• Owen Sound

Ours to Discover: Owen Sound, Paradise on the southern shore of Georgian Bay

At the foot of the Bruce Peninsula, Owen Sound offers visitors waterfall tours, beaches, Black history and folk music

Avatar By: Wheels September 4, 2021
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About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.

As an ardent hiker, I typically describe Owen sound as sitting in a valley below the limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, where I’ve logged many kilometres on the Bruce Trail. My cousin Rosanne (a three-decade Owen Sounder) tends to boast of the city’s location on the shore of Georgian Bay, known for its ships, waterfalls and beaches.

In the morning:

Follow Hwy. 410 to Brampton and then get onto Hwy. 10 through Orangeville. You’ll pass through a series of progressively smaller towns (Shelbourne, Dundalk, Flesherton) and then switch to ON-6 N when you reach Chatsworth. The main thoroughfare in downtown Owen Sound is 10th Street. Follow it over the Giche-name-wiikwedong Bridge and turn left on 2nd Avenue. This will take you through downtown to Harrison Park, a 40-hectare gem of greenery straddling the Sydenham River. The park includes gardens, playgrounds, a bird sanctuary, plus a section of the Bruce Trail leading directly to Inglis Falls. There is also free parking.

Owen Sound

The river itself can be explored with a rental canoe or paddleboat from Putt ‘n Paddle. Down near the river you’ll find the Black History Cairn, a memorial to Owen Sound’s first Black settlers, who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad.

Then it’s onto the Owen Sound Farmers Market in the historic waterworks building next to city hall. The market is open Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. In addition to local and organic produce, you’ll find artisan crafts, pottery, knitted ware, soaps and lots of grab-and-go food stalls, which include Rajab Al Sheayer’s Syrian food booth (falafel, stuffed grape leaves, baklava), Susan’s Biscotti and the Lesperance family’s Sauble River maple syrup. Consider bringing a cooler to store these goodies in the trunk of your car.

Around noon:

You can then explore the historic landmarks and cultural venues in downtown Owen Sound. The Tom Thompson Art Gallery offers immersion in work by various Canadian nature artists, including the Group of Seven. The Billy Bishop Home & Museum is located in the 1884 Victorian house where the decorated Air Marshal grew up. It features military exhibits and veteran photographs. Afterwards, you can take a quick walk around the Marine & Rail Museum (at the former CN station) to view the 1910 caboose, which was originally built as a box car for the Grand Trunk Western Railway.

In the afternoon: For an alfresco lunch, grab a table at the Bishop’s Landing patio overlooking Georgian Bay (behind the Best Western). The salads get rave reviews as does the Chi Cheemaun Burger, named after the popular ferry that transports passengers to and from Manitoulin Island. But hold off on ordering dessert. Retrieve your car, swing by the Artists Co-op (on 2nd Avenue) to peruse ceramics, paintings, sculpture, jewelry and other works by 45 local artisans. Then you’ll want to make a quick stop on your way out of town at one of the city’s best brewers of fine coffee and sweets: The European Bakery on 16th Street. One of their Skor chocolate brownies or raspberry-coconut squares will pair well with that cup of java (provided you’ve not already scarfed down your morning biscotti purchase).

Now that you’re adequately energized and caffeinated, it’s time for your four-waterfalls tour: Inglis Falls, Jones Falls, Indian Falls and Weavers’ Creek Falls. Each is less than 10 kilometres from the downtown Visitor Information Centre on 1st Avenue West, where you can pick up a Waterfalls Tour map. For your late-afternoon return to Owen Sound centre, allow time for a restorative dip in the water at Kelso Beach Park, at the mouth of the Pottawatomi River. Just before dinner, take your Owen Sound selfie at the Georgian Bay Grain Elevator Silos down on the waterfront.

Owen Sound

In the evening:  Wrap up your day with a local brew (non-alcoholic for your designated driver) and food at Mudtown Station, Owen Sound’s newest craft brewery (1st Avenue East overlooking the water). The Bay Lake trout escabeche is fresh. Beers? Try the Turmeric Tripel but go easy—it’s 11 per cent alcohol.

Bid goodbye to Owen Sound and allow time to stop in Chatsworth, a small town about 15 minutes south at Hwy. 6. There you’ll find Kettles Back Home Cookin’, which makes tasty in-season pies. Consider a slice (or whole order) of rhubarb or apple to take home.

COVID-19 NEED TO KNOW

Owen Sound is part of Grey Bruce Public Health (publichealthgreybruce.on.ca) and is currently following provincial reopening guidelines. Some businesses, recreation services and attractions may be closed or operating at reduced capacity as COVID-19 guidelines continue to evolve. Masking and social distancing rules are essential. Contact individual businesses for details.

FOR THE DRIVE:

Listen to the 159th Owen Sound Emancipation Festival recording (reflections, storytelling and music) for a one-hour primer on local Black history. Owen Sound was the northernmost terminus of the Underground Railroad and hosts the longest running (uninterrupted) emancipation picnic in North America. For a taste of local and regional music, listen to the Georgian Bay Roots Podcast, presented by the Owen Sound-based Georgian Bay Folk Society.

COVID-19 need to know

Restaurants, stores and attractions are now open in the Owen Sound area, albeit with reduced capacities in many cases. For specific information, visit the websites for each place you plan to visit.

 

TIMELINE: Drive guide

  • 7:30 a.m.Leave Toronto

Drive north on Hwy. 410

Turn onto Hwy. 10

  • 10:15 a.m.Arrive at Harrison Park
  • 11 a.m.Farmers Market
  • 11:45 a.m. Tom Thompson Art Gallery
  • 12:15 p.m.Billy Bishop Museum
  • 12:45m. Marine & Rail Museum (brief outside walkabout)
  • 1 p.m.Lunch at Bishop’s Landing patio
  • 2 p.m.Artists Co-op
  • 2:30 p.m.Grab coffee and sweets at European Bakery
  • 2:45 p.m.Waterfalls road trip
  • 5 p.m.Swim at Kelso Park Beach or hike the Pallisades Side Trail section of the Bruce Trail at the south end of 7th Avenue
  • 6:15 p.m. Photo Op at iconic Georgian Bay Grain Elevator Silos on waterfront
  • 6:45 p.m.: Dinner at Mudtown Station
  • 8m.: Stop in Chatsworth for a pie stop on the way home.
  • 8:30 p.m. Continue drive back to GTA

 

NOTE: Times are suggestions only

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