Pioneer Story of a Child
in 1846 Owen Sound 

Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.

We can learn a about our past from newspapers and government records, but it is always an exciting discovery when one finds a personal record from an earlier era. 

That was situation this week at the Grey County Archives when I came upon an early edition of the Sun Times that contained an article about Mrs. Elizabeth (Blyth) McLean, who arrived in Owen Sound in 1846 when she was only eight-years-old. 

Mrs. McLean was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but when she was two-years-old, she moved with parents to Toronto. In 1844, her father, John Blyth, traveled up the Garafraxa Road from Guelph to investigate opportunities in the Owen Sound area. He returned to Toronto and in 1846, he moved his family to the tiny clearing in the forest that would one day be the port city of Owen Sound. 

Perhaps one of the reasons that the Blyth family decided to settle in Owen Sound was due to some influence from one of their friends in Toronto. 

It seems that when Charles Rankin, the surveyor who laid out the town site for Owen Sound, stayed in Toronto, his place of residence was across the street from the Blyth home. 

In 1846, the Blyth family set out for Owen Sound with thirteen other families. They went by stage to Holland Landing where they changed coaches and headed for Orillia. After a brief sail they took another stage to Coldwater where they met the steamer "Calula", which is considered by many to be the first steamer to serve the port of Owen Sound. 

Ten days after leaving Toronto the Blyth family arrived at Boyd's wharf just north of the settlement of Sydenham (Owen Sound). 

The new settlers spent their first night in a shed at Boyd's Wharf. The next morning, they were taken up the Sydenham River in a bateau that was powered by men using poles. 

Mrs. McLean remembered that "there was no settlement to be seen from the mouth of the river, only swamp extending on either side of the river, and farther up where the river narrowed the cedars overhung the river to such an extent that it was necessary for the passengers to duck their heads to avoid being struck by the branches." 

The bateau landed on the east shore of the river near where the city hall and market place now stand. Mrs. McLean recalled that there were two log buildings standing on the present site of the city hall. One of these buildings was a temporary shelter for settlers until their land could be cleared and their own dwelling erected. 

She recalled that "the building was divided into compartments like stalls, and the families lived there, many of them for weeks." 

When they arrived, there were only twelve families living in the settlement. However, there were many other single men who had come to begin a new life on the last frontier of what would become southern Ontario. 

Pioneer Owen Sound must have presented a unique scene for the young girl from Toronto. All of the buildings were made of logs. Homes were scattered along Poulette Street, Union Street, Division Street and Scrope Street. There were two general stores on Poulette Street, one owned by A.M. Stephens and the other owned by John Frost. There was also a tavern. 

This was the picture that Elizabeth Blyth McLean painted some 75 years after she arrived as an eight-year-old girl with her parents in the community, which would become her home. 

The information used in this article came from documents held in the Grey County Archives.

A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on October 12, 2001.

More Great Information Pages
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy's efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound's harbour.

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  1. History Articles
  2. Owen Sound
  3. Owen Sound Businesses in the 1920s were the Backbone of the Community
  1. History Articles
  2. Owen Sound
  3. Pioneer Story 1846