Tobermory Ontario, the northern-most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula, has a rich history.
As you travel northward on Highway #6, before you reach the entrance to the village of Tobermory you will see the entrances to many parks. Each offers a unique place to stay or visit and experience the natural history that is the Bruce Peninsula.
There is of course, Bruce Peninsula National Park as well as some privately-owned campgrounds in the area. On a couple of occasions, we have enjoyed camping at a campground almost immediately southwest of Tobermory. Aw, the smell of a campfire, nothing in the world tops the aroma of smoky eggs and bacon on an open fire in the morning.
In Tobermory Ontario turn right at the second intersection. Immediately, you will think that you have been transported to an Atlantic coast fishing village! Park your car and walk. It is the best way to visit this wonderful little community with its shops, restaurants, and amazing scenery. Note that everywhere there is evidence of the rich maritime history of the area. Take the time to absorb the tales of courageous mariners and pioneers from all walks of life. But don’t ignore the attention given to the rich natural heritage of the region. There are great pictures and stories to be enjoyed!
The waters around Tobermory have become a major attraction for scuba divers from around the world. There are dive shops, tour boat companies, as well as the Fathom Five National Marine Park staff who are well qualified to assist you with your diving needs.
The glass bottom boat tours of the area and trips to the islands, especially Flowerpot Island, are well worth an afternoon adventure.
Before leaving Tobermory make sure to visit the Ferry Dock to watch the Chi Chee Maun arrive or depart. The ferry service has a long and storied tradition. For more on the region's ferry service history click here.
Every summer, from the twenty-fourth of May weekend until Thanksgiving the village of Tobermory Ontario is a buzz with visitors. For decades, thousands of travelers have passed through the community each year to board or depart from the various ferryboats, which have plied the waters between the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island. Many other visitors have made Tobermory a destination, rather than “jumping off point” to Manitoulin and the north shore. They come to the “Tub” to dive and explore the many shipwrecks which dot the underwater landscape of the area.
The hive of activity that Tobermory Ontario has become and the presence of many successful commercial enterprises might surprise some of the earliest visitors and settlers in that area. However, it must be remembered that in the 1800s tourism and other related ventures were not the reasons why pioneers came to the Bruce Peninsula. It was the quest for land suitable for agriculture that attracted settlement.
In "The Early Settlement of Tobermory and St. Edmonds Township” author Patrick Folkes provides excerpts from the reports of three early government representatives whose responsibility it was to prepare the area for an influx of settlers. Their comments were less than enthusiastic about the future prospects of that area.
In 1857 A. G. Robinson, the chief engineer for Lake Huron lighthouse operations described the area as being “totally unfit for agricultural purposes”.
In 1869, Public Land Surveyor, Charles Rankin, arrived in the area to resurvey the proposed road that would run through the centre of St. Edmonds Township from the Lindsay town line to Tobermory Ontario harbour. After six weeks of struggle to complete the task, Rankin and his crew returned to their base camp. He summarized in his report that the work had been “one of the most troublesome explorations and pieces of line running ... which I have ever met with”.
William Bull, a representative of the Indian Department, was sent in 1873 to explore the region to ascertain the amount of good agricultural lands and also the quality and quantity of timber resources. He reported that the town plot and some of the surrounding area was “nearly all burnt off, leaving the white rocky ridges quite bare”. However, Bull also reported that the area, nearly four thousand acres, adjacent to the community was perhaps the best in the region.
Despite such warnings, during the 1870s and 1880s the government sold tracts of land to prospective settlers under the guise of promoting them as agricultural lands. The results were chaotic. Some pioneers arrived and struggled to create farmland. Others came, and after battling the environment and the elements left. Some of these plots were taken over by others, while tracts remained undeveloped.
The hardier pioneers remained. While many continued to cultivate the soil, they turned to other ventures to sustain their families. Many worked for the lumbering companies that held the timber rights in the area. Fishing had long been carried out in the area. Editions of the Owen Sound Comet from the early 1850s report of fishermen arriving from “Tupper Murray” with large catches of fish to trade for supplies. Many of the early settlers to the region augmented their diets and income by fishing.
The area around Tobermory Ontario remained relatively isolated for many decades. Land transportation was difficult at best. Consequently, the community was dependent upon the vessels that sailed around the tip of Bruce Peninsula from Georgian Bay to Lake Huron.
However, the arrival and emergence of the automobile as a means of transportation had a great impact upon the Tobermory area. The automobile age was closely followed by the growth and expansion of the tourism industry. To facilitate both of these twentieth century phenomena a good system of roads had to be built. The completion of an automobile route to Tobermory marked the end of isolation and the beginning of tourism in the area. Today tourism is a major economic factor in the life of the area.
For more information about the impact of first, forest products and later, tourism check out my MA thesis from the University of Western Ontario, "The Impact of the Forest Products and Tourism Industries on the Development of the Bruce Peninsula, 1850-2019."
To find out more about the history of the Tobermory region of the Bruce Peninsula, I highly recommend Hewers of the Forests, Fishers of the Lakes, Cathy Wyonch, editor.
Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.
Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.
Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula.
Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone.
Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.
Bruce Peninsula winters could be difficult, especially in pioneer times when transportation connections were limited to only a few months each year.
Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!
Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.
Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.
Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.
Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!
Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.
Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!
Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.
Lighthouses Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.
A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!
Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.
Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory Relaxing and historic journey.
Bruce Peninsula The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!