owen sound harbour

Home Regions of OntarioBruce Peninsula, Southern Georgian Bay & Lake Simcoe Region

Owen Sound, Ontario

Owen Sound is located at the mouths of the Pottawatomi and Sydenham Rivers on an inlet of Georgian Bay below the rock cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Owen Sound is a wonderful lakeside community, with many heritage homes and a fascinating history.

In the mid 1600's the Iroquois, allied with the British waged a vicious war against the Huron's who were allies of the French over fur trading. After the Iroquois eliminated almost all the Huron people, the remaining Huron's were forced to migrate to the east and west.

When the Iroquois occupied the Bruce Peninsula it became known as the Indian Peninsula. Around the turn of the eighteenth century the Huron's returned and in a series of battles managed to overcome the Iroquois, forcing them to flee the region. For the next one hundred years the Metegwob, Newash, Wahwahnosh and Wahbadick tribes of the Ojibwa nation would inhabit the area around the Bruce Peninsula.

After the war of 1812 the British realized the importance of the Great Lakes and made the first attempt at charting the waters of the Great Lakes for safe navigation. Sir Edward William Campbell Richard Owen was appointed commandeer-in-chief of British Naval Forces upon the Lakes, and he in turn appointed his brother Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen as hydrographer.

The brothers named the inlet on Georgian Bay Owen's Sound. Over the next several years the brothers would create over fifty charts, mapping out the waters from Montreal to St. Mary's River.

In 1815 Captain Owen travelled to Quebec and secured the employment of Henry Wolsey Bayfield, a young twenty year old naval lieutenant employed on the ship "Wanderer" to help with surveying the Great Lakes region. Over his career, Bayfield surveyed the entire coastline of Lake Superior. His detailed manuscripts were admired for their accuracy and scope. 

In 1836 treaties were negotiated that allowed for non-native settlement around Owen Sound. The 1836 treaties reduced Native lands from over 2 million acres to 450,000 acres. Designate tracts of land were set aside for native use in perpetuity, but with more and more settlers arriving, pressure was placed on the government to open up new territories for the ever increasing number of settlers and "in perpetuity" turned out to be very short-lived.

In 1840 Charles Rankin and John Tefler set out for Georgian Bay to survey lots for settlement. Charles Rankin had been commissioned in 1836 to survey a route from Guelph, Ontario to Georgian Bay, however work was delayed during the Upper Canada Rebellion, which began in 1837.

Eventually Charles Rankin became responsible for mapping out the Garafraxa Road, which would later become Highway #6. Without this land passage, new settlers would only be able to access their lots by water.

The city of Owen Sound was originally known as Sydenham when it was first laid out and settled in the early 1840's by Charles Rankin. In 1851 the name was changed to Owen Sound.

John Tefler had been hired by the government as a land agent and he would supervise the construction of roads and distribute the lots that Rankin surveyed to new settlers. A Native community on the west shore of the bay forced Rankin and Tefler to initially survey lots on the east bank of the Sydenham River, thus determining the location of what would become the town of Owen Sound.

owen sound courthouse 1910
Owen Sound Courthouse 1910
Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

Places to Explore

Bruce Peninsula National Park
Cove Island Lighthouse
Fathom Five National Marine Park
MS Chi-Cheemaun
Wasaga Beach, Ontario

Ontario Towns and Cities

Neustadt, Ontario
Owen Sound, Ontario
Tobermory, Ontario

Explore by Region

R1: Southwest Ontario
R2: Niagara Canada
R3: Hamilton, Halton & Brant
R4: Huron, Perth, Waterloo & Wellington
R5: Greater Toronto Area
R6: York, Durham & the Hills of Headwaters
R7: Bruce Peninsula, Southern Georgian Bay & Lake Simcoe
R8: Kawarthas & Northumberland
R9: South Eastern Ontario
R10: Ottawa & Countryside
R11: Haliburton Highlands to the Ottawa Valley
R12: Muskoka, Parry Sound & Algonquin Park
R13a: North Eastern Ontario
R13b: Sault Ste. Marie – Algoma
R13c: Northwest Ontario