Meaford , Ontario

Home to gorgeous waterfront parks, sandy beaches, stunning harbour and century-old performing arts centre, Meaford, the self-styled 'Apple Capital of Ontario,' has a lot going for it, including Nottawasaga Bay. (Photo courtesy Marian Drouillard)

Hurry to Meaford before the secret is out about this gem - Georgian Triangle waterfront town offers affordable living

Fast Facts
A TRANSITION TEAM preparing for the municipality that would result from the amalgamation of the Town of Meaford and various townships on Jan. 1, 2001 had voted to name it Georgian Highlands, with the name Meaford coming in second. But one of the first orders of business of the new council was to change the name from Georgian Highlands back to Meaford, because it didn’t want to be confused with nearby municipalities such as Georgian Bluffs and Grey Highlands.

UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, if you type in Meaford in Google maps, you were taken to a place called ‘Georgian Highlands,’ whose location is shown as being smack dab in the middle of the new amalgamated Meaford, miles away from the water. If you wanted Google to locate the urban Meaford, which sits on Highway 26 on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, you had to misspell it ‘Meadford’. Thanks Google, for adding 'Meaford' to 'Meadford.'

MEAFORD'S DOWNTOWN tourist information booth, dubbed the Big Apple because of its dimensions, shape and colour, was adapted from plans used to construct the Big Tomato booth in downtown Leamington in southwestern Ontario.  Both the apple and tomato are the same colour, though the Meaford booth is made with spruce, along with Fiberglass.
Meaford, located on the southern shore of Georgian Bay between Owen Sound and the Blue Mountains resort area, is a beautiful town facing an identity crisis as a “drive-by place.”

Home to gorgeous waterfront parks, sandy beaches, stunning harbour and century-old performing arts centre, Meaford, the self-styled “Apple Capital of Ontario,” has a lot going for it. There’s also miles of hiking and biking trails through woods and across marshland boardwalks and the craggy slopes of the Niagara Escarpment, not to mention the finest rainbow trout and salmon fisheries in Ontario right there in the Bighead River that meanders through the town. And there are interesting sights to see, from the finest stained-glass church windows in North America to an antique toy museum.

Did we mention that Meaford is the resting place for Beautiful Joe, the real-life dog made famous in 1893 in the best-selling children’s novel by Margaret Marshall Saunders? There’s a statue of Joe in a serene 8.5-acre park dedicated to the beloved canine.

Where history and nature meet

And that Meaford is also the home of living history thanks to Trout Hollow Trail, the 14-kilometre path along the Big Head River that will give you a taste of the natural beauty that inspired John Muir, founder of the worldwide conservation movement and groups such as the Sierra Club. Muir lived in Meaford from 1864 to 1866, living and working with the Trout family in their sawmill that once stood on the very land covered in the hike.

If all this sounds as great as it is, you might be wondering why anyone would want to drive by Meaford, a town of 11,000 where celebrating and protecting nature and heritage are a way of life that is entrenched in the Official Plan.

First, some background.

Meaford, which almost lost its name during the 2001 amalgamation with various waterfront and backwoods townships surrounding it, has historically been considered the poor cousin between Owen Sound and Collingwood. And with amalgamation, Meaford has been turned into a community of tiny communities that don’t always relate to the original Meaford that people remember driving by on Highway 26 along the shores of the beautiful Nottawasaga Bay.

Sprawling 'super' town of villages and hamlets

Today, Meaford’s borders extend northwest all the way to the boundary of the City of Owen Sound. And southeast, the borders extend to the Town of the Blue Mountains, where popular Thornbury, home of a new horse park, is its nearest neighbour. Collingwood, just east of Blue Mountains, is the starting place for the 32-kilometre Georgian Trail that runs all the way to Meaford’s harbour. Blue Mountains and Collingwood together form one of the fastest-growing four-season resort regions in Canada.

Known as the Georgian Triangle, this major tourist region officially includes Meaford and its 22 villages and hamlets, with names such as Leith, Annan, Christie Beach and Balaclava. Like we said earlier, this sprawling town is a charming mix of rural and country landscape, with beautiful waterfront parks and quaint heritage buildings scattered throughout. The problem is, Meaford still has that old inferiority complex chip on its shoulder.

The town’s recent strategic plan report warned that Meaford will remain a “drive-by place” unless it can get the message out that here is a place that families and young professionals can work and live quite happily. To get them to Meaford, and to keep them here, councillors have been told they need to work with the private sector to bring a major attraction to the town. That, and the development of “critical mass” retail — which is how the town describes its shopping weakness — are believed to be the key to Meaford’s future success and the way to turn the town into a “drive-to” destination.

Meaford needs more young families living, working here

While the agri-business ranks No. 1 on the list of four industry areas the town wants to attract and expand upon to boost the local economy, retail is No. 2, followed by tourism, with “green” business rounding out the list. Without tourists, or more permanent residents, there won’t be anyone spending money in the stores. And without big brand-name stores, there won’t be any tourists or commercial tax revenue, which is a major problem if you own residential property here.

Meaford not only wants to increase its tax base by 30 per cent over the next 10 years, it wants to increase the non-residential tax revenue to 11 per cent from the current nine per cent, so all the burden isn’t on homeowners, the majority of whom are retired. To meet those goals, the town is embarking on a campaign to sell itself to entrepreneurs as a great place to live and to set up a green business. And it’s letting food processors know they, too, are welcome, something the town hopes will lure young working people to Meaford, increasing the town’s tax base and strengthening its schools.

With a stronger tax base and new, younger residents working and living here, big retail will naturally follow to meet demand, the theory goes. And with brand-name retail, Meaford will establish itself as a shopping hub, attracting both tourists and customers from neighbouring towns, who will finally realize that hey, this place is great!

Elegant Opera House the jewel of heritage Meaford

In the meantime, you can avoid the crowds and visit now. Millions of dollars have been spent in the past few years spiffing up town gems, such as the Edwardian-styled Meaford Arts & Cultural Centre on Nelson Street. Also known as the Opera House, this elegant performing arts centre, built in 1909, holds pride of place in the heart of downtown. It recently underwent a $6-million facelift, reopening bigger and better than ever in 2006.

Just down the street, toward the sparkling waters of the bay, you’ll find one of the prettiest harbours in Ontario. Take a walk along a cobblestone path to the lookout for panoramic views of the Big Head River and the bay. The harbour is a hub of activity: it’s where fishing charters depart, where families come for picnics under the shade of a pavilion and where residents and tourists come for fries and ice cream cones.

Two other waterfront parks, Fred Raper’s Park and McCarroll Park, are also located downtown, joined by a greenbelt that parallels Bayfield Street.  Between them, you can spend time on the beach, have a picnic or try your hand at shuffleboard.

Meaford is also home to one of the few waterfront campgrounds in Ontario. Memorial Park boasts 1,300 feet of shoreline, picnic area, playground equipment and a snack bar. There is also a miniature golf course and woodland trails to enjoy. All 135 trailer sites are either on Georgian Bay or just a short walk from the park’s own beach.

Christ Church Anglican's windows a thing of beauty

If you don’t have time for a hike through the town’s many conservation areas, take a quick tour of Christ Church Anglican, home to one of the world’s most original Second World War memorials. Six windows are made up of some of the oldest stained glass in North America, with pieces of coloured glass — some as old as 700 years — from 125 English and Welsh churches bombed during the war. Other pieces hail from Ireland, France, Belgium and Holland.

You’ll also want to drop by the Big Apple tourist information booth, staffed by the Chamber of Commerce, for ideas on stuff to see and do on your next visit. Meaford is the northern-most apple producing area in Ontario, with 14 orchards in the town’s borders, covering about 2,500 acres. Meaford has been growing apples, including the famous Macintosh, since 1846.

New homes near river, harbour re-energizing downtown

On the real estate front, Meaford is attracting new residents to its heritage downtown, a goal in the Official Plan, through development of townhouses on side streets near the Big Head River and harbour. New townhouses in this area sell for $360,000 and up.

Recently listed waterfront property in Meaford included a one-bedroom 465-square-foot low-rise condo apartment in the heart of downtown near the bay for $74,900. A two-storey 1,800-square-foot house with 126 feet of shoreline along Nottawasaga Bay could be had for $599,900, while at the upper end of the budget, a 49-acre waterfront estate with a 1,436-square-foot bungalow in need of updating was listed for $1,250,000.