Grey-Bruce, located in the northwestern region of southern Ontario, consists of the twin counties of Grey and Bruce and is crowned by a natural wonder, the Bruce Peninsula. Both counties were settled by whites in the early 19th century; magnificent, sprawling hardwood forests attracted pioneers who harvested the timber. Of all the regions in southern Ontario, the Bruce Peninsula and nearby area probably offer the best combination of unpeopled lacustrine wilderness and charming resort towns.
The drive from Toronto crosses through idyllic country drives with an abundance of trees, the occasional river, large statuesque barns, fresh ponds, church graveyards. Hay and pasture are the main crops, and they provide nourishment for the cows, sheep, and goats which do not show the slightest bit of interest in the human beings passing by in their automobiles. The small towns scattered throughout inland Grey-Bruce are consistently hospitable, complete with the standard Ontario fair: flea and farmers markets, music and art festivals and antique shops. Owen Sound, three hours from Toronto on Georgian Bay is the major center. It has several museums well worth visiting, such as the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery featuring numerous works by the Canadian landscape painter, and the County of Grey-Owen Sound Museum, which covers many aspects of local history, culture and architecture.
There are a number of sights worth stopping for, however, if you’re approaching the peninsula traveling west through Grey County along the Nottawasaga Bay on Hwy 26. Craigleith Provincial Park lies on the bay between Collingwood and Thornbury. The park provides camping facilities, nature programs, an intriguing fossil shale shoreline, hiking on the Bruce trail and, most notably, superb fishing. In the spring and fall rainbow and brown trout and splake are in abundance. The town of Thornbury, situated in the Beaver Valley, is 6 mi (10km) west of the park. This charming apple-growing center, with its highly rated bed and breakfast homes and fine dining, is a good place to settle down for a day or two. A fish lock sits in Thornbury’s harbor. Here, rainbow trout are tagged and measured before they travel inland up the Beaver River to spawn. Fish aren’t the only creatures, however, who travel the river valley. Kimberly, a little way to south an Route 13 is the departure point for scenic, four-hour canoe trips northward to Heathcote, through a landscape well stocked in birds and wildlife. Route 13, renowned for its autumn colors, offers one of the most picturesque drives in Ontario. The Falls, at the village of Eugenic, is a good place to turn around at and travel back to the coast.
If approaching the peninsula from southwestern Ontario it is advisable to make your way up along the Bruce County side roads which hug the Lake Huron shoreline. The water along this coast is warm, shallow and clean, making the long sandy beaches ideal for families and water sports.
The area is also famous for its beautiful red sunsets. Alone the spectacle of this enormous lake – and nothing else – before you make a visit to this coastline a must. From south to north on the shore, Kincardine, Port Elgin, and Southampton, are all lovely resort towns worth stopping or staying in. Kincardine has a Scottish heritage, and on Saturday evenings, July through August, a pipe band marches through the downtown. And if the mighty bags aren’t enough to move the stolid heart, the town boasts, in and around its impressive 19th-century buildings, a number of romantic settings: rock gardens, dance halls, lighted boardwalks, and parks with enchanting views of the harbor. Port Elgin is blessed to have the 1204 hectare beach side MacGregor Point Provincial Park just south of it to compensate for its nuclear power plant (which can also be visited). Excellent walking and biking trails allow the visitor to take in the beaver, waterfowl, and over 200 species of bird which populate the park. Private campsites, with varying degrees of modern amenities, are also available . Southampton offers one of the most peaceful resort beaches in Ontario automobiles are prohibited – and, in the nearby Saugeen River, some of the province’s best fishing and canoeing.
Just east of the town, along Route 21, is the Saugeen Indian Reserve. In 1854, the British signed a treaty with the Saugeen and Newash Indians forcing them to surrender what is now the Bruce Peninsula and nearby area. The treaty gave the Saugeen six tracts of land, four of which remain in their control. From the road the reserve itself looks very much like any other township in the area. Turn off this road at the appropriate sign, though, and you will see a peculiar anachronism: an amphitheater, built in ancient Hellenistic style in 1979 above a Saugeen burial ground. It stands behind an active United Church with a predominantly Indian congregation, and overlooks the magnificent Saugeen River valley.