Anyone that has read about the early settlement in North Central Ontario or those that enjoy traveling the many roads reading plaques and admiring heritage sites will be familiar with the name Charles Rankin. Although the name is well known, there are only a few facts available regarding his early life; and some of the ones you can find have conflicting information. He was born in 1797 in either Enniskillen Ireland or Montreal; this would depend on whether he was born before or after his parents moved to Canada. Little is known of his boyhood or family, except that his parents were George Rankin and Mary Stuart. He had three brothers, John and George were both doctors and Arthur was also a Provincial Land Surveyor, and two sisters Susan and Kate that were both spinsters. His uncle was Captain Charles Stuart of Owen Sound who was the corresponding secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1820 he was appointed deputy provincial surveyor, living in Essex Co. he did most of his early work in Southwestern Ontario. In 1833 he was sent to survey the land along the shores of the Nottawasaga Bay, which is an inlet of Georgian Bay extending approximately from Cape Rich, west of Meaford to Christian Island north east of Thornbury. He set out with another surveyor and several people who had received land grants. It was a long arduous trip over uncharted and uncertain terrain.The only portion of the present Grey County that was inhabited were the eastern four concessions, most of the natives in the rest of the township had surrendered to the government.
They finally reached a location that they considered a good starting point and named it Zero Township. It is now believed to be the site of Christ Church Meaford. Winter set in before the task was completed, so some of the people whose land grants had not been surveyed were forced to return with the surveyors and wait for spring. When they returned it is believed he settled on 200 acres of land between Meaford and Thornbury while he continued to survey the rest of the area that later became St. Vincent and Collingwood Townships. The settlements of Collingwood and Barrie had already been surveyed and Wasaga Beach did not have suitable soil for farming so he concentrated on heading south. During the next few years he extended the area to be surveyed to include Euphrasia, and what is now Clearview Townships. He also surveyed a road from Barrie to Sunnidale Township called the Sunnidale Road.
These initial surveys are what opened up the area for the settlement, but as some of the areas grew and communities developed changes were often made. One of the earliest and most important came in 1837 when the inhabitants of St. Vincent petitioned the government of Upper Canada for a site at the mouth of the Bighead River to be reserved for a harbour to be used as a landing place for supplies and building materials and to export their produce.The request was granted and soon there were a variety of industries, a grain elevator and dock in the surrounding area and trails from neighboring communities were being cut.By 1845, the town now known as Meaford was laid out and there were several small communities dotting the landscape.
At this time most of the roads throughout the province were just paths that often followed trails. Some were wide enough for a horse and a narrow wagon, others were more like hiking trails with blazes on the trees to guide the way. In 1837 the Government of Upper Canada commissioned Rankin to lay out the Garafraxa Colonization Road from Oakville to Sydenham, now known as Owen Sound. Rankin’s crew made it as far as Garafraxa Township before the Upper Canada Rebellion brought the work to a halt. A progress report in 1841 indicated that it was passable for wagons to four miles south of Mount Forest, and that l mile north of Arthur had been chopped out by the local residents.The Government felt that the route was too long and John McDonald P.L.S. resurveyed it so it could be shortened before work began again. While staying in Toronto in 1840, he married Elizabeth Leech but soon was sent to Owen Sound to work with John Telfer who was the land agent there. At this time the majority of the population was Ojibway. Rankin set aside 35 acres on the Sydenham River for a mill site, which now is the Mill Dam and Fish Ladder. He also laid out the town plot and is credited with making it a European settlement in 1841 and a major sea port. In 1844, he surveyed Sullivan Township and by 1851 there were 500 people living there. During the American Revolution it is believed that he helped his uncle in his efforts to help the black slaves fleeing up the underground railway. It is said that his uncle would not allow any products of slave labor into his home, this included sugar and cotton.
In 1848 he was commissioned to survey a route from Owen Sound to Toronto it would travel through Grey and Dufferin Counties and was named The Toronto Sydenham Road. This was expected to attract settlers and as an incentive free 50 Acre lots were given to those that fulfilled the requirements. Much of this road is now Highway 10. Most of his adult life was spent in this area and in his later years he lived in a house on 1st Ave. W., in Owen Sound which he purchased in 1851 and where he lived a simple life. It was originally frame but was bricked over sometime later, and he remained there until his death. According to some information this occurred in 1886 but according to Greenwood Cemetery where he was laid to rest, he passed away on October 12, 1888. His house is still included in some of Owen Sound’s Tours.