Bruce County is a region in Ontario comprising the Bruce Peninsula, 2½ hr north and west of the city of Toronto. The Bruce Peninsula is a finger of land surrounded by the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay from Sauble Beach to Tobermory, and Wiarton to Lion's Head. The Peninsula is part of the Niagara Escarpment and is known for its views, rock formations, cliffs and hiking trails. The Lakeshore includes nearly a hundred kilometers of fresh water and soft sandy beaches.
The county was home to about 68,000 people in 2016.
Two First Nations communities make up 6% of the county's population:
- Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation
- Saugeen First Nation (the Chippewas of Saugeen)
Parts of Bruce County (including First Nations reserves) are owned by the band.
The peninsula is a popular tourist destination for camping, hiking and fishing. The Bruce Trail runs through the region to its northern terminus in the town of Tobermory. The Bruce Peninsula is a key area for both plant and animal wildlife. Part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, the peninsula has the largest remaining area of forest and natural habitat in Southern Ontario, and is home to some of the oldest trees in eastern North America. An important flyway for migrating birds, the peninsula is habitat to a variety of animals, including black bear, massasauga rattlesnake, and barred owl.
Bruce County was named after James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin (Lord Elgin), Governor General of Canada.
Until the mid-19th century, the area known as the Bruce Peninsula was territory controlled by the Saugeen Ojibway. At the time of first contact with Europeans, the peninsula was inhabited by the Odawa people, from whom a large number of local native people are descended. Oral history from Saugeen and Nawash suggests their ancestors have been here as early as 7500 years ago.
In 1836 the Saugeen Ojibway signed a treaty to cede lands south of the peninsula to the Canadian government in exchange for learning agriculture, proper housing, assistance in becoming "civilized", and for permanent protection of the peninsula. In 1854, the Saugeen Ojibway agreed to sign another treaty – this time for the peninsula itself. In 1994, after decades on increasing First Nations activism, the Saugeen Ojibway filed a suit for a land claim for part of their traditional territory; they claimed breach of trust by the Crown in failing to meet its treaty obligations to protect Aboriginal lands. The claim seeks the return of lands still held by the Crown and financial compensation for other lands. This claim is still active.
European settlement began on the peninsula in the mid-19th century, despite its poor potential for agricultural development. Attracted by the rich fisheries and lush forest, settlers found the land to be irresistible. In 1881 settlers built the first sawmill on the peninsula in Tobermory. In less than 20 years most of the valuable timber was gone and timber industry jobs declined. Fuelled by the waste left behind by the rapid logging and land clearances, intense fires sprang up around the peninsula. By the mid-1920s formerly abundant forests of the peninsula were nearly barren. When the lamprey eel was accidentally introduced to the Great Lakes in 1932, the devastation on the fish supply made the peninsula a less attractive place to live. Many left when fish stocks were depleted. The peninsula underwent a steady decline in population until the 1970s. In the late 20th century, the peninsula started to attract a new kind of resident, the cottager. Today seasonal residents out-number permanent residents. The summer influx of tourists is so great that many attractions, parking, and infrastructure are overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
By plane, the choices are distant: Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA) in the north-west corner of Toronto is the nearest major airport, with flights from many domestic and international destinations. Grey-Bruce Airbus (☏ ) offers eight trips a day to Southampton and Kincardine from Pearson Airport (June 2020). Slightly closer, Waterloo Region International Airport near Kitchener receives a handful of flights a day.
The nearest railway stations with passenger service are in Toronto and Guelph.
Roads are mostly rural highways with one lane in each direction. Minor roads are occasionally unpaved. To find the most efficient routing, plan ahead, use a GPS unit or GPS-enabled device, or bring a map. The Official Government Roadmap for Bruce and Grey Counties is available online.
The Bruce Peninsula is comprised of several communities - most of whom cater to tourists. There are many bed and breakfasts, motels, hotels and cottage rentals available in the area all year round. Here are some of the main communities in the area:
- 1 Brockton — known for its beautiful beaches
- 2 Lion's Head — peaceful port village on the shores of Isthmus bay at the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the north pole. Surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs which, when viewed from Georgian Bay, resemble the head of a lion, giving Lion's Head its name.
- 3 Huron-Kinloss — a primarily rural region of farmland and woodlots with a mild climate and a reputation for a relaxed, friendly lifestyle
- 4 Kincardine — it has a thriving tourist industry, centred on its sandy beaches and Scottish cultural tradition
- 5 Southampton — a summer cottagers' town with a great beach, and a picturesque lighthouse
- 6 Sauble Beach — known for its beautiful sandy beach on the coast of Lake Huron, in South Bruce Peninsula on the north edge of the Saugeen Nation, it has been compared many times to the beaches of the Mediterranean resort areas. Over 11 km long and said to be the second longest freshwater beach in the world after Wasaga Beach.
- 7 Tobermory — port town on the shores of Georgian Bay at the tip of the peninsula; well known for its two national parks: Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. The Bruce Peninsula National Park Visitors Centre is open year round and provides visitors with an interactive and informative view of the park.
- 8 Wiarton — has a lovely waterfront park called Bluewater Park where there is a playground, a small sandy beach, boat launch and a trail that connects to the Bruce Trail.
See & do
The Bruce Peninsula is a place of diversity. Surrounded on almost 4 sides by the Great Lakes - the Bruce has many options for both the "beacher" and the hiker adventurer.
- Bruce Power Visitor Centre, 3394 Bruce County Road 20, Kincardine (North of Tiverton). The plant's visitor centre has a lot of information about the plant and nuclear power in general. free.
Kayaking & canoeing is a popular sport - and the rugged shores of Georgian Bay make the perfect backdrop for a kayaker. There are several outfitters who can provide a rental kayak or canoe for travellers.
Sailing & power boating - The waters surrounding the peninsula provide a great spot for sailing and power boating. There are several marinas that provide transient or seasonal docking.
Fishing - Georgian Bay and Lake Huron have many large and small prize fishing available to fishermen. Salmon, lake trout, perch, pike - all can be caught from shore or using a downrigger. The inland lakes such as Gillies Lake or Miller Lake have bass, pickerel and trout. Fly fishermen enjoy the small brooks that harbour trout and other sport fish. Fishing charters can be booked - but you must have your fishing licence!
Hiking - Hike along the Bruce Trail from the Head of Trails in the Cyprus Lake Campground to The Grotto and Storm Haven. Both offer amazing views of water. The main trail is more than 890 km (550 mi) long and there are over 400 km (250 mi) of associated side trails. The trail mostly follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, one of the thirteen UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada.
Sight-seeing - Take the car carrying Chi-Cheemaun Ferry from Tobermory to Flower Pot Island (ferries run a few times a day from mid-May to the end of summer) to see natural flower pots and crystal clear waters.
- Bruce Peninsula National Park
- Fathom Five National Marine Park
- Inverhuron Provincial Park
- MacGregor Point Provincial Park
- Sauble Falls Provincial Park
- Black Creek Provincial Park
Bruce County is home to a number of conservation areas with the jurisdiction of Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority and Grey Sauble Conservation Authority.
The Bruce Peninsula's shoreline has several lighthouses, necessary to provide guidance to the many ships that would pass by her shores. The Cove Island Light, near Tobermory, is one of the six famous "Imperial" lighthouses built in the 1850s by John Brown which can be found on the mainland and on nearby islands of the northern Bruce Peninsula. Other lighthouses include:
- Lion's Head Lighthouse
- Flowerpot Island
- Big Tub Lighthouse
- Knife & Lyal Island Lighthouse
- Cape Croker Lighthouse
- Cabot Head Lighthouse
From spring to fall, take the Chi-Cheemaun ferry fom Tobermory to Manitoulin Island. The trip is about 2 hours.