Tobermory Ontario tourism has become focused not only on the immensely popular pastime of shipwreck diving, but also the many natural wonders of the region.
Long before settlement of any consequence occurred in the Tobermory region, ships were sailing the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay which surround the northern-most point of the Bruce Peninsula. Among the vessels that sailed in the area were British ships that patrolled Georgian Bay during the War of 1812, protecting the area from possible American invasion.
Fishermen built semi-permanent structures to provide shelter while they fished the area waters, and then smoked their catch on shore. Fishermen from what is now Southern Ontario, and the State of Michigan, spent the summer months off the "Fishing Islands" on the Lake Huron shore where the village of Oliphant now stands. In the mid-1800s, fishermen established a summer settlement which became the village of Tobermory at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
Originally, fishing was the main occupation of the early settlers. Fish were so plentiful in the Great Lakes in the 1830s, in some locations such as the "Fishing Islands" were "more associated with a method of corralling cattle or instigating a buffalo run" rather than the methods used today. The 1851 census reports that 25 per cent of the 11,886 barrels of fish cured in Canada West were cured on the Lake Huron shoreline of Bruce and Huron counties.
In 1852, the Owen Sound Comet reported that fishermen from "Tupper Murray" (as Tobermory was known colloquially in the 1800s) had visited this community for their winter supplies. Because roads did not exist between Tobermory and the rest of the world, the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron were the only highways connecting their community with the outside world. When the highway was finally built to connect the northern point of the peninsula with Owen Sound, another industry came to life in the area Tobermory Ontario tourism.
As well as becoming an important tourist attraction to boaters and other travellers, Tobermory became an important ferry boat terminal. Over the years, many ships have carried people, cars, and cargo from southern Ontario to Manitoulin Island and on to the north shore. Growing up in Owen Sound, I remember the Norisle, Normac, and Norgoma loading their cargoes and heading off to Tobermory and on to Manitoulin Island. Today, the Chi Cheemaun travels that route doing the work of its three predecessors.
There were many factors that led to the creation and success of Tobermory Ontario tourism. For more information about tourism on the Bruce Peninsula please see my MA thesis "The Impact of the Forest Products and Tourism Industries on the Development of the Bruce Peninsula, 1850-2019."
A version of this article appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
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