Owen Sound: 1840 Onward! 

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.

This month Owen Sound and area will welcome home many graduates and former students to celebrate the long history of the OSCVI. May 1996 also marks another important date in Owen Sound's history. 

One hundred and forty years ago, on May 16, 1856, an act of Parliament declared this community would be incorporated as the Town of Owen Sound on Jan. 1, 1857. 

Incorporation came less than 16 years after the historic meeting on Oct. 7, 1840, between surveyor Charles Rankin and Crown Land Agent John Telfer. They had met in a small clearing approximately where city hall now stands. 

Owen Sound 1840: Beginnings

Only Rankin's shelter and a few freshly-chopped tree stumps gave an indication that something was about to occur on the banks of the as yet unnamed Sydenham River. 

By Nov. 11 of that year, a structure had been built to store the provisions and to provide temporary shelter for the settlers who were expected to make their way to this area in the ensuing years. On that same day, Telfer returned to his home to prepare to move his family here the following spring. Only Thomas Rutherford remained, thus becoming the first known non-native settler in the area. 



The spring of 1841 marked the beginning of the actual settlement. Many settlers arrived over the first few years. Among the newcomers were W. C. Boyd and a future mayor of Owen Sound, A. M. Stephens. 

W.C. BoydPaul White Photo Collection

Stephens recalled in his memoirs that, 14 years before the act of incorporation in 1842, there was still little indication of what the future might hold for the tiny pioneering settlement he found upon his arrival. 

(It was) "An opening in the bush about an acre in extent, partially cleared; three log houses, one occupied by the Crown lands agent and his family, one for the accommodation of emigrants, and the third kept as a tavern by Hugh Gunn Campbell; about half-a-mile of street now called Union Street, with the timber chopped down but not cleared off; a deep, dark, and winding river, having a dense growth of cedar on either side with tops interlacing overhead, forming the only channel of communication with the outside world and looking very unlike the future home of iron steamships." 

As the settlers cleared the land, houses and commercial establishments dotted the landscape of the community. 

By 1846, the economic base now included not only hotels, stores and Ezra Brown's tannery, but Boyd's wharf and an infant shipbuilding industry

In 1851, Owen Sound had developed sufficiently to sustain a newspaper and the first edition of the Owen Sound Comet, and Farmers' and Mechanics' Protector, subtitled An Agricultural, Commercial and Literary Journal was published on Saturday, June 28, 1851. 

The Comet became a leading voice in the promotion of the development of its community. 

As the settlement became more active as a port, and consequently more well-known, there arose a sense of confusion. Some called the community Sydenham, as Charles Rankin had named it a decade earlier, while others referred to it as Owen Sound, due to its position at the head of the same named body of water. 

In June 1851, a meeting chaired by prominent area merchant, John Frost, was held to clear up this confusion. At the meeting, Owen Sound was adopted as the name of the settlement. 

Due to the rapid growth of the area, in March 1852 the government announced the creation of Grey County, effective Jan. 1, 1853. The same proclamation designated that Owen Sound would become the county seat. 

In less than two decades, the Owen Sound of 1840, due to the hard work and determination of those who chose Owen Sound as their home, had expanded from a small wilderness clearing to become the centre of county government and an industrious port facility. 

The May 16, 1856 Act of Parliament did not instill complacency in the new town. Instead, new industries developed, and in the 1870s, a rail line was completed between Owen Sound and Toronto, giving a year-round viable transportation connection to the region. 

All of these factors led to the CPR naming Owen Sound as its eastern terminus for its Great Lakes fleet.

In many ways, the act to incorporate the Town of Owen Sound symbolizes and recognizes the grit, determination and foresight of the first citizens of this community.

A version  of Owen Sound 1840, originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on May 4, 1996.

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.


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