Yes, it's the birthplace of hockey legend,
, "The Great One," number 99, but Brantford is also named after founder
and known as Telephone City. Here in 1874,
Alexander Graham Bell
conceived the idea for the telephone.
At the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, curator Brian Wood treats me to a display of wanton enthusiasm and masterful knowledge concerning the evolution of the telephone. The Bell Homestead National Historic Site and adjacent Henderson Home celebrate their 100th anniversary this year.
A veritable storehouse of detail, Brian relates how the young Bell would wander off and sit on the nearby bank of the Grand River whenever he needed to stoke his creative engine. "Was water how he imagined electrical current?" I ask. "Could be," Brian responds cheerfully.
We tour the house, examine Bell's contraptions and learn the history behind his discovery as well as fascinating background on both parents, Melville, a distinguished professor of elocution, who fell in love and married a deaf woman, Eliza Grace Symonds, a painter of miniatures, nearly ten years Melville's senior. With communication an important item in the Bells' collective lives, young Alexander was encouraged to explore its applications.
The adjacent Henderson House was built in 1845 on Sheridan Street in Brantford, a simple frame house which served as the first business office of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada from 1877 until 1880 under the management of Melville and his close friend, Rev. Thomas Henderson. On display is every telephone model ever used. Relocated to the Bell Homestead site, Henderson Home also houses a fully-operational 1920s telephone exchange system.
For a change of pace, I head downtown to Victoria Square, designed by British architect, John Turner. It's laid out in the form of the Union Jack flag with four diagonal paths intersecting at the centre, where sits the impressive Joseph Brant Memorial, sculpted by Percy Wood of London, England. Unveiled in 1886, Brant imperiously stands nine feet in height, and Her Majesty's Government recognized the importance of the work by granting 13 bronze cannons weighing about 600 pounds each, melted and used in the casting of several statues. Some guns were over a hundred years old, a number used during the Crimean War.
Framing the square are striking buildings and churches including the old public library, now a
Wilfred Laurier University
facility, the Brant County Court House and City Hall.
In Brantford, attractive gardens are always part of the landscape. Intricate floral displays brighten every corner from public parks, to roadway medians. A winner of Canada's "Best Blooming City Award," Brantford is aglow with colourful flora from the spring until the fall. The grounds at Glenhyrst Art Gallery and The Royal Chapel of the Mohawks are beautifully treed and Lorne Park's gardens are well worth a visit.
In the evening, I visit The Olde School Restaurant and meet owner Gus Iliopoulos who explains that in the 1870's the building was actually the Moyle School. The halibut with a balsamic reduction and venison with a singular sauce were respectively delicious. Gus sat me in the same chair as that of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth who dined there Saturday, June 28, 1997. A painting of the historic event graces the wall.
Recognized as a 2010 Olympic Torch Relay route community, Brantford's rich cultural tapestry springs to life during the many festivals and events held each year. The tourism web site (below) allows visitors access to the city's busy roster of events.
With a wide range of specialty retailers, artists and artisans, Brantford is a shopper's delight. Surrounded by the County of Brant, Six Nations and New Credit, the region exhibits myriad one-of-a-kind items and antiques. Visit Lynden Park Mall or the Brantford Commons for retail stores selling the name brands that you want.
Impossible to see everything in only two days, I have already penciled in a return trip to visit items that I missed:
Chiefswood National Historic Site
, birthplace and home of Pauline Johnson, the Georgian-style
Myrtleville House Museum
(1837) with exhibits from United Empire Loyalists to present day, and what I hope is the sleeper of the bunch, the
Personal Computer Museum
where I will search longingly for my ancient Commodore 64.
Finally, the Brant Museum and Archives features period room settings and storefront displays that trace this region's history beginning with the settlement of the Six Nations. Because Brantford occupies an accessible location, only one hour from Toronto and the Niagara Region, I can easily return!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If you go
Visit Brantford: http://www.discoverbrantford.com/Pages/default.aspx
Bell Homestead: http://www.bellhomestead.ca/
Hampton Inn: http://www.hamptoninnbrantford.com/
The Olde School Restaurant: http://www.theoldeschoolrestaurant.ca/
For guided tours of our city's gardens, or more information about parks, contact Tourism Brantford at 1-800-265-6299 (519) 751-9900