Once Upon a Time: Saugeen River – once a highway for pioneers


  Bob Johnston

This week’s welcomed re-opening of the Mill Creek bridge in Port Elgin offers a reminder of the importance of bridges and waterways in Bruce County’s history. In this 1983 article, John Reynolds describes their historical significance.

                       The mighty Saugeen River (photo by Sandy Lindsay)

You cannot live very long near the Saugeen River without feeling its influence. The river played a crucial role in the lives of the pioneers of this region. By the time the surveyors arrived, many homesteaders had already preceded them by way of the river. For some time it remained the main travel route. Many small communities grew up along its banks, including the hamlet of Dunblane. Located there were many buildings including a post office, Frog Pond School, grist mill, two blacksmith shops and a Presbyterian Church. Often, boats with as many as eight passengers each, crossed the river to attend services. Dunblane Church remains today as a memorial to the faith of our early pioneer settlers.

Mrs. Grannie McNeil was the last Dunblane Postmistress. She is fondly remembered as being a friend to all the local children. When school pictures were to be taken they would run and get her to be in the photo with them. Bill McKechnie once built a foot bridge for the children to cross over the Saugeen. They loved it, but not the older people. In winter, according to Jack McKechnie, when you weren’t sure of the ice on the river, you could walk across by putting one board ahead of the other, step on it, then pick up that first board and place it ahead of the second, and so on, until the other shore was safely reached.

Old steel bridge over the Saugeen River

The first wooden bridge over the Saugeen between Port Elgin and Burgoyne was known as the Stirton Bridge. Later. In 1909, a steel structure (Campbell’s Bridge), costing $9,000, was completed by Hunter Bros. of Kincardine. Mrs. Walker Daniels recalls that her mother and father, James and Margaret Bell, crossed that steel bridge for the first time on the day they were married. The week before, they had to cross through the water. A new two-lane, concrete, Campbell-Thede Bridge was opened to traffic November 18, 1981.

North of Burgoyne, where the Elora Road crosses the Saugeen, Burgess Bridge was re-planked in 1876, rebuilt in 1886 and renamed McCalder’s. In 1965, the present day structure, Shank’s cement bridge was completed in the same location. I am sure if the river could speak it would tell many interesting tales about those pioneers who lived along its banks and moved along its waters. Next month we will meet some of them.


This article was first written for the Bruce County Historical Society’s 1983 Yearbook
and adapted by Bob Johnston