Wiarton is known for the Wiarton Willie Festival. In February each year, national and international media cover Wiarton Willie and his Groundhog Day prediction. Wiarton began its existence in 1855, when it was surveyed and laid out on lands recently acquired from the First Nations in the area. It was named after the birthplace of Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General of Canada from 1854 to 1861. Settlement first began in 1866, and in 1868, a post office was established.
In 1880, Wiarton was incorporated as a village, then with a population of 750. By 1894, Wiarton had become a town with a population of 2,000, a number similar to its present population of 2,300.
Until 1996, Wiarton was known around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, as the home of Wiarton Coast Guard Radio, providing continuous weather reports to mariners and residents.
In 1999, Wiarton was administratively amalgamated into the new municipality of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula. Geographically, the town is defined by the rugged limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve - one of only twelve such reserves in Canada), which bisects the town. The town rests on the picturesque shores of Colpoys Bay, part of Georgian Bay, itself part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes whose waters are shared between Canada and the USA. The town has long been known as the gateway to the Bruce Peninsula, the peninsula separating Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron.
Tourism forms an important part of the town's modern economy, attracting many seasonal visitors to the area's cottages and resorts, and to the town's marina. The Bruce Trail, Canada's oldest and longest footpath, provides public access to the 725-kilometre-long Niagara Escarpment which runs through the town.