The City of Owen Sound is located on the southern shores of Georgian Bay in a valley below the sheer rock cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Owen Sound is characterized by a magnificent harbour and bay, two winding rivers, tree-lined streets, an extensive parks system, and tree-covered hillsides and ravines, which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Owen Sound is the largest urban community in Grey and Bruce Counties, which combined represent a primary commercial market of 158,000. Owen Sound is the seat of the County of Grey government, and is the location for a number of regional, provincial and federal government offices. There are twelve elementary schools, three secondary schools, and six private schools in addition to a Georgian College campus.
Points of interest include four conservation areas (Inglis Falls, Indian Falls, Hibou and Pottawatomi), Kelso Beach and the City’s waterfront trail system, Harrison Park, Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, Billy Bishop Home & Museum, Owen Sound Marine & Rail Museum and the Farmers’ Market.
The downtown, recently refurbished and reminiscent of the 1900s, offers an economy that is balanced and diversified. The Heritage Place Shopping Centre on the east side complements the vibrant, scenic downtown core and other arterial shopping areas.
Citizens and visitors can enjoy extensive recreation facilities and opportunities in Owen Sound. The City operates two arenas, and numerous soccer and baseball complexes. Three golf courses serve the City. Excellent boating and fishing are available on the bay, and during the winter residents can access thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails, crosscountry skiing areas, and downhill skiing clubs.
This area of the upper Great Lakes was first formally surveyed in 1815 by William Fitzwilliam Owen and Lieutenant Henry W. Bayfield. The inlet was named "Owen's Sound" in honour of Admiral Sir Edward William Campbell Rich Owen, the explorer Owen's older brother.
The city of Owen Sound was originally known as Sydenham when it was first settled in 1841 by Charles Rankin. Prior to that the area had been inhabited by the Ojibway people. The city gained its current name in 1851 and was incorporated in 1857. For much of its history, Owen Sound was a major port city, known as the "Chicago of the North". Its location on Georgian Bay gave it access to the upper Great Lakes, and major rail lines moved cargo south from there. Port duties have declined dramatically since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway allowed shipping directly to the lower lakes and dramatically lowered costs compared to transshipment via Owen Sound. Being both the gateway to cottage country, and in the heart of Ontario's beef, apple and corn region, farming and tourism are still integral parts of the local economy.
One of the city's most famous sons was World War I flying ace and Victoria Cross winner William Avery "Billy" Bishop, Canada's leading pilot in the war and a veteran of Vimy Ridge. Bishop is also one of the few to have tangled with the Red Baron and survived, forcing the German pilot to retreat in a damaged aircraft. The Billy Bishop Regional Airport in the nearby Municipality of Meaford was named after him. His modest gravesite can be visited in the city's Greenwood Cemetery by those willing to take the time to locate the stone. His boyhood home is now a museum dedicated to his life and to Canada's aviation history. The town was also the home of NHL Hall-of-Fame goaltender Harry Lumley and the artist Tom Thomson (buried in the nearby village of Leith). Surgeon Dr. Norman Bethune, an avowed communist and pioneer of public medicine who gained notoriety in his innovative medical work with the Chinese army during the Second Sino-Japanese War is an alumnus of the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Legendary hockey broadcaster Bill Hewitt was once sports director of the local AM radio station, CFOS. Tommy Holmes, another Victoria Cross winner, was also from Owen Sound, and the city's armoury bears his name.