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.
Owen Sound has long been noted for its number of beautiful churches. But in the beginning the religious needs of the inhabitants were not always met. In the first years of settlement, there was no one in the area to care for the spiritual needs of the pioneers. The closest minister was Reverend John Neelands of St. Vincent. Father Neelands, as he was known, tried to pay regular visits to the settlers at Owen Sound. But given the distance between settlements and the lack of efficient transportation routes the pioneers did not enjoy frequent religious services led by a minister.
Therefore, it was with great excitement that the settlers here awaited the arrival in the summer of 1842 of Reverend Ryerson at this tiny outpost in the wilderness. Ryerson left Toronto and followed Yonge Street north to Holland Landing, where he boarded a boat and sailed across Lake Simcoe to Barrie. From Barrie he portaged seven miles to a branch of the Nottawasaga River, where he sailed to Georgian Bay. Here he was met by some friends of his church who brought him to St. Vincent. After conducting a service, he travelled on to the Indian Village which was located at the present-day site on Brooke.
At his Sunday service at the native village located on the west shore of Owen Sound, he spoke about the evils of alcohol, especially in terms as a currency for trading with the native people for fish and furs. He stated that "...the trader that would give whiskey to the poor Indian in order that he might more easily deprive him of his fish and furs..." would make even the Devil "...ashamed of such a low miserable creature...".
He travelled from here to Colpoy's Bay where he followed the portage route across the peninsula to Lake Huron. After conducting a service at the Native village at Saugeen, he returned home to Toronto via Goderich.
The inhabitants of the pioneering community at Owen Sound had been pleased with the visit from the distinguished Reverend Ryerson and they had spared nothing to celebrate his stay. The attendance both at Boyd's residence and at the religious services had encompassed virtually every member of the community. With regard to the banquet at Boyd's and other meals served, Ryerson's hosts had ensured that the quality and quantity of food was the best possible. However, Reverend Ryerson's pioneer hosts received a rude shock when he returned to Toronto.
Upon his return, Ryerson published his own account of his visit to the Georgian Bay region in some Toronto newspapers. He obviously did not appreciate the efforts of his hosts, nor did he seem to have enjoyed his stay in the region. He described the settlement here as "...a small white settlement the inhabitants of which were in a state of starvation for want of temporal and spiritual food".
The publication of Reverend Ryerson's impressions of this region angered and hurt his pioneer hosts. They had taken great care and spent much energy in providing their guest with the best possible accommodations and the most bountiful meals available. As for their spiritual needs, they felt only remorse for the fact that their community still lacked a permanent religious leader or a permanent house of worship. The injury that Ryerson's comments inflicted upon the citizens of this pioneering community was entirely unnecessary, but some would later suggest it was only an omen of future interactions between Toronto and rest of rural Ontario. After all, Toronto did not earn its name `Hog Town' overnight.
A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1996.
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