One Day, Ten Towns

And an Aunt and Uncle from Calgary

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After hanging up the phone I felt like a secret agent. My assignment, should I decide to accept it, involved one day, ten towns, and an aunt and uncle from Calgary. Could I, my friend Cheryl wanted to know, keep her relatives entertained for a day? “You can tell them all your witty stories about local history.” she pleaded. How could I refuse such flattery?

At the agreed upon hour on the appointed day, I meet my wards at Honey’s Cafe in Orangeville. It’s early, but the blue sky promises a glorious spring day. Perfect for showing off the best the Hills of Headwaters has to offer. I stretch my worn Headwaters tourism map on the table. Our route includes: Orangeville, Hockley Village, Shelburne, Grand Valley, Hillsburgh, Erin, Cheltenham, Inglewood, Bolton and Belfountain. We’ll have to miss some of my favourites: Hornings Mills, Mono Centre, Terra Cotta.

Joan and Peter Douglas are true westerners: friendly and open. They find Ontario’s trees block their view. When they learn I lived in Calgary for 16 years they proudly tell me how the city has grown. “Almost a million people now,” Peter enthuses, unaware of my aversion to endless suburbs.

We climb into my fuel-efficient Matrix. As we head east on Broadway, I tell them Orangeville is like the capital of Dufferin County, the smallest and youngest municipality in Ontario. “While most people think it’s named because of all the Irish Protestants who settled here in the 1800s, it’s really named after Orange Lawrence, its founder. “And, ironically,” I add, “Lawrence wasn’t an Orangeman.”

They like Orangeville’s historic storefronts. “We don’t have much old brick in Alberta,” says Joan. I pitch in, “Orangeville’s founders had grand plans. With New York in mind, Jesse Ketchum III called this street Broadway and then numbered the avenues and streets on Orangeville’s north side.” He also planted many of these wonderful shade trees, some of which have been cleverly carved now that they’ve reached the end of their long lives.

We leave town and head north on Mono’s Second Line. Maple-lined driveways that lead to sturdy brick farmhouses trimmed in white catch Peter’s attention. He notes the barns are built into hillsides and wants to know what they’re called. “Bank barns,” I tell him and add, “a tractor pulling a hay wagon can drive right into the top barn. The animals downstairs stay warm beneath this insulation.”

We drop down into the Hockley Valley and I sense the approval of Walter Tovell, Headwaters’ famous geologist, as I explain, “The Nottawasaga is a misfit river in a re-entrant valley.” “Say what,” asks Peter? “During the last ice age the river that ran down this valley was blocked off by ice. When the ice disappeared a smaller misfit river re-entered the valley.”

We arrive in Hockley village and pull up at the general store. The sunshine pouring down on watercolour artist Laura Berry’s Gallery attracts Joan like a magnet. I call after her, “Don’t be long, today is about history. You can shop tomorrow.” While Joan explores, Peter and I wander around the village enjoying the fresh air and warm sun. I manage to pry Joan out of the Lady’s Mantle flower shop and back into my car by suggesting she create a list of all the shops she wants to return to while she’s in the Hills of Headwaters.

We head north and then turn west in Rosemont. This makes me think about Dan Needles and his plays. “Do you know about Wingfield Farm,” I ask? They don’t so I tell them how young Dan Needles was the editor of the Shelburne newspaper where he wrote what amounted to a gossip column. He eventually morphed it into a series of clever one-man plays about the interaction between farmers and city folk who exchange Bay Street for Blind Line. I’m about to advise them to buy tickets for the show at Theatre Orangeville when Joan interrupts me. “What’s that huge building over there?”

“That’s one of the fanciest barns you’ll ever see,” I reply. The Dufferin County Museum & Archives is a 26,000-square-foot, climate-controlled ‘barn’. It’s full of local artifacts, including an old train station and log cabin. “Add a visit to your list of must-be-seen-while-in-Dufferin,” I suggest.

Highway 89 rises up over the combined Singhampton and Gilbraltar Moraines in Violet Hill where eagle-eyed Joan spies Mrs. Mitchell’s and Granny Taught Us How, the restaurant and gift shop duo. In the valley we cross the Violet Hill Meltwater Discharge Channel and climb the Orangeville Moraine. I explain that although we’ll see part of the 725-kilometre-long Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, later in our journey, for now it’s buried under gravel in these moraines.

Past Primrose, Highway 89 flattens out and we enter padedah country with its rich Honeywood silt loam. I tell them that only Simcoe County grows more potatoes than Dufferin, but Dufferin’s yields are higher. Joan adds “Try local potatoes,” to her list.

In Shelburne, we take a walk around the block and pass the House of Jelly. Joan asks if she can get some jelly inside. I stifle a guffaw. “No,” I tell her. This is the home of Shelburne’s founder, William Jelly.” She gets a laugh out of this too. I add, “Shelburne was known as Jelly’s Corners until the Canadian Parliament named it after the Earl of Shelburne, one of Canada’s early peacekeepers.

Back in the car, I drive by Shelburne’s Fiddle Park. I tell the Douglases that since it began in 1951, the Fiddle Contest has become to Shelburne what the Stampede is to Calgary. They can relate to the rhythm of the jigs, reels and waltzes that rock Shelburne every August.

We head south across the swampy terrain that almost defeated the men sent out to survey it. Though it’s a tall tale, I explain that Luther and Melancthon Townships were named by a pair of grumpy Catholic surveyors who called the mosquito-ridden boggy area after the meanest men they knew: Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer and Phillip Melanchthon, Luther’s co-worker.

Peter is still chuckling when we cross the Grand River and enter Grand Valley. “You sure have a lot of rivers around here,” observes Peter. “That’s why it’s called the Hills of Headwaters,” I respond. “Four major rivers, the Grand, Nottawasaga, Credit and Humber, all rise up in these parts.”

It’s time to jolt the Douglases awake, so we stop for a java to go. Then I park on Amaranth Street and suggest we sip our coffee outside. “I have a photo to show you,” I tell them as I pull an old black and white from my brief case. Taken in the 1960s, it’s of a tree-lined street of century brick homes. “Know where this photo was taken?” I inquire. “Could be of any of the towns we’ve visited today,” remarks Joan. “In fact,” I tell them, “it was taken from this very spot!” They look at the photo and then at the street. “You must be mistaken,” Peter murmurs. “This street doesn’t look anything like the one in the photo. These are all new homes. Where are the trees?” he asks.

So I tell them about May 31, 1985 when a twister hit Grand Valley. I explain that the eye of tornado travelled right down Amaranth Street wiping out 101 buildings and damaging 200 more. “Were any people injured?” asks Joan. “Miraculously, only two people died that day,” I respond.

Our next stop is Hillsburgh and I hope to have a little coffee left to go with the butter tarts we’ll buy at the Pantry Shelf. We pick out our treats and I hustle Peter and Joan down the street. We hike up the rail trail to the headwaters of the West Credit River. “The railway brought prosperity to many southern Ontario towns,” I tell them. These tracks were part of the Credit Valley Railway that ran between Cataract and Elora. Now it’s a 47-km long recreational trail. “It hooks up with the Credit Valley Explorer, a tourist train that runs through the Forks of the Credit.” Peter asks Joan to add, “Take train trip” to her growing list.

Energized by the stroll and the caffeine, we jump back in the car and head for Erin. It was early for Joan when we were in Orangeville and she hadn’t appreciated all the interesting shops and restaurants on Broadway. But now she’s fully awake. Joan reads the signs out loud: Hannah’s Closet, Weathervane, Tintagels Tea Room,… I pull over in front of What’s Cookin’ where I plan to pick up a scrumptious picnic lunch. I tell Joan she has half an hour to look around and she mumbles something about needing three times that amount of time. Peter requires prompting so I send him down to Mundell Lumber. “Maybe they’ll show you their old water-driven sawmill.”

Back in the car, I explain that we’re leaving Wellington County and entering Caledon which is within the Greater Toronto Area. “This is part of Toronto?” Peter asks. “Well,” I say, “it’s not part of Metropolitan Toronto, but there’s lots of pressure to convert our farms into suburbs.” Joan pipes up, “It would be a shame to cover this area with houses.” “Luckily,” I tell them, “many of our local politicians are actively protecting our farmland and the environment.” I add, “Caledon is, after all, the greenest town in Ontario.”

We turn south on Winston Churchill Blvd. and contemplate the pastoral countryside. As we near Olde Base Line, I point out Rockfort Farm. “What a beautiful stone barn,” Peter remarks. “And the house too,” says Joan. So I tell them about the application to turn this historic farm, built by the Rockside Pioneers in the early 1800s, into a quarry. “Aggregates,” I explain, “are almost as prevalent in this area as oil is in Alberta.”

We’re on Mississauga Road when Joan points at a cluster of tall, derelict buildings. “Those are the old brickyards. In the early 1900s, they produced over 90,000 bricks a day,” I say. “They were used to film the Timothy Findlay movie call The Wars. Perhaps you saw it?”

We enter Cheltenham via Mill Street. “What river is this?” Peter wants to know. It’s the main Credit that’s on its way to Lake Ontario.” We pass the old stone building that houses the general store and gift shop. Around back a small spa can pamper whatever part of you needs pampering. Joan adds, “Pedicure” to her list.

The smell of our picnic lunch has activated our taste buds, so I assure the Douglases that lunch is around the corner…literally. I turn on to Olde Base Line and before they can ask me to, I stop at the Cheltenham badlands.

As I set out our picnic, they wander over the red clay. “So this is why you have so many lovely brick homes,” Peter surmises. “Yes,” I say, “this is Queenston Shale. It forms a layer beneath the Niagara Escarpment.”

We enjoy our meal as the sun warms our backs. Afraid my wards will get drowsy, I pack up and lead them on a short tour of the badlands. The trail is easy to follow and we’re full of energy when we climb back into my Matrix.

Continuing east, I deke into Inglewood. “Inglewood,” I explain, “is becoming an athletic centre.” I point out Caledon Hills Cycling and drive into the Riverdale Fitness Centre, home of the C3 Canadian Cross Training Club. It’s situated in a historic stone building that once housed a woollen mill. Joan wants to stop at the general store, but we have too far to travel. “Add it to your list,” I advise.

We make our way across the Peel Plain. I tell them this is some of the best farmland in Canada. They grow corn and soy beans. It’s too hot for canola.”

We enter Bolton and I explain, “Bolton is highly desirable for new development, yet they’ve maintained the historic village centre.” I wish we could explore the Humber Valley Heritage Trail but it will have to wait for another day. “Bolton’s a funky town,” I tell them, “and Caruzo’s has the best pizza in southern Ontario.” I add, “Bolton was named after the family who built the grist mill. James Bolton supported William Lyon Mackenzie King and had to leave Canada after the Rebellion of 1837.”

I tell Joan and Peter we’ll travel along the Oak Ridges Moraine on our way to Belfountain. “Like the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine is protected by special provincial legislation. What you build in these areas is scrutinized more closely than in other rural areas. It’s helped keep the area green,” I lecture.

The Forks of the Credit Road is one of my favourites in Headwaters. As we approach Ellie’s ice cream shop, once a gas station, both Joan and Peter crane their necks to see the top of the Niagara Escarpment’s cliffs. They’re not the Rocky Mountains, but the 100-metre high ridge impresses the Douglases.

I tell them that when prospectors failed to find gold, they quarried huge slabs of reddish limestone from this area. The train carried the stone to Toronto where it was used for buildings like old city hall. “Around the turn of the last century, there were no trees on this ridge. They’d all been cut down for fuel wood to make lime in giant kilns.”

Half a kilometre later, we pull over by a Credit Valley Conservation sign. Joan and Peter jump from the car and we walk to the Dominion Street bridge. I explain that this spot is the source of the area’s name. The West Credit, whose headwaters we saw in Hillsburgh, and the main Credit, that starts near Orangeville, join here in the Forks of the Credit. “This is a great fly fishing stream,” I add.

I point to the cliffs and tell them the legend of the Devil’s Pulpit before ushering them back into the car. We pass under the 26-metre high trestle and climb up the first rise in the hairpin turn. I pull over near the site of the old railway station where my mother used to flag down the train. I tell them about the wreck (different tracks) that killed seven passengers in 1907 as the train descended the Niagara Escarpment via the Horseshoe Curve. I pull out a photograph taken near this spot in October. “We heard the fall colours were good in Ontario, but this is amazing,” croons Peter.

We pass the lovely conservation area called Mack’s Park by locals and arrive in Belfountain. It’s Headwaters’ most popular tourist village. I point out the gift shops and spa in what was Trimble’s garage when I was a kid. “Joan,” I say, “go crazy. You can buy a new wardrobe at The Ascot Room or look around the old village store. A landmark, it was built in 1888.” Then I point out my home and promise that if they arrive by 5 or 5:30, a gin and tonic will be waiting for them.

I pull into my driveway and Cheryl meets me at my door. “How did it go?” she wants to know. I tell her she’ll have to ask Joan and Peter herself. An hour later, they trudge up the street. They greet Cheryl cheerily and then fall exhausted onto the couch. With the promised cocktail in hand, they test Cheryl’s knowledge: “What river has its source near your home in Hillsburgh?” they ask. “The Credit,” Cheryl answers smugly. “No,” they chime simultaneously, “it’s the West Credit.”

The Legend of the Devil’s Pulpit

Years ago when indigenous people lived in the Forks of the Credit, a young man from a southern band fell in love with a young woman from a northern band. Having been refused her hand in marriage, the young man stole her away to his home at the cliff’s edge overlooking the Forks of the Credit. When warriors came to rescue the young woman, a battle ensued. The northern band was defeated. Sadly , the young woman did not share her captor’s love, she pined away and died.

Angered by these events, the god of lightning struck the cliff near the young man’s home. A great chasm opened, stranding him on a rocky outcropping. No longer able to reach the mainland the guilty lover starved to death on what became known as the Devil’s Pulpit.

Nicola Ross is an environmental consultant who lives in Belfountain. She is the author of two local histories, Caledon and Dufferin County.

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