Midland, Ontario, is one of several southern Ontario towns advertising a historic and charming downtown, but we were most attracted by the harbor. A huge grain elevator features a mural of a First National (we guess that might be the Canadian's analogous term to Native American) greeting a trapper and is only one of many large and lovely murals on the sides of buildings; a walking tour covers a good dozen of them. Near the Peterborough Lift Lock harbor, a stainless steel sculpture of a trumpeter swan in flight reminds visitors and residents of the Trumpeter Swan Re-location project, which has re-introduced the birds to this area, apparently successfully.
Surely all the beautiful autos in the parking lot couldn't be there by accident? We had happened upon a field trip by the Ontario antique and classic car club -- the members were on a river cruise but had parked their vehicles at harborside, where they attracted the friendly attention of visitors and residents, including some small boys on bikes. One poor soul had to stay behind to protect the cars. Perhaps it's coincidence or perhaps it's just Summer, but we seem to be seeing more classic cars being driven around these towns -- by their owners running errands, just enjoying his car -- than we have seen in the United States.
Peterborough lies in a river valley, and so when the rains came three weeks ago and flooded the river, the low-lying parts of the city were flooded as well, with damage to many homes and businesses. The sudden flood backed up the sewers, so the flooded portions were contaminated with E. coli. By the time we arrived the cleanup was well in progress and the danger past. Our motel had just changed hands, and the new owners had spent about $2M on renovations, beginning on the ground floor. The new exercise room and the brand new furniture and carpets were all lost. One Peterborough wit, placed a giant chair outside his furniture store with a sign reading, "Flood Sale -- Slight Swelling."
But the Streets were dry, the sky was blue, the shops were open, and the harbor was filled with boats. It's an Ontario three-day weekend; Severn Canal Monday was called Simcoe Day in Toronto, and Civic Holiday elsewhere in the province, but every place other than Toronto was crowded with Torontonians enjoying a summer weekend away from the city cares.
The Kirkfield lift lock, which we mentioned a couple of reports ago, was actually the second of two. Peterborough was the first, and they suffered through more of the missteps common to developing a new technology. The local engineer had to fight to keep his job and his reputation, but kept many of the design features to himself. The workers had never worked with concrete in this quantity. Of course the waterway cuts hundreds of miles off the trip from Sault Ste Marie to Montreal. The lock was completed in 1904, and a special centennial exhibit in the Museum describes the construction, the opening ceremonies, and the famous and royal visitors thereafter.
Besides the special exhibit, this first rate museum describes local history from geological times to the present, with excellent story boards and captioned exhibits. We recommend it highly, and we'd gladly return to learn more. One of the most exciting parts (to us) was the use of genealogical material to expand and explain the growth of the city. The 2000 poor Irish Catholics who were brought over in 1825 by Peter Robinson (for whom the city is named) were delighted to have a free farm, free tools, free seed, a free cow, and the chance to succeed. Despite Hay Bale Wrapper-Upper local fears, they had no desire to desert the hand that fed them and jump the border to the United States. The Irish were joined by English, Scandinavians, Germans, Scots, and the local genealogical society has plotted the residences of these early settlers, showing the ethnic farming neighborhoods that developed.
Understanding the ways in which different ethnic groups commingled to become a single culture is one of the most important genealogical contributions to local history, and understanding the ways in which the different localities compromised their goals to become viable provinces and ultimately a viable Canada is absolutely crucial, especially in multicultural nations such as Canada and the United States.
As the museum taught us, we've passed south of the Canadian shield, an enormous rocky non-arable region which covers northern Canada, and entered the rich farmland of the glaciated lowlands. We happened to get a close-up view of the machine that turns large cylindrical hay bales into enormous tubes wrapped in white plastic to protect the hay from rotting in the rain. A clever machine winds tape around the line of bales, rather like wrapping tape up the length of an old golf club. And since we're in farming country, we're passing fruit and vegetable stands, as well as fields of wheat, corn, beans and potatoes.