Travel blog by a global nomad

12 May

Of tractors, swans and Ontario hospitality…

It was supposed to be a genteel drive through Ontario cottage country. However, dating a farmboy is apparently, not going to lead to a genteel drive through cottage country!

From Goderich on the eastern side of Lake Huron in Ontario, we set off eastwards for our 1 day of car hire. But far be it for us to follow the beaten track… No, we were destined to drive the backroads and check out… farms. Turns out the ‘cottage country’ side of things might be a bit more restricted to the myriad of small communities dotted along the roads there – but inbetween (and especially off the main thoroughfare’s) its all farms. And of particular interest were the tractors. Apparently. Tractors. Did not quite ever envisage a day where I would be sitting in a car being regaled by tractor stories and having various tractor models pointed out to me and having to count seed buckets (seed buckets???!!) being towed by tractors!

So enough about tractors!

Fortunately, as mentioned, inbetween the farms, there are little communities here and there and since all of these communities are less than 3 hours drive from Toronto, with its large population, there was a lot of incentive to try and provide something ‘slightly different’ to attract the crowds. Sometimes its colourful pubs in exotic stone buildings, other times its large piles of tires and sometimes its artisans. I was particularly keen to see one place called “Metal Murals” which we had passed at 80km/hr on the way to Goderich. However, our journey back through tractor country meant I missed Metal Murals. It remains on my list of artisans I want to see…

After roaming the fields of Ontario for about an hour, we ran out of roads to twist and turn on between the tractor-filled farms and ended up in Stratford. Suffice to say, Stratford has done everything in its power to capitalise on the name – right down to a river called the Avon flowing through it. All that was missing were punts….

We had a late lunch in Stratford before setting off on this early glorious spring day (spring is late in Canada this year!), before taking a promenade down the main street, ducking into the little stores. Learnt that Stratford was the home of ‘the Beebs’ -apparently not something this thespian loving town is entirely proud of…

After checking out the stores, we walked along the Avon River (…) passed a couple of large (indoor) theatres (there are apparently 4 large theatres in town for the summer season of plays). As we approached a small bridge, the number of swans increased, but for some reason, they were leery of us and quickly, gracefully sailed away. We crossed the small bridge and watched a dragon boat team prepare for their first inaugural training session. A large white goose waddled around growling (yes… apparently geese growl. I presume it is Alert Level Red as opposed to Alert Level Nuclear White which is represented by a hiss…), and it turned out the mother was sitting on a newly minted nest with 5 eggs – right next to where all the paddles were stored for the dragonboat… The mother was not to thrilled by all the activity near her carefully chosen nest!

After spending about 10 minutes sitting in the sun and watching the dragonboat power its way into the slightly setting sun, we decided it was time to drive on – afterall, we were supposed to be in Toronto that night!

However, continuing the theme of driving off the beaten track, we quickly detoured off the main highway and headed to what was supposed to be New Hamburg. However, my tractor-loving driver (yes, being chauffeur driven) was of the mood to not follow my directions and we quickly found ourselves driving through a nicely tree’d suburb. Once thoroughly disorientated, I just sat back and tried to note down landmarks in case we had to navigate backwards out of the twist and turns of this suburb, I suddenly spied a large wooden wheel, towering up over the houses.

I pointed out the wheel to the driver and we zig-zagged towards the wheel and came across a park which just happened to have a large wooden water wheel briskly rotating next to a brown river! Kids ran along the shore and giggled gleefully as they skipped over a stone ford that had been built across the river. We went up and investigated the wooden wheel, apparently being driven entirely by warter gushing through a pipe and hitting the shovel spades of the wheel. A large commemorative plaque thanking everyone for their contributions to the water wheel left us with little clue as to its purpose other than it seemed to have been erected in the mid-1990s. Helpful.

We ended up dodging around the children and crossed the ford to the eclectic mix of slightly run down village shops that lay beyond. It was at this point we learned that we had indeed arrived in New Hamburg… As the light was growing golden, we contemplated staying at a B&B instead of driving to Toronto and/or having a meal. We scouted out the Waterlot Restuarant and Inn, and had a look at the pricey but delicious looking menu and then struck across the main street and walked slightly north towards another grande olde home, called the Puddicombe House. Outside there was a white sign advertising something about taking reservations for dinner before Aida.

As the Stratford arts season did not seem to start until 2 days after this day, we wondered when the performance of Aida was to be. Undeterred, my companion/chauffeur/tractor loving driver approached a lady struggling to get into her car and asked here when was Aida showing. She immediately stopped struggling to get into the car and turned and said, ‘Why tonight… are you staying in town?” We mumbled something about thinking about it, and within a minute, we were seated at Puddicombe House, ordering some appetisers as the lady struggling to get into her car dashed to her son’s place to get us tickets! Apparently, Mark Jutzi who runs the local funeral home, had bought the tickets to celebrate his anniversary with his wife and for some reason, she couldn’t make it… He had tried to pass the tickets off to his mother, the lady we had asked about Aida, who was also unable to make it… a few more inquiries and no takers. Until us.

10 minutes later, she was back with the tickets and gave them to us gratis! We were wowed and amazed by the hospitality of Ontarian’s!

After a quick somewhat greasy meal (and I ordered a salad!), we ran back across the path to the Water Wheel to move the car closer to the Community Centre where apparently Aida was showing. Turned out we’d parked right nextdoor to Mark Jutzi’s Funeral Parlour… We quickly scribbled a thank you note and tucked into the window of the hearse (seriously!) and drove around the corner, across the river and to the Community Centre located near Puddicombe House.

It was full! The parking lot was overflowing and the overspill stretched 7 rows down into a nearby field. Turned out the Community Centre was the old community hockey arena…

The entrance to the Community Centre positively hummed with people all excitedly greeting eachother and inching their way into the Centre. This was clearly a Big Thing. We joined the milling crowd to enter and eventually found ourselves in a large theatre with rows and rows of seats, with half of them gentle stepped rises. We muddled away around the seats until we found our own, on the first step about 10 rows back from the front and just off centre. Pretty darn good seats! The stage was covered in some very arty looking random white block pieces, lit gently by pink, purple and green spotlights. Black curtains surrounded the seats and back of stage, presumably shielding our eyes to possible gymnasium gear behind the curtains…

We broke open the program, a paper pamphlet being handed out in the foyer and saw a very long list of actors and some praise for the “TCP” (The Community Players) All actors were volunteers and presumably, local. This was turning into a big production for a small town!

Minutes later, the lights dimmed and the performance began. Although maybe some of the people singing didn’t have the voice projection of a Broadway or West End star, the performance was completely worthy of any such production! There was no way we were going to depart half way, disappointed in a some community production – this was full on professional, even if everyone was a volunteer!

During the intermission, we learned that there were over 260 spotlights being used to create the dramatic lighting, and that although the group had been producing plays for about 26 years, they’d only decided to go “BIG” in the last 3-4 years with such productions as Cats and Wizard of Oz – a gamble which has definitely paid off (as far as we could tell). We were told the ‘large’ performances were only given once a year and usually in the first week of May – so if you happen to be in the area west of Toronto in May, definitely worth checking their website to see what is on!

The final half was just as superb as the first half and we drove away from New Hamburg with a new found respect for the local community of actors and the high quality productions they put on.

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