Pioneer Tourists Visit
the Bruce Peninsula

Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!

Today the Bruce Peninsula is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. In the early days of settlement, there were probably many who viewed the rugged terrain as more of a curse than a blessing. But there were some pioneer tourists who enjoyed the wilderness of the area.

One of the first camping for pleasure excursions in the region may have occurred in August 1867 when the Greer and Miller families along with Thomas Gilpin walked the Rankin Portage route from the Wiarton area to the Lake Huron shoreline to the location where the village of Oliphant now stands. There they boarded a boat and made their way to Main Station Island for a week of fishing and camping. It must have been a pleasant experience for the group, because the Miller family later built a summer home on nearby Smokehouse Island and the Greer family’s daughter, Charlotte and her husband build a home on Cranberry Island.

Not long after the Greer and Miller families’ holiday expedition, another group of tourists made their way to the Sauble Falls and Fishing Islands area for a Bruce Peninsula vacation experience. In June 1870, a group of young men and women left Southampton in rowboat.  

After a strenuous day of rowing, these pioneering tourists reached the south shore of the Sauble River around 1:00 o’clock in the morning. After building a fire they pitched their tents and, eager for sleep, turned in to their bedrolls. But also, keen to get an early start in the morning. 

Because there were no restaurants in the area to feed the group, four of the young men arose at 3:30 am and armed with guns went into the forest looking for breakfast. After bagging some pigeons, they headed back to camp. 

After breakfast and devotional exercises, they boarded their boat and headed upstream to the Sauble Falls. Here they shot some more pigeons for their lunch. On other occasions, they rowed to the stretch of water which separated the Fishing Islands from the mainland and spent an enjoyable time fishing. To entertain themselves, while they rowed, and later in the evening around the campfire, the group sang songs such as “Old Bob Ridley”, “Champagne Charley”, “Softly O’er the Rippling Waters” and “Mary to the Saviour’s Tomb”.

After spending time enjoying the out of doors, fishing, hunting and rowing, the group returned to civilization. I am sure they probably returned to the area several times. But, I wonder what those pioneer tourists would think of their wilderness oasis, if they returned to the Sauble Beach - Oliphant area today?

The information used in this article came from many sources. However, primary among these were Bertha Hyatt’s “Main Station Island” published in the 1984 Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook an Isobel Howke’s “A Summer Excursion to Sauble – 1870” in the 1990 Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook. 

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

Discover More About the Bruce Peninsula

Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.

Barrow Bay Ontario a Picturesque Georgian Bay Community owes its origin to the once-thriving Bruce Peninsula lumbering industry. Today it is a quiet summer get-away!

Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.

Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula. 

Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone. 

Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.

Aboriginal History: Bruce Peninsula has a long indigenous heritage not just for the native nation living there today, but for other native groups as well.

Aboriginal History: the 1836 Treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.

Aboriginal land history continues the story of aboriginal land issues on the Bruce Peninsula. How it happened is a point for discussion by everyone.

Settler Impact on Bruce Peninsula Natives was not only from the imposition of treaties, but also from British military plans.

"Half Mile-Strip" Treaty made it possible for a relatively smooth overland connection to be built between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.

Allenford United Church history details not only some important information about that community's church, but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.

Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!

Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a Lumbering Settlement and today it is a wonderful vacation retreat.

Elsinore Ontario is the southern-most point on the Bruce Peninsula, located about half-way between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.

Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.

Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.

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

A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing, at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.

Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.

Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!

Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.

Lighthouses  Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.

Sauble Beach Ontario has seen it all. A fishing outport; a sawmilling centre; and an internationally acclaimed tourist resort area!

Sauble Beach  This popular beach is known as Canada's Daytona Beach.

Lion's Head  Sailors often sought refuge from the stormy Georgian Bay waters in its well-protected harbour.

Park Head  Grand Trunk Railway in Park Head Ontario was an important railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula when in 1894 the first train chugged through Park Head.

Stokes Bay  Welcomed fishermen as their first non-native visitors. Today, if you are a fisherman, you will also probably want to try your luck landing a walleye, lake trout or any of the other game fish that live in the coastal waters of Lake Huron.

Tobermory Ontario has a rich history and, is the northern- most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula.

Tobermory Ontario Tourism is focused on shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy. 

Tobermory pioneers experienced a life in a community that was anything but the tourism hive of activity that it is today.

A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!

Wiarton Ontario  This historic community was a great place to live in the early settlement days and still is a busy tourist stop on your way up the Bruce Peninsula.

Wiarton  had ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.

Wiarton Ontario’s First Newspaper  A catalyst in supporting road construction and bringing the railway to Wiarton in hopes of making the town the economic leader of the area. But disappointment looms...

Wiarton news: 1890s, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper revealed problems typical of today's communities 

Wiarton Beet Industry was to be a great boost to the town's economy. Instead, it left most people with a bad taste in their mouths.

Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton  A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.

Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory  Relaxing and historic journey.

Bruce Peninsula  The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!

  1. History Articles
  2. Bruce Peninsula
  3. Pioneer Tourists Visit the Bruce Peninsula