Meaford Ontario was first called Peggy's Landing named after the wife of the first settler on this small Georgian Bay harbour community.
In the early 1830s the colonial government decided that it was time to open up the Grey/Bruce region to meet the ever-increasing clamor for more settlement lands. The first area surveyed in 1833 was given the rather interesting name of “Zero”.
Although the initial survey occurred in 1833 it was not until seven years later in 1840 that the first settler, David Miller, arrived. In that intervening period the name Zero had disappeared from the surveying maps of the colony and was replaced with a new name, St. Vincent.
The survey had designated a plot of 200 acres at the mouth of the Big Head River for a town site. Soon after Miller’s arrival the area around his homestead came to be known as Peggy’s Landing, named after Miller’s wife. In 1845 this unofficial name for the area disappeared when the colonial government assigned William Gibbard to subdivide the town plot. One of Gibbard’s first actions was to name the new settlement Meaford.
The first post office in the area was established at the new community and although it was located in Meaford the government assigned the name St. Vincent to the post office. This caused a great deal of confusion until the post office was finally named Meaford in 1867.
The first postmaster, William Stephenson, must have been a man of incredible fortitude. In order to get the mail for the settlers in the region he had to walk to Barrie. Stephenson’s post office was the only one in the area. Consequently, settlers from the Owen Sound region had to walk to Stephenson’s to pick up their mail.
Meaford’s location on Georgian Bay and the rich land surrounding it attracted many settlers. By the time it was incorporated as a town in 1874 the community boasted a population of 1700. The presence of the Big Head River encouraged the development of an industrial and commercial base. Perhaps the first to recognize the value of the river was the son of the first settler, David Miller, Jr., who erected a grist mill about a mile upstream.
The port facility also proved to be an attraction to both prospective settlers and the establishment of business enterprises. Around the turn of the last century, activity around the harbour increased when the Grand Trunk Railroad moved its depot from Station Hill to the waterfront.
In the 1870s, Meaford Ontario was an important fishing port on Georgian Bay. One of biggest operations in the area was owned by Gilbert McIntosh who fished the waters between Meaford and Tobermory. In the beginning he brought his catch back to port in the seventeen-ton vessel, “Rescue”, but in order to keep up with market demands, in 1885 he added the thirty ton “Alfred Morell”, and shortly thereafter the 50 ton “G.P. McIntosh” to his fleet.
The agricultural and industrial produce of the region, as well as fish, attracted many commercial vessels to call at Meaford’s docks. However, around 1900 a new product proved to be an even greater attraction for the Great Lakes’ commercial fleet.
The establishment of fruit orchards in the area proved to be a successful venture for many area agriculturalists and the annual apple harvest provided another benefit for the economy of the area. Ships that had never called at Meaford Ontario before, now made stops there to pick up fruits for transshipment throughout the Great Lakes region.
It began as a part of “Zero”. Next it was known as Peggy’s Landing. The government allowed it to suffer for two decades under the split personages of Meaford and St. Vincent. Finally, in the year of Canadian Confederation, the confusion ended with the decision to call the community Meaford. Whatever its name, the Meaford Ontario area has a rich and dynamic history!
A version of this Meaford Ontario story first appeared in my Owen Sound Sun Times' Local History column
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