homes and businesses. In the spring of 1912 the river, swollen with the melting ice and snow of the previous winter washed out the Sykes Street bridge, destroyed the dam at the flour mill, and demolished a tannery, as it made its way into Georgian Bay. Despite such devastating events, the townspeople worked together and rebuilt their community. 

There are many similarities in the growth and development of Meaford and its neighbour, Owen Sound. Although the two communities have always been rivals in terms of both economic development and in the world of sports, there has always been the common bond of having faced similar hardships in developing their communities. 

Consequently, throughout the years each has celebrated the many successes of the other. No better example can be shown than this winter when Owen Sounders celebrated Meaford's Andy Ormsby success in the World Champion Junior Curling championships! 

A version of "Meaford's History: The Story of a Small Georgian Bay Port," originally appeared in my Local History column in the May 1, 1998 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

More Grey County Pages

12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.

1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.

Dr. Anna Henry  from Markdale, was a medical trailblazer for women doctors in Canada, who helped lay the groundwork for the establishment for Women's College Hospital.

Egremont Township endured the usual growing pains of a pioneer community, but its early history records times when it was embroiled in a few contentious issues. 

Euphrasia Township in the early years when spelling the name was a problem for those who called it home and those that wanted settle this new Grey County township.

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

Grey County Heritage: A Valuable Resource which is rich and varied, as an important resource for future use for business, political, and many other purposes.

Grey County's Creation in 1852, laid the framework for organizing a county in the last wilderness in the southern region of what would become in the future the province of Ontario.

An Unlikely Hero From Grey County (Part 1) found his way from the farming community of Flesherton to missionary work in the Ottawa Valley, and beyond.

An Unlikely Hero Vs. The KKK (Part 2) Our hero from Grey County took his missionary zeal south of the border and ultimately crossed paths with the infamous KKK!

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"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.

Ceylon Ontario: How it Got its Name: It is always interesting how a community got its name, but I doubt any place received its name from a more unique source!

Chatsworth Ontario: First Settlers took advantage of fulfilling the needs of pioneer travellers and built a thriving community in the Upper Canadian wilderness.

Clearing Trees a Daunting Task for Settlers as they worked to fulfill their obligations for their land grant.

Dornoch: or is it Smithville? Originally it was Smithville, then it became Dornoch. But, surprise it is still, in reality Smithville!

First Pioneer in Durham: Archibald Hunter established his family, and a hotel, in what would become the centre of the town of Durham.

Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.

Grey County Bylaws to the 1890s reveal a lot about the financing of local government, especially education in the early days of the region.

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.

A Heroic Woman From Grey County who made great changes as a doctor in China in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!

Kilsyth's Train Engine was one for the history books. It brought an evening of joy followed by disappointing news soon after.

The Knight's of Meaford have long history in that Grey County community. Their business forged by early settlers employed many locals and supported the economy.

Leith: Tom Thomson's Birthplace is part of the rich heritage of this community located on the east shore of the Georgian Bay north of Owen Sound.

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.

Agnes Macphail was a political trailblazer in a part of Ontario that one could hardly expect such radical action for the era in a rural region.

Markdale Ontario: The Beginning: originally known as Glenelg East, but the coming of the railway and the name of owner of the land for the station led to a change of identity.

Meaford's history is one of hardy and entrepreneurial pioneers carving their lives out of the wilderness of what would become Grey County.

Meaford Ontario, first called Peggy's Landing located on the shores of Georgian Bay has a rich history.

Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.

Pioneer Clergyman: John Neelands was the first to minister to the first settlers' spiritual needs riding on horseback through the wilds of early Grey County.

Pioneer Doctor: Dr. James Smith, a local boy who became a doctor and served his community for his entire life was a testament to Grey County community spirit.

Pioneer Healthcare in Grey and Bruce counties was not administered by doctors, nurses, or pharmacists, no it was the responsibility of the women of the community.

Pioneer Homes in Grey County in the 1840s offered only basic amenities. Homes were basic because clearing the land to earn a living to survive were of paramount importance for those embarking on a new life.

Pioneer Ingenuity created many labour saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.

Pioneer Christmas: A Family Tradition as told to me by may grandparents who experienced Christmas as children in the 1880s and 1890s.

Pioneer Settlement Plans for Grey County began almost two decades before the rest of Grey County was available for settlement.

A pioneer road surveyor's impact on the local history of Grey and Bruce counties could have been dramatic, if it had not been changed by another surveyor.

Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.

Plowing Match in Grey County in 1933 the first International Plowing Match held in Grey and Bruce counties and it's success led to more such events in Grey.

Settling Osprey Township: Parts of Osprey were considered too rugged to settle, but today they are prime real estate because of the great view!

Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.

Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.

The Impact of Snow is not what is Used to be! As snow removal equipment has improved the impact of snow on our lives has reduced significantly from previous eras.

Unique Characters: Nathaniel Herriman lived in Grey County and owned an inn to provide food and and accommodation to early travellers. Each day he performed a unique practice.

Unique Maps: Quilts Guided the Underground Railroad to enable runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom from the shackles that enslaved them.

The Women's Institute is a group of rural women that has made a difference to the quality of both urban and rural life in Grey County and across the country.