There's a surprising lot of interesting stuff going on around here, and this space is devoted to discovering and sharing it. We'll post regular updates on merchants, activities and events. Look in often and soon you'll see why Meaford calls itself "The other Big Apple".

posted August 30th, 2011
Ghost trains of Meaford

At about 7 p.m. on November 14, 1872, the first locomotive rolled into Meaford along the newly-laid rail line between Collingwood and Meaford – built by the North Grey Railway Company. Until then, the village had shipped and received goods via ships and along the primitive roads of the time, and while various interests petitioned for a railway, it looked unlikely. According to Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages, it was Gooderham & Worts, the Toronto distillery, which may have finally spurred the development of the line.

The Northern Railway, which operated in Simcoe County, wasn’t convinced of the value in extending a line along the southern shore of Georgian Bay. But Gooderham & Worts had recently underwritten the construction of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway – arrowing northwest to Owen Sound to bring back the distillery’s primary supplies: firewood and wheat. To compete, the Northern gave authority to North Grey Railway, formed by politicians and business interests from Meaford, Collingwood and nearby communities, to build the line – with the ultimate goal of extending it to Owen Sound.

Meaford train station

The train station at Meaford harbour

The first station stood on the west side of Sykes Street, near the top of “Station Hill”. (A small parkette now fronts the road here, with the rail yard long gone and a subdivision taking its place.) By the turn of the century, a new spur line to the harbour and a new station allowed more efficient access to industry and shipping. For years the railway served Meaford’s economy, brought in holiday visitors, and carried soldiers from the Meaford base overseas to the war in Europe, welcoming those that returned. But regular passenger service ended in 1960, and by then freight service had dropped to a train a day. The old station fell to the wrecker’s ball in 1965.

For two decades the line was essentially abandoned, but in a time when a growing “rail to trail” movement was converting abandoned rail lines across Ontario and North America, local residents showed considerable interest in turning the 32-kilometre line into something that could continue to benefit the towns along the way. The Georgian Trail would offer hiking, jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing to residents and visitors alike, whether they were touring a local leg or venturing the length of the trail. But the Georgian Cycle and Ski Trail Association had its work cut out for it. The rail line passed through two counties, two townships and three municipalities, and creating the trail would require considerable fund raising and volunteer time. But the group persevered, and within a mere three years the Georgian Trail officially opened. (As with the original North Grey Railway line, the section down to Meaford harbour took a little longer to complete – when your faithful blogger arrived in town back in 1992, you needed to venture up St. Vincent Street to access the trail across from Knights of Meaford.)

Next up, a tour of the trail.

posted August 27th, 2011
Meaford International Film Festival slates three interviews

As the Meaford International Film Festival (MIFF) approaches – it kicks off next Thursday, folks – the producers have announced a series of interviews which will round out the screenings of three of the films.

Christopher Thomas, popular host of CBC radio and television programs, will take the stage after the screenings for these interviews.

Following Thursday’s premiere Canadian screening of The White Meadows, Thomas will be interview Marina Nemat, the well-known author of two books about her experiences in prison in Tehran, where she was sentenced to death for her political actions. The Iranian film makers of The White Meadows are currently under house arrest in Iran, and Nemat will shed light on why this film is so threatening to the current regime.

The White Meadows at MIFF

On Friday, Mila Aung-Thwin, one of the Canadian producers of Last Train Home, will discuss his film, the changes sweeping China and the special challenges of making films there.

On Saturday, MIFF presents an interview with Justin Chadwick, the director of The First Grader (and The Other Boleyn Girl). He’ll discuss the background to the film, and the difficulties he encountered when filming in a remote part of Kenya.

“We’re honoured that we can bring these interviews to MIFF,” says Festival Producer Michael Anderson. “One of our goals at MIFF is to show other cultures and ways of life, and our distinguished guests will bring special insights that will greatly increase our enjoyment of these films.”

posted August 26th, 2011
Beautiful Joe a Meaford tale loved by millions

His name was Joe. He was a sandy-haired mongrel who’d been cruelly abused by his master, and lost his ears and tail to a butcher knife. Weak and wary, he wandered the leafy streets of Meaford into the hearts of millions around the world.

Back in 1893, the plight of the mutt sparked the anger and imagination of a young author visiting Meaford’s Moore family, who had rescued Joe from his owner in a neighbouring village. Marshall Saunders helped nurse the dog’s wounds and fear, and worked out her own outrage by writing of his plight, a manuscript she called “Beautiful Joe”.

Marshall Saunders

Marshall Saunders

The next year, Saunders entered the book in an American Humane Educational Society contest to find a sequel to “Black Beauty”. Her story of the Meaford dog’s life and rescue won the prize and publication in 1894, and went on to become an international best-seller of more than 6 million copies in 14 languages.

In 1963, former Mayor Frank Garvey and his wife, Judy, came across an old marker for Joe’s grave near the Bighead River, and the couple spearheaded an effort to create Beautiful Joe Park in the plot of land across the river from their home at the end of Cook Street.

Thirty years later, Beautiful Joe again took a place of prominence in Meaford, when a local group realized he might be yet another attraction to this beautiful, historical town. When the Canadian publisher told the newly established Beautiful Joe Heritage Society it had no plans to reissue the book, but the Society was welcome to publish it, the group pulled off an astonishing feat. Using a 1930s edition as the master copy, they republished “Beautiful Joe” within a week, just in time for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the book’s publication. (The new edition explained Meaford’s place in Beautiful Joe’s life, as Saunders had changed the story’s location to a town in Maine in order to increase her chances at winning the contest and at American publication.) That same summer, Meafordites enjoyed a locally-produced play called “Beautiful Joe – A Dog’s Life” at the Meaford Opera House (now Meaford Hall).

Beautiful Joe - The Meaford Edition

Beautiful Joe - The Meaford Edition

In the years since, the group has continued to promote Joe (as well as the humane treatment of animals and the recognition of heroic and outstanding canines), and the park now includes a cast sculpture of Beautiful Joe, landscaping around the dog’s gravesite, a Memorial Pavilion bearing plaques to beloved pets, and a monument to K-9 officers and their handlers who lost their lives on September 11.

Canine memorials at Beautiful Joe Park

Canine memorials at Beautiful Joe Park

Next month will see Beautiful Joe’s Autumn Adventure return to the park with dog-related events and activities, and a new Beautiful Joe play is in the works.

Beside the main entrance to Beautiful Joe Park, you’ll see a pink frame house. This is the former Moore home, and the place where Joe lived out his years.

Visit the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society to find out a whole lot more.

posted August 24th, 2011
Passion, romance and repose in your retirement

Meaford Haven Creative Director Paul Grissom has an interesting article on, in which he describes the three seasons of retirement as characterized by passion, romance and repose.

“We call the seasons, ‘Passion’, when we are in our 50s and starting to think about what’s next; ‘Romance, whatever age we happen to be when we begin to slow down; and ‘Repose’, when we begin to require assistance to carry out our daily lives,” he writes.

He describes the first stage as a time in which we move from “the life we’ve always lived to a life we’d prefer to live,” and seek out the best possible place for that to happen.

By the “Romance” season, we’re still very active – but more fully involved with the community and seeking like-minded people. “The promise of finding a peer group in a supportive community with enough of the amenities we’ve always enjoyed will figure greatly in our decision,” writes Paul.

By the time we’re ready for “Repose”, we’re also ready to be rewarded for our past involvement and support of the community. “If we’re lucky we’ll all get really old some day and we’ll need a little help to get around,” writes Paul. “We, who have fully committed to our community, having done our part, now need our community to support us.”

This is just a summary of Paul’s enlightening article. Read the full version here, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

posted August 20th, 2011
Scenic Caves Nature Adventure “tops”

One of the things that’s great about Meaford Haven is its proximity to attractions everyone else needs to travel far to experience. Hop in your car, and within a half-hour drive on scenic country roads, you’re at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures.

The site, high on the Niagara Escarpment above Georgian Bay, has attracted people for centuries. A huge standing rock, carved by erosion from the cliff at the site, was seen by the Hurons as Ekarenniondi, the rock that marked the path to the Village of the Souls, or the Afterlife. “Today, no-one disputes that the sacred Rock marking the trail to the Village of the Dead, which is at the same time Ekarenniondi, The Watcher and Oscotarach, the Head-Piercer, is the rock long so identified at the Scenic Caves,” writes Collingwood archeologist and historian Charles Garrad. “It is the only rock which meets all the tests implied in the legends,” he writes.


Ekarenniondi - the sacred Rock marking the trail to the Village of the Dead at Scenic Caves Nature Adventure

But with the arrival of European settlers to the area in the 1800s, the area was more noted for its vistas and the narrow caves that wind through the area. Locals would climb up to the site to picnic, and back in 1850 someone carved their initials in one of the caves – leaving marks still readable today.

The property eventually became a farm, which operated until an enterprising businessman purchased the property in 1932. Aflred Staples built wooden ladders and bridges and offered guided tours of the caves. An irrepresible showman, he called himself the “Man of Nature”, and performed feats and stunts to attract visitors, including crossing the ice of Nottawasaga Bay to Christian Island and walking from Collingwood to Chicago.

His daughter, Sandra took over the operation in the sixties, and ran it for the next quarter century with her husband, adding amenities and building a gift shop.

Then, in 1993, Collingwood businessman Rob Thorburn bought the property. Convinced it could be more than a homespun tourist attraction, he invested heavily in the property, adding attractions and activities to make Scenic Caves Nature Adventures a true tourism destination.

In the last decade, improvements have included:

The Nordic Centre A groomed cross country ski trail network that retains the feel of a backwoods ski route, with trees bounding trails that haven’t been cut wide to accommodate large-scale groomers. The Centre also includes snow shoe trails. Ski and snow shoe rentals and winter warmups make for a full winter experience.

The Suspension Bridge at Scenic Caves Ontario’s longest suspension bridge offers views toward Collingwood, Georgian Bay, and beyond to the Penetanguishene Pensinsula – from a vantage 300 metres above the Bay.

The Eco Adventure Tour The three-hour guided tour takes you across the suspension bridge, along a suspended pathway through the canopy of the trees, then down to the ground via exhilarating zip lines. (The adventure also includes the cave tour.)

posted August 19th, 2011
Blue Mountain happening all year round

Visited Blue Mountain earlier this week, twice in fact. Canada’s third busiest ski resort is just a 20 minute drive from Meaford Haven, but if you’re an avid skier, you don’t have to worry about the “busy” part. A Blue Mountain 5×7 pass is a great deal and allows you to ski Monday through Friday day and night, and nights on Saturday and Sunday. Head there during the week, and you’ll be surprised at how short the lift lines are – if there are line-ups at all. More often than not, you’ll be skiing right up to the lift.

But back to this week’s visits. Blue Mountain isn’t just about winter. Come summer, it seems like there are even more things to do. Last Friday, the mountain bike got its first real ride of the season with a tough climb up the trails alongside Scenic Caves Road. With few glimpses of the road from the treed trails, you didn’t really have an idea of how far you up you were until you finally emerged right across from the popular Scenic Caves Nature Adventures attraction (more on that tomorrow). Then, thankfully, the course flattened out (for a little while). A few downhills were invariably followed by more climbs, which had me dreading the next descent, until the final ride down to a well deserved lunch in the Village at Blue. (It’s the downhill trails that attract most bikers to the hill – an easy ride up in the gondola followed by an exhilarating descent has something to recommend it over the cross-country climb, except for the bragging rights, of course.)

Back on Monday for more leisurely pursuits. For a few years, Plunge! Aquatic Adventure has been welcoming kids (and the young at heart) year round with its indoor/outdoor pools, indoor water playground, hot tubs, rope swing, dock and slides. Paddle boats and kayaks ply the pond during the summer months. Kids try their hands (and feet) at the climbing wall. Shoppers tour the array of shops in the Village, followed by a drink or a meal in their choice of pubs and restaurants. And this year, the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster offers new thrills. It’s like a roller coaster ride down the hill – for more than a kilometre – but you control your speed with a brake; if the max 42 kilometre per hour is too fast, slow down and enjoy the views.

But the newest attraction, and one that might just attract the real golfers among us, is the miniature golf currently under construction at the base of the hill. This looks like it’s going to be much more than an ordinary mini-putt, with realistic greens, bunkers, and challenging lies, all set among monolithic blocks in the side of the hill, recalling the ruins of Greek temple or amphitheatre.

Blue Mountain's new mini golf course

Blue Mountain's new mini golf course under construction

posted August 18th, 2011
Summerfolk offers three nights and two days of music near Meaford

Back in 1975, brothers John and Tim Harrison got the idea of starting a folk festival in their hometown of Owen Sound, just 20 minutes down the road from Meaford. Searching for a suitable site for their first, low-key event, they settled on Kelso Beach Park, on the west shore of Owen Sound Bay. And settled is the right word. At the time, the park was a flat, almost marshy area nearby factories often used as a dump. The inaugural event featured such artists as Shirley Eikhard, Willie P. Bennett, and the Original Sloth Band playing on makeshift stages, and in lieu of ponchos and branded seating pads, the organizers sold garbage bags to protect folkie butts from the wet ground.

Tomorrow at 5 p.m. the 36 edition of the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival kicks off. In the years since that quiet debut, the festival has grown into one of Ontario’s premiere music events (indeed one of the most respected folk festivals anywhere), showcasing remarkable international artists on numerous outdoor stages – including the permanent, covered main stage, which faces a limestone and grass amphitheatre and hosts the main nightly events – and the large and popular “Down By The Bay” tent, which features performances throughout the day and into the night in a licensed setting.

Summerfolk mainstage

Summerfolk mainstage

True to its folk festival roots, the event features “workshops” throughout the day at various stages – gatherings of different musicians from different acts who interact and play music around each workshop’s theme.

And from the beginning, Summerfolk has been about more than music. Artisans and craftspeople of remarkable talent and range offer their wares for sale in booths in a small, friendly, outdoor market. Of course, there’s a variety of food for all tastes, too.

Each year, the festival is notable as much for the new discoveries as the established artists. This year features such folk stalwarts as Tom Leighton, James Gordon and David Francey, as well as up-and-comers The Once (the Newfoundland vocal group that’s been showing up at all the award shows the past couple of years) and Australia’s “alt-pop darlings” The Little Stevies – along with more than two dozen more other performers and groups.

Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Summerfolk traditionally closes with many of the artists onstage performing Stan Rogers’s “The Mary Ellen Carter”. In 2007, Stan’s son, Nathan fronted the crew. (You’ll need to click twice on the video below to see it on YouTube.

posted August 13th, 2011
Toronto Star real estate section profiles Meaford’s retirement haven

Make sure to check out today’s Toronto Star. Meaford Haven is featured in an article by Roberta Avery, a long time Meaford resident who writes on real estate (among other topics) for the paper. The article introduces developer Pierre Boiron and describes his vision of Meaford Haven as a Three Seasons Community™.

Today's Toronto Star article on Meaford Haven

Today's Toronto Star article on Meaford Haven

“Boiron wants to create a community with a culture of caring for its members. The idea is to attract retirees who will first live in the cluster bungalows and then move to a condominium apartment, where more services are available, as they age. Then, at the stage Boiron calls ‘repose,’ they will go to a full-service retirement residence — all in the same development,” writes Roberta.

She also describes how Pierre decided that Meaford was the perfect place to realize his vision. “I realized that developers had been passing Meaford by,” he told Roberta. While Meaford is situated right on Georgian Bay with a beautiful harbour and a mere 20-minute drive from Blue Mountain ski resort, it retains its traditional small town charm.

Roberta writes:

“Meaford is quaint, pleasant and laid back, it’s a nice place,” says Boiron, who also developed a 39-lot project in Pickering in the late 1990s. Meaford is “a place that’s remained unspoiled by development excesses.”

posted August 11th, 2011
Meaford’s retirement community and Meaford architecture

At Meaford Haven’s meeting with businesspeople and municipal representatives on Tuesday, Meaford Councillor Barb Clumpus brought up an important issue. “Will Meaford Haven’s buildings reflect the beautiful architectural heritage we have in Meaford?” she asked. Clumpus is a heritage advocate and a proponent of preserving the architectural styles that make Meaford a beautiful example of historical small town Ontario. She worked with the group that helped develop Meaford’s Community Improvement Plan, which sets out guidelines to help retain the qualities that attract many people to the community.

Paul agreed that drawing on Meaford’s architectural vernacular was important. “The last thing we need is another ski chalet,” he said, to chuckles ’round the room.

A Meaford heritage streetscape.

A Meaford heritage streetscape.

With the initial architect’s conceptions getting under way soon, interested people have an opportunity to offer their input on what the Meaford Haven retirement bungalows and retirement condominium apartments will look like – even on layouts and floor plans. If you’re interested in participating in Meaford Haven’s virtual focus groups, sign up and get your ideas heard.

posted August 10th, 2011
Meaford business people and Municipal reps learn more about Meaford Haven

Paul Grissom, Creative Director for Meaford Haven, was in town yesterday to meet with representatives of the Meaford and District Chamber of Commerce, business people, and representatives from Meaford Council and the municipality.

After mingling with guests, Paul made a presentation in which he discussed the marketing of Meaford Haven, and he noted that number one on most people’s list when searching for a retirement community is location. If you’ve dipped into this blog now and then, you know that Meaford’s got that sewn up.

Guests also learned more about the philosophy behind the first Three Seasons Community (the phrase Meaford Haven has trademarked term to describe this unique approach to retirement living.)

“It seems like the entire marketing community has carved up the retirement category according to age,” said Paul, “But it’s not about ages, it’s about stages – and there are three distinct stages we all go through but not all at the same pace. We call them the three seasons of retirement.”

The first season, which Paul called the “current darling of marketers”, includes the Boomer-Zoomers, 50-plus retirees who are looking for an active lifestyle, with plenty of healthy outdoor pursuits and involvement in the local community. Meaford Haven’s location and the wealth of surrounding recreational opportunities positions this community nicely for this group.

“But this is where the age basis for defining an audience begins to crumble,” said Paul. “Because some us are robust and active well into our 70s and 80s, while others of us begin to feel our physical limits in our 60s. The second season begins at no set time; it just kind of creeps up on you. You can’t run or play tennis anymore, but you still have the energy for a good power walk. You’re mentally as fit as ever – even with the ‘senior’s moments’. You’ve just come to that stage where ‘you would if you could, but you can’t, so you won’t.’ Your age when you realize this is only a coincidence. Still, you may prefer smaller quarters in a comfy condo apartment instead of your somewhat larger bungalow. What’s cool about Meaford Haven is you’ll be able to move across the street. You won’t have to change neighbourhoods to accommodate your changing lifestyle needs.”

What makes Meaford Haven truly unique

But how Meaford Haven caters to the third season is probably Meaford Haven’s major point of difference, said Paul. “It serves an area that’s overlooked. Before society institutionalized aging it was taken for granted that we would all look after the elders in our community and help them to grow old among their friends. And we expected the same for ourselves.

“Today’s culture has forgotten how to do this. We take the elderly away from everyone when they begin to need assistance and put them in a home somewhere across town. This only happens to about four percent of us, but why should it happen at all? Why should anyone have to leave the people and the place they’ve invested their lives in just because they can’t do for themselves anymore?

“We believe the solution is simple – create a place that’s attractive, liveable and reasonably priced, and attract people who are willing to live the promise to look after each other to live there. Volunteerism will be an integral part of the community culture.”

Meaford Haven is a community for all three seasons, he concluded. “It’s in a beautiful area that’s loved as a vacation playground, and for its gentler way of life. It’s going to be social, by design. Homes will cluster around a community center. There will be a medical facility – a building made to accommodate doctors offices, dentists, yoga, physiotherapy, plus hair salon, cleaners, maybe a convenience store and a coffee shop. This will be right on the site with easy access for all. And there will be an assisted living residence right on site as well.

“You may need to move across the street at some point, but you won’t have to move away.”

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