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 September 22nd, 2015
A new John Muir day in Meaford – events

While April 21 has been designated and celebrated as John Muir Day in many parts of the world, including California and Scotland, Meaford has dubbed this Saturday, September 26 as our own, homegrown John Muir Day.

As we’ve written before, famed naturalist, author and environmentalist, John Muir spent a productive couple of years in Meaford, working at the Trout Hollow Mill. On Saturday, the Meaford Museum will celebrate Muir and his Meaford connection with a guided tour of the Trout Hollow Trail, including a visit to the site of his cabin and information about the archeological dig that determined its location more than a decade ago. The tour begins at 10 a.m., and admission is $5, with tickets available at the museum.

With the leaves beginning to turn and the weather freshening, it’s the perfect time for a hike along the river trail, which also follows an old elevated mill race and visits the concrete ruins of one of Meaford’s early power stations.

Back at the museum at noon, an open house begins with a scavenger hunt and displays by local artisans at the newly expanded museum gift shop.

At 3 p.m., enjoy a talk on “John Muir in Canada – Contributions to a Philosophy of Nature”, by Connie Simmons, an Alberta Muir scholar who completed her dissertation on John Muir in Canada at the University of Alberta in 2007.

The day wraps up with a series of musical performances at the Harbour Pavilion, including Bambalamb on percussion, Billy Fairley on drums, the Celts, Seamus the Piper and more.

posted September 18th, 2015
A history of Meaford Golf Course, Part II

Ivan Alderdice grew up on a large cash-crop farm in Meaford, but he was a born entrepreneur – always on the lookout for a new opportunity. “I always had about three different careers,” he says with a laugh. Over the years, he operated a long-haul trucking company, worked as a broker for McIntee Realty, and developed a successful subdivision in Meaford – all while he continued to run an 800-acre farm. When the Meaford Golf Course came up for sale in 1991, he was intrigued. “I was never a golfer, beyond charity tournaments and that kind of thing,” he says. “But the subdivision was finished and I was looking for a good investment.”

At the time, he was already maintaining his real estate and farming careers, but the agricultural side of course management appealed to him. “That was the easy part for me – hard for other people, but easy for me. I had a spray licence in agriculture way before they even brought them in to golf courses.” He and his wife, Mary, made an offer.

From the beginning, Ivan planned to expand the course from its original nine holes. Initially, he added an additional set of tee blocks for each hole with enough difference in position to begin to approximate an 18-hole course. Meanwhile, to accommodate the expansion, he’d bought two properties off Nelson Street at the same time he purchased the course. Eight years of careful planning and hard work clearing and transforming the rough property later, nine brand new holes were ready for play.

The 18-hole course opened in 2000, and the new nine holes became known as the Millenium. The older nine were now christened Randle for the original owners of the course.

Ivan’s proud of the work he’s done to transform the golf course, particularly the natural and agricultural enhancements. He added ponds to capture water, which previously flooded the lower holes in the spring, and to stop erosion and provide for irrigation. “You used to have to wear rubber boots to play the 7th fairway right till July,” says Ivan. “So when you’re out there cursing me for these big ponds, remember they’re not just a trap for your balls. They’re there to control the water in the spring.”

Meaford Golf Course aerial view

He’s also proud of the club’s scale. While modern golf trends toward longer and longer courses, he believes golfers are really looking for shorter, but still challenging, courses – the kind of play you’ll find at the Meaford Golf Course. “We’ve got to get rid of our ‘architect’s eagles’; we shouldn’t be building these 7,000 yard courses,” he says.

Even as the 8th hole on the Randle Run earned Grey-Bruce Golf’s recognition as one of the “toughest holes in Grey-Bruce” (with the Millenium #1 “a close second”), the course plays quickly, and golfers are welcome to play four or six hole configurations.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” says Ivan. “It’s called a game.”

Meaford Golf Course

posted September 15th, 2015
A history of Meaford Golf Course, Part I

It was the summer of 2005. Great-aunt Minnie, a spry and sharp 90, stood looking down at the 9th green from the clubhouse deck at the Meaford Golf Course. She turned to her great-niece’s husband. “Ivan,” she said, “when did you change the green?” Ivan Alderdice, who’d owned the course with his wife, Mary, since 1991, was surprised. He’d enlarged the green in the late 90s when he expanded the course to 18 holes. But Minnie’d just arrived from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan for a wedding celebration and family reunion, and as far as he knew, she hadn’t seen the previous set-up.

“How did you know I changed it?”

“I used to work here when I was a girl, back in 1934,” Minnie replied.

“You could have hit me with a sledge,” says Ivan. “It turns out Minnie’s aunt was married to Mr. Randle, who built the course in 1934.”

As the fifth owners of the club, Ivan and Mary have seen the course through more than a quarter of its 81 years, longer than any other owner, and they’ve taken it from its original 9-hole configuration to a challenging 18 holes, without losing the comfortable scale and casual atmosphere that made it unique. The newly discovered connection with the founder seemed about right.

It was a new arrival from Windsor, the manager of the Bank of Montreal, who first got the idea of a golf course in Meaford rolling, and Randle’s farm was a great location. Enlisting the enthusiastic support of the Owen Sound Golf and Country Club, a group of volunteers built a dam, installed irrigation, and mapped out the 9-hole course. “They were serious,” says Ivan. “They did a pretty good job back then.”

Meaford  Golf Course 1930s

Meaford Golf Course

While the course managed to thrive during the Depression, World War II drew many of Meaford’s men overseas, and it almost ceased to be a golf course, says Ivan. “It went back to a farm for a bit. They cut hay off the fairways, but the greens weren’t kept.”

After the war, Archie Platt took over the course and brought it back to life. With many in Meaford looking forward to getting back to golfing, it became a real community effort, with volunteers carefully tending to the greens and the fairways. Platt also built additions to the clubhouse, including where the pro shop is currently located, and focussed a lot of his effort on the restaurant.

In the mid-sixties, Mick Baynon, an avid golfer, bought the course and devoted his energy to the play. “He wanted to make it better, and he did,” says Ivan. After 11 or 12 years, Bob and Pat Shorter became the owners. Bob was a good golfer, says Ivan, but there was still a lot of potential to be realized in the property. That’s what Ivan saw in 1991.

Part 2 next time.

posted August 26th, 2015
Meaford postcards capture the past

The scenes here capture a slice of Meaford history, circa 1910, some of which has been preserved to this day.

Meaford Town Hall 1910

For a tour of Meaford past, via historical postcards, visit here.

Meaford Sykes Street 1910

posted May 9th, 2014
Beautiful Joe on stage in Meaford

Beautiful Joe found a place in the hearts of millions around the world, and it all started in Meaford. The tale of an abused dog who found a new life with kind owners has been re-incarted before. In the 90s, a local group premiered a play about the pooch at Meaford Hall. At one point or another, Disney has been said to be interested in producing a movie about the mutt. And now, for the second time in 20 years, a new play about Beautiful Joe premieres, produced by the Grey-Bruce Arts Collective in association with the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society . (It’s also Meaford’s second dramatic world premiere in three weeks!)

Beautiful Joe - the play

This time, acclaimed Canadian playwright Michael O’Brien penned the drama, based on Margaret Marshall Saunders’s novel. O’Brien has had productions mounted at major venues and with major companies across Canada, including the National Arts Centre, YPT, Theatre Columbus, the Shaw Festival, and CBC radio. His works and adaptions have been nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Drama and won a Dora Award for Best Production of a Musical.

Beautiful Joe, which kicks off on Wednesday, features professional actors from around the province, and was workshopped last year at the SpringWorks Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It’s “a moving and funny tale for the whole family set in a distinctly Canadian landscape… an invaluable lesson in courage and compassion.”

Limited engagement – only 6 performances – at Meaford Hall
Wednesday, May 14 (Preview Performance): 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 15 (Opening Performance): 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 16: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 17: 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for Adults and $10 for students and can be purchased through the Meaford Hall Box Office at 1.877.538.0463.

posted April 24th, 2014
Meaford celebrity subject of world premiere tonight

A Meaford world premiere was held tonight, and by all accounts, it was a huge success. Fortunately, there’s still time to catch this made-in-Meaford production tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday at Meaford Hall.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, a 17 year-old Bruce Peninsula boy fell against the blade of a huge sawmill buzzsaw and lost both his forearms. The boy was Andrew Gawley, and his heartwarming story of perseverance made him something of a local hero in Meaford, where he eventually settled and ran a repair shop – using the two steel arms he and his blind father fashioned.

Were this tale fiction, you might have a hard time believing it. But now his true story has come to the stage in a play written by Meaford Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield, and produced, directed and acted by local folks working with Meaford’s Community Theatre group.

Harley remembers, when he was very young, seeing Andrew Gawley in town. He realized the inspirational story of someone overcoming this kind of physical tragedy and eventually becoming a celebrity profiled in newsreels and travelling with Ripley’s Believe It or Not shows was ripe for the telling.

He wrote “Andrew Gawley: The Man with the Steel Hands”, and was pleased to hve Meaford Community Theatre take it on.

“We must remember,” says Harley, “Most people thought at first that he would surely die, and then that he would be absolutely helpless for the remainder of his life, a life that would only lead to misery and despair. But Andy was a fighter, a true life survivor, and he would not succumb to his injuries. He was likely a hundred years ahead of his time when it comes to proving to the world that a handicapped person can be not only a contributor, but also a leader.”

Get tickets at the Meaford Hall website, call 1.877.538.0463 or visit the box office.

An AP story about Andrew Gawley from the St. Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent April 12, 1932

An AP story about Andrew Gawley from the St. Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent April 12, 1932

posted April 11th, 2014
The Search For The Girl With The Blue Eyes – a Meaford tale

When the middle-aged man walked into the Meaford Express office on that day in 1963, his request struck even experienced newshands Walter and Phyllis Brebner as out of the ordinary. He’d recently accidentally hypnotised his 14-year-old daughter, Joanne, explained Ken McIver, who’d travelled to Meaford from Orillia. While under, he said, she’d uncovered various past lives, including that of Susan Ganier, a farm-wife in Sydenham and St. Vincent Townships during the mid to late1800s. He wanted to know if the Express could help him find evidence of the woman’s existence.

The paper ran a letter from him seeking anyone who might have known of Ganier, but it wasn’t until three years later that the real research began. Jess Stearn, a 52-year-old American journalist and author, received an assignment to investigate the claim. The self-described skeptic arrived in Orillia in 1966 to begin his exploration into the case, which would result in The Search for the Girl with Blue Eyes: A Venture Into Reincarnation.

The Search for the Girl with the Blue Eyes

It wasn’t easy. Joanne hadn’t described a prior life as Cleopatra or Queen Elizabeth I. Susan Ganier was a simple farm girl who’d married a young tenant farmer, become a widow at a young age, and lived out her days uneventfully in an isolated region of 19th century Ontario.

Stearns’s research into the pioneer days in the Meaford area included visits to Meaford and talks with locals, such as Wilfred Barr, Major Spike Malone, Joe Walker, Vina Ufland, Milford Johnston, Duncan Lourie, Arthur Eagles, and the Brebners.

Eagles, in particular, said he remembered the Ganiers, and pointed out sites described by Joanne on an old map of St. Vincent.

The book, which was published in 1968, leaves dangling the question of whether Joanne was reincarnated (though suggests that if the story was a hoax, why would the McIvers have chosen such an obscure past life?) but remains a fascinating read for people who are interested in things beyond our ken – particularly those living or loving the Meaford area!

(A side note: The inimitably tart Nora Ephron mentioned the book in a 1968 article for the New York Times, calling it a “second-rate Bridey Murphy adventure about an uninteresting small-town Canadian girl who turned out under hypnosis to be the reincarnation of another uninteresting small-town Canadian girl.”)

posted February 6th, 2014
A Meaford postcard

One more historic home to add to our recent collection.

HC Knight postcard, Meaford 1907

Came into possession of this recently… a custom postcard dated from 1907 from H. C.(?) Knight. Have yet to research where Mr. Knight fits into the Knight dynasty in Meaford, but will follow up. His grand home, recently built at the time he sent the card, still stands at the corner of Berry and Cook Streets. The porch and balcony railing were as yet uncompleted when the earlier photo was taken.

In the recent shot from Google Streetview, you can see that the home, like many in historic Meaford, has been lovingly maintained.

HC Knight house today

Mr. Knight sent the postcard to Mr. Harry H. Bent in Belleisle, Nova Scotia.

posted January 31st, 2014
More historic homes of Meaford

86 Trowbridge Street at the turn of the century

86 Trowbridge Street West today (Google Streetview)

86 Trowbridge Street West

The house was built circa 1900 by either the Finleys or the Littles, but was owned for 50 years by Dr. Francis Louis Eberhart, who purchased it in 1920. In “How Firm A Foundation – Historic Houses of Grey County”, Ruth Cathcart writes that the house epitomized his status in town “It is a rambling, picturesque brick edifice of some character. Count the rooflines, the bays, the chimneys. Admire the cornice and winged brackets, the brickwork, the parade balcony above the curved porch… This is Ontario in all its rock-ribbed stability and prosperity.” (You can see the original square-cornered porch in the historical photo.)

The home was recently extensively renovated and restored.

27 Boucher Street West

27 Boucher Street West

(Note… if you’re from Meaford, you pronounce that “Bow-cher”.) This unique gambrel-roofed home was built in 1907 for Frank Kent – one of the two founders of the Seaman Kent Co. in Meaford. Seaman Kent built the hardwood flooring factory on Boucher Street East in Meaford, and sold their products under the brand name “Beaver Brand”. Fittingly, the house features brass doorknobs embossed with beavers. The main floor features a unique floor plan with three rooms surrounding a triangular hearth, open to each room.

To learn more about Meaford’s historical architecture, visit:
Heritage Meaford
Meaford Museum, which has walking tours available.
Building Stories

posted January 25th, 2014
Historical buildings of Meaford

Meaford postcard

One of the first things you notice when you drive into Meaford is the large number of historical buildings on the main street. Meaford is currently in the process of designating a large section of downtown as a Heritage Conservation District.

Here’s a bit of background on just a few of the buildings you’ll as you explore the town.

Cleland - Clarke House Me

At the southeast corner of Trowbridge and Cook Streets you’ll find the Cleland-Clarke house. It was built in the late 1870s by James Cleland, who was Reeve of Meaford at the time and later became Mayor. In 1889 Dr. John G. Clarke bought the house, and lived there till his death in 1930. More recently it has been home to Meaford’s 100 Mile Market, and currently offers apartments and a retail space.

According to Ruth Cathcart in “How Firm A Foundation – Historic Houses of Grey County”, it’s
a “jewel in the crown of the historic houses of Meaford… This example of [Second Empire style] is truly outstanding…it stands in all its original elaborate, high-style dignity… anchored by two towers capped by shallow hipped roofs…”

The original hitching post remains in front of the building.

Meaford Hall

Until recently, Meaford Hall actually did serve as the Town Hall offices and council chambers. Built in 1908, it would be the largest municipal building in the County of Grey, according to Meaford’s Mayor. “Its massive and graceful outlines will stand as a monument to prosperity and progress.. .and doubtless will be for many generations one of its prominent landmarks.”

The building housed the council chambers (which doubled as a courtroom), town offices, two small jail cells, and the Meaford Public Library. Farmers used the basement on market day, and in time this space served as ballroom, meeting area, and Boy Scout hall. Later divided into smaller rooms, it housed the Women’s Institute, the Meaford Quilters, a Senior Citizen’s club, and the Senior Men’s Euchre Club.

The second-floor Opera House featured a broad stage beneath a proscenium arch, rows of wooden seats (fitted with wire racks for gentlemen’s hats), and a balcony embellished with raised plasterwork acanthus leaves. It played host to travelling entertainers, the Meaford Citizens Band, live theatre, and local events in a theatre known for its exceptional acoustics.

In the last decade, the building has been magnificently restored, with a modern addition to house elevators and additional rooms built in a style that echoes the original.

Meaford Firehall

Next door to Meaford Hall, you’ll find the old Meaford Fire Hall, which served in that capacity as recently as the 1990s. It was designed by a locally-born architect, and built in 1887. Both functional and beautiful, it featured tall, wide doors for the apparatus, and a tall, slender tower for drawing up the canvas hoses to dry. (The upper stage of the tower was rebuilt in its present form in 1908.)

“The use of especially-large, round-arched openings is characteristic of the late 1880s and the 1890s. The fully-developed Romanesque Revival, with massive trim in carved stone and moulded brick, is rare outside Toronto, but is approached here in the overall effect of juxtaposed large and small openings and even in detailing like the arcaded corbelling in the parapet. The whole design is well co-ordinated and has a modest dignity.”

From “Ontario Towns”, by Ralph Greenhill, Ken Macpherson, Douglas Richardson. Published by Oberon.

More next time.

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