Sauble Beach Ontario

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

A short drive west from Owen Sound lies one of Canada's favourite vacation attractions, Sauble Beach, Ontario. Contrary to teenage mythology, the first non-natives to discover the sandy beaches were possibly French explorers — not teenagers from all over Ontario looking for a place to party on the May 24 holiday week-end! 

The French explorers entered Colpoys Bay near the location of the present-day town of Wiarton. 

They paddled and portaged across the Bruce Peninsula via Boat Lake and the Rankin River to the Sauble River and on to Lake Huron. The last portage being the Sauble Falls. 

The French named the river that entered Lake Huron, "La Riviere au Sable", which meant "the river to the sand". This name continued until 1881 when a map was drawn spelling the river "Sauble". Henceforth, the name of the river became known as Sauble, rather than "la Riviere au Sable". 

In the early 1880s, fishermen travelled to the mouth of the Sauble and a few miles further north to the “Fishing Islands” of the Huron shoreline at Oliphant. Some of these early fishermen set up camps at the mouth of the Sauble River, thus becoming Sauble's first non-native summer inhabitants. 

In the 1880s, one of the first sawmills on the Bruce Peninsula was erected at the mouth of the river. Not long after, a boarding house and a general store were built along the shore of the river to service the needs of the fishermen and those working at the sawmill. 

It was not long before the cool breezes and warm sand attracted tourists to the Sauble River. 

Tents large enough to accommodate families soon became a familiar sight in the area. Some families built cottages, and a small summer community arose. 

Many of the early summer visitors were from the London, Ontario area. 

The presence of a Grand Trunk Railway line between that city and Wiarton provided a relatively easy transportation connection to Sauble. In the first decade of the 20th century, London-area families arose early in the morning and boarded a train at 6 a.m. 

After a long ride through the western Ontario countryside, they arrived at Hepworth around noon. A mid-day meal was enjoyed at the John Downs' Royal Hotel. With luggage piled high aboard democrats, they bounced along over rough trails, masquerading as roads to their holiday destination.

These summer visitors led an active life at Sauble. They fished, picked wild berries, enjoyed the cool breezes, warm sands and swimming. They also held church services and organized a Sunday school. A sense of community developed. 

One of the community activities was baseball. A team was formed and competed against some other teams from nearby villages. An intense rivalry developed between the Oliphant baseballers and the nine from Sauble. 

As the automobile came into popular usage and the roads to the area improved, visitors from beyond western Ontario discovered Sauble. Gradually, cottages and tents spread out from the mouth of the river along the beach.

In the mid 1920s, summer visitors had stretched further down the beach from the river. In 1925, a London surveyor, Mr. Archibald, laid out a sub-division at the west end of farms owned by J.K. Davidson, John Walker and Sam Bannister. The first cottage in this location was built in 1926. 

As the tourists from other parts of Ontario and from Michigan, Ohio and New York increased in numbers as part of the summer pilgrimage to these Lake Huron shores, Sauble Beach evolved into a resort area rivaling the Muskokas, Wasaga and Grand Bend. 

Some early promoters of the area enthusiastically called Sauble Beach the "Daytona of Canada". 

In 1996, Sauble Beach remains an important tourist destination. 

The community which began as a fishing out port; and an important area sawmill has grown to international stature as a place of summer fun and recreation and an important contributor to the economy of the Grey-Bruce region. 

Note: Some of the information used in this article was gathered from the Wiarton Echo and from Green Meadows and Golden Sands, a history of Amabel Township.

A version of this story originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1996.

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