How John Muir Got to Meaford 

by Scott Cameron

It is known that Muir was in Ontario at the Holland Marsh (north of Toronto) in time to see the Calypso orchid bloom. That puts him in the area some time in May or early June 1864. We also know that he arrived in Meaford in the fall of 1864 after visiting Niagara Falls and Burlington Bay near present day Hamilton, Ontario during the summer of 1864.

   Nobody knows for sure how Muir arrived in Meaford. For a dollar he could have taken the 187-foot paddle wheeler Clifton from Collingwood. Every day during navigation season she made a round trip from Owen Sound to Collingwood with stops at Cape Rich and Meaford on the way. We know for certain that the last trip of the season in 1864 was scheduled for November 15. Muir was in Meaford before then. A search of the passenger lists of the Clifton in 1864 does not show his name.
Collingwood had 2 trains daily from Toronto in 1864. Arrival times of the Northern Railway train were coordinated to meet the Clifton on her daily trips. Mail, baggage, freight, and passengers were loaded at the dock under the supervision of Captain W.H. Smith for the return journey to Meaford and Owen Sound. Smith kept accurate notes so it is unlikely that Muir came that way if his name is not on the passenger register.


 Alternatively, Muir could have come to Southern Ontario from the north on the Ploughboy, which sailed regularly between Sault Ste Marie, Bruce Mines, and Collingwood with stops along the way at Little Current and Killarney. He then could have walked from Collingwood to Meaford as many did at the time on the newly completed "gravel road".


 The Royal Mail was moved on the regular sailings of the Algoma, which ran between Collingwood, Owen Sound, Killarney, Little Current, Bruce Mines, and Sault Ste. Marie, then re tracing the route back to Collingwood. Her initial sailing in 1864 was May 19. These regular trips were the backbone of commerce along the North Shore of Georgian Bay and passengers were often aboard. Presumably Muir could have taken the return trip from Sault Ste. Marie some time after May 21, 1864.

There is some suggestion that Muir was on St. Joseph's Island, outside Sault Ste. Marie in the spring of 1864. If that is true, it is possible that the Algoma could have picked him up if it was in late May. The passenger register of the Algoma has not been located at this date.

The ice left the Upper Great Lakes sometime shortly after May 5 1864. Those with any knowledge of the lakes know that walking over the ice between land masses any time after March 15 would be an impossibility. Those who know the lakes also know that despite the fact that the lake may appear frozen from the shore, at a distance of 10-15 Kms. there is invariably open water all winter. It is reasonable to say with authority that nobody walked from St. Joseph Island to Owen Sound over the ice. A walk around the east coast of Georgian Bay via Parry Sound would have been equally foolhardy if not impossible.

Map of Georgian Bay 

-------- 1864 Steamer Routes around Georgian Bay.

An active trade developed around Georgian Bay after 1850 with fishing settlements along the shore.
By 1855 a small set of locks were constructed at Sault Ste. Marie opening Lake Superior to small craft.
In addition to steamers, there were dozens of schooners and small sailboats on the lakes.
Knowing the ruggedness of the shoreline of Georgian Bay it is safe to conclude that Muir did not walk the shoreline. There were no roads on the east coast until 1950, almost one hundred years later.
Ship names : Algoma, Clifton, Ploughboy, Kaloola

The Kaloola on the rocks in Lake Superior 1857 

 All this speculation of course is predicated on the assumption that Muir arrived in Simcoe County after May 22 1864. Yet he was reportedly at the home of the Campbell's around that time when he found the calypso orchid. We know that it blooms from mid May to early June. We also know that there was ice in the swamp where he found it. That is a normal condition given a cold May night. It seems highly unlikely that his visit to Bradford near the Holland Marsh was late enough to allow connections from the north by water.
The simple conclusion is that Muir must have come to Ontario by train. There were regular trains connecting the US to the Sarnia / Toronto railway lines. After arriving in Toronto he could easily wander from there to the Holland Marsh up Yonge Street as so many people did at the time. His wanderings in July and August 1864, to Niagara Falls, Hamilton, and Burlington Bay, along the north shores of Lake Ontario would be easy after arriving in Toronto. His later trip to Owen Sound and the south shore of Georgian Bay in September clearly indicate that he could get there from the south by land. The road from Hamilton to Guelph to Durham to Owen Sound was open and relatively well travelled after 1850.
The only other alternative was that he came to Georgian Bay by ship on the Kazoola, from Sarnia via Godrich and Port Elgin. He could easily walk from there to Owen Sound in a day or so. This does not seem like an efficient route if the destination was Meaford and Trout Hollow.

Yet the puzzle remains. Peter Trout in his recollections "What I knew about John Muir" states that Muir came to Meaford from Owen Sound. Muir himself claims he "took to the cars" earlier in the year. There was no rail line to Owen Sound until the early 1870's. All evidence points to Muir wandering through Southern Ontario from early 1864 and then walking to Owen Sound from the Hamilton area and thence to Meaford. This was good practice for his 1000 mile Walk.
Muir may have wandered but there was always some sort of efficiency in his actions. His destination was Meaford where he was to meet his brother Dan and to meet the Trout Family with whom he eventually lived during 1864-66
The definitive answer to the question remains.
How did John Muir Get to Meaford in 1864?