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Chatham-Kent's impressive roots - agriculture & automobiles

© By Geoff Dale
  "I tell people we are a multiplicity of niche markets," says Joy Sim, Tourism Development Coordinator with Chatham-Kent's Economic Development Services & Tourism. "We enjoy a diverse economy with a base in both the agricultural and auto sectors, with many festivals, historic events and a wide range of huge recreational opportunities such as fishing and even extreme sports spread throughout the year."
     A cursory glance at the municipality's past, present and likely future demonstrates the kind of unique experience it offers residents and tourists alike. Chatham's roots in the auto sector revert back to Gray-Dort Motors Ltd. - one of Canada's earliest automotive manufacturers. Originating in the Chatham carriage works of William Gray & Sons Company Ltd., founded in 1855 by William Gray, over the course of its lifetime, the company manufactured more than 26,000 quality vehicles such as the Model 4 Roadster and the Model 5 Touring Car. Chatham was the birthplace of Hank Chrysler, father of Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Automotive Company.
     More intriguing is the municipality's nickname The Classic Car Capital of Canada - in large part due to RM Auctions (partnered with Sotheby's Auction House) - and now the world's largest vintage automotive auction house and vintage automobile restoration company.
     "We have a twice monthly classic car newspaper - the Old Autos Newspaper, the half-hour Old Autos Television show that is seen through Canada and the U.S. on cable and satellite and three major tourism events," reports Sim. "There's the two-day Retrofest in May (named one of the 50 best festivals in Ontario in 2005) in historic downtown Chatham, WAMBO (Wallaceburg Antique Motor and Boat Outing) in August and the Old Autos Bothwell Car Show, which is the largest one-day car show in Canada. Each has a classic car component to it - a unique aspect that draws both national and international crowds."
     Chatham-Kent's agricultural links are equally impressive. Well known for the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame and the University of Guelph Ridgetown College, the municipality's expanding farming, agribusiness and agri-tourism sectors keep the region's full-time agricultural coordinator busy.
     Chatham is the headquarters for Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited (a division of DuPont); Omstead Foods - now the largest fresh fish producer and second largest frozen vegetable processor in Canada, founded in Wheatley in 1911; Greenfield Ethanol is Canada's largest ethanol plant while the local landscape is dotted with numerous grain-handling facilities, farms and vineyards.


     "With 35 acres of high bush blueberries, a culinary section, cafeteria and bakery, Parks' Blueberries has evolved into a wonderful agri-tourism experience - a great place for people to learn more about and have fun with healthy cooking with blueberries. Chatham-Kent's Smith and Wilson Estates Wines is working with 12 other wineries from Essex County as the Southwestern Ontario Vintners Association. Chatham-Kent is the beginning of a southwestern wine route. Then there is the Kruger wind energy project and the college is working on biodiesel, hoping to become the centre of diversity for grid energy projects."
     With historic links to the Underground Railway, Emancipation Day Celebration is held in August at Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dresden. The Buxton National Historic Site and Museum is home to the only school left in Canada built by slaves prior to the Civil War. The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society tells the story of Chatham's black community with the exhibit entitled "Black Mecca".
     Other unique happenings such as the Festival of Flight in Rondeau Provincial Park in May, Rib Fest, Taste Fest, War of 1812 commemorative events, and many more ensure there is scarcely a day when residents and visitors are lost for something to do in Chatham-Kent.

Geoff Dale is a freelance writer/photographer based in Woodstock, Ontario. In addition to writing for several publications including The London Free Press, the Sentinel-Review, Better Farming and the Transcontinental Media chain of newspapers in Newfoundland, he also critiques plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the Internet-based London Now. He has also written two books on the 50th anniversary of CAW Local 636 and the 100th anniversary of Execulink.

Photo Credits
Chatham-Kent Tourism
Geof Dale

If you go
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Chatham-Kent Tourism: www.visitck.ca.
RM Auctions: http://www.rmauctions.com/
Parks' Blueberries: www.parksblueberries.com
Smith and Wilson Estates Wines: http://www.smithandwilsonestatewines.ca/
Uncle Tom's Cabin: http://www.uncletomscabin.org/

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