Quaint and pretty Southampton, part of the amalgamated Town of Saugeen Shores, is wrapped around the mouth of the Saugeen River, once the heart of the community's commercial district. The Saugeen River was the first "road" into the community before land travel was possible, and it was here that shops, taverns, hotels, commercial fishermen and other trades set up business.
The community has maintained much of its historic charm, and a strong civic pride in its history. Over 100 homes from Southampton's early days still stand, many adorned with an historical plaque noting the name of the builder, his occupation and the year the home was built. Pioneer Park with its storm signal baskets, cannon pointing water bound, anchor and other monuments, is dedicated to those who sailed the often-treacherous waters of the lake, and has the atmosphere of an outdoor museum. Historic walking tour brochures can be picked up at local info centers for a self-guided tour of many of the community's memorable buildings. The Bruce County Museum & Archives is a safe haven for Southampton's history and that of the whole County of Bruce. The Museum was expanded in 2005 to include even more history.
The restored lightkeeper's house and lighthouse sit just over a kilometre off shore on Chantry Island, where its reassuring beam of light has welcomed Lake Huron sailors since 1859. Lighthouse and keeper's quarters' tours are available during the regular sailing season.
For more information on historic Southampton, contact the Southampton Visitor's Centre on High Street or contact them at 1-888-757-2215, 519-797-2215 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Historic Southampton - oldest Port on the Bruce Coast
French fur traders are believed to have run a trading post as early as 1812 at the mouth of the river. According to one local legend, Captain Henry Bayfield, who surveyed the lake's coastline between 1817-22, is responsible for the naming of Chantry Island, about 1 kilometre off Southampton's shoreline.
Southampton's two founding fathers, Captains John Spence and William Kennedy, arrived in 1848 to build a log house in the settlement known as Saugeen and try out a career as commercial fishermen. When that venture turned out to be less than profitable, Spence chose to ply the coastal trade in his schooner, Sea Gull. Captain Kennedy led the 1854 Arctic expedition that searched for the vanished Sir John Franklin and his crew.
The small community, with its bustling harbour , continued to grow. A Special Act of Parliament created the Village of Southampton on July 24, 1858. The construction of the Chantry Island lighthouse was completed, after much hardship, in 1859. When the Long Dock (Harbour of Refuge) was constructed during the 1870s from the shore to Chantry Island, the commercial centre of the town shifted south of the Saugeen River. As the Long Dock fell into disrepair and decay, the centre shifted once more to its current downtown location on High Street.
1904 marked the incorporation of Southampton as a town. Summer visitors had already discovered its seasonal charms, arriving by train at the Southampton station for a summer at the cottage. Many of the older family cottages, with their shaded front porches and traditional architecture, still dot the sandy shoreline, quiet and unspoiled and stretching for kilometers along the water.
At the time of its incorporation, Southampton had a population of 2400 and a healthy industrial base with a tannery, furniture factories, a sawmill, as well as both a public school and a high school built side by side backing onto Fairy Lake (where the Bruce County Museum & Archives now stands, part which is the public school building). In 1896, the public library opened. By 1947, Southampton boasted a hospital; in 1952, a new post office building was opened. G.C. Huston Public School followed in 1953, the Etta Shields Memorial Library in 1956, an arena in 1961, a new firehall in 1974 and the current Southampton Coliseum opened in 1977.
Another major turning point in Southampton's history occurred in 1999, when the town joined with the Town of Port Elgin and Saugeen Township to form the new Municipality of Saugeen Shores.