What Travel Writers Say
What to see in London on the Thames© By Elle Andra-Warner
I first heard about London's Grand Theatre on a television show that speculated upon a mysterious, resident ghost reputed to be the former owner, Ambrose Small, a Toronto theatre tycoon. Apparently, rumours about his haunting the London theatre began almost as soon as he disappeared in 1919. Since then, many performing actors have reported seeing or hearing the ghostly visitations. (Talk about stage fright!) Whether one believes in such unearthly matters or not, it certainly sharpens the senses when in the building as you wonder if perhaps tonight, you just might encounter a vaporous entity.
Built by Colonel Whitney of Detroit and Ambrose Small, the Grand Theatre opened in 1901 and remains today as London's most popular cultural attraction, "a jewel in London's crown," a former London MP called it. Reminiscent of stately theatres in Europe, the elegant interior includes a proscenium arch, a 17th century stage design that creates a "window" around the scenery and actors, murals and exquisite cast plasterwork. The building underwent major reconstruction in 1978, and today, a contemporary facade houses the restored theatre. The Grand Theatre is recognized as a Canadian cultural leader in professional theatre, offering multiple productions each season.
Speaking of entertainment, remember Guy Lombardo and his band of renown, the Royal Canadians? Born in London June 19, 1902, Lombardo emerged as one of North America's most successful entertainers with 21 records reaching #1 on the hit charts. In 1984, the Guy Lombardo Music Centre was established in London to honour the musical legend and to house artifacts and memorabilia from the bandleader, including his famous speedboat and his ensemble. Boomers and Zoomers will particularly enjoy the nostalgic trip back to the big-band era.
Another intriguing visit is The Secrets of Radar Museum, opened during the summer of 2001. During the Second World War, because of high level secrecy, many service members could not speak of their war service until 50 years later, in 1991. This museum preserves the "experiences, stories and histories of the men and women who build, develop, operate, maintain and defend Canadian RADAR, here in Canada and abroad." I found particularly interesting the "Women in Radar" exhibit, highlighting the significant contribution of members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) while working in English coastal radar stations. There are many previously untold stories collected in this museum.
If a history buff like me, you will also enjoy the Lawson Prehistoric Iroquois Village, a site occupied by Neutral Iroquoians 500 years ago. The ancient village offers reconstructed palisades, earthwork and one longhouse (nine were excavated). It sits on the original site where approximately 2000 Neutral Iroquois lived around 1475-1500 AD in a semi-permanent village. It is the only Canadian archaeological site to be featured in the National Geographic Society's book, American's Ancient Cities. Two hectares in size, the site remains three-quarters undisturbed and covered by trees.
The Lawson Village site is Ontario's only archaeological site, one of three in Canada that is officially listed on the Canadian Register of Historical Places. It is also Canada's only pre-historic archaeological site with ongoing excavation and reconstruction open to the public.
Adjacent to the village, is the Museum of Ontario Archaeology dedicated to the study, display and interpretation of humans in Southwestern Ontario. The permanent exhibition, "The 11,000 years of History of Occupation of Southwestern Ontario" visually presents the changes through artifacts (over 2.5 million in the museum) and colourful murals.
With a population over 300,000, London has developed a modern urban environment that includes one of Canada's top 10 research universities, the University of Western Ontario and famous beer maker, Labatt Brewery. However, it refers to itself as the Forest City as when the city was established in 1793, the land was heavily forested.
Finding "wilderness" today inside urban London remains relatively easy. There are extensive forests, green spaces and over 200 parks including the 140 hectares Springbank Park, home to the whimsical Storybook Gardens with its enchanted castle and forest. And you sense the feel of "wilderness" while biking along extensive river-hugging bike paths that stretch for kilometres along both the north and south branches of the Thames River. Both beautiful and practical, one city resident advised, "It is the equivalent of a fast cross-city cycling route for people to travel east-west and into the city's north end and as far as old south in the south end. On the bikeways one can traverse the city quite efficiently."
There are many parallels between this London on the Thames with its grand namesake in England. Each is a vibrant, exciting city that offer a myriad of attractions that range from the historical, cultural and family-fun whimsical to soft adventure and outdoor activities.
I didn't yet mention the fabulous shopping, cuisine, country markets, art galleries, sports, and more. Perhaps it's best that you visit London and see for yourself.
Elle Andra-Warner is an author, journalist and photographer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.