Author Archives: Janet Iles

The Lighting of the SS Manitoba

The Marine Memorial of the Upper Lakes Committee lit up the SS Manitoba display at dusk on June 29, 2017, on the east harbour of Owen Sound. Over 3,000 lights now adorn the replica of the first steel hulled steam ship built on the Great Lakes. Everyone was thankful that the weather cooperated and it was a beautiful evening.

The Polson Shipyard built the Manitoba in Owen Sound. Because they did not have a shipyard big enough to build the 320 foot long and 38 feet wide ship, the Company had to build a new shipyard. The Town of Owen Sound provided a free building site, no taxes for 10 years and a dredged launch basin. Polson employed 300 men, many of whom were master shipbuilders from Scotland, to build the Manitoba. The ship was launched in 1889 but it was two years later when it went into service as there had been an economic downturn. The ship retired in 1949.

Prior to to the lighting, people gathered at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre on the west harbour. The Owen Sound City Band played prior to the short program held on the Station decking. Refreshments were enjoyed and people had a chance to visit the “Made in Owen Sound” exhibit and to visit with other attendees. 

City Councillor, Peter Lemon, was the Master of Ceremony, for the program. He shared some of the history of the SS Manitoba. CWHC curator, Wendy Tomlinson, also shared information and welcomed everyone. City Councillor and chair of the Canada 150 and Owen Sound 160 Committee, spoke to the attendees. Many special events are planned in the City between now and July 9th. There were also representatives from the City of Owen Sound and the Township of Georgian Bluffs in attendance.  

Before everyone went to the harbour walkway, the City Band played O Canada. The Trustees of the estate of Tom Williams, who was the impetus for getting the harbour cleaned up started and sustained on its east side, rang the bell located on the decking in front of the former CN Rail station. This signaled that the lights should be turned on.

J Harrison & Sons Apron from collection

Made in Owen Sound — John Harrison & Sons

Three brothers, John, Robert and William Harrison, established mills in Owen Sound. Robert had a grist (flour) mill; William ran a carding (woollen) mill and John had a saw mill.

John’s first saw mill was located along the Sydenham River near the other two mills but after it was flooded out, he relocated it to a location on the Pottawatomi River. John Harrison died in 7 February 1902 but the business continued under the name John Harrison and Sons. An advertisement in Owen Sound on the Georgian Bay Canada (1911) said the company manufactured: pine, hardwood and hemlock timbers, lumber, sash doors, flooring, siding, etc.” This booklet also includes ten photographs of the different stages of the lumber industry.

In an article in the Daily Sun Times of 8 January 1938, E. J. Harrison, President of the company was interviewed. John Harrison and Sons was a year round business. The company had a winter camp at Fitzwilliam Island.

Business had improved in 1937. A housing shortage resulted in the need for lumber due to the renovation of many of the big houses being renovated and made into apartments. The company also provided lumber for the building of Strathcona School, new private residences and the docks on the west side of the harbour near the elevator.

The Company had a tug, the Harrison and a barge for towing and transporting raw material down from the north shore of Lake Huron.

Although this thriving business no longer exists, the family name lives on in the community.

Made in Owen Sound is the featured exhibit Summer 2017 at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre. Be sure to visit.

Be sure to visit the 2017 featured exhibit to learn about other Owen Sound industries that played an important part in the life of the people of Owen Sound and area.


Made in Owen Sound – 2017 Featured Exhibit

 The special exhibit “Made In Owen Sound” will be in the galleries of the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre from May 20th to October 8th from 10 to 4 daily. 

Made in Owen Sound poster

The Beginnings of Industry

Early industries in the village of Sydenham tended to reflect settlers’ needs. The first industry may have been shipping, with the arrival of W.C. Boyd in 1841 aboard his schooner Fly. After setting up a store at 8th Street and 3rd Avenue East, he immediately began importing flour, sugar, butter and other staples.

By the mid 1840s, lumber and furs were the primary exports from the region, but it wasn’t long before tanneries, brickyards and mills began popping up in and around the bustling village. In 1858, George Corbet started the Grey Foundry. That same year, a Scottish immigrant, William Kennedy – who came to Owen Sound to install machinery at the Harrison Mill – liked what he saw and opened a planing mill, sash and wood door factory. By 1864, he had discontinued woodworking altogether, focusing instead on steel at the Sydenham Foundry (which later became Kennedy and Sons).

An 1866 guide to local industry listed 20 businesses:

Harrison’s Flour Mill
Harrison’s Saw Mill
Harrison’s Carding and Fulling Mill
Chatwin’s Cabinet Factory
Riddell and Secord Brewery
Rossiter’s Fanning Mill
Quinn’s Tannery
Lenfesty’s Pearlash Factory
Boyd’s Wharf
Owen Sound Iron Works
Frost’s Tannery
Sloane’s Melodeon Factory
Crawford’s Tannery
Frost Potash Works
Grey Foundry
Sydenham Foundry
Spencer’s Cabinet Factory
Malone’s Brewery
Dowsley Carriage Works
Miller’s Carriage Factory

 Arrival of Train Service

The arrival of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway in 1873 did much to increase the scope of local industries: for the first time the lucrative markets to the south were accessible. Ten years later, the CPR took possession of the rail line and determined Owen Sound would be the terminus for its Great Lakes fleet. That’s when things really took off and products manufactured in Owen Sound began shipping world wide.

The above text is from panel two.

Check out the artefacts highlighting industry in Owen Sound. 


Annual General Meeting – 2017

poster AGM 2017

Everyone is welcome to attend the Annual General Meeting and Evening of Heritage at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 26 in the Owen Sound Legion Auditorium 

Our guest speaker, is Scott Cameron, speaking on the Misfortunes of the City of Owen Sound.

Current members will be able to vote on matters coming before the meeting.  Membership forms and information can be found here.

There will be a social time.

We hope to see everyone there. Support Heritage on the Waterfront at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre where we preserve and share the marine, rail and industrial history of Owen Sound.