Owen Sound Ontario on Georgian Bay is a sport fishing harbour, centre for artists, such as the late, great Tom Thomson, gardeners, and home to the Billy Bishop Heritage Museum, where you can learn about the First World War fighter ace's life.
In addition to the Billy Bishop Heritage Museum, the local art gallery has a large collection of paintings and memorabilia from Tom Thomson, a forerunner of (and influence on) Canada's Group of Seven artists.
Tom, and the group who came later, captured the Canadian landscape in dramatic oils painted from nature.
As you learn in the museum, Tom and the others captured in paint a sense of the Ontario north as an untainted wilderness but, what the pictures actually show is a landscape that had been heavily forested and was in the process of re-growing.
Owen Sound is named for Admiral Owen who surveyed Georgian Bay for the Royal Navy (the photo is of the plaque commemorating his work) but it really came into its own as a centre for shipping goods from this part of Ontario during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Timber, farm produce, machinery, and people moved through the port to and from the US and Europe.
By all accounts, and even by the standards of the day, Owen Sound Ontario was a rowdy port with brothels and bars to keep the sailors happy. As always, regular people grew tired of all that nonsense and the pendulum swung the other way and the bars and brothels were closed. The city became 'dry' and stayed that way until the 1970's. With the opening of the various bridges to the US and the decline of trade with Britain and Europe, the port became a haven for recreational boaters and sport fishing boats.
Downtown Owen Sound today is a quiet country town with art galleries, antiques, coffee shops and restaurants among the professional offices. There's little to show it was once a busy port and industrial centre. Only the large, well-kept Victorian homes remind the visitor how rich this area was in the late 1800's.
Owen Sound Ontario was also the northern terminus of the Underground Railroad that brought so many slaves from the US to Canada and freedom and there's a cairn in Harrison Park to commemorate those sad events of, thankfully, long ago.
Harrison Park is named for one of Owen Sound's early entrepreneurs, John Harrison, who owned a lumber mill. He was a philanthropic employer and later, when he died, his family became a generous benefactor to the city. His park, which he'd developed for the public to use on land he owned, was donated to the city, in 1912.
The park has an excellent casual restaurant, a trailer park, bird aviary, water features, playground for small kids, sports courts for bigger ones, and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy. In winter, it hosts the Festival of Northern Lights when the area is lit from dusk to late by tens of thousands of coloured lights.
The Sound itself is actually the mouth of two rivers, the Sydenham and Pottawatomi, which is what forms the harbour, and they and their tributaries also ensure the land around the city is well-watered for farming and gardening. All those well-to-do Owen Sounders in Victorian times built their homes in the valleys behind the city and planted wonderful gardens.
Many of these gardens, along with others south of Georgian Bay and Collingwood, provide modern visitors with a Gardens Trail. One of the homes on the trail is Morland House, a nice mix of Old English country home and gardens and North American homes and gardens. The present owner, a descendent of the family, manages the house and garden alone, which is quite a task. Admittance is free, though a donation is requested.
Another 'trail' that runs through the area is the Bruce Trail, which is a hiking trail stretching from Queenston, near Niagara Falls, to Tobermory up on the Bruce Peninsula.
Every Saturday morning in summer, a Farmers' Market and Art Crawl sets up in the centre of town. I'm a fan of Farmers' Markets, not so much for the produce, mainly vegetables :-(, but specifically for the baked goods. Farmers' wives maybe the last remaining group of people to do home-baking and I'm prepared to sacrifice my waistline to keep the art from dying out.
Owen Sound Ontario is called the 'Scenic City' and it certainly is that. Set in the valley, among mature maples and other big trees, with the riverbanks neatly groomed, those old stone and brick buildings remind visitors that there is a life away from the cut-and-thrust of commerce.
And for a hotel in Ontario or anywhere else:
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