Wiarton Ontario's First Newspaper Debuted In 1879

Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper, the Echo made its debut in 1879.

Much can be learned about pioneer life, not only in Wiarton, but also the Bruce Peninsula from the pages of this well-written and interesting journal.

The Echo viewed itself not only as a messenger of the news of the day, but also as a medium to promote the development of the interests of the Bruce Peninsula, and more particularly those of Wiarton.

The Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper editor, George Bingham, in his first editorial on July 4, 1879 stated his rationale for the creation of the newspaper:

“We do not desire to make any apology for its advent, for need hardly say that its endeavoring to supply a want long felt in the Saugeen Indian (Bruce) Peninsula – namely, the establishment of a journal which advocate the local improvements and point out the various requirements of this section the country.”

The Echo’s first editorial urged the building of a railway on the Bruce Peninsula; the construction of new roads; and the improvement of existing roads. These demands made it clear that the editor realized the value of efficient and effective transportation linkages with the immediate hinterland as well as to the more developed areas of the province of Ontario.

Consequently, the early issues of the Echo, Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper, were full of editorials concerning the advantages of building an effective overland system of transportation routes. Therefore, it is not surprising the elation shown by the editor when it was reported in its August 1, 1879 edition that a new road was opening between Dyers Bay and Lion’s Head.

Later in August the same delight was shown when a story appeared telling readers that “…the 20th Side Road in Eastnor, connecting the Colpoys’ and Lion’s Head road on the east side of the Government Road, on the west side will be open for vehicle traffic about October 1.”

Wiarton interests viewed the building of roads as, not only important to the growth of the Bruce Peninsula, but as essential to the goal of making Wiarton the centre for trade for the entire area. These roads would make it easier for area farmers and other business interests to bring their produce to Wiarton to sell or transship on to other markets. As well, Wiarton merchants would have a larger market for their merchandise.

Consequently, good roads throughout the Bruce Peninsula meant a flourishing economy in Wiarton.

Wiarton Ontario's First Newspaper: Promoter For A Railway

These ambitions did not stop with Wiarton becoming the center of trade and commerce on the Bruce Peninsula. The ultimate aim of the town’s leaders was to compete and surpass Owen Sound as the most important Georgian Bay port in the region.

To achieve this ambitious goal, the business and political leaders realized that they needed a railway connection. A railroad to Wiarton would mean year-round commercial trade, not just an economic base that relied upon the navigation season. Acting as the spokesman for the community, the Echo constantly editorialized the value of a railroad system with its terminus at the head of Colpoys Bay.

The newspaper claimed that as well as economic growth; improved access to the region would bring more prospective settlers to the Bruce Peninsula.

In order to prove the need for a railroad as a vehicle for economic growth, the Echo illustrated the impact that a railway connection had on Collingwood. The editor pointed out that in 1879, “…there are 15 regular passenger trains arriving and departing” from Collingwood on a weekly basis.

When a vote was to be put to the citizens of the United Townships of Eastnor, Lindsay and St. Edmunds for the purpose of granting $8,000 by way of issuing debentures and a bonus to assist in the build of the Stratford and Huron Railway, the Echo urged all voters to support this proposal.

Consequently, when this bylaw was defeated, the Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper editor was enraged. A July 26, 1879 editorial attacked the narrow-minded outlook from the position that what was good for Wiarton, was therefore good for the rest of the Bruce Peninsula.

Strive, Sweat & Success!

Despite various setbacks in the railway campaign, the town finally received some good news. The September 26, 1879 edition of the Echo reported on its front page that on September 22, contracts had been awarded for the construction of the Stratford and Huron Railway from Listowel to Wiarton.

In order to receive the bonuses, set out in the contract, construction went at a furious pace. On November 29, 1881, track-layers reached Wiarton and at 6:00 pm the same day, a locomotive hauling a few flat cars entered the town amid great jubilation. However, regular train service did not begin until the next year on August 1.

As the Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper had predicted the railway had a positive impact on the community. For the next two decades Wiarton's economy grew.

Wiarton Ontario's First Newspaper
Reported Dreams of Economic Dominance Fading

But, a decision by the railway in the 1890s spelled the end of the boom for Wiarton. The railway, now owned by the Grand Trunk Railway, decided to build a spur line from Park Head to Owen Sound. The result of this decision meant that many businesses along the route chose to send their products to Owen Sound rather than Wiarton. In the end, the railroad which had done so much to help Wiarton develop as a centre of trade, contributed very much to the community’s economic downfall and helped Owen Sound continue to dominate the economy of the Bruce Peninsula area.

Wiarton Ontario's first newspaper continues to publish to this day.

This Article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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Wiarton Ontario's First Newspaper: The Echo viewed itself not only as a messenger of the news of the day, but also as a medium to promote the development of the interests of the Bruce Peninsula, and more particularly those of Wiarton.