In the autumn of 1858 a group of area residents and clergy and formed a committee to consider the possibility of holding a camp meeting for the Niagara District. This new committee was composed of Reverend Samuel Rose, Rev. John Wakefield, Rev. John Shaw, Rev. Michael Fawcett, as well as John B. Bowslaugh, Jacob Beamer and David Houser. Noah Phelps would also join the group early on as President. An earlier Temperance Meeting had been held along the shores of Lake Ontario in the town of Grimsby in 1846 and had drawn enormous crowds. It was this location that was considered for the Camp-ground meeting place by that first committee.
John Beamer Bowslaugh was the son of Jacob Bowslaugh, a strict Methodist of impeccable character. His grandfather Peter Bowslaugh was a well known Methodist preacher. In those very early days of Upper Canada's history, it was common practice for preachers and ministers to make long journeys into the vast wilderness to visit families and communities who would otherwise be totally cut off from outside civilization.
In 1846 John Bowslaugh married Elizabeth Smith, of Yarmouth Township, near St. Thomas and built a home in Lincoln County. The original home burned and was rebuilt. The home faced south, towards the Niagara Escarpment and can still be seen today along King Street, or the old Highway #8. John B. Bowslaugh eventually inherited a large tract of land along the shores of Lake Ontario from his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named.
Mr. Bowslaugh allowed a portion of this land to be used by the Methodist Church, so they could have a venue to conduct their meetings from. The first camp meeting was held at Grimsby in 1859. Accommodations at those very first meetings were meagre. The original tract of land was overgrown with a dense forest of trees and bush but it did possess a good source of water from a nearby stream and roots and twigs were plentiful enough to provide firewood to the campers. Tents were constructed by the campground on small lots. The tents would have a wooden base and wooden sides. Eventually these board tents would be replaced with the gingerbread cottages, some of which can still be seen today. The tiny cottages are on very small lots and the laneways between are very narrow. The laneways were never intended to accommodate vehicular traffic as the automobile was not yet invented. The laneways were strictly meant for pedestrians.
Throughout the early years the meetings were well attended and Mr. Bowslaugh, Mr. Fairfield and Mr. Phelps, acting as caretakers of the property worked tirelessly by constantly improving the Campground . The meetings would be held in August and would extend for a fortnight or two weeks beginning and ending on a Sunday. They would include three sermons a day, conducted by different ministers as well as lectures and concerts. One notable singer was Martha Comfort who was said to possess one of the most beautiful soprano voices of any singer to grace the stage.
In 1874 the Grimsby Camp-meeting became Grimsby Park. At this meeting the original founders took steps to create a company to be called the Ontario Methodist Camp Ground Company. Noah Phelps would be the President, Mr. Bowslaugh the Treasurer and Mr. Fairfield the Secretary. By the following year all the tents had been taken down and replaced with sixty or seventy new modern cottages.
A restaurant was built which would later become known as The Park House. Another place of lodging was Lakeview House, which as its name would suggest commanded magnificent views of Lake Ontario. At the beach boathouses and bathhouses dotted the waterfront and a large wharf stretched out into the lake providing a platform from which guests could arrive and embark from the Steamers that visited the park daily.
Around 1880, for the first time ever, an admission was charged at the gate with the fee being ten cents for adults, children were free and season passes could be had for fifty cents.
By the turn of the twentieth century Grimsby Park was one of the most popular summer tourist destinations along Lake Ontario. One park resident for many years described the park around the turn of the century as follows:
"There is no trace of the old camp meeting visible as the train halts at the long covered platform which is called "the station", and the gay summer crowds pace up and down the wide promenade animated and happy. The well kept drive and board walk which lead to the entrance pavilion, and on through the wood and picnic ground to the huge temple, are shaded by rows of tall trees. To the right one sees the tennis courts, and to the left the picnic grounds, with seats, tables, cooking stoves, swings, and every convenience for the excursionists, who visit the place in great numbers every summer.
Cottages and canvas tents are scattered through the open places in the woods, and a capacious horse-yard occupies a remote corner. A well patronized market place, with butcher shop and fruit and vegetable stands, furnishes the necessaries of life, and a first class grocery does it's share, while the milkman never fails to meet the large demands for rich, pure milk. The water supply is unfailing and excellent, and is furnished largely by the same spring which was so important a factor in the choice location for the old camp ground.
Across the way is the Park House, it's broad verandas all aflutter with the bright summer costumes of the ladies and children. In every direction are the cottages, peeping out from among the trees, or lining the shady lanes and avenues which straggle off in many bewildering ways. Through an opening between two dwellings the road passes into the auditorium with it's circling cottages forming, like the old tents, the enclosure where the meetings have always been held and where stands the great temple or Tabernacle. This structure baffles description. It stretches its wide umbrella-like expanse over the places where the "fathers" held their outdoor meetings. As an architectural curiosity it is surely unique, but language fails when one attempts a description of it. It is capable of sheltering an enormous concourse of people, and when it is filled of an evening and the electric lights flash their ways into the farthest circles, the spectacle is an impressive one."
The demise of Grimsby Beach was a gradual one. In 1910 the property was purchased by Canada Steamship Lines. Around this time the Camp ceased to be a Methodist meeting camp and became a summer resort destination. A roller coaster and carousel were added to the park in the hopes of attracting tourists.
Fire would destroy many of the old wooden buildings and cottages and the lots would be sold off. New modern homes replaced many of the old gingerbread cottages. A few of these original cottages have remained, many lovingly restored by their present owners. The location where the great tent once stood is a park, with a cairn that marks the location where the story of Grimsby Park began.