Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay 

Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!

A century ago, only the land surveyors were excited about the settlement prospects in the Adair region of the Bruce Peninsula. 

Now, however, the prospect of owning land in this area is a popular idea with many who are looking for the perfect place to either retire or spend vacation time. 

The first pioneer campers arrived in the area in the first decades of this century when many southern Ontarians still considered the Bruce Peninsula an untamed wilderness. 

In the early 1920s, a local resident played upon this belief to have some fun with two early "adventurers" who came to the area. 

Last week we travelled up the peninsula to Adair, the town that never developed. 

Shortly after we pass the road sign announcing that we are entering Adair, we turn right, and we behold panoramic view which most certainly will take your breath away. As we descend into Hope Bay, the deep blue of the water surrounded by the green of the forested cliffs, provides a picture which no artist's brush could ever duplicate.

Writing almost half a century ago author and naturalist Sherwood Fox wrote: "No other indentation on the east coast can show an unbroken wall of perpendicular cliffs of equal grandeur. Indeed, Hope Bay reminds us of a colossal stadium floored with blue, its broad, open end affording an unsurpassed view of the Georgian Bay." 

Although the Hope Bay/ Adair region was spurned by most of the settlers looking for agricultural lands to cultivate, it was not long after the area was opened up that visitors, usually pioneer campers, started coming to spend their vacations. 

It is difficult to determine when the first tourists arrived in the area, but Olive Hepburn, writing in the 1991 edition of the Bruce County Historical Society's Yearbook, suggests that one of the first cottagers in the area was Rev. Albert Robinson and his wife Lottie, who were from Toronto.

Hepburn provides an interesting tale about two young pioneer campers from Hamilton, who came on a camping expedition to the area in the early 1920s. 

At that time the Bruce Peninsula was still considered to be wilderness by those who lived in larger centres such as Hamilton and Toronto. 

When the men arrived at the Robinson's cottage, they seemed extremely nervous about camping in the wilderness. The Reverend and his wife suggested that they pitch their tent in their enclosed yard. 

About midnight a terrible moaning sound could be heard.

At times, the eerie noise could be heard from afar and then quite close. At the same time, witnesses say they could hear the sounds similar to that made by an animal's padded feet. 

After about 15 minutes, the noises abated, and the stillness of the night returned. At daybreak, the Robinsons went to check on their pioneer campers. 

But all that could be found to mark the fact that they had been there was a flattened tin can which they had forgotten to pick up in their hasty departure from the wilds of Hope Bay.

It was later learned that the boys a from Hamilton had been the victims of a series of practical jokes. The previous day, on their way to Hope Bay, the young men had met a local resident on the road.

They had been told some scary tales about the bears, wolverines, bobcats and other ferocious creatures who roamed the region.

The same local resident had ventured into the night with a piece of wood in which he had bored holes at strategic points. This instrument then was tied to a length of cord. The mischief-maker swung the wooden piece in the air and the air rushing through the holes created the ghastly sounds which sent the pioneer campers running back to civilization in the middle of the night!

So, if you are camping near Hope Bay this summer and you hear mysterious sounds late in the night, fear not. 

It is probably just a descendant of the original Hope Bay prankster trying to keep up the image of the Bruce Peninsula as the last untamed wilderness! 

The information used in this article came from two sources. The Bruce Beckons by Sherwood Fox and "Fun in the North Country; Hope Bay 1923-27" by Olive Hepburn in the 1991 edition of the Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook.

A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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