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(2013 - Spring/Summer Issue)


How do you react when the word “historic” is used to describe a small town or a pretty village?

Perhaps you give it no thought at all. Or does it grab your attention and propel you to investigate the destination further? During frontier times, when livelihoods were built on brain power and physical stamina alone, many villages did, indeed, develop intriguing stories to tell.

The settlers of the day were no doubt courageous, but evidently, they were also intent on adding quality to their lives as soon as possible. This desire inspired the urgency for leadership, friendships, law and order. Settlers hustled to raise, mill and cook good tasting food to eat—and they were dedicated around the clock to building their trades and budding businesses as well as constructing roads, school houses, chapels and jails. They were insistent on finding capable teachers, doctors and administrators; on sewing and wearing attractive clothes; and quilting and stitching warm and wonderful blankets, curtains, cushions and tableware. They delighted in building handsome furniture and fixtures for their home—and toys galore for their children.  

Remnants live on for us to see in heritage buildings, annual fairs, antique shops, flea markets and at special interest events all over North America. Better still, a visit to a small town might even be one of the quirkiest things you ever do. Where, for example, is the irreverent little town they call Blow Me Down? How about Leading Tickles, Dildo and Come By Chance?

Only in Newfoundland you might say, and in this instance it would be true. But keep looking. There are funny ones in every corner of the country such as:

•    Skir Dhu,Nova Scotia

•    St-Louis-du-Ha Ha, Québec

•    Dorking, Ontario

•    Eyebrow, Saskatchewan

•    Community Punch Bowl, Alberta 

•    Likely, British Columbia

Conventional wisdom has it that 18th-century humour, innuendo and even insult regarding place names was largely unintentional—although it does appear, say others, that there may have been some mischief-making during those long mapping voyages of Captain James Cook.

So quirky or not, do stop to find out more about the little towns as you roam this summer.

Beresford, New Brunswick

The seaside landscapes on the southern shoreline of beautiful Chaleur Bay captivate the eye immediately. On the sweet breeze of a sunny day stroll along the boardwalk and the beaches or follow the marked trails into wetlands filled with ecological activity. Beresford has its very own little species, the Maritime Ringlet butterfly. Best of all, the Acadian culture here means the promise of fresh seafood with a fabulous French touch. 

Truro, Nova Scotia

Reached by sea and stagecoach through the fruit belt of the Annapolis Valley, Truro was a vital transit-and-trading hub from the earliest times. Summer festival themes include blues music, wild blueberries, agriculture, film, theatre and art. Horses and harness racing are also big attractions—and so is high tide, twice every day. Head off to the Shubenacadie River on the Bay of Fundy to witness more than 100 billion tonnes of water roll in, with waves at least three metres high. You can ride a Zodiac on it, too, if you dare.

Percé, Québec

On the Gaspé Peninsula, the main attraction is outdoor adventure. As you hike to Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island, think about the founding Mi’kmaq culture and their iconic birch bark canoes; the arrival of Jacques Cartier, erecting the cross and claiming all the land for France; bloody battles on this soil between England and France; the birth of fur trading, shipbuilding and the rise of the fishing industry; settlers from Ireland, Scotland and the American colonies; tragic fires, storms and pirate raids; and astonishingly, the World War II heroics after German U-boats sank 23 ships right here in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Bayfield, Ontario

Take country roads west of Hamilton through the neat and pretty farmland of Ontario until you reach the beaches of Lake Huron and Bayfield, a pretty little period-town from the turn of the 20th century. In addition to theatre, dining and summer recreation, there is also the joy of socializing on its shady main street lined with galleries, boutiques and curio shops filled with fashionable apparel, original art, quality books and decor delights. Rent a boat, take a fishing charter, and linger on the broad sand beach for yet another magnificent sunset. 

Wolseley, Saskatchewan

Step back in time just 100 kilometres east of Regina, where you’ll also find this town is totally unabashed about its commitment to preservation, restoration and wildlife conservation. Initially a small railroad junction, Wolseley is now filled with historic buildings such as the Town Hall, Courthouse and Opera House. Be sure to stand on the swinging bridge over man-made Fairly Lake. In 1902, the original bridge was built for $300. It blew away, and so did the next one. The current bridge, built in 2004 for $250,000, welcomes more than 50,000 people every year.

Rossland, British Columbia

Deep in the Kootenay Rockies, this isolated mountainous community was put on the map by prospector, Ross Thompson, during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. Today, all of the excitement centres instead on the forested trails, ideal for hiking, mountain biking and wintertime skiing. Play golf here, visit gardens, vineyards and museums, and, from June through August, watch the theatre performances of the Gold Fever Follies for fascinating insights into the early gold rush days.

Welcome to the U.S.A.

First-timers, in particular, may laugh at the welcome signs for some places south of the border. For instance:

•    Accident, Maryland, was named by 18th-century survey engineers to express their “happy accident of discovery.”

•    Boring, Oregon, is actually a wonderful wilderness of recreation named after resident, W.H. Boring.

•    Hell, Michigan, reflects the frustration of 19th-century women who had no grain for bread because their husbands turned it into whiskey instead.

•    Cool, California, is a gold rush town named after a wayfaring preacher in the 1800s.

•    Uncertain, Texas, is a popular recreational wetland, which may have been named when a municipal official questioned an entry on the application for township and wrote “uncertain” in the margin.

•    Normal, Illinois, is derived from the French identification, école normale, for its teachers’ college.

      •   Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, is indeed named after the 1950s radio show.

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