Owen Sound Historic Walking Tour
Owen Sound is one of Ontario’s charming cities. The Syndenham River divides the city’s downtown into east and west, making for a picturesque core. Located in Grey County, at the base of the Bruce Peninsula, Owen Sound is surrounded by natural beauty, including waterfalls. But it also has a rich history that includes the likes of some of Canada’s famous residents like Billy Bishop and Tom Thomson. In 1815 while surveying Lake Huron Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen named the area ‘Owen’s Sound’ for his brother. Many of the city’s historic buildings from the mid-19th century remain. If you enjoy the history behind a city and beautiful buildings than you’ll love the Owen Sound Historic Walking Tour.
You can pick up a pamphlet for the Owen Sound Historic Walking Tour at any main tourist office. The pamphlet offers four unique and free self-guided walking tours with maps, photos and an architectural guide. The East Side Tour, Downtown Tour and West Side Tour can easily be complete within a few hours. The Mill Dam Tour is the shortest of the four tours and may require a short drive to two of the points of interest, but can be walked.
Interesting note: Owen Sound’s streets were originally named, but in 1909 the city’s Mayor, F.W. Harrison, changed the names to numbers. This was inspired by his time spent in New York City.
Highlights of the Owen Sound Historic Walking Tour
East Side Tour
St. George Anglican Church
Built in 1881 this church was fashioned after Bristol, England’s striking St. Mary Redcliffe Church. It’s also one of four churches at the intersection of 10th Street and 4th Avenue East. All four churches still stand and the intersection has been named ‘Salvation Corners.’
Beth Ezekiel Synagoge
This simple building was originally the Calvary Church, from 1903 to 1946. In 1946 it became a synagogue. Be sure to check out the beautiful stain glass windows before you pass it by.
In 1899 the MacLean Estate was built for Dr. A. Hershery and his family, along with his medical practice. The estate is now used as a bed and breakfast, with rooms named after the doctors that practiced there.
The Butchart Estate is a beautiful Queen Anne Revival style house. It was built in 1891 for David and Martha Butchart, who were a part of the cement industry development in Canada.
Grey County Jail
Built in 1853, the old Grey County Jail is now abandoned. You can still see remnants of its past as bars still cover the windows. The tour even tells of three hangings that took place here. One was Cook Teets’, a blind 55-year-old man who was convicted of poisoning his wife. Sadly, the wife’s mother later confessed to the crime.
Old Grey County Court House
This grand Canada West Classical Revival building was built in 1853 of limestone. It looks to not be in use, sadly. But I’m unsure if it’s because it’s abandoned or if they are doing reconstruction.
Built in 1868 as a private waterworks, the city took it over in 1890. It became a farmers market in 1935 and continues to run the market every Saturday.
At the intersection of 10th Street and 3rd Avenue East there once stood four hotels, one on each corner. In turn, it was dubbed Damnation Corners.
West Side Tour
F.W. Harrison House
This Beaux Arts style house was the home of F.W. Harrison who was the oldest son of John Harrison, and his wife. F.W. Harrison became the mayor of Owen Sound in 1909. He was the man behind Harrison Park and responsible for changing the city’s streets names into the number system it is today.
This unassuming house is named for Francis Ebenezer Molock, who in 1856 escaped from slavery in Maryland with the help of the Underground Railroad. He found his way to Owen Sound and in the 1870’s built this house for his family. It is now a designated Black History Site.
Billy Bishop House & Museum
This lovely Queen Anne Revival style house was built in 1884. It was the childhood home of William Avery Bishop, known as Billy Bishop. Billy Bishop was a Canadian flying ace and Victorian Cross recipient in World War I. It’s been a museum since 1987, honouring Billy.
Former U.S. Consulate
Built in 1890 in the Italian Villa style, this grand building was once the home to the U.S. Consulate.
If you only have time for one tour I highly recommend the West Side Tour. It has a wealth of beautiful buildings and rich in diverse historic sites.
Mill Dam Tour
Note: While I did not have the opportunity to take the Mill Dam Tour I did have the chance to briefly enjoy Harrison Park.
Owen Sound’s Harrison Park is a lovely park right in the heart of the city. This large park is great for families looking to stay or simply enjoy a fun-filled day out. Harrison Park has trails, streams, playgrounds and even a waterfall! But it’s also steeped in history. It was Owen Sound’s past mayor, F.W. Harrison, who was responsible for the park’s creation in 1912. The park is also where the city hosts its annual Emancipation Festival Picnic, that has been taking place since 1862. There’s even a Black History Cairn honouring the city’s first black settlers who had escaped slavery and taken the Underground Railroad to its northern end, in Owen Sound.
Have you ever been on a historic walking tour of a city?
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