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.


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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.

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