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Sesquicentennial Project (Posted On: Tuesday, January 22, 2008)

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Commissioned by Collingwood Council, local artist John Haines has created a series of four interpretive panels that highlight the history of Collingwood and its residents.  The panels were unveiled in Council Chambers on New Year’s Eve to kick off the celebration of Collingwood’s 150th birthday.

The content of the panels is divided into blocks of time: ‘Pre-Collingwood’, 1858-1908, 1908 – 1958, 1958 – 2008.

When asked about the panels, Artist John Haines sees the sesquicentennial project as a chance to bring the various chapters of the Town’s story to life, to provide an appreciation of the people and events that have shaped and have been shaped by this area, and to educate people on what is unique about this area.  John has a plethora of historical photos to draw from, provided mostly by the Collingwood Museum. 

Panel One - Pre-Collingwood

The Petuns, a tribe of the Wyandot Nation, first moved into the Southern Georgian Bay area around 1580 and set up villages near present day Creemore.  They continued to move north along the base of the escarpment pursuing game and resources.  The last know settlement was “Ekareniondo” (standing rock).  Its twin villages were located near today’s Craigleith.  It was abandoned in 1650 when the Petuns moved south, then west to the Lake Michigan area. In the early 1700’s some of them moved from the Detroit area to the Ohio Valley and to Kansas around 1843.  Eventually some settled in Oklahoma.

By the late 1500’s several European powers were trading with native tribes over much of North America.  In the Great Lakes basin, a pattern of exploration and exploitation was driven by the demand for fur in Europe.  In the early 1600’s French explorers Brule and Champlain were navigating the Ontario wilderness, laying the foundations of “New France”.  Late in 1615 Champlain canoed down the French River into Georgian Bay and headed south. In mid-January 1616, he began a month long stay in Petun country, visiting eight villages and seeing two more under construction.

Panel Two - 1858 to 1908

Once the railway planners had chosen Hen and Chickens Harbour as their Georgian Bay terminus, there followed a burst of activity that established a gateway to the upper lakes.  The new settlement became known as Collingwood, a name adopted from neighbouring Collingwood Township.

The construction boom that completed the railway and created Collingwood, involved a work force of over 3000 that arrived “overnight”.  Suddenly a quiet little patch of Georgian Bay shoreline became the terminus for a major rail line, connecting Ontario’s industrial areas to the bread baskets of the west and to Canadian and American ports on the upper lakes.

Panel Three - 1908 to 1958

The industrial revolution now running on hydro electric power, was marked in Collingwood by the appearance of large brick factories scattered around the harbour and linked to the railways by various spur lines.

In a time when electronic media had not yet saturated daily life, the social and cultural needs of the community were met with a rich variety of offerings. The opera house hosted everything from vaudeville to theatre to political forum.  It was open year round, presenting both local and international performers.  Lectures at the library and the Y.M.C.A. were popular.  There were numerous clubs, guilds, church groups, fraternal organizations and specialized groups catering to a robust community.

Panel Four - 1958 to 2008

Collingwood begins its 2nd century with the post war boom still resonating.  At the shipyards, growth is steady but sluggish.  Facilities are expanded to handle newer technologies.  A Colby crane is installed at the 2nd drydock which can now launch ships up to 736 feet in length.

In the early 60’s the federal government focused on the problem of high unemployment in the southern Georgian Bay area from Owen Sound right around to Midland.

To find out more about Collingwood’s Sesquicentennial celebrations visit the official website or contact:

Karen Cubitt
Manager of Arts, Culture,
Information Services & Special Events
Town of Collingwood
[t] 705-445-9463
[f] 705-445-9004


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