Official Tourism Website of Port Elgin, Ontario
The Saugeen Rail Trail is a year round, multi-use trail that connects Southampton and Port Elgin, Ontario. Built on an old railway line the trail is easily accessed and used by visitors and residents alike.
A popular trip is to travel the entire trail by bike from Port Elgin to Southampton and loop back along the scenic North Shore Road where beautiful views of Lake Huron can be experienced.
Access: The trailhead is at River Street in Port Elgin, a few blocks north of the town and east of Hwy 21. There are several access points - some with parking some without.
The trail is maintained through a combination of volunteer labour, community funding and membership in the Saugeen RailTrail Association.
NOTE: In the summer, a popular route is to bike the trail and loop back along the North Shore Road. This route provides beautiful views of the Lake Huron shoreline. Length: 25 - 30 km with loops. Difficulty: Easy. Surface: Hard-packed stone dust. Uses: Walking/hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing. No motorized vehicles are permitted.
ATV's, motorbikes or other types of vehicles are not permitted on the Saugeen Rail Trail. However the Saugeen RailTrail Association has been instrumental in the building of a motorized parallel trail at the south end of Port Elgin for snowmobile and ATV clubs. It is located in the South end of Port Elgin, east side of Highway 21 at the 6th concession/CAW road.
The Rail Trail – A key to our History
Built in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s the Wellington Grey Bruce Railway served the communities of Southampton and Port Elgin by transporting local products and people to other Ontario cities. Later, it was taken over by the Canadian National Railway and the main line and newer spur lines continued rail service for well over 100 years.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel caused a horrific accident near the south end of Southampton. The washed out creek and rail bed resulted in the engine jumping the tracks and plowing into the riverbank. Two trainmen lost their lives that day. The ’54 historical crash site, was restored in 2008 with funding partners and a viewing platform was established at the site.
Eventually, the decline in the rail service led the CN to begin decommissioning rail lines and selling them off. A dedicated group of volunteers founded the Saugeen RailTrail Association in 1990, and it was with the SRT prompting that Port Elgin (1992) and Saugeen Township (1993) acquired their sections of the then unused rail bed. A plan was put in place that opened up the Saugeen RailTrail officially on July 5, 1995. After further negotiation Southampton purchased their section of the rail bed in 1997. The three municipalities amalgamated in 1999 to become the Town of Saugeen Shores.
In the process of developing a land and playground inventory, the Town’s newly appointed Director of Community Services (2002), discovered some ‘neat parcels’ of land/trail linkages, which then led to council’s 10 year “Parks and Trails Master Plan“. Because of the Saugeen RailTrail’s proven track record and partnership over the years as rail trail trustees, it became advantageous that SRT become the Town’s trailbuilders/maintainers/managers while the Town’s “Parks and Trails Committee” became the policy setters.
Other partners came ‘aboard’ with the developing of the parallel trail at the 6th to the 2nd concession allowing non-motorized and motorized to coexist. Since then, other town trails have been developed, creating a network of trails from MacGregor Park to Southampton and beyond. The town trails connect to County rail trails which go as far as Paisley and Kincardine.
Donations are very much appreciated and needed to help underwrite the costs of maintaining the Saugeen Rail trails and gardens and our administrations costs. You can make a difference!
The donation program consists of the following:
Please come and enjoy the garden, which includes a gazebo, picnic tables and bench, as well as the lawn, trees and gardens.
Come and see our new Bluebirds Boxes!
When walking on our Saugeen Rail Trail, you may be able to observe some of our 30 to 40 bluebirds boxes installed along the trail. Thanks to the hard work of our board member and volunteer Dave Cheer for repairing some 38 bluebirds boxes.
About the Bluebird
The Bluebird is a medium sized bird noticeable by the blue, orange and white plumage. Bluebirds prefer an open range habitat with scattered trees and are often seen perched on a wire.
By the 1970s the Bluebird population had declined drastically due to the introduction of species such as the House Sparrow and Starlings that competed for nesting sites. In the 1980s and 90s sportsmen (women) and environmental groups began building and locating Bluebird nesting boxes and then monitoring what was called the Bluebird Trail. Bluebird numbers increased dramatically.
In the early 1990s about 40 Bluebird nesting boxes were put up along the Saugeen Rail Trail. In 2015 it was noted that the Bluebird boxes required replacement or renovation. Dave Cheer, a member of the Saugeen Rail Trail, replaced or repaired 39 nesting boxes. These boxes will now be monitored and kept clean yearly.
The nesting boxes are designed for Bluebirds but they will also attract Tree Swallows, House Sparrows, field mice, insects and even squirrels that will try to enlarge the entrance hole.
Enjoy the birds as you hike the Rail Trail. You will find many species of birds flying about. For those birds you see but don’t recognize, note the size, shape, colour, characteristics and habitat, then Google it.
Port Elgin Rotary Club – Accessible Trail Head
The Port Elgin Accessible Trail Head offers the following amenities:
Come and admire our beautiful raised bed and Michelle Burgess Garden!
Memories of the Past – Train Wreck
In 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused a horrific accident near the south end of Southampton. The washed out creek and rail bed resulted in the engine jumping the tracks and plowing into the river bank. Two trainmen lost their lives that day.
The memorial, on the Saugeen Rail Trail, marks the location of the accident and remembers the two trainmen.
The Full Story
Hurricane Hazel began its path of destruction October 5, 1954 in the Caribbean Ocean and continued up the east cost of North American before moving inland reaching Ontario on October 16 to be downgraded from its hurricane status. The heavy rains and strong winds persisted causing major flooding damage with loss of life in the province.
For the crew of mixed train #179 and engine #1319, on schedule to depart Palmerston on October 15, 1954 for Southampton on its nightly run, everything seemed to be in order except fireman Stewart Nicholson was unexplainably uneasy. He hesitated in leaving his expectant wife at home, but duty called. When the train pulled out of the station bound for Southampton he looked twice back at his home.
As Train #179 approached its terminus at Southampton around 11:30 p.m., tragedy struck. When crossing a culvert, flooded by the heavy rains from Hurricane Hazel, the track gave way causing the engine to derail. The remaining cars drove into the back of the derailed engine causing it to burst filling the cab with live steam. Engineer Gordon McCallum was buried up to his neck in sand while fireman Nicholson was pinned by the twisted metal of the wreck.
The remaining crew, who were unhurt, rushed to the aid of the two trapped men and with supreme effort freed McCallum from the pile of sand. Nicholson, who was still conscious, was removed after being cut free of the twisted metal that entrapped him. Both men were taken to the Southampton hospital where they succumbed shortly thereafter to their injuries. Dr. Murray Flock attended at the scene.
The crew who accompanied McCallum and Nicholson on this ill fated trip were Conductor Arthur Sherlock of Southampton, Baggage Man Raymond Darragh of Southampton, Brakeman Cecil Christmann of Port Elgin and Mail Clerks George Hills and Doug Sharman. The two passengers on the train were Mrs. W. Whittaker who suffered shoulder injuries and Kenneth Diebel, both of Southampton.
Gordon McCallum, age 58, was a 35 year employee who had recently moved from Parry Sound to Palmerston. He was survived by his wife Joan and daughter Margaret. Gordon was interred in Parry Sound.
Stewart Nicholson, age 33, was employed as a fireman with the Canadian Nation Railway. He was born in Minto Township and resided in Palmerston for the 10 years prior to his death. He was married to Betty Hastings of Southampton and had two sons, David and Paul Stewart Nicholson. Stewart was interred in the Harriston cemetery.
Memories of Today – Gifts to All of Us
The Saugeen Rail Trail Memorial garden at Peel and Grosvenor Street continue to develop and expand as funds come forth. (In 2013, we added a water fountain and made the gazebo wheelchair-accessible, also improved the gardens.)
Finding the right way to recognize a deceased friend or family member can often be very difficult. Words often don’t seem to say enough, but attaching those thoughts to a living tree or garden can give special meaning.
Each memorial opportunity provides a place to come whenever you wish. A place to sit, to tend and to remember.
The SRT Memorial committee hand picks each tree and would be both honoured and pleased for everyone to attend a yearly memorial service which is held the second Sunday of August at 2:00 p.m. with Rev. Bob Johnston officiating.
We greatly appreciate all donations to the garden. The memorial gifts are a meaningful way to honour a departed loved one or a friend, while also supporting the work of the SRT Memorial Garden.
The Rotary Perkins Park offers the following amenities:
The official trail head is located in Port Elgin on River Street, a few blocks east of Highway 21. Parking is also available on Concession 10 east of Highway 21. The trail can be accessed at any intersection with a street, as well as a few specific locations.
The access points to the trail are as follows:
Take Highway 10 north to Highway 21. Take Highway 21 (west) all the way up to Port Elgin. If you want to start in Port Elgin, find the Port Elgin Cinemas on Goderich Street, at the north end of town, and turn east there on to River Street. Go two blocks. On the left side in the second block you find the Saugeen Rail Trail trail head with an informational kiosk.
If you want to start in Saugeen Township take Highway 21 north from Port Elgin to Concession 10. Travel west to just behind the Bruce County Library for about a quarter of a mile. You can park and then go either north or south on the Trail.
If you want to start in Southampton take Highway 21 to the south end of Southampton to McNabb Street (at the Beer Store). Perkins Park is across the road on the west side, and you can start there.
You also can access the trail at the Peel/Grosvenor St. parking area where you can view an attractive Saugeen Rail Trail welcome sign designed by GW Signs. The Saugeen Rail Trail Memorial Garden is also in this area, where you can take a refreshing pause before continuing your trail journey.
You can also access the trail at the south end of Port Elgin at Concession 6. Turn east off Highway 21 at the lights. Travel about a half a mile to this gorgeous part of the trail that connects with MacGregor Point Provincial Park.
There are two available parking lots: the 6th Concession and at the Plex, as well as street parking at all intersecting junctions.
In 2012, a replica of the historical Port Elgin Train Station was built by SDSS teacher Bud Halpin’s Technical Construction students and the Town of Saugeen Shores. Because of the Port Elgin Rotary Club’s generous financial support they received naming rights, becoming “The Port Elgin Rotary Club Accessible Trail Head.”
Thanks to many of our historical partners historian, J.C. Hemming, Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre-Archives, the Ambrose Zettler Family, Ken Thornburn, Elwood Thompson and
donors: Town of Saugeen Shores, Port Elgin Rotary, Dan Murawsky architect, teacher Bud Halpin and students of Saugeen District Secondary School, SRTA, Peter & Jill Gauthier owners of Port Elgin Home Hardware, Bruce Telecom, Chantry Island Chamb-etts, Super 8 Motel, South Port Horticulture, Ontario Power Generation, Martin’s Bicycle Shop, Jeff Ackert Construction, and many more.
PAUSE a moment as you cycle or walk the Saugeen Rail Trail and listen for the sounds of history. For close to one hundred years the trains of the Canadian National Railway, formerly the Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway/Grand Trunk Railway transported locally manufactured goods and farm produce destined for distant markets. In addition to freight there were also mail and passenger cars.
In the mid 1800s the citizens of Bruce County were well aware of the need for a railroad and set about to get one. Initially there were competing bids for the new rail line. One would end in Kincardine while the other would end in Southampton. After a narrow victory, of close to 300 votes and allegations of vote fixing, a contract was awarded to the Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway to complete a rail line within three years through to Southampton. To support this endeavour Bruce County Council, through a debenture, posted a bonus of $250,000.00 for the completion of the rail line. The line was completed in December 1872.
The economic benefit to the area was quickly realized when an excellent grain crop of over 200,000 bushels, at a price of $1.15 per bushel, was shipped over the new line the first year.
The rail line was not only for the shipping and receiving of raw materials and manufactured goods. The passenger service provided the opportunity for people to travel within the County and it gave much easier access to the rest of the world. It also proved an excellent means for people from the cities to access our local beaches and facilities. One home coming reunion in 1907 had 800 people arrive by train. This gave rise to more resort facilities becoming available in the area.
The initial service to the area included both freight and passenger trains but by 1931 they were combined into ‘mixed trains’. Further cutbacks saw mail delivery stopped in 1957 and freight service discontinued by 1959. The ‘day liner’, a self propelled rail car that was designed to offer rapid transit to Toronto in approximately five hours continued to serve the area until 1970. With no freight or passenger services remaining the track was decommissioned in 1980 and the tracks were removed in 1984. The removal of the local tracks coincided with similar actions across North America. This gave rise to the ‘Rails to Trails’ movement across North America which endeavoured to use abandoned rail beds for multi use activity trails. In our community of Saugeen Shores the local government came through by providing financial support to the volunteers in the community who wanted to develop the abandoned rail bed between the communities of Southampton, Saugeen Township and Port Elgin as a walking and bicycling trail. Today we know and enjoy it as the Saugeen Rail Trail.
Reference material and photographs from the archives of the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.