History of Owen Sound
Newash Village, Sydenham, Owen Sound. Believe it or not, these three names all refer to the same place. What is known today as Owen Sound is the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. A variety of peoples have called this land home, from the Ojibway, to the Métis, English, Scottish, and Black settlers. During its history as the city of Owen Sound, it infamously gained notoriety as a bustling boozy port town. Thanks to the raucous goings on, it earned a few other nicknames along the way such as, the “Chicago of the North”, “Corkscrew City”, and “Little Liverpool”. You can be sure that there have been no shortage of interesting things to do in Owen Sound in the past and the same is true today!
The last time I was in Owen Sound I was a little girl visiting a close former neighbour in their new old folks home. We played dominoes and that’s about all I remember of my time there. Recently I made the trip north for curiosity’s sake. I was looking forward to seeing Owen Sound as an adult and discovering what is more or less a “new” place to me. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the city, other than the fact that the lake tosses around some stormy weather days. I don’t remember any specific reason why, but I also had this idea that Owen Sound didn’t have much happening. While it was fairly quiet thanks to the pandemic, there were several moments throughout my trip that really surprised me and make me want to return!
In the short recent visit, I came across beautiful scenic spots (including waterfalls!), stumbled upon some pretty rad street art, and savoured some very tasty food, all while enjoying the sounds and breeze of the lake nearby. I hope you’ll enjoy these suggestions of fun things to do in Owen Sound when you visit, and would love to hear any of your suggestions in the comments below!
**For the most up-to-date information on amenities, hours, and other logistics you might need to know on your travels, please visit the various websites.
Table of Contents
Owen Sound is 1.5 hours south of Tobermory and nestled on Lake Huron’s beautiful Georgian Bay. There are several conservation areas, beautiful hikes (including the well-known Bruce Trail), and waterfalls. Technically speaking, the falls lay outside the city limits, however they’re so close that they’re being included in this guide.
If you need to contact the Grey Sauble Conservation authority, call 519-376-3076 or find them on Instagram at @grey_sauble_conservation.
1) Inglis Falls
ADDRESS: 237785 Inglis Falls Road, Owen Sound, ON N4K 5N6
Unofficially known to waterfall chasers as the “best waterfall” in the Owen Sound area, Inglis Falls is definitely one to put on your list. It’s 18-metres high and connects to the Niagara Escarpment through the Sydenham River while overlooking Owen Sound and its harbour. Only 10 minutes from downtown, it’s wild to think nature this rugged and beautiful is so close to a city centre. Early settlers referred to the roar of the rushing waters as the “northern Niagara”. You’ll have to visit and hear it for yourself!
To get to Inglis Falls, follow Highway 18 until you arrive at Inglis Falls Road, then turn right onto Falls Road. It’s a part of the massive 200-hectare Inglis Falls Conservation Area that’s open from sunrise to sunset and is well worth a visit. Once you’ve paid the $10 entrance fee, either by app, phone, or with the on-site attendant, you’re free to roam the grounds with your family and dogs. It’s a short and easy walk from the parking lot to the long stone walled viewing area above the waterfall. There are washrooms and a visitor centre, but be sure to check the website during covid times to make sure things are open. Shaded picnic areas are available for rest and a spot to enjoy your food along with a beautiful view of the river.
On a clear day you’ll be able to see Owen Sound and the harbour below. Even if you don’t catch the city view, there’s plenty of nature to wow you! At the base of the falls there’s a deep gorge carved out by the crashing water. During drier months you might be able to catch a glimpse of it, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
More than just a spot to view waterfalls, Inglis Falls Conservation Area has over 7km of beautiful hiking and walking trails offering various levels of difficulty. It’s a great birdwatching location, and even has something for history buffs! One of the area’s first settlers was Peter Inglis from Scotland. He helped establish Sydenham’s (today Owen Sound) beginning industries. Inglis purchased 300 acres of Crown land and a small grist mill and the rest is history! In fact, the visitor centre is housed in the old grist mill and there are even a few of the original mill stones out front. Geologists, feel free to get nerdy as you spot the potholes left behind by ancient glaciers. Cool, eh!
2) Jones Falls
ADDRESS: 717875 ON-6, Owen Sound, ON N4K 5N7
Along the Pottawatomi River, the 12-metre Jones Falls waterfall leads to Owen Sound Bay. Head to the Pottawatomi Conservation area, a 116-hectares section of the Niagara Escarpment, to soak in this Grey County gem.
There’s a 4km walking and hiking loop trail along the Georgian Bluffs that is appropriate for all skill levels. It’s a great spot for families and you can bring your dog as long as it’s on a leash. Definitely bring bug spray, like you would for any hiking adventure, and wear proper footwear. Spring visitors will get to see all sorts of Ontario’s provincial flower, the trillium, in bloom. There is a visitor centre, however check the website to see if it’s open during covid. Admission is free.
3) Indian Falls
ADDRESS: 318614 Grey Road 1, Owen Sound, ON N4K 5N4
The horseshoe-shaped Indian Falls is a 15-metre high “bridal veil” waterfall that’s perfect to visit for a fun outing with family or friends, a romantic hike with your sweetheart, or as a rocking solo adventure. Though it’s much smaller, Indian Falls has also often been compared to Niagara Falls due to its shape. This is a trail you’ll want to make sure you’ve got proper footwear for even though it’s only a quick 0.8km hike. The path is rocky, steep, and there is no barrier at the cliff edge. Understandably, it has a “difficult” rating. There are some stairs along the way, but not everywhere. The trail begins under the sun and along the Indian River before heading up into the hilly forest. Follow the red tree markings to stay on the trail and don’t forget to breathe in that beautiful fresh air!
In the late summer and early fall the water flow of the falls tends to be lower, but that means it’s an opportune time to catch a glimpse of the unique shape left behind by the eroded Queenston shale. Birders should keep their eyes and ears open for downy woodpeckers which are known to reside in the area. Parking is free and there are washrooms at the entrance to the trail. Due to covid, amenities may not be available so keep that in mind.
4) Waterfront Trail
Owen Sound’s Harbour and Waterfront Trail are beautifully laid out, with paved tree-lined walkways tracing the water line. The city is located at the centre of Grey County’s other waterfront cities, which make it an excellent rendez-vous point for a bite to eat whether you’re biking or hiking the trails that connect there. Depending on how much time you have and how far you’re wanting to travel, there’s the larger Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and the smaller local Tom Thomson Trail.
5) Kelso Beach Park
Perfect for picnic lunches, outdoor workouts, festivals, or a day with the family in the park, Kelso Beach is located at the mouth of the Pottawatami River on Georgian Bay. Originally it was Anishinaabe territory, which went from Collingwood to Goderich. Then the area was used for shipping until the City of Owen Sound transformed the land in 1982 to be a community park.
It’s easy to get to by car, bike, public transit, or foot. If you’re powering your way there, check out the paved Harbourfront Walkway, which starts downtown, to guide your path. If you’re driving, take the Eddie Sargent Parkway.
Kelso Beach Park is full of amenities and open space for the public to use, including a splash pad, soccer field, baseball diamond, Gitche Namewikwe’dong Reconciliation Garden, concert amphitheatre, boat launch at the Georgian Shores Marina, sheltered picnic areas, a sand beach, and accessible trails.
6) Kelso Beach Campground
Located across the street from Kelso Beach Park, the campground is a great spot for tents, small RVs, and small trailers. There are 65 sites in total, with 18 serviced (with electrical outlets) and 47 unserviced. A newly renovated washroom and shower facility is onsite and also wheelchair-friendly. In non-pandemic times, the campground and park are often used for annual community festivals and celebrations like Canada Day, music festivals, or the fishing derby.
In order to book and check-in, head to Harrison Park Family Campground, which is a short 4km distance south of Kelso Beach Campground. At the time of writing, prices are between $30 to $50 per night + HST.
7) Street Art
I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see all of the amazing art in Owen Sound that I stumbled upon. There was no particular reason other than maybe that I wasn’t looking for it. I’ve been on a bit of a street art kick this past year, exploring St. Thomas, Uptown Waterloo’s Hughes Lane Art Walk, Downtown Kitchener’s Art Walk, and St. Jacobs’ indoor and outdoor murals. It has been one of those unplanned explorations I can’t resist that keeps on popping up. In the short time I was in town, I found a few pockets of Owen Sound’s downtown art scene, though I’m betting there’s more to go back and discover.
The Alley Project
The first surprise was The Alley Project found in the alleyway on Main and 3rd between The Milk Maid and The Bleeding Carrot in downtown Owen Sound. The initiative began with The Bleeding Carrot owner, Tamara Sargent, about 10 years before paint hit the walls. In 2013 the painters released their creativity and new life was brought to the once dark alley. The murals walls are privately owned which made the process a bit easier. There was such a vibrant energy beckoning me from the alley that even from the corner of my eye it pulled me into its bright and cheery space. Check out my post on Owen Sound’s public art scene for a more in-depth history of each installation!
Street Art in the Downtown Core
Walking around the downtown was pretty eerie when I visited, due to the lack of people and cars. Despite the absence of life and movement, there were bursts of colour and texture, and surprises on every street. From metal horses to dazzling fish and cozy trees, I found myself constantly saying “oh wow!” with each step. Much of the public art also had accompanying signs to help passersby learn more about its artists and their vision.
8) Foto Art Camera Museum
I didn’t get to check out the inside of the Foto Art Camera Museum in person this time, but it’s on my list to return to which is why I’m including it here for you too. Plus, it’s next door to the new Sundays Ice Cream Parlour which is a win-win. Photography and ice cream – what could be a better pairing on a to do list?
According to their Facebook page, the museum has a growing collection of roughly 1,000 antique cameras. Their website isn’t up and running but that makes me even more intrigued to see it in person.
Food and Drink
9) Sundays Ice Cream Parlour
ADDRESS: 842 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound, ON N4K 2H3
Sundays Ice Cream Parlour is the hottest new place in Owen Sound to cool down with a scoop of delicious Kawartha Dairy ice cream or Pom Pom Vegan Ice Cream. Owners Tim Dwyer and Vitana (Vita) Ovcharenko knew an ice cream shop would work because everyone loves a tasty scoop!
Next door neighbour to the Foto Art Camera Museum, the ice cream shop is right downtown. In addition to the 32 flavours on the menu, they’ve got gourmet ice cream sandwiches and shakes, and their fresh chocolate chip cookies are a community collaboration with Sugar Dust Baking. Whether you prefer waffle cones, sugar cones, or a good ol’ cup, you’re guaranteed to be happy with the selection. I ordered Moose Tracks and it was deeee-lish!
With free yard games to borrow for up to 90 minutes, it’s the perfect date night spot or place to take the family. Sundays is wheelchair accessible and the menu has a range of options for the vegan and nut-free crowd. If you prefer to stroll and enjoy your scoop, walk over to the nearby waterfront. There’s plenty of room on the boardwalk for groups, as well as several benches facing the water to relax on if you like your treats with a view.
10) Casero Kitchen Table
ADDRESS: 946 3rd Avenue East Building A, Owen Sound, ON N4K 2K9
The younger sibling to Sauble Beach’s 1949 double-decker Casero Taco Bus (2013), Casero Kitchen Table in Owen Sound is a great spot to grab a drink and some refreshing food. Like many fun things to do in Owen Sound on this list, I stumbled upon Casero completely by accident while exploring the Alley Project. “Casero” means homemade and is every bit as tasty as you would imagine homemade Mexican food to be. At the time, indoor dining wasn’t available but their patio was spacious and the wait staff were friendly. I ordered a burrito bowl and some tacos to go and enjoyed them on the water.
They have extensive food and drink menus, with vegan and gluten free options available too. A really unique feature is their Brisket Program. Customers can buy cooked and chilled Ontario beef brisket that the chefs at Casero smoke in house. They even have a mailing list just for brisket lovers! In addition to takeout, brisket, food products, a small bottle shop, and clothing, Casero is also a part of a South Georgian Bay cookbook that’s available for sale online or in-person.
11) The Milk Maid
ADDRESS: 947 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound, ON N4K 2H5
Last, but not least on this list of things to do in Owen Sound is the Milk Maid, where you’ll find the best charcuterie spreads in Owen Sound. There are between 50-70 domestic and international cheeses and the staff can help you choose which ones you’d like to take home with tastings! That’s my kind of store. Among the carefully curated items are cured meat, crackers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, preserves, snacks, and more.
Have you been to Owen Sound?
What other attractions or fun and tasty things to do in Owen Sound have you come across in your travels? Leave them in the comments below!