For most of us, the city of Owen Sound is a drive-through on our way north to the Bruce Peninsula and beyond. If we’ve forgotten something, it’s here that we stop to pick up replacements, last minute conveniences and per-haps some food-to-go. But this historic port city on the south shore of Georgian Bay offers more than just a jumping off point.
Wrapped in a fold of the Niagara Escarpment with the Sydenham River running through it, Owen Sound is a well-established community with magnificent old homes, fascinating museums, expansive parklands, stunning waterfalls, a waterfront trail, fish ladder, and more.
Start downtown where the Sydenham River flows into the bay, then follow the river upstream about five kilometres to Inglis Falls Conservation Area. Through the heart of the valley, the river is the community’s lifeline and link to cultural and recreational highlights.
For a free city map, stop at the Visitor Information Centre at the river’s mouth. A fully accessible three-kilometre path hugs the inner harbour and connecting trails extend onwards for long distances at either end.
The Tom Thomson Art Gallery, just four blocks upstream, features one of the largest collections of artwork and memorabilia by the famous Canadian painter.
“Although he wasn’t born in Owen Sound, Tom Thomson grew up here. So a lot of the works and personal items that we have in the gallery were donated by his friends and family,” explained Paulette Peirol, the city’s tourism marketing coordinator.
“The gallery offers a feeling for the man he was, not just the art he produced. We have Tom’s shaving brush and mandolin, his very early works—when he was a graphic designer—and small canvases that he painted in his canoe.”
On the opposite riverbank, not to be missed on a Saturday morning, is one of Ontario’s oldest farmers’ markets. Bring a cooler to fill with bison meat or fresh Georgian Bay whitefish along with dessert from the Williamsford Pie Company.
South from here, the residential roads on the river’s west side are locally known as “Millionaires’ Drive.” Gorgeous century-old homes on large riverside properties line the way, some made with limestone rock quarried locally.
In a short distance you’ll reach the Mill Dam and Fish Ladder, used by rainbow and brown trout in April and May, and by Chinook salmon in late fall when the evenings get nippy. When the fish are migrating upstream to spawn, you can see them rocketing up out of the torrent of water, some making their way, step-by-step up the four-metre-high dam.
“It’s a spectacle of strength and determination,” said Peirol. “You feel for the fish and want to cheer them on. You can also see them laying eggs and flipping their tails in the shallows.”
There are more stunning homes to ogle along 2nd Avenue East en route to Harrison Park, the city’s largest and most beloved green space. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and straddling the river, the 40-hectare park is where locals go to swim, feed the ducks, play a round of mini putt or rent a canoe. It’s also a place for visitors to access the Bruce Trail as it weaves through the park at the south end, then climbs up the Niagara Escarpment to Inglis Falls Conservation Area, featuring an 18-metre-high—and very loud—waterfall. You can hear its roar from far away.
Fabulous photo opportunities can be had from a viewing platform that over-looks the city and Georgian Bay. When a rainbow forms from the mist of the falls, there’s a chorus of “oohs” and “ahs.” More trails beckon—the Fern Trail, the intriguing Glacial Pothole Trail and others. It all makes you want to get out and explore more of Owen Sound’s natural world with your map and sturdy walking boots.
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