The 1900s in Owen Sound: A Century of Survival 

The 1900s in Owen Sound: A Century of Survival began with high hopes, but there were bumps along the way that challenges the spirit of the community.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of not just a new year, but the first day of the last year of this century. The 1900s in Owen Sound have been a time of innovation, change, and growth. Perhaps there has never been a century in which mankind has travelled so far in such a short time. One hundred years ago, the primary modes of transportation were by horse, rail, or ship. Today, man orbits earth in space vehicles that were beyond imagination a few decades ago. A century ago, communications were limited basic telephone services, newspapers, and postal letters. In the 1990s, man can communicate almost instantly via the Internet anywhere in the world! 

In the late 1890s, the Owen Sound area was preparing for the 20th century. Rail lines traversed the area, transporting passengers and products to from the Bruce Peninsula region. Owen Sound vied with the neighbouring ports of Wiarton and Collingwood for supremacy as the main port in the area. Despite negotiations, problems with the CPR for improved elevator services and labour strife in the harbour, civic leaders looked to the corning of the 20th century with enthusiasm. They trumpeted that the next century would be a time of economic growth and prosperity. The century began with great promise, the industrial sector was maturing and seemed to be headed for a strong future. The ambitious economic leaders took steps to add another jewel to the crown of glory, awaiting the community in the coming years. As wealth grew, so too did leisure time, and tourism seemed to be another form of economic growth potential which the area needed to tap into. Thus, a plan to build an elegant tourist attraction in the area was announced. Within a few years, Kings Royal Park, on the shores of Georgian Bay, at Balmy Beach, was being touted far and wide.

Within a decade of the beginning of the 1900s in Owen Sound, dark clouds began to cast shadows on the dreams of the community. A long and bitter strike between the CPR and dock workers created a rift between the transportation giant, and its home port community. A few years later, the CPR grain elevator, in the harbour was destroyed by fire. In 1912, the smoke from the funnels of the last CPR vessel leaving the harbour for a new home base in Port McNicholl seemed to cast the final shadow on the hopes of the community. Not long after the CPR’s exit, Kings Royal Park fell victim to the wrecking ball. 

The citizens  had good reason to wonder if the 1900s in Owen Sound were going to be such a wonderful time for them. Fortunately, in the late 1890s the economic and political bosses had worked to broaden the economic base of the community beyond dependency on the CPR. They had worked hard to attract businesses, industries and individuals to locate in the community. Along with these harsh turn of events, the community leaders continued to use ingenuity to provide economic and social stability. 

Although Owen Sound never became Canada's Liverpool, it survived the setbacks of the first decades of this century. Using ingenuity, the city grew, and took advantage of opportunities as they were presented. There have been boom times and there have been times of difficulties. Today we are at another crossroads. The leaders have to decide how the community and surrounding neighbours will enter the next millennium. There are many issues facing the area and only the ingenuity for which this area is famous will create a positive result. Throughout almost 16 decades, the citizens of this area have been 'bucking the odds” and throwing sand in the face of the bullies of adversity. Therefore as we enter the last year of this century, we have cause for enthusiasm and look forward a bright future.

A version of "The 1900s in Owen Sound: A Century of Survival" originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on December 31, 1998.