Southern Ontario

with my friends

by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz


March 29, 2008: Today was another beautiful day and I had the unique opportunity to take 13 Japanese visitors with me on a tour of some of the fun places in Southern Ontario.  These 13 all are here to assist in the Toyota Woodstock Plant construction, and all are working in the Stamping/Press area, where I have done a great deal of translating.  My plan was take them on a Sumoflam-style road trip.  We left Woodstock's Quality Inn Hotel (home of the Oxford County Tourist Office) at 8 AM in 4 vehicles and headed west to begin our adventure of nearly 280 km (abt. 175 miles actually).  The map of the trip is located below.



During the week I had been contacted by Mary Jakeman about their pancake breakfast this weekend, so I invited the guys and we all headed over to Jakeman's to go enjoy a pancake breakfast and give them a chance to see a real maple syrup operation.  It was about a fifteen minute drive from Woodstock.  When we arrived, Bob Jakeman came out to greet us.  I have added some facts and photos to the Jakeman's page I did a couple of weeks ago.


4H members make pancakes at Jakeman's



Bob Jakeman explains the syrup process and takes us to the Sugar Shack above


Some of the equipment for making syrup



The Toyota gang enjoys their pancakes, sausage, coffee and Jakeman's syrup


Everyone joins Bob for photos



A visit isn't finished until you buy some stuff to share with family and friends


We left Jakeman's at about 9:30 with our palates pleased with the sweetness of maple syrup and our stomachs filled with yummy pancakes.  We were then off to Aylmer, which was about a 20 minute drive SW of Sweaburg.  I knew these guys would like to see the swans and since they are only in the area for a short time (the swans that is), I figured it would be a rare treat.  I was amazed that there were even more of them there this morning than what I saw a couple of days ago



Thousands of Tundra Swans enjoy the morning sun in Tundra Pond outside of Aylmer, Ontario


From Aylmer, we headed east towards St. Thomas, Ontario.  I was excited about this as it was new to me as well.  St. Thomas grew rapidly as a result of the railroad.  In fact, it is know as the "Railway Capital of Canada" because of its history.  In 1856 the London and Port Stanley Railway opened, thus providing the impetus for the growth of this community.  By the 1950s the railway business had declined and St. Thomas became just another thoroughfare.  Our visit to St. Thomas had two real motives.  One was to see some of the famous murals painted on the sides of buildings and the other was to see the monument to Jumbo the Elephant.  We accomplished both.


Elgin County is apparently famous for the many murals painted on the buildings around its towns.  We saw a few of them just within a few blocks walking.  I am not sure how many there actually are, but I would assume there are twenty or 30 of them scattered about the county.  We saw a few in town.



A couple of murals.  The one on the left depicts St. Thomas in the 1930s.  The one on the

right is a part of a larger mural.  Notice the elephant in the middle.  That is Jumbo.



I took the one on the left with the RR Crossing.  Notice the trains smokestack is

directly under a chimney, so when smoke comes out it may appear as if it is coming from

the train.  The mural on the right depicts the pastoral nature of the region.


From downtown we drove out on Talbot Rd. to old Talbot Rd. and found the large, and apparently life size statue of Jumbo the Elephant.  Jumbo was a 12 foot tall elephant from the Sudan in Africa.  He was exported to France in 1863 and then to the London Zoo in 1865.  In 1882 he was sold to the Barnum and Bailey Circus and he traveled around the US and Canada on a specially built carriage.  On Sept. 15, 1885, the circus was performing in St. Thomas and after the show, Jumbo was hit by an oncoming train and killed.  The entire story is in the link above and here.  Anyway, as a memorial the town of St. Thomas built a life size statue of Jumbo, which we visited.



The Jumbo statue in St. Thomas...and no, Jumbo is not the guy sitting on the ledge!!


After St. Thomas we headed to the small burg of Sparta.  I had arranged for us to eat lunch at the Sparta Tea House.  Sparta was established early on as a Quaker Settlement.  A number of Quakers, (also known as Society of Friends) came from Pennsylvania through Niagara Falls to settle here after Jonathan Doan purchased some land here.  It was originally called Yarmouth Corners, but the name was later changed to Sparta in 1832.  There are still period era buildings in the small village, including the Sparta House Tearoom and Restaurant.




The Sparta House


I selected and contacted The Sparta House due to both its quaint feel and its unique menu of traditional English fare.  It is run by Ken and Norma Roberts, who hail from Liverpool, England (home of the Beatles) and who purchased the place about 12 years ago.  Originally completed in 1840, over the years the building has served as a meeting place, a tavern, a general store, a barber shop, etc. (see history)  Their menu has some traditional English and country offerings.  All of the Japanese guys ordered the Ploughman's Lunch and I had their special Shepherd's Pie, which was awesome.  They also make their own Sunflower bread, which was a nice heavy and tasty bread.



The gang enjoy the Sparta House and the Ploughman's Lunch


While we waited for lunch, Norma had arranged for the town historian to come tell us the history of the town.  He told us some great stories and then we had a great lunch.  The Ploughman's lunch was served in plates wrapped in napkins.  Norma explained that they serve it this way because that is how the farmers would carry it to the fields, sliding a stick through the enclosure.


Norma Roberts serving Ploughman's lunch

in wrapped plates


There was more uniqueness at this place.  Norma collects teapots and she has over 400 on display in the Teahouse.  She is proud of her collection and it was truly unique.  Here are a few samples.


Just a few of Norma's teapots


After lunch, the town historian, Bill Fishleigh, took us over to the "Ye Olde Forge and Anvil Museum" for a brief viewing.  The displays were not all up since it was off-season, but he was proud to tell us about the building and show it off.  It was constructed around 1827 by a Mr. Kellar from England.  It was actually a blacksmith shop.  The uniqueness of this building was that the walls were made of clay and straw that was mixed in a pit by the continual tramping of a team of oxen.  The interior beams were made from solid Black Walnut logs that were adzed by hand.  They are still there and the clay and straw walls (nearly 10 inches thick) are still there as well.  The Toyota guys were fascinated by some of the old implements.



The Sparta town historian, Bill Fishleigh,  points out the clay walls.  Above is an interior view


Some of the implements - a wooden wrench, a musket, an old telephone


The gang and the historian in Sparta


With our curiosity fulfilled and our stomachs full, we were off again.  We continued south towards Lake Erie and Port Bruce.  We continued west along the coast towards Port Burwell.  This part of the coastline has become famous locally because of the "windmills", which the locals all call the renewable energy wind turbines that dot a 27 kilometer length along the coast of Lake Erie.  These are all part of the Erie Shores Wind Farm, which is comprised of 66 wind turbines which each generate 1.5 megawatts and provides renewable energy to nearly 35,000 homes.  There are plans to erect 33 more of these in the region over the next couple of years.



Some views of the the Wind Farm.  Photo on left is from Port Burwell


Each of the turbines weighs nearly 225 tons and they are about 82 meters tall BEFORE the hubs and blades are even attached.  Each blade is 41 meters long.  There is a ladder with platforms inside of each of these for access to get in and repair the units when needed.  A slide show of how these are assembled can be seen here.  It is a fascinating and awe-inspiring process.


Port Burwell harbor in early 1900s.  The Ashtabula can be seen on the right


After seeing the turbines, we went into Port Burwell to visit the Lighthouse and museum there.  The lighthouse is one of the oldest wooden lighthouses in Canada.  Ironically, as we pulled into the parking lot of the museum, Gordon Lightfoot's song, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald came on the radio.  This ship was lost in Lake Superior.  The museum in Port Burwell has photos of another shipwreck that occurred in Lake Erie...that of the Ashtabula.  The museum has perhaps the best replica of the coal ship, which actually ha railroad tracks built into it.  It would pick up rail cars filled with coal in Ashtabula, Ohio and then haul them across Lake Erie to Port Burwell, where they would run right onto tracks on the port.  The museum also has some rare Fresnel Lenses that were used in lighthouses.  The Bayham Municipality and Elgin County Tourism Dept. was gracious enough to arrange for us to visit this museum and the Edison Museum in Vienna.  Both are typically not open at this time of the year.



Some scenes from Port Burwell.  The wooden lighthouse was built in 1840.



An Eskimo in our midst? No, just Hosoi-san....Some items in the museum


From Port Burwell, we drove a bit north to Vienna, Ontario, which is the home of the Edison Museum.  Vienna has a booming population of about 600 people, but at one time it used to rival St. Thomas and London in size. It grew as a result of the lumbering industry until the 1850s when lumbering declined.  That led to the decline of the town as well.


The Edison Museum is managed by the Bayham Historical Society and houses a number of artifacts from Thomas Edison's family.  The town of Vienna has the historical homestead for Thomas Edison's grandfather and great grandfather.  Actually,  there were four generations of Edisons that resided in Vienna over the years, beginning with Thomas Edison's great-grandfather John Edison. The museum has a number of items from the Edison collection as well as some other items from famous Vienna citizens, including the man who invented the Brownie camera for Kodak, Frank Brownell.


We were met by Cheryl Peters at the Edison Museum and she walked us through the entire place.  It was really interesting to see all of the Edison creations, among other things.


Cheryl Peters at Edison Museum



Cheryl shows us the Edison light bulb and their family piano



Edison 78RPM record player, an Edison record and an Edison Gramophone



An Edison Amberola player and some Amberola Records



Toyota members trying out the stereo photographs



Henry Ford was a friend of Thomas Edison. Here is a rare signed book:

"Edison As I Knew Him" published in 1930

It is also known as "My Friend, Mr. Edison" and can be seen here



The Edison Spark Plug...Albert Champion


One of the interesting stories Cheryl told us centered around the Edison Spark Plug.  According to her, Albert Champion was working for Thomas Edison and while in his employ he invented the spark plug.  As with many companies, the patent would go to Mr. Edison, so Champion left and created another patent.  He had to name them A.C. (as in A.C./Delco). 


The actual history that I could find says that Albert Champion came from France in 1899 and founded the Champion Ignition Company in 1904 for the manufacture of spark plugs  He later changed the name to AC/Delco.  I could not find any details about Champion ever working for Edison.


Edison family sewing machine, organ and some books from their library


After our visit to the Edison Museum, we returned back to Woodstock via the back roads near Tillsonburg, Otterville, Norwich and others.  It was a fun day and we really got a great taste of the history of the region and,  more impressively, the fabulous hospitality of the people of Southern Ontario.  I look forward to more visits in the near future.

Back to Adventures in Southern Ontario Page

 See more of Sumoflam's Trip Journals