Oxford County, Ontario

Woodstock and the surrounding area

by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz

 

Check out these other pages that have Oxford links

 

Beachville-Embro-Tavistock  Walters Family Dinner Theatre  Otterville-Norwich  Jakeman's Maple Syrup

 

April 30, 2008: I have been in Ontario for nearly three months now.  Much of my time is spent in Woodstock, where I am working as a Japanese interpreter and consultant at the Toyota Woodstock plant which is under construction at the time of this writing.  I have made numerous trips to places in and around the Woodstock area, but have not really compiled them into a Woodstock/Oxford page.

 

My first few weeks were spent at the Super 8 (a so-so place) and the Quality Inn (highly recommended!) hotels in Woodstock.  While at the Quality Inn I consulted with Allison Hardeman, who at the time was the weekend tour consultant for the Oxford County Tourism Kiosk which is located in the lobby of the Quality Inn.  I got a great deal of information from Allison and made a few trips as a result of her recommendations.  She then passed on links to my pages to Cathy Bingham, who is in charge of the Tourism Office.  I have had numerous opportunities to meet with Cathy since then.  She is a charmer, well versed in all of the delightful places to visit, not only in her Oxford County, but the surrounding areas all the way to Toronto (and further I am sure).  Cathy is also a very talented photographer (I will include some samples below).

 

So, over the last few weeks I have visited a number of places in the county and I still have many more to visit.  But I will recount a few of the sights herein and also refer to some of the other pages I have done about sights in the area.  Perhaps one of the greatest lessons to be learned (and in this case expounded upon) is that every area...village, town, county...has its places of interest and unique characteristics if you will only take the time to look.  I first learned this when I was working in Oita Prefecture, Japan in the late 1980s as a Coordinator for International Relations.  I worked for the Governor of the Prefecture, Morihiko Hiramatsu, who had made his "Isson Ippin (One Village, One Product)" concept internationally known (also see this link).  He was a genius in the promotion of rural identity.  My two years there was a wonderful education in learning how to "Think Globally and Act Locally".  I have carried this attitude since, always seeking for the unique, the interesting and the historic of every place I can visit.

 

 

Jakeman's Maple Syrup and Bright Cheese - two examples of promotion beyond their county boundaries

 

I emphasize the above because I believe that in many ways Oxford County exemplifies this attitude.  Perhaps a prime example of this is Jakeman's Maple Syrup, which has an international following.  The county's promotion of tourism and other products such as cheese and wine. had a population of a little over 102,500 people in area of 2040 sq. km.  The county is predominantly rural with lots of farmland, and believe me, at this time of year you can tell with the smell of fresh manure permeating the air around all the farms.  The county is known for its cheese production and maple syrup, wine and other products.

 

 

Some of the rural scenes of Oxford County: Barns, horses and gravel roads abound in Oxford County

 

One of the great items of pride in Oxford County is its Dairy Production.  In fact, the City of Woodstock refers to itself as the "Dairy Capital of Canada" (and the acronym for City of Woodstock = COW!) and they even have a large statue of a cow that can be seen as one comes into Woodstock on Highway 2 from the 401 Highway.  The cow was known as the Springbank Snow Countess.  This lifesize concrete statue was made to honor a record-setting milk producing Holstein Freisian cow. The designer was Ross Butler. The statue was erected on August 4, 1937. The "Snow Countess" was born on November 18, 1919 and died August 9, 1936. During her lifetime, she produced 9,062 pounds of butterfat, impressive at that time. It was erected by the Holstein Freisian Association of Canada on the Springbank Farm of T.R. Dent, owner of Snow Countess.  It is by no means the largest cow statue (see this page for the World's Largest - I have been there too!)

 

The Springbank Snow Countess

 

The "Friendly City", as Woodstock is also known, is also famous as the only municipality in Ontario that still has its old public buildings.  Indeed, the City Hall and County Courthouse are both beautiful old structures and are both still in use.  The Public Library and other buildings are also impressive.  The current City Hall location was the site of the original post office.  When the old city hall (currently the Woodstock Museum) was too crowded, the city moved into the post office in 1968. 

 

 

Woodstock City Hall (built in 1901 and former Post Office) and Oxford County Courthouse

 

The History of Woodstock: In 1792, Sir John Graves Simcoe became Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and for the next five years, made plans for the development of the interior of Upper Canada. After visiting Woodstock the following year he envisioned a series of villages linked by a military road and a system of rivers and canals, providing inland access during an era when commerce and settlements depended on major waterways. These communities and roadways also provided an overland supply route for the safe movement of troops and settlers.  Although Woodstock was designated a potential town site in 1798, Woodstock was not settled until 1800, when two New Yorkers, Zacharias Burtch and Levi Luddington applied for land grants. Zacharias and his sons cleared 12.5 hectares (30 acres) and built the first log house that would be the start of Woodstock along Dundas Street, on the present site of the Woodstock YMCA. The Burtches were joined by other American settlers who purchased land in Woodstock.  These American settlers dominated the political and commercial structure of the developing Woodstock causing provincial leaders to question the loyalty of this emerging community. Woodstock was subsequently settled by a large population of English and Scottish settlers, as well as naval and military officers loyal to the crown.

 

The museum in Woodstock is housed in another old building, the former town hall.  I found this architecture interesting in that it reminded me of the LDS Church Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, OH.  there are some obvious differences, but I was still reminded of the similarities.

 

 

L - Old Woodstock Town Hall (built in 1853)  R- Kirtland Temple, Ohio

 

Speaking of the Old Town Hall, it does house a museum.  It is not a huge museum, but it is quite interesting.  The building itself is a National Historic Site in Canada.  It still houses the old council chambers from 1879.  I was particularly interested in the Oxford Rifle Galleries, with their old uniforms and artillery.  Having been to many Civil War sites in the U.S., it was interesting to me to see another side of militia from that era. The Oxford Rifles were organized on 14 August 1863 as the 22nd Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles, Canada/The Oxford Rifles from six independent Companies that dated from 1798. This designation was amended in 1866 to be the 22nd Battalion, The Oxford Rifles.  They even fought in the Boer Wars in South Africa.

 

Some of the Oxford Rifles memorabilia; the old council chambers

 

An old Goodyear Tire (ca. 1910) on display in the Museum

 

In and around Woodstock there are some really nice homes and then the novelty places that I like so much.  I have already addressed the following place here, but wanted to add it to the Oxford County page as well.  Folks, here is the Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill.  I actually had a chance to speak to Mr. Bruce on the phone a few weeks ago.  When he answered he said "another of you guys? When are you going to quit calling". After talking a moment, he thought I was soliciting something.  He softened up when I told him that I had hoped to get over and see his place in more detail and get pictures of him and his story.  I still hope to make this visit and update it on this page.

 

Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill on Hwy. 59 north of Woodstock

 

 

Now, there is much on the outside of Woodstock that I have yet to visit.  But, one evening I took a drive out Oxford County Road 2 (see map above 1 is Woodstock and 15 is Paris), a dirt road heading west towards Drumbo.  I heard a story from a friend at Toyota about a famous murder that took place in the late 1800s.  He told me to go find the "Benwell Swamp" and relate the story.  So, I found the swamp and photos are below.  I have also researched the story.  On Highway 2 heading towards Paris (my usual daily drive), there is the Princeton Cemetery and there is a plaque there that says "The most famous murder and murder trial in Canadian history took place in the Princeton area. Frederick C. Benwell of Cheltenham, England, came to Eastwood with John Reginald Birchall of Accrington, England, believing that he was to train and invest with Birchall under the popular Farm Pupil Industry Program. Supposedly en route to a prospective farm, Birchall took Benwell to a swamp on the 2nd conc. of Blenheim Twp.  Later, two local woodcutters found Benwell's body, which was taken to J.B. Swarts Funeral home in Princeton. An autopsy showed cause of death to be two gunshot wounds to the head. Though buried unidentified, the body was exhumed and identified by Birchall.  Due to the work of Ont. Chief Government Detective John W. Murray, Birchall was charged with murder. His trial by jury took place in Woodstock before Justice Hugh MacMahon. The case became world famous due to widespread interest in the farm pupil industry, Murray's unprecedented use of newspapers to publish a picture of an as-yet-unidentified corpse, legal use of meteorological evidence to determine time of death and transmission of the trial proceedings via the new trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.
Convicted on circumstantial evidence, Birchall was hanged Nov. 14, 1890 - and is buried in the Woodstock Jail Yard. Benwell is buried here in the Princeton Cemetery."

 

As part of my touring, I hope to get to the Benwell grave in the near future.  The traditional Benwell swamp, according to locals is this one below:

 

 

A couple of shots of Benwell Swamp, site of the famous Benwell murder.

There are no markers here...only legends.

 

Driving down the many gravel roads, there is much to see.  I got to a paved road near Drumbo and saw one of the many old churches that dot the region.  The Richwood Church below is one example.

 

 

The Richwood Church in Drumbo.  An old bell sits beside the cemetery next to the church.

 

I have taken other drives around the area.  Many of the places were in the winter, and so I plan to go back to places like Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Norwich.  I drove through Beachville one day as well.  It is the home of the first ever recorded baseball game.  There is a small museum there (the Beachville District Museum) that is in the process of putting up a new exhibit.  They will also be commemorating the first baseball game on June 7, its 170th anniversary.  I hope to be in attendance for that celebration. I have also been to the outside of the Woodstock Peace Lighthouse.  I need to drop by there again for a photo from up in the lighthouse.

 

 

Beachville sign and Woodstock Peace Lighthouse

 

Now, as promised, here are few of Cathy Bingham's photographs of Oxford County (all used by permission):

 

All of the photos above are from the Norwich area

(photography by Cathy Bingham, Oxford County Tourism)

 

May 3, 2008:  I took a meandering trip down to Sparta, ON (in Elgin County) today (see that report here), but along the way I had to find the tulip fields since they are in bloom at this time of the year.  Cathy Bingham informed me in an email about how to get there, so I planned my trip accordingly.  From Paris I made my way west on Rest Acres Road to Colborne St., towards Burford/Brant.  I then headed W again through Burford until I got to Harley Rd.  I turned left on Harley Rd. and followed it south to 9th Concession Rd.  (Back before Canada switched to the metric system, many of their roads were set on mile grids.  Apparently a mile on the grid was called a concession...thus 9th Concession Road.  At this point I was 9 miles south of Highway 2, the road I normally take home from Woodstock).  I then followed 9th Concession to Muir Rd. and took a left there.  The next right was Beaconsfield Rd. and I took that.  I drove along this dirt road for about 4 miles until just before I got to Cedar Line.  And there it was, on the right...a giant field of tulips and daffodils, all in bloom.  Ironically, on Google Maps I found a satellite photo of the farm that was taken about this time of year!!  I am including it here!

 

A satellite view of the Tulip Farm

(photo from Google Maps)

 

I looked around to see if I could find a name of the place and to see if it was a farm that grew and sold them, but I found nothing indicating it was a business other than just a farm house and a barn.  I trudged through the mud along the east side of the farm.  It was a bit drizzly when I started and by the time I was finishing up the wind had kicked in and the rain was starting on pretty good.  But I got my photos of one of my springtime favorites...tulips!

 

Lots and lots of tulips (and some daffodils) north of Norwich Township in Oxford County

 

May 14, 2008: A couple of weeks ago I was advised by Cathy Bingham to visit the Lawson Tract near Ingersoll, a natural conservation area and not too far from Woodstock.  It was a nice afternoon after work that day so I headed over there to go catch some more views of the trillium flower (see my Sparta page) and also get a nice afternoon nature hike in.  It was really worth my time.

 

   

A couple of scenes of the trails at Lawson Tract and "Tree Face" that greets you at the gate

 

One of the treats of this walk was catching the thousands of trilliums in bloom, especially since they are only in bloom for a couple of weeks a year.

 

   

There were literally thousands in bloom

 

 

A close up of a trillium.  Wherever they were there was also the

 Mayapple that seemed to carpet the area

 

Perhaps the sweetest treat of all was seeing some purple trillium.  I also found a few Trout Lillies (also called Dogtooth Violet). Both of these were much rarer.  I saw perhaps just over 100 purple trillium amongst the 1000s of white ones.

 

 

A couple of shots of purple trillium

 

 

Trillium Cousins...The yellow flower is called a Dogtooth Violet or Trout Lily

 

Watch for more about Oxford County soon.  I will be updating this page frequently.

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