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Cobble Beach's Rare Roots

by Laura Aiken

The development of Cobble Beach Golf Links in Owen Sound sparked the largest archaeological study completed in Grey County. The dig dispelled one of the area’s oldest myths and brought murky history out of obscurity.


Dr. William Fitzgerald, archaeologist, first received a call from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nations in 1999: A headstone had possibly been vandalized. The marker in question belonged to Catherine Sutton, one of the most famous Aboriginals in Canada. The grave appeared to be on Willis McLeese’s land. The 93 year old owner of Georgian Villas Inc. had recently purchased the Owen Sound property for development. The 574 acre parcel of land is bordered by Georgian Bay, Church Side Rd. E, Presquille Rd. and Grey Rd. 1.


The phone call prompted a move that “threw the Ministry of Culture for a loop,” said Fitzgerald. McLeese ordered up an archeological and historical study of his whole property in order to identify and protect existing significant artifacts. Fitzgerald pointed out that developers typically already have their plans in mind, and surveying goals are usually to excavate or move anything of cultural or historical significance.


“We want to honour the past,” said Kim Giffen, Marketing and Membership Manager, adding that it’s integral to the whole team and experience at Cobble Beach. From 1999 to 2003, more than 30 university faculty, graduates and senior undergrads identified 10 heritage zones and sorted out the story of Sutton, stones and settlers.


Who and Where is Catherine Sutton?

In a government archives nutshell: Sutton’s Ojibway name was Nahnebahwequay, meaning upright woman. She was born in 1824 in Credit River Flats (now Port Credit) and married Englishman William Sutton in 1839. In 1846 the Suttons purchased 200 acres in Owen Sound from the Nawash band, and built a house, barn, and stable. They temporarily left the farm to help at Garden River reserve in Sault St. Marie. Upon their return, they discovered the land had been divided into lots and put up for sale by the government, who had secured the land in the Surrender of 1857 (Treaty 82). Sutton was advised Natives could not buy back ceded (surrendered) land. She unsuccessfully petitioned the government. Failing that, she went to New York where Quakers paid her ticket to England and referred her to the Alsops, who got her in front of Queen Victoria in 1860. She impressed the Queen, Britian intervened and she got her land back. She continued to use her knowledge of “white man’s ways” to champion Aboriginal rights before passing on September 26, 1865, at the age of 41.


History often changes through the recorder’s perception and Sutton is no exception. Fitzgerald found some discrepancies to the standard story, some facts and fiction if you will. Sutton had accepted financial settlement to be removed from the Credit Band list, and it is doubtful she was ever officially adopted into the Nawash band. The government’s Indian Office had on multiple occasions offered the Suttons their land for a discounted rate, and William eventually purchased the land back for the original offer. The government offered husband and wife the same deal. It is hazy as to the entire scope of Britain’s intervention in this matter.


Local folklore stipulated that Sutton’s remains were buried in her garden, near the golf course’s seventh hole. Her headstone was found by the ninth hole. “She’s not where everybody thought she was,” commented Fitzgerald.


The Sutton’s actually had two homes, the original Catherine lived in and a secondary that her mother-in-law and William occupied after she died, explained Fitzgerald. Research discovered that a local women’s group had found her headstone along Presquille Road. The women thoughtfully moved it to the lilac gardens they thought were hers but were actually her mother-in-law’s. A magnetometer survey of the both areas and other possible locations for her remains turned up no evidence of grave shafts. Fitzerald theorized she is likely buried under Presquille Road, and the headstone had been tossed aside during its construction.


The study not only solved the Sutton mystery, but recognized their Native and early European-Canadian neighbours. There were at least three other Native families on the Georgian Villas property—the Georges, Sawyers and Kaikakes. Some of the earliest Euro-Canadian settlers included the Lundy and the McVannal families. “The first Scottish homestead was right behind where the clubhouse will be,” said Fitzgerald. The ruins are now a protected site


That’s No Ordinary Pile of Rocks

They were two small yet oddly arranged rock formations. Someone’s idea of a coastline Stonehenge perhaps?


“In 1999, we had no clue what those little rock piles were.”


The crafty rock art turned out to be two original survey points, which can be seen by the 18th hole. In 1819 Captain Owen and Captain Bayfield surveyed the shoreline in anticipation of European settlement. There originally would have been a pole in the middle of the rocks, and this would have been their reference to the shoreline. Two original maps detailing the survey points turned up in western England during the study, solidifying the theory, explained Fitzgerald.


What began as the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation seeking Fitzgerald’s expertise, turned into full cooperation between Cobble Beach and the band. “We enjoyed a good working relationship,” said Joe MacKay, Manager of Administration. Input was often sought and got from the Chief, Council and members.


It also became a turning point for Fitzgerald, who began the dig as a professor at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo. He said he found so much value in the hand-on learning environment that he left the school permanently to pursue independent projects.

McLeese’s development moved forward in 2003. If all the stars and moons align, Cobble Beach Golf Links will be ready for play in mid to late May, according to Head Professional Warren Thomas. The facility includes an 18 hole golf course designed by Doug Carrick, practice facility, 10 room inn, homes and walking trails.


The subtle descent from Grey Road 1 that makes it possible for golfers to see sweeping Georgian Bay from every hole are the remnants of ancient shore bluffs where water rose and drained over time, recognized by the tall blue Viper’s Bugloss sprouting between exposed cobbles. Step onto the rolling fairways and note how they mimic the rise and fall of waves that lapped against the lives of some of Owen Sound’s earliest and most notorious settlers.


“People have been coming here for thousands of years for the same reason you or I have,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. Golfers will find that one chip shot along the craggy shore of crystal waters reason enough.


The Course:

Par 72
6 Tee Decks
Just under 5400 to just over 7100 yards
98 bunkers
60 acres of Blue Grass Rough