The morning air was chilled. Not something we’ve been used to during this muggy, sticky summer - but the fishing derby has passed. Alas, it’s fall now. Around Grey County waterways, that means one thing: the salmon are running inland, out of the depths, back to the places of their birth, and back into plain view.
Each year, my wife Natalie and I take our kiddos to see the fish jump and make a big day of the Owen Sound Salmon Tour. A hike, lunch, the works. It’s something we’ve come to look forward to as part of the changing of the seasonal guard around here, and it’s something we’ve come to learn we’re quite spoiled to have in our own backyard. This year we decided to treat ourselves to a day on the town, family-style, and go for broke. Treats, delicious deep-fried food, park plays, canoeing, and ice cream after 7pm.
We start our day in downtown Owen Sound. Now dubbed the River District, the whole city-centre corridor has new life. Maybe it’s the enthusiasm people have for getting back into their weekly routines, or maybe it’s the slew of incredible downtown patios that have sprung up this year, but this edition of the Phillips’ family Owen Sound Salmon Tour is feeling good. With smoothies in hand, it’s off to the Palette Cafe housed inside the Georgian Bay Centre for the Arts for a hot cup of steeped mommy and daddy juice. We cruise by the newly activated 2nd Ave; Barebirch and Sunpoint in their new homes, Sweet Pea, The Rocking Horse, Heartwood Home, Sabitri’s Restaurant, and Wildflower Consignment all bustling with traffic.
Back in the car, we head north to the Mill Dam, the first fish ladder of its kind in Ontario, originally built in 1967. Not many fish are jumping just yet - we’re a bit early to the festivities in mid-September - but the space is a fantastic spot to let those kids run. Pirate sword in hand, my son opens the taps and does a seemingly effortless 15 loops of the massive Willow trees on the north shore of the Sydenham river. We search for the Chinook in the offshoot spawning channel the Sydenham Sportsmen’s Association uses to collect eggs for its hatchery operation and traverse the grounds. Onward.
Harrison Park is arguably the crown jewel of Owen Sound. It occupies over 40 hectares of natural space in the heart of the city, interwoven with streams, rivers, forest, greenspace, and trails. We pay a quick visit to the Rotary Club parkette for a play, then set our sights on the Putt ‘n Paddle near the iconic Rainbow Bridge. We canoe back north towards the Mill Dam and circle a large island in the river, past stunning homes, other paddlers, and a massive Blue Heron that takes flight right in front of us. You have to remember - we’re still technically downtown. Not a ton of City’s can boast something like this. Back at Harrison, we walk along the river watching the fish struggle their way south to Inglis Falls and the spawning channels near the Inglis Falls Conservation Area. We hike the newly paved Mile Drive and grab an epic spread of grub from the Harrison Park Inn. With Park Burgers and onion rings in our stomachs, we jump back in the van and head to our favourite spot, the spawning channels.
Once you’re there, you feel like you’ve stepped out of Grey County and into BC’s Great Bear Rainforest... or Narnia. This place is stunning. The fall colours are starting to pop, and we have our chance to get up close and personal with a slew of Chinook Salmon. We snap some photos, climb some hills, scrape up our knees, and revel in this natural wonderland that’s 5 minutes from home. Clad in dirt and smiles, we rip home to clean up before finishing the day at Sunday's Ice Cream Parlour for one last taste of summer. As we drive home around 7pm, we hear something we haven’t heard from the kids all day; exhaustion-induced, salmon-inspired silence.
Know Before You Go:
Canoes and paddle boats can be rented by the hour at the Putt ‘n Paddle kiosk in Harrison Park for use on the Sydenham River between the park and the Mill Dam and Fish Ladder. The Putt ‘n Paddle kiosk is open daily during the summer and weekends in the spring and fall, weather permitting and also offers mini golf. Those wishing to rent canoes or kayaks for longer excursions should contact outfitters in the area; the nearest is Suntrail Source for Adventure in Hepworth.'
Originally published in fall 2021.
Guest Writer: Nelson Phillips
Nelson Philips is a Grey County-based writer, creative director, photographer, and publisher. He's one half of local culture company and magazine, Rrampt. You can find him exploring backroads with his family, swimming in Georgian Bay in the offseason, and drinking too many coffees at Highfive Cowork & Social in downtown OS. Like the Chinook Salmon, he also prefers to run once per year.