Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues to be 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.
One of the first camping for pleasure excursions in the region 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 where the village of Oliphant now stands. 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, built 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 the Fishing Islands area for a Bruce Peninsula vacation experience.
In June 1870, a group of young men and women left Southampton in a rowboat.
After a strenuous day of rowing, these pioneering tourists reached the Sauble River's south shore 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 they were 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 and 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.
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