By Felix Shuster
(Continuation, see Part 1 for the beginning)
After visiting Creemore, which name means ‘Big heart’ in Athabaskan language, we had to leave for our next stop – Collingwood.
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On this 20-minute ride, we observed terrific panoramic views of Nottawasaga Valley and blue waters of Georgian Bay in the distance. Collingwood is a bustling city, compared to Creemore. In fact, back at the end of 19th century it was promising to become a major commercial centre on the Great Lakes with shipyards, railways, various manufacturing and thousands of optimistic people, the dream about ‘Chicago of the North’. Times have brought corrections – the dreams of trans-shipping grain and meat from western prairies left only massive (but now defunct) concrete elevators in port area as the real landmark of Collingwood.
But optimism is very much a strong characteristic of people here. Commercial fishing and shipbuilding yielded the top spot to the tourism industry and servicing needs of nearby Blue Mountains Ski Resorts. Local guides from Collingwood Museum had apologized to us for the inconvenience on the main streets, as the city was going through a major ‘beautification’ project. It involves widening lanes, reorganizing parking and facelift to many heritage buildings in the city core. Last few years have seen much residential housing development, particularly massive ‘Shipyards’ project.
Interesting museum of local history is situated in faithfully rebuilt Railway Station of 1877; it contains numerous artifacts, showing life and events of the last 150 years. Many of us were intrigued by sculpture of ‘Father Time’ that actually was carved from wood by David Fleming, a younger brother of Sandford Fleming, famous Canadian engineer, surveyor, map-maker and inventor of International Time zones. In fact, after emigrating from Scotland, the Fleming family lived for a long time in the nearby town of Craigleith, presently called Town of Blue Mountains.
Short walk on Hurontario Street amidst imposing architecture and inviting stores brought us to a warm spot of the tour – “The Olde’ Town Terrace” restaurant. It was warm in more ways than one, because when the proprietor of the restaurant Ray Bandura, sporting friendly smile and brimming with hospitality, came out to see us in the dining room and share a few stories – we could not feel more at home. He told us the history of this heritage house and its final conversion to the eatery and also gave us very exciting view of Elvis Presley Festival of Collingwood with many charming vignettes of the performers, frequenting the event. This festival started in 1995 and today is the biggest Elvis Presley celebration in the world. It is supported by Graceland, the estate of late singer.
Having such a great time in Creemore and Collingwood, we should have continued on the high note – and so we did by climbing (on the bus of course) the Blue Mountains Road to the top of the ski lifts, just short distance past local attraction of the Scenic Caves. We observed phenomenal views of Georgian Bay (actually Nottawasaga Bay) and alpine village of Blue Mountains resort below. Then, we drove down through it and number of smaller private ski resorts, passing on the way the Craigleith Depot, local museum in the real (not restored ) Rail station with proper ‘witch’s hut’ tower. This station was built in 1880s on the land donated to railway by the Andrew Fleming, the father of famous Sir Sandford Fleming. It is worth to mention that for three decades this station was destination of many Ski Trains from Toronto. At times, 3 daily trains brought here down-hill ski enthusiasts. Now this area is all season resort with water sports, fishing, horse-riding, golfing and hiking, as well as skiing and snowmobiling.
By Felix Shuster