A river with a bridge in the distance Photo courtesy of Melissa Crannie

Owen Sound, Path to Freedom

Owen Sound has been called “The Scenic City” with good reason. At the mouths of the Pottawatomi and Sydenham Rivers, it’s beautifully situated. It’s also home to fascinating history as the northernmost “station” on the Underground Railroad — the path to escaping slavery once the British Empire abolished it in 1834. Make sure to take time to explore the city’s fine museums, eat equally fine food, and check out the Sound’s great music scene. It’s a small city, but it has a big personality.

2 people biking on a trail, a river in the background Touring the West Side. Photo by Colin Field.
West Side Tour
From Salvation Corners to Damnation Corners

Owen Sound is eminently walkable. Start with a coffee on the East Side, now known as the River District, (Frogs Pond and Birgit’s Bakery Café among other spots), strolling through famously named intersections: Salvation Corners (many churches) and Damnation Corners (infamous taverns of yesteryear). Head west to delve into history and architecture. The West Side Tour has over a dozen stops including the Kennedy Foundry, a machine shop that built WWll ship propellors and was one of a number of Owen Sound businesses to employ Black workers. Molock House was the home of Francis Ebenezer Molock, who escaped from slavery with help from famous Underground Railroad “conductor,” Harriet Tubman. An early congregation of what’s now known as the British Methodist Episcopal Church held Owen Sound’s first Emancipation Picnic, a tradition that continues to this day. On the architecture tip: look out for Wilkinson House, restored to its Arts and Craft beauty, as well as notable examples of homes in the Queen Anne Revival style.

A person holding a guitar singing into a microphone Photo courtesy of Grey Roots Museum & Archives.
A Munificence of Museums
Roots and Wings

There’s no denying that Owen Sound, built along the Niagara Escarpment within the Bruce Peninsula, has unique natural beauty, including four gorgeous waterfalls in the area. But there are also wonders created by human hands, evidenced in some excellent museums and galleries focused on telling regional stories. There’s the story of Canada’s most famous flying ace, told at the Billy Bishop Home & Museum. There’s the story of Grey County’s diverse roots: Grey Roots Museum & Archives commemorates the struggles and victories of the area’s Black community. Then there’s the story of Tom Thomson. The Tom Thomson Art Gallery honours the iconic artist (who grew up north of Owen Sound), as well as hosting a collection of contemporary artists who engage in landscape, as Thomson himself so famously did. And you’ll find local art throughout the city – look out for more than 20 public artworks produced by the Gallery or independent artists and collaborators.

A tile on the ground with a design reading "We are free at last" Black History Cairn. Photo by Melissa Crannie
Harrison Park
Walk the Freedom Trail

Harrison Park’s Freedom Trail is both figuratively and literally a moving way to explore some of the story of Black settlers in Grey County. It’s a ten-kilometre self-guided trail connected to former slaves who lived and worked in the area. Visit the Black History Cairn, designed by Bonita Johnson de Matteis, a local artist who herself is a descendant of escaped slaves. The cairn traces some of the routes people were forced to take into slavery, and pursued to take out of it. Details include windows modelled on the Little Zion Church (the first Black church in Owen Sound). In August, visitors won’t want to miss the annual Emancipation festival and picnic, held every summer since 1862 to mark the anniversary of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1834. That act abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing enslaved Africans in a number of countries, including Canada. It’s a special event — among other things it’s thought to be the longest-running Emancipation festival in North America. Harrison Park itself has been called the “jewel in the crown” of Owen Sound with 40 hectares of streams, forest, gardens and playgrounds. Visitors may wish to stroll alongside or paddle the river, perhaps stopping by Harrison Park Inn restaurant, a favourite local landmark. Nearby, visit the Potter’s Field Monument and Interpretive Plaque in Greenwood Cemetery. The community came together to create the monument as a tribute to the memory of those interred in the Field, among them members of Owen Sound’s black community who sought freedom on the Underground Railroad. These individuals often lacked the resources or family support for appropriate burial arrangements.

A tall brick building Harmony Centre. Photo credit Ed Matthews
Sounds in the Sound

Owen Sound is known for its lively music scene, from classical (as the home of the Georgian Bay Symphony Orchestra), to folk, blues, jazz and rock. Open mic nights and songwriters’ circles are a regular feature around town, so check out spots like Heartwood Hall, Harmony Centre, The Pub and Jazzmyn’s — the last two also popular spots to dine.

Of course, if you want to consider a full range of Owen Sound dining options have a look at the city’s “Savour Owen Sound” venues. They’re worth a visit at any time of year, though the annual, award-winning month-long Savour event may up the culinary stakes. Or visit Naagan, an Indigenous dining experience by chef Zach Keeshig, operating out of the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market. Either way, Owen Sound aims to satisfy your inner foodie with hyper-local deliciousness.

water flowing in a river with snow and trees all around Weavers Creek. Photo courtesy of Grey County.
Fall for Owen Sounds’ Waterfalls

When it comes to waterfalls Ontario is rightfully renowned for majestic Niagara, but Owen Sound also claims waterfall glory, thanks to the rocky Niagara Escarpment. Inglis Falls is perhaps most spectacular of the four falls in the area, particularly in winter when intricate ice formations charm snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Pretty little Weavers Creek Falls is accessible from the south end of Harrison Park — adventurers might even hike or snowshoe from there to Inglis Falls, just two and a half kilometres on the Bruce Trail. Jones Falls, west of town on the Pottawatomi, may lure you in springtime for the exquisite Trilliums and Columbines, plus an impressive spring runoff. Last and certainly not least, the horseshoe-shaped Indian Falls: a one-kilometre walk up the escarpment (stairs ease your way) through hardwood forest, giving it definite autumnal appeal.

Your trip at a glance

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please CONTACT US.

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.