Thursday, May 28, 2009

Historic St. Joseph's Church in Macton, Ontario

The distant sound of the heavy clop of horses’ hoofs grew louder and louder, then faded in a soft rhythmic beat. Buggy wheels crunched the loose stones on the road. Inside the buggy’s black box, I could see a man with the reigns in his hand. Beside him sat a woman wearing a traditional bonnet. The children seated in the rear turned in curiosity; but man and woman gazed straight ahead as if to not acknowledge our buggy – a blindingly bright chrome Prevost coach. The buggies were common place in Macton, our motor home was not.

The rural community of Macton, Ontario lies north of the Canadian city of Kitchener. Although Kitchener happened to be our destination, our arrival late in the day meant Ed and I went looking for a place to boondock for the night. Our Roadtrek factory tour would wait until the next morning. While considering one church parking lot, I met Cleason. He parked his heavy duty black truck and flatbed rig parallel to our coach. Was he looking for an overnight parking spot too? Surely not so I decided to ask him for suggestions on where we could boondock for a night.

He quickly assessed the current church lot. In a voice with a German accent, he said, “This lot has too much of a slope. You could park at my farm.” The unexpected hospitality of this stranger surprised me. When he started to ramble off directions, my eyes glazed over with all the turns here and there. He would have lead the way but he still had some work to do, “I’ve got to get that bulldozer over there on my truck and haul it a ways.”

“Your house sounds a bit of a distance away,” Ed interjected. “How about a closer, quiet church lot in the country?”

Cleason beamed, “I have just the place. You’ll like St. Joseph’s Church in Macton. You might even see a few Mennonite buggies or two.” For this place, Cleason wrote the directions on a page of our spiral bound notebook kept handy just for these occasions.

Cleason’s directions took us through a grid of right turns on rural two lane roads through Ontario’s Mennonite Country. We passed huge farm houses, planted fields, meticulously maintained barns, lines of family laundry waving in the breeze, red tulip gardens in blossom, and some buggies.

“The Church will be on the left, you can’t miss it,” I read the last line of Cleason’s directions. He added his cell phone number just in case we did miss it.

St. James Roman Catholic Church stands in the Township of Peel in Wellington County on Highway 86. Erected in 1878 and now designated as a Peel Historic Site, St. James Church remains a solid remnant of the early Irish settlers – The Connollys, O’Neils, McCardles, O’Donnells. Grave stones in the Church Cemetery remember these people as beloved wife, children called to heaven, and devoted husband. Some of the stones, too old to stand, lay flat on a concrete slab in a mosaic of sayings like this:

“Sleep on sweet babe and take thy rest. God called thee home. He thought it best.”

Some of the markers pre-date the Church, going back to 1876. Newer markers remember the passing of parishioners from a more current time. All set in the shadow of a big white cross.

The doors to St. James Church were locked. I stood stretching on the tips of my toes to peek through a window at the entrance. Inside were a traditional altar, crucifix, saintly statues, and rows of pews. A sign outside indicated that priests only offer an 11 AM Sunday Mass here from June to September to serve the diminishing Roman Catholic population. A much different religious population seemed evident now. They were the Mennonites with their horses, buggies, and traditional dress.

I waited until dark to hang our coach’s privacy curtains across the front windows. I watched from a distance the coming and goings of the buggies along the wide gravel bream of Route 86.

We had only one visitor that evening. Cleason stopped by to be sure we found his recommended destination. He’d never been inside a Prevost. And, from one of the seats, he watched the movement of buggies saying, “There goes my Dad’s bother….Oh, that was my Cousin…Those folks with the steel wheels are part of the David Martin sect…”

He paused to take a call on his cell phone from his brother. When he ended the call he laughed, “You couldn’t understand a word I said.” Nope, he’d been speaking in his native German dialect. We laughed too. Cleason may have a truck and dress in t-shirt and jeans, but he’s still connected to the old way, a way he knew two travelers would enjoy if only from the view of a coach window in the parking lot of a historic church in rural Macton, Ontario.

May 25, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quiet, Slow Paced & Relaxing: Four Days in St. Lawrence County In New York

If you describe your desired getaway plans as quiet, slow paced, and relaxing, four days in St. Lawrence County might be just what you seek. In the spring, this part of New York’s North Country region bursts with the color of purple lilac, sprouting fields of green, and the ever blue flow of the St. Lawrence River.

Day 1: Visit Ogdensburg’s most famous attraction.

The Frederic Remington Art Museum houses one of the largest collections of paintings and bronze sculptures by Remington. Born in nearby Canton, New York, Frederic Remington made his name as an illustrator by providing a look into the exciting, vanishing Western Frontier. During the later part of the 1800s, magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and Monthly, Century, Collier’s Outing, Boys Life and Cosmopolitan all featured his drawings and accompanying writings. He completed his first sculpture – the Bronco Buster – in 1895. Remington worked clay models which were cast in bronze at art foundries. This complicated process is explained in a special exhibit. In his lifetime, he completed a total of 22 sculptures. Many castings of these works are exhibited along with his oil paintings, family possessions, personal art collection, and studio contents.

The Frederic Remington Art Museum

303 Washington Street

Ogdensburg, NY 13669


Day 2: If it’s a Tuesday or Friday, go to Canton.

Canton Farmer’s Market sells fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll find raspberry pies, old fashioned homemade donuts, and other baked goods too. Wine from some of New York’s wineries is for sale. Artists might be there too offering mat framed photographs or crafts. You can even buy in season flowers and plants in Market occupying the town square.

Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) shop on Canton’s Main Street is like a farmers market only inside. TAUNY features items handmade using traditional methods – Mohawk Sweetgrass baskets, quilts, maple products, wood turned bowls, variety of local books, and hand dipped candles.

Blackbird Café nearby specializes in Panini sandwiches each served with a side of orzo or two-bean salad. This inviting restaurant also serves salads, soups, desserts, special brewed coffees, and teas. Its menu claims the food to be “local, organic, and fairly-traded products.”

Blackbird Café

107 Main Street

Canton, NY


Day 3: Get in touch with nature in Canton and the nearby area

There’s a scenic trail along the Grasse River which flows through Canton. This short, easy trail gives you a quick nature walk without leaving town. For a longer leisurely stroll, head to Indian Creek Nature Center on the outskirts of town off Route 68 North. Trails vary from mowed grass roadways around a pond to boardwalks across wetlands. The music of frogs, chirp of chipmunks, and the splash of beavers break the silence. Check your New York Bird book to identify the assorted species flying around. And, see if you can find some stumps of birch trees gnawed by the beavers to fine points.

Day 4: Let the power of the great St. Lawrence River impress you.

The region near Massena, New York is known as the unofficial “Fourth Coast of the United States” for all its miles of waterfront. A drive along this coastal area will lead you to two coastal marvels – a dam and a lock.

New York Power Authority’s St. Lawrence FDR Power Project at the Frank S. McCullough, JR. Hawkins Point Visitors Center offers interactive exhibits on how electricity is produced, properties of electricity, energy conservation, and a panoramic view of the Robert Moses-Robert Saunders Power Dam.

Visitors cannot go into the Power dam but the Visitors Center’s theater features a short film about it. The film traces the history of the dam from April 1931 when NY Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Power Authority Act creating the state utility that joined Ontario Hydro in developing the hydropower potential of the St. Lawrence River. The narration offers information about the joint agreements between US & Canada to construct a dam spanning the border between two nations. The footage shows the building of the dam - the groundbreaking, beginning the production of electricity and dedication. This international power project was formally dedicated on June 27, 1959 in ceremonies led by Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. On that date, the Queen unveiled the International Friendship Monument on the border between the US and Canada at the center of the 3,300-foot Power Dam. The monument commemorates the friendship between the two nations, their commitment to freedom and peace and the great cooperative undertaking that made the project reality. You can see this Monument from the Visitors Center.

New York Power Authority’s St. Lawrence FDR Power Project Visitor’s Center

21 Hawkins Point Road

Massena, NY 13662


From a perch above The St. Lawrence Seaway’s Eisenhower Lock and Visitors’ Center, you can watch ships as long as 740-feet float into the 800-foot lock chamber. These massive ships can be raised or lowered 40 feet in about 10 minutes.

St. Lawrence Seaway’s Eisenhower Lock

Massena, NY

Open Memorial Day through Labor Day