The harbour in Meaford has always been an important part of the town from the time the first settlers arrived in the early 1830’s, at what was then known as Peggy’s Landing. Mills and industries were erected along the shore and, because the water was the only means of transport to other settlements, the harbor was soon developed. By the turn of the century, a variety of boats were in the harbour and there was a large grain elevator, railway station, a wooden breakwater and a lighthouse.Development slowed down after 1913 when the grain elevator burned down. By this time the railway was providing another means of transportation.Most of the industries are gone now except for Richardson’s Boat Works.The harbour has become a place for recalling the past, recreational boating, walking, picnic lunches, fishing, children’s play areas and town activities. Let’s take a stroll around the harbour and discover why it is such a popular spot. We will start at Fred Raper Park on the corner of Sykes and Bayfield Street. This is the oldest portion as there are still reminders of the past industry and the people that helped to develop the town. This park was named in 1911 after one of the well known town residents. It was later taken over by the Meaford Lions Club who has tried to restore it to its beautiful state of past years. There is a beautiful view of Cape Rich and the Niagara Escarpment, as well as playground equipment, a shallow beach, change rooms, washrooms, and picnic tables. Recent additions include: a gazebo, a sailing ship climber for the kids, and a pathway of interlocking stones across the parking lot connecting it to the rest of the harbor.
You can leave the car in the parking lot or drive down Bayfield St. and park to get out and admire the things that interest you most. Just on the other side of the parking lot is a beautiful little area with two commemoratives of the past and an old cement water fountain with a figure on top with a beautiful view of the water. The first memorial is a stone cairn water fountain in a flower bed that is in memory of the first post master William Stevenson, who carried the mail by foot or on horseback along the Old Mail Road to Barrie. It was built as a centennial project by the students of the Meaford Community School. The other is a large cannon, “The Great Gun,” which is a modern replica of a 14 pound British gun on a cast iron garrison carriage.It was manufactured at the Georgian Bay foundry which was one of Meaford’s original waterfront industries. There is a picnic area, boat ramp and benches that are dedicated to former residents.Across the street is the W.F.C. Arlidge home which was built in the late 1800’s.You can still see the original gingerbread and widow’s walk that made this home one of a kind on the waterfront. It is now an art studio with a beautiful flower garden in bloom during the spring and summer months.
On the other corner is an historical plaque erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board, honoring Rt. Hon. Sir Lyman Poore Duff who was born in Meaford and educated in Toronto. He became judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1904 and was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1906. He headed a commission investigating the country’s railways in 1931, and was appointed to the Imperial Privy Council in 1918 serving as Canada’s Chief Justice 1933-44. He was knighted in 1934. This area is also the site of McCarroll Park, which has a playground with a splash park, change rooms, washrooms, play equipment and a shuffleboard court. It is surrounded by mature trees to provide a shady spot for the children to play. This location was once the site of the Charles LaRush hotel, the Georgian that welcomed early settlers to the area.
On the shore side, the harbor narrows to become the mouth of the Bighead River. This area from Nelson St. to the Trowbridge St. Bridge was given a new facelift in 1996. It was a town effort as volunteers offered their time and equipment to complete the massive job under the leadership of the East Grey Hunters and Anglers Association in conjunction with all three levels of Government. When they started the water was only about 4’ deep and their aim was to make in 10-12’ deep to allow larger boats to dock and make it easier for the ice to leave in the springtime. The harbour was originally deeper so the removal of the silt and gravel was not too difficult and the material was stored and used to create a new beach on the east side of the coast guard facility and for road maintenance in Meaford. During 1997, other shallow areas of the harbour and Bighead River were dredged to complete the job. Then, in 2003, the federal government and Fisheries and Oceans Canada helped fund the reconstruction of the wharf and retaining wall to provide a safe community wharf and walkway. This is one of the favorite locations for fishing because just the other side of the bridge is fed by the Bighead River that flows through Meaford. When you cross the bridge, on your right is the entrance to the Georgian Trail and on your left is the other side of the harbor. As you enter the harbor on your left you can see boats sometimes including a fishing charter moored and trailers parked, a hut that sells Harbour Fries and Cones, washrooms and the Rotary Pavilion where many special events are held.On your left is the Canadian Coast Guard facilities which is open 24 hours a day seven days a week, and behind them winter storage for the boats. Further back is a newer section built after the dredging was completed in 1997.Off shore you have a beautiful view of the break wall, which is a wonderful place to take a stroll to admire the view or take a few pictures, more mooring sites and a lighthouse to complete the picture. Onshore is the Harbor Complex which houses the dock master’s office where boaters can obtain information and maps of neighboring ports, meet with friends, do their laundry or make reservations.
The main attraction on this portion of the harbor is the Canadian Coast Guard’s former ship, the Spume, which is on display. It was built in Georgetown P.E.I. After being in use since 1963 it was destined to be scrapped, but the community rescued and restored it in 2005 and it was put on display in 2006 for residents and tourists to view.