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 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 January 10th, 2015
Cirrus Hill Farm offers a taste of the past

Last time we introduced you to JoAnn McCall and Cirrus Hill Farm, and it’s heritage philosophy.

Heritage breeds are the birds raised before industrial agriculture took over – carefully selected and bred to develop traits suited to the local environment, and to farming practices of a bygone day. They’re self-sufficient and mate and reproduce naturally.

Cirrus Hill Farm specializes in Beltsville Small White turkeys, Saxony Heavy ducks, Khaki Campbell and Welsh Harlequin Light Layer ducks, Buff Orpington and Ancona Dual-Purpose ducks, Ancient Roman geese, Standard White Chantecler chickens, and, recently added, Heavy French guinea fowl (from Quebec, for grow-out only).

Beltsville Small White turkeys, while relatively recently introduced, fit the heritage bill. They were first bred by the US Department of Agriculture during the Depression to help strapped farmers of the era. McCall describes them as “a miracle of traditional selective breeding and a priceless agriculture heritage. This small, busty, naturally reproducing heritage turkey looks like its descendant, the modern giant industrial BBW, but there the similarity ends. Smart and personable, hardy, fertile and strong foragers, layers of delicious eggs almost year-round, they produce a delicious meaty table bird 8-17 pounds in 6-7 months , and will breed naturally in their first adult year.”

Saxony ducks were also bred early in the last century – in Germany. “The Saxony is a very beautiful, productive large duck which grows rapidly on pasture, finishes a less fatty roasting duck of 4-5.5 lbs, and lays as many of their big, rich eggs as any heritage chicken,” writes McCall on the Cirrus Hill Farm website.

Campbell ducks (Khaki Campbell and Welsh Harlequin) date from 19th century Britain. “Both lay very well and will outlay any heritage chicken breed while foraging more of their feed,” writes McCall. “The elegant, frenetically active Campbell has been proven many times to be the champion layer of all domestic fowl, besting the Leghorn in formal competitions.”

The Buff Orpington duck was popular in its 19th century heyday for both heavy laying and eating. “These are the rarest of the production bred heritage ducks we offer,” writes McCall, “and are highly recommended for a multi-purpose farm flock, combining all of the best features for small farm use in a sweet, pretty duck in desperate need of more preservation breeders.”

Chantecler-chicken-at-Cirrus-Hill-FarmWhite Chantecler chickens are Canada’s native heritage chicken breed – a originally bred at the Abbey Notre Dame du Lac at Oka, Quebec in the 1900s. “Brother Wilfred developed a ‘Canadian’ chicken, a dual purpose meat and laying bird, tolerant of bitter Canadian weather, and reputed to continue laying their large, creamy brown eggs through the long winters, when American and European breeds give up.”

Mother Goose was a Plain-headed Roman goose, the breed believed to be among the first domesticated geese in Europe, and might be the geese of the Temple of Juno, who saved Rome from the Gauls by alerting the sleeping sentries of the attack. “These ancient geese continue to be an important commercial breed elsewhere, producing small traditional Michaelmas and Yuletide geese, but are almost extinct in North America. The “tufted” mutation was selected as the standard for exhibition by the APA. Ours are of the original type, surviving representatives of the original, ancient goose, that may have graced Caesar’s feast table.”

Eggs and birds for cooking, in season, can be ordered locally from The Market. Will you notice the difference when enjoying a heritage turkey or goose raised traditionally? As McCall writes on the website, “Duh! So much better than Styrofoam supermarket turkey – prepare to be amazed.”

posted January 3rd, 2015
Heritage birds find new life in Meaford at Cirrus Hill Farm

“Eat them to save them” is the catchphrase of many heritage livestock and fowl aficionados, and Meaford’s Cirrus Hill Farm embodies this practical philosophy. A breeder and purveyor of heritage ducks, turkeys, chickens and geese, JoAnn McCall aims to “help rare breeds of exceptional merit survive for a secure future food supply… [and] see a large, viable local resource flock for each breed, in every county in Canada.” To that end, she sells live hatchlings, started birds, breeding stock and fertile eggs to those interested in raising the heirloom breeds. She also sells eggs and dressed birds to locavores, gourmets, restaurateurs and those interested in trying something different from the standard grocery store fare.

Roman Geese at Cirrus Hill Farm“Inspired by the French ‘Label Rouge’ program of humane, natural husbandry, and the traditional customs of regional French specialty producers, our market birds enjoy an idyllic chick-hood roaming at liberty on lush summer pastures, followed by a relaxed, species-specific finishing program to produce an exceptional gourmet product,” writes McCall on the Cirrus Hill Farm website.

Her ducks and duck eggs have found fans among those in the know. “Waterfowl are almost all tender breast meat, and serve more diners per pound than land fowl,” she says. “Ask a top chef like European trained Teo Paul of Union Restaurant on Ossington in Toronto, who serves our ducks in every imaginable way as specials on his elegantly rustic lovavore menu. Duck is much more versatile than chicken in the kitchen.”

And Sarah Elton, author of the best-selling Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens” visited Cirrus Hill Farm a few years back and wrote about this local treasure for The Atlantic’s website.

More about Cirrus Hills Farm next time.

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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