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Township of Norwich - A Traveler's Treasure Box

© By Elle Andra-Warner
 
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.

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Oxford Tourism

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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 norwichdhs@execulink.com
Archives, telephone 519.863.3638, email archives@norwichdhs.ca
Historic Otterville: www.historicotterville.ca
Tourism Oxford: www.tourismoxford.ca
580 Bruin Boulevard, Woodstock ON N4V 1E5, Toll-free 1-866-801-7368
Email: tourism@county.oxford.on.ca

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Self Care Is Elementary

© By Liz Fleming

Exfoliation...dermabrasion...hydration... spas have an 'ion' for everything. At the Elmhurst Inn and Country Spa in Ingersoll, Ontario, I discovered with some...ah... trepidation...that I know frighteningly little about caring for myself.
     I'm not alone. Spa directress, Chriss Wilson, says: "Most people pay no attention to themselves." That's why a treatment at the Country Spa involves teaching clients self-care - from the inside out.
     The brochure suggested an hour and a half for an Elemental Nature Facial for Self-Renewal but in fact, two hours flew by as I learned more than I'd ever thought possible about how my habits - good and bad - affect my skin.
     The process started with a detailed questionnaire based on the Aveda theory of holistic care: you can't fix the outside until you understand the inside. That understanding involves an analysis of five elements - Infinity, Air, Fire, Water and Earth - that make up your body and spirit -- and in fact, nature as a whole.
     Each element has sensory and physiological links, and is characterized by a particular mindset. To determine your individual blend, clients answer questions on everything from skin type to thought processes.
     I flew through the questions, starting with complexion (delicate, prone to inflammation and early wrinkles...damn!), moving through body temperature (tendency to feel cold) and hair (fine, premature graying. Hah! My stylist has that under control, thanks very much!) Energy level came next (consistent, strong) and then stress response ("snarly" wasn't listed so I went with "can get irritable and frustrated.") Body type (athletic build) and sleep patterns were easy (sleeps solidly and can function well on less than six hours) as were routine/orientation (mildly dislikes routine) and thinking style (focuses well...sometimes.)

     

     Each answer fell into one of the elemental categories - the grand total comprised my Aveda profile. I'm overwhelmingly a Fire girl, with just one response in the Water column and two in the Infinity row.
     "It's best to have some responses in every elemental category." explained Wilson tactfully, "This tells me you're a very high energy person who pushes herself hard." I'm blazing, and unbalanced.
     "Is that bad?" I asked.
     No. Apparently, in a Zen kind of way, it's neither bad nor good. It just is.
     So, what's Fire all about? It's the element associated with sight. Earth is linked to smell, Water is tied to taste, Air to touch and Infinity to sound. Physiologically, Fire is responsible for transformations in the body that include digestion (when food is changed into energy), body heat regulation, and skin coloration. Earth is responsible for the muscles and skeleton while Water takes care of moisturizing the respiratory tract, and lubricating the joints and the digestive tract. Air handles movement in, out, and through the body such as breathing, blood and lymphatic circulation and the nervous system while Infinity handles the expansion of the lungs and arteries.
     According to the Aveda principles, a well-balanced, Fire-dominated makeup is characterized by a sharp intellect and the ability to argue points well. If you're Fire-dominated but your balance is off, you might have a short temper and little patience. Hmmm!

     

     Before I could even begin to fume about my fiery shortcomings, the treatment began with a footbath so relaxing I couldn't fret about anything. Lovely...but wasn't I having a facial?
     "You are," Wilson explained. "This first step is to lower the barriers between us and help you relax. Next, you're going to take a sensory journey so I can determine which scents and products to use."
     Eyes closed and feet in heaven, I smelled three vials of scent. An easy job, I just chose the one I liked best. All three were pleasant, but one was by far the most appealing. Wilson presented three more. Again, all were aromatic and soothing, but one was a standout.
     "Your first choice determines the scent overtone, and the second, the undertone for the products we'll use. Your choices make perfect sense. The second fragrance you selected is for sensitive skin, like yours. When we let our sense of smell take over, it can often determine exactly what our face, body, mind and spirit need."
     Apparently, one thing I need is quiet time. Wilson was nearly silent as she examined my skin under a powerful light, then gently cleansed, exfoliated, massaged and hydrated the face of Fire. I tried to ask questions.
     "Talk later," she crooned. "Just relax."
     For me, relaxing is a bit of a trick, but I was mush in her hands. Much later, through a blissful haze, I felt a gentle touch on my arm. My time was up. Leaving that cozy treatment room was like emerging from the womb - inevitable but shocking. As I sipped cool water in the lounge, the self-care tutorial began.
     "There's some sun damage around your jaw and hairline. It's not as bad as it might be," Wilson frowned in a motherly way, "...given that you say you never wear hats or sunscreen."
     Bad fire girl. The truth is, I buy hats and sunscreen - I just never put them on. "You need sunscreen," Wilson said firmly. "And you're dehydrated. To plump up the skin, you need to drink more water."
     Eight glasses a day? No...just one more each day for a week. Then, two more the next week. Very doable.
     "Water hydrates from within, but you also need hydration for your skin's surface, especially the thin skin around the eyes. Use more moisturizer"
     We were into the 'ations' now. Hydration...then exfoliation.
     "Dead surface skin cells prevent moisture absorption," said Wilson, "so exfoliate every day." Every day! Wouldn't my face rub right off?
     "Use a gentle liquid exfoliator on your skin overnight. And speaking of overnight, try to get more sleep. Just because you can function on less than six hours, doesn't mean you should."

       

     Exfoliate, hydrate inside and out, sleep more ...great advice gleaned from my Elemental Nature Facial for Self-Renewal. Smarter now, I'm off to grab a glass of water, dab on some exfoliator smother myself in moisturizer and really light my Fire!

Liz Fleming is a freelance writer based in St. Catharines whose work appears regularly in The Toronto Star, Dreamscapes and the Canadian Press. Liz is editor of Niagara Life Magazine.

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Oxford County Tourism

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Tourism Oxford County: http://www.tourismoxford.ca/
Elmhurst Inn and Country Spa: http://www.elmhurstinn.com/
Town of Ingersoll: http://www.ingersoll.ca/

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Tillsonburg - the past meets the future

© By Tess Bridgwater

"Spend an hour, a day or a lifetime" locals suggest about Tillsonburg, one of many attractive undiscovered towns in southwestern Ontario. Located in rolling, fertile farmland in the heart of Oxford County between London and Lake Erie, even on a sunny cool December day, it bustles with activity as I stroll along the main street on a recent visit.

       

     Formerly a booming centre of the tobacco industry, now, immaculate farms on either side of the rural highways produce ginseng as well as tasty produce from apple orchards and wineries that dot the landscape. Ginseng roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants and used in the treatment of type II diabetes as well as for male sexual dysfunction. The root is often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root, it is often available in dried form.
     Tillsonburg embodies the heart of a rural area settled by Quakers, with a huge Amish community to the south and one of the largest Dutch settlements found outside of Holland. The town of 14,000 is an active commercial centre exhibiting original architecture that dates from the town's beginning in the late 1800's. There's an appealing mix of small, locally owned shops, a thriving shopping mall and some excellent restaurants.
     With Amy Semple MacPherson, the famous American Evangelist, who was born nearby, Tillsonburg commands a unique place in history. Oxford County was an important stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. To enjoy a slice of local history, visit the informative city museum at Annandale, former home of E. D. Tillson, first mayor of Tillsonburg and son of the city's founder. A designated National Historic site, the attractive, old yellow brick mansion built in the 1880's in Victorian style with typical ornate embellishments, was rescued from demolition and superbly restored by private donations. It is now maintained by the town as a monument both to the "Aesthetic Arts Movement" and the town founders. Brilliant painted ceilings have been restored to their original splendour, and the house is fitted with authentic Victorian furnishings. For the Christmas season, the main rooms of the house are skillfully decorated by different local businesses. It is open year round and a required stop for tourists to visit and browse.

   


     Arts and culture flourish in Tillsonburg. The Station Arts Centre enjoys a vibrant Arts and Crafts community located in two former railway stations which have been cleverly renovated. Here, classes are offered for both adults and children, and space is provided for potters and artists to work and display their craft amidst paintings, craft exhibits and a quaint gift shop.
     The local restaurants are plentiful offering everything from the basic Tim Horton's to fine dining at the Manse, another well-restored home. The newest town hot spot is Niko's, located on the main street, and it is humming Wednesday at lunch time. It features a daily martini bar and live jazz performed on Thursday nights. Their executive chef, Jeremy, presides over a disciplined staff of 11 with five helpers always there to prepare an innovative menu.
     This summer, local restaurants feature Oxford Fresh, a ten-day dining promotion in August with three course specials featuring local produce.
     Be sure to stop at Coyle's just outside of town. It's an inviting attraction to residents for miles around - an old-fashioned country store not often seen today, and offering a plethora of items from bulk baking supplies, scrumptious homemade baking, aromatic herbs, sewing and craft supplies, natural medicinal potions and garden supplies, in short, anything one might need to enjoy the country life.
     During the harvest season, be sure to pick up delicious fresh produce at roadside markets as well as visit several award-winning garden centres. For those intrigued with Canadian aeronautical history, drop by the local airport, home base of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Associations, where you will be treated to their prized collection of restored WWII Harvard planes. The aircraft collection includes five serviceable Harvard aircraft (a sixth going through an overhaul), a Tiger Moth, and a Yale, which has been completely restored over the past 18-20 years.

   

     Yearly, the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association offers numerous opportunities for members to ride in the backseat of a Harvard aircraft or in the front seat of an historic Tiger Moth. They keep members updated on what flights are available and when member fly-days take place in Tillsonburg.
     To get there: Follow Highway 401 west from Toronto or east from London to the Highway 19 cutoff at Ingersoll. It's a short drive through rolling farmland to Tillsonburg. There is a Super 8 Motel in town and Spring Lake RV Park nearby. Or, treat yourself to a night at the luxury Elmhurst Inn and Country Spa in Ingersoll. Another nearby attraction is the world-renowned Stafford Festival.

Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers

Photo credits
Oxford Tourism

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City of Tillsonburg: www.tillsonburg.ca
Oxford Tourism: www.tourismoxford.ca
Coyle's Country Store: www.coylescountrystore.com
Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association: www.harvards.com
Accommodations: www.tillsonburgsuper8.ca, www.springlakerv.com, www.elmhurstinn.com

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An inspiring musical tradition: the Walters Family Band

© By Pat Brennan

How are you going to keep them down on the farm? That's precisely the question farmer/businessman George Matheson was facing as he watched his family grow. He wasn't concerned about who would raise cattle and grow crops on his Woodstock-area farm. He just wanted his descendents to absorb his love of country living. He got the answer from his good friend - the fiddle. He introduced his three grandchildren to that most traditional of country musical instruments, and he warbled country/western songs to them as youngsters.

       

     Before long, the kids, siblings Darren, Brad and Kimberly were singing along with grandpa and playing their own instruments. A year later, they were on the road as the Walters Family Trio. As the bookings and invitations poured in to the family farm, the children persuaded their parents to take music lessons, practice hard and eventually join them on stage.
     And now, some 30 years later, the 180-year-old barn on the family farm no longer houses bales of hay or draught horses, but rather 160 theatre seats, professional stage lights and state of the art sound system as the home of the popular Walters Family Dinner Theatre.
     The 150-acre farm that grandpa George bought 60 years ago near the village of Bright, 115 kilometres west of Toronto, has become one of Ontario's most popular summer dinner theatres.
     The stage, built in the barn, used to feature only performances by the six-member Walters Family Band - grandpa George, his daughter, Shirley, on base guitar, her husband, Garry, on drums and their three children playing practically every instrument in modern western music.
     Today the barn theatre plays host to a wide variety of visiting music stars, plus the Walters Family Band, which has recently moved into its fourth generation. Kimberly's six-year-old son, Schyler, now performs with the family band. Grandpa George passed away in 2004 at the remarkable age of 94.
     The eighth season for the Walters Family Dinner Theatre kicks off on June 2. It will run until late October when the family closes up the barn, packs their bags and heads off for southern ports as entertainers aboard cruise ships.
     Classic Country Spectacular is the name of the season opener, and it runs until June 21 with the Walters family playing all the biggest country/western hits, combined with comedy skits.
     Grammy Award winner, Walter Ostanek, and his band will grace the barn in an Oktoberfest celebration for five days in September. An Amish comedy play from Lancaster, Pennsylvania occupies the barn for 10 days in August. Tom Netherton, a veteran of the Lawrence Welk Show, will serenade the barn audience with his deep baritone voice near the end of July.
     Many of the more than 20,000 visitors to the Walters barn this season will come by tour bus. The country theatre is a popular destination for one-day bus trips. Remarkably, despite those numbers, most of the audience is comprised of individuals who visit independently. It's not just the music and the fun that draws the crowds. There's also a good old fashion farm meal included with your theatre ticket.
     Prices range from $35 to $50, depending on whether you want to take part in the buffet meals and who is on stage. The family still lives in a 160-year-old Mennonite stone house on the farm, which is only five minutes off Highway 401 near Bright. A few acres around the home have been groomed into a welcome park setting for summer picnics beside the duck pond. The rest of the farm is rented out as pasture to area farmers.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years

Photo credits
Courtesy: Walters Family

If you go
Details on all of the shows this season, prices, directions, etc. are available at www.waltersfamilyband.com or by calling 519-463-5559.


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Woodstock: a hidden gem

© By Nick Brune

Ironically, long advertising itself as the 'dairy capital of Canada,' the City of Woodstock fashions an appropriate acronym, COW. However, in many ways, Woodstock manages to fashion a contradictory mix between old and new, agrarian and urban, quiet and vibrant that best captures the essence of this lovely, small southwestern Ontario town located in the heart of Oxford County, halfway between Toronto and Windsor and Buffalo and Detroit. In this little gem, thirty-six thousand inhabitants enjoy the richness and variety of its offerings.

       


     Lately, I remained blissfully ignorant of the many charms that Woodstock has to offer, celebrating its past as one of few communities that proudly utilizes all of its stately historic public buildings. It also boasts a three-million-dollar, landlocked peace lighthouse and gallery located on the original Studite Fathers' homestead, yet is a pastoral community on the verge of acquiring a massive new industrial Toyota plant.
     Woodstock's motto - "our rural roots are showing" succinctly captures the heart, vision and direction of the community. Woodstock embodies and celebrates the four hallmarks of the district - heritage, culture, horticulture and agratourism.
     First, it maintains and promotes its impressive heritage properties - and given the relatively small size of the town, there are a great number. The City Hall, Historical Museum, and old churches are distinctively minor treasures, richly deserving careful observation.
     Second, Woodstock celebrates and champions arts and culture with a vibrant theatre, popular dinner theatre program and an art museum.

       

     Third, Woodstock proudly exhibits its strength in the field of gardening and horticulture, winning the prestigious "Communities in Bloom" contest on more than one occasion. The Pittock Conversation Area and many walking trails through enticing Carolinian forests, pine woodlots and along riverbanks and wetlands constitute a moveable feast for photographer and nature lover alike.
     Fourth, Woodstock is a gateway for agra-tourism for its environs offer everything from "The National Post's" most highly rated maple syrup farm, Jakeman's, to the many dairy farms that initiated the city's original claim to fame.
     My experience is probably typical, having visited on one previous occasion - many years ago to drive my daughter to a Mid-Western Region Optimist Speech contest. I ventured no more than a hundred yards off highway 401 to a hotel and spent two hours there, period. A hundred yards and a couple of hours - how terribly unfortunate!
     This time, my visit was rewarding. I traveled alone on an overcast November day, my first stop a gas station immediately off the highway, where I engaged locals in conversation. When I asked for the most interesting sights that a tourist might take it, even though several were recent transplants, they registered no problem in coming up with many, including very precise directions as to how to get there.

     

     As an historian, I was fascinated with the preservation of so many heritage buildings everywhere that I turned. Although a dull day, the lovely, whimsical garden centre caught my fancy. So did the short drive to the Pittock Conservation Area. That sense of the past catching up with the present is witnessed in many ways in Woodstock. It was once Canada's second largest Underground Railroad settlement. It claims proud Amish and Quaker communities and one of the largest Dutch settlements outside of Holland.
     The Woodstock Peace Lighthouse is a thoroughly unique structure that is deserving of a visit itself. Located on Ferguson Drive, it is plunked right in the middle of a residential area. It is an imposing but aesthetically beautiful building that reaches up to the sky, a $3 million landlocked lighthouse which makes it a one-of-a-kind structure, not only in Canada, but arguably in the world. It also houses the largest collection of religious icons anywhere in the world. Those icons, in the Byzantine tradition, were assembled from South America, Russia, the Ukraine, Greece, and many other parts of the globe, a virtual treasure-trove of artifacts: an old picture Bible, old maps of Eastern Europe, an original stone from St. Peter's home in Galilee, and an entire pictorial history of lighthouses. The structure was originally planned to be built in Israel, but now Woodstock counts it as one of its most highly prized treasures.

       

     Given its bountiful offerings, it's not surprising that Woodstock is considered a prized retirement area with people from London and Toronto gravitating to its myriad blessings and slower pace.
     Far too often, travel gems exists in our own backyard, but we ignore them. This is decidedly the case with Woodstock. You have only to spend a day there to realize the bounty of sites offered, literarily something to please every discriminating visitor. The air is fresh and pure, people are friendly and helpful, and the attractions rich and varied.


Nick Brune is an historian who has written for a wide group of organizations, including C.B.C. News in Review, The Dominion Institute (The Memory Project, Passages to Canada, etc.), the Hong Kong Commemorative Veterans Association (The Forgotten Heroes), and Elections Canada (The Democracy Project). He has co-authored more than half a dozen history textbooks for elementary and high schools. Nick loves to travel, having visited Europe several times, China, the Caribbean several times, Korea, and several visits throughout Canada and the United States.

Photo credits
Oxford Tourism

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www.dairycapitalcheese.com    (Restaurant and gift shop with a lovely outdoor patio that overlooks Museum Square.
www.themaplestore.com    (Home of Jakeman's maple products. Their maple syrup was voted number one by The National Post.)
www.theatrewoodstock.com    (Located in the historic 1800,s Market Square, this is the home of an award winning community theatre.)
Woodstock Art Gallery   gallery@city.woodstock.on.ca    (This is Oxford County's only public art gallery. It showcases historical and contemporary art exhibitions and is home to a permanent collection of Florence Carlyle's works.
Woodstock Museum    museum@city.woodstock.on.ca    (Built in 1853, this is mid-nineteenth century Italianate building once was home to the fire hall, police station, council chambers, and a theatre.


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