Tell them that ‘Tiger’ sent you . . . Ontario’s West Coast is more than a lakeside playground. Yes, it is true visitors return to this coastal region to revel in Huron County’s beautiful beaches, shop in its charming businesses, commune with nature, get active in recreation and pamper themselves with fine dining and accommodation. But it’s also true Ontario’s West Coast is the perfect location to travel back in time, visit some of Canada’s most fascinating historical sites and behold authentic mid-nineteenth century architecture.
A COLOURFUL PAST
Visitors and local residents alike flock to see professional actors in Gairbraid Theatre Company’s ‘Pillar to Port’ historical Walkabout and fill the historic Livery Theatre in Goderich. Authors venture to this area to write books about its fabled narrative.
Find out what all the fuss is about. Take a trek to the newly-restored tomb of colourful historical figure Dr. William ‘Tiger’ Dunlop. Visit the 1842 Huron Historic Gaol, site of Canada’s last public hanging (recounted in John Melady’s book, Double Trap: The Last Public Hanging in Canada). Walk through the doors of rebel history in Egmondville’s Van Egmond House. Visit Goderich’s Square (is it a Square, Octagon, or Circle?), a rare architectural innovation successfully transplanting from ancient Rome to a modern urban centre.
Visit the fascinating museums of Ontario’s West Coast, including Huron County Museum, one of the province’s finest small museums. School children know it as the site of the two-headed calf, but beautiful exhibitions there offer so much more. Ontario’s West Coast is waiting to be discovered by the heritage enthusiast uncovering tales of early Ontario settlement or the military historian investigating the origins of radar or Second World War flight training bases. Yes, this region is a shoreline playground. But, when you’re not taking in a breathtaking sunset or the relaxing sound of waves lapping onto shore, why not enjoy an historical adventure. The adventure starts here . . .
The French bestowed the name ‘Huron’ to the ‘Ouendat’ First Nations people in the upper end of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, recounts James Scott in The Settlement of Huron County. The tract of land where Huron County is located, however, belonged to the Mohawk and Chippewa First Nations and, before them, the Attawandarons (called ‘Neutrals’ by the French). The first European to reach this area may have been controversial Étienne Brûlé, a courer de bois and servant of Samuel de Champlain. Hollywood should put this man’s story on film. Brûlé lived with the Hurons, learned their language and transformed himself into a member of the aboriginal culture. He eventually alienated de Champlain, the Iroquois and even the Hurons, who reportedly killed him for transgressions the history books still debate.
The French contributed a fascinating figure to the region but other rich historical personages came from Scotland, namely Dr. William ‘Tiger’ Dunlop and John Galt. ‘Tiger’ Dunlop was the Scottish writer, land developer, politician, surgeon, rebel and scallywag who regularly carried twelve large glass jars he nicknamed the ‘Twelve Apostles.’ Eleven were filled with whiskey and the twelfth (‘Judas’) was filled with water. Scottish novelist and land developer John Galt is a key character in the new book, ‘The Canada Company and the Huron Tract, 1826-1853: Personalities, Profits and Politics.’ Robert C. Lee’s book fuels a fiery debate that still rages over Galt’s place in history. Galt was a peer of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. He wrote significant novels set in Scotland and Canada – but he claimed his greatest success was as Superintendent of the Canada Company, the land development enterprise that opened this area for settlement. Galt co-founded Goderich and Guelph but was fired by the company he started within three years of coming to Canada. (Galt’s son, Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, was a Canadian Father of Confederation). Today, visitors can see the realization of Galt’s vision by walking the scenic Square of Goderich or by travelling the Huron Tract from ‘Shakespeare to the Shoreline.’
We could tell tales of other fascinating Huron characters such as Col. Anthony Van Egmond, the wealthy noble turned rebel who died in jail after leading William Lyon Mackenzie’s 1837 Rebellion, or Thomas Mercer Jones, who earned favour with the Family Compact by marrying the Archdeacon Strachan’s daughter. But, we want you to do the discovering.
Huron’s 840,000 acres of land form Ontario’s most agriculturally-productive county – rivalling the output of some provinces! – and a significant centre of technology and industry. It is also a tourist destination with endless attractions. The history of Huron County isn’t hidden away in dusty old books. Experience the drama at Huron’s world-class museums, historic Gaol, through theatrical performances or an excursion down Huron’s streets. Or, take part in ‘Doors Open Ontario’ where doors that are normally closed will swing open for you . . .
Come join the West Coast adventure . . . tell them that Tiger sent you . . .
For more information on Huron County Historical or Genealogical information, please click here.
History text courtesy of Tim Cumming, a Huron County resident and local history enthusiast.
Photo courtesy of Goderich Signal Star.
TRIVIA & INTERESTING FACTS
- Kepple Disney, the grandfather of the famed creator of Mickey Mouse and many other beloved cartoon characters settled in Bluevale in 1857? Kepple’s eldest son, Walt’s father was born on the family farm in Bluevale. Elais attended the one room Central School in Goderich – now part of the Huron County Museum.
- The seasonal population along Huron County’s lake front exceeds the population of Goderich – the County’s largest town.
- 71% of Huron County residents have British ancestry, 11% have Dutch ancestry, 10% are of German ancestry and 8% are of other ancestry.
- Doctor William Dunlop, a founder of Goderich, was nicknamed “Tiger” because when in India, he allegedly stared a Bengal tiger into submission. He was also notorious for traveling with his “twelve disciples” – 12 jugs of whiskey!
- The Town of Seaforth is the proud hometown of Canadian figure skater Lloyd Eisler, who together with his skating partner Isabelle Brasseur, have captured 5 Canadian pairs titles, 2 Olympic bronze metals and 5 world championship medals for pairs skating, including the gold in 1993 and the silver in 1994.
- Huron County is Ontario’s most agriculturally productive County. It has more census farms (3,260), more acres of farmland (711,525) and more gross farm receipts than any other county or district in the Province. It produces more agricultural products than each of the 4 Atlantic Provinces of Canada!
- Canada’s first woman surgeon, Jennie Smillie Robertson, was born near the Village of Hensall in Tuckersmith Township, Huron County.
- Timothy Eaton operated a store in Kirkton, Huron County, before going on to opening one of the largest department stores in Canada.
- The Town of Wingham has the distiction of being the smallest community in North America to support a radio and television station.
- The Village of Hensall is the largest in-land grain centre in Canada.
- The Town of Clinton and former airforce base (now Vanastra) is considered Canada’s Home of Radar. They provided facilities, education and radar training for thousands of service men and women during and after World War Two.
- Huron County has one of the largest populations of rare turtle species in Ontario.
- Airports in Goderich, Huron Park (Centralia) and Port Albert played a major role in the British Commonwealth’s Air Training Program, training thousands of young pilots and navigators for service in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.
To learn more about the fasinating history of Huron County, visit the Huron County Museum in Goderich and the County’s many historical attractions – featured in the Museums & Attractions page of this website.