The quirky question catches everyone's attention whenever Cathy Bingham of Tourism Oxford talks about the Township of Norwich: "What American president's mother was born in the heart of southwestern Ontario in the historic Township of Norwich?" And after she gives the answer, curiosity is piqued to discover more about this beautiful region named after Norwich, England.
Located within the County of Oxford, the Township of Norwich (population around 10,500), takes in the four communities of Norwich, Burgessville, Otterville and Springford. Snuggled mid-way between Toronto and Windsor at the crossroads of Highway 401 and 403, the township is a traveler's treasure box.
Culture and history buffs revel in the area's evocative sense of history. For example, did you know that one of Upper Canada's most successful Quaker settlements was located in Norwich Township? It began almost 200 years ago when a minister in the Society of Friends, Peter Lossing, arrived and with his brother, purchased 15,000 acres. By 1820, over 50 people had settled, laying the foundation for the Quaker settlement. Today, one of Ontario's longest operating rural community museums - the Norwich and District Museum and Archives - is located in an 1889 former Quaker Meeting House. The large site at the edge of the village of Norwich includes a restored 1813-16 farmhouse, 1830's saltbox house, century-old schoolhouse, blacksmith's shop and two barns.
Nearby Otterville boasts one of Ontario's most important historical sites - the 1856 African Methodist Episcopal Church and Cemetery. With assistance from the Quakers, many black families migrated in the early 1800's to Otterville, originally called Otter Creek Mills, from northern United States. These freed American slaves purchased property and flourished as landowners and trades people. They were active in Oxford's "underground railway," helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada.
In the centre of Otterville sits one of Canada's prettiest historical sites, the Otterville Mill. Built in 1845 on the Otter River as a flour and grist mill by Edward Bullock, it's one of the oldest continually operating water-powered mills in Ontario. Also on the "must-see" list is a 1816 octagon cottage, 1881 Grand Trunk Railway station and the gothic 1916 Saint John's Church.
It is not only historical sites that deliver unique sights and photographic opportunities. Travel the township's back roads and stumble across stunning scenes such as a farmhouse near Burgessville, surrounded by thousands of colourful tulips. Or rows of blooming apple orchards. Roadside fruit stands. Beautiful farmlands. Ginseng farms (replacing tobacco fields). Fields of oats and barley. Display gardens. And exotic trees - like the sassafras, wahoo, Kentucky coffee tree, tulip tree -- found in the Carolinian forest that runs through Norwich (the only place in Canada with this remarkable ecological zone which mirrors the vegetation of and takes its name from Southern Carolina.
For almost 200 years, the pastoral township continues to thrive with diverse farming and artistic communities. A common sight in downtown Norwich is the horse-and-buggy from the active Amish community. The region is also home to the largest Dutch settlement outside of Holland. And the township's rich history in locally-made arts and crafts is celebrated each year with arts festivals and tours. There's the acclaimed annual "Otterville Presents" held in June (founded by world class watercolour painter Sue Goossens) and the popular "Welcome Back to Otterville" studio tour in November.
The Township of Norwich - a perfect place for day-tripping and the discovery of travel gems. (And....the answer to the American president question? It was Hulda Randall Minthorn, the mother of the 31st president of the United States, Herbert C. Hoover, who was born in Norwich's Quaker community in 1848.)
Elle Andra-Warner is an author, travel journalist and photographer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
If you go
Norwich & District Museum and Archives: www.norwichdhs.ca
89 Stover Street North, Norwich ON NOJ 1PO, Fax 519-863-2343
Museum, telephone 519-863-3101, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Archives, telephone 519.863.3638, email email@example.com
Historic Otterville: www.historicotterville.ca
Tourism Oxford: www.tourismoxford.ca
580 Bruin Boulevard, Woodstock ON N4V 1E5, Toll-free 1-866-801-7368
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