with Sarah from the Elgin/St. Thomas Small Business Enterprise Centre
On Instagram @SBECinnovation #TasteofStThomas
Food is such a central part of our community experience. Thriving cities are ones that have emerging and dynamic food scenes. And while there is still room for more options in St. Thomas - the food culture has been expanding for years.
Restaurants are central to the idea of the local experience - one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the culture of a place. Restaurants are the inside scoop on the business, social, intellectual, and artistic life of a thriving society. Business ideas sketched on napkins, first dates, lively debates, and sublime opportunity to discover new flavours immersed in authentic environments.
with Sarah from the Elgin/St. Thomas Small Business Enterprise Centre
On Instagram @SBECinnovation #TasteofStThomas
I love small business, but I may love food-based enterprises most of all. Food has always been at the centre of everything for me. Whether it was afternoons in the kitchen with my mom, days spent entertaining at home, or menu selection for special events throughout my career: food has been woven into my life as I am sure it has been in yours. And in a time when we can't necessarily sit down together to share a meal, I am excited to have the opportunity to share a meal with you in this way - through words; another thing I love.
St Thomas, Ontario is a fairly old city that has stood the test of time. A history built through the revolution brought about by the rise of the locomotive industry. The city has that unique charm of a modern city that is still quite in touch with its roots. A great place to spend a laid back and relaxing vacation away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. But before you book any Airbnb vacation rentals check out these activities to try.
It's summer 2020, and we know a lot of you have been either working from home or have isolated yourself for some time. Either way, we've all been spending much more time around the house! Maybe you've been getting to some projects that sat on the back-burner, or maybe you've noticed some areas that need a little TLC.
We reached out to our friends at GCW Custom Kitchens & Cabinetry to see what their expert suggestions would be for those who are looking to update their kitchens! Check out their top 4 tips below for some smart kitchen design ideas.
Hi, Caleb here! You may see me on Saturdays at Railway City Tourism, or at special events. I've seen a few Arts Crawls come and go, and every year look forward to seeing what the artists are up to. This year, I wanted to recommend my top three picks. All art is subjective and definitely a matter of personal taste and preference. I hope you like my selections! Let us know your top 3 artists in the comments if you like.
Hiking the Trail - July 30 2019
At the Railway City Tourism Office, we often give out a lot of information to visitors about Kettle Creek Conservation Area, and more specifically, the Dalewood Reservoir Hiking Trail, located just outside the city of St. Thomas. Being located so close to the city, Dalewood Conservation Area suggests that hiking the trail is easily incorporated into a day trip, or a weekly exercise routine, so we decided to test that theory out ourselves!
My name is Chloe, and I will be your virtual tour guide today, taking you along the 10km Dalewood Reservoir hiking trail from the comfort of your own home!
There are many access points along the Dalewood Reservoir Trail for you to choose from, making the length of your hike variable, but we decided to begin at the very start in order to get the full experience and check out the new bridge that was just finished! This new bridge brings a number of benefits including a sidewalk for safer pedestrian and cyclist access. After admiring the new bridge, we entered the trail and began our journey!
There are numerous walking bridges throughout the trail that provide some ease to your hike as you continue along the Dalewood Reservoir. The trail is also very easy to navigate, as there are trail markers and the walking bridges are numbered to keep you going in the right direction.
Once we hit the old bridge near Dalewood Road, it was definitely time for a snack break! This is a great rest stop as it provides some shade and great views. At this point, you’re over half way around the Dalewood Reservoir.
Nearing the end of the trail, we were refreshed and ready to conquer some kayaking! Canoes and kayaks are available to rent hourly, or for a half or full day at the gatehouse in the campground. Using this watercraft is a great way to experience the reservoir you just admired from afar. We suggest bringing a camera (at your own risk) to capture this memorable experience, lots of water to keep yourself hydrated, and a kayaking partner who will do most of the paddling for you!
When kayaking the reservoir, it was very enjoyable and relaxing. Everything was so still and the nature surrounding the reservoir was so peaceful. It is a great way to clear your mind and become one with nature.
We saw a lot of wildlife, including various species of birds, beavers, and fish jumping out of the water. Be sure to not only keep your eyes on the water, but also up in the trees because as we continued we spotted a beautiful bald eagle perched high up in a pine tree! We admired its beauty for about 5 minutes until it showed off it’s impressive wingspan and continued across the reservoir. For the bird enthusiasts out there, be sure to bring binoculars to get a better look at some of the cool species that call the Dalewood Reservoir home!
Overall, I was impressed with this hike, and I got to experience firsthand everything the Dalewood Reservoir Trail has to offer. After today, I feel extremely accomplished and I will definitely incorporate this hiking trail into a weekly exercise routine, so I can take advantage of the nature that is so close to home!
A Note From the Station: The L&PS Line (London and Port Stanley) is where we find Railway City Tourism located. We operate out of the historic replica L&PS Railway Station in St. Thomas and thus have a vested interest in the history of the area.
An Historic Look at the L&PS Rail Line from the desks of the Elgin Heritage Centre
The route of what was the London and Port Stanley Railway is one of the oldest in the province. The northerly portion, now owned by CN, from St. Thomas to London has been in almost constant use since 1856. The southerly portion, from St. Thomas to Port Stanley, was put back into service by the Port Stanley Terminal Rail in 1988.
The origins of the line lie in the extensive use of lake transportation for freight in the pre-rail era and the need to bring the freight up to London. In the 20th century it gained a new lease on life as the flagship for Ontario Hydro’s planned province-wide electric rail system. Today, its two functions, as a freight hauler and as a tourist line, reflect the uses to which it was put from earliest times.
A large part of London’s growth came about as the result of being near a lake port. The lakes, as late as the 1850s, were still a key means of shipping goods. London was connected to Port Stanley by a plank road, one of the best in the province by the 1840s as the local MPP was chairman of the colony’s Board of Public Works. But, like all roads at the time, it was a slow, cumbersome means of shipping with the potential for damage to man, beast and cargo.
The railways were an attractive alternative to ships and roads bringing about a boom in rail line construction at the beginning of the 1850s. The province’s largest railway, the Great Western (GWR), passed through London in 1853 linking it with Hamilton and Windsor. Its key function was the transfer of US goods from the mid west to the Atlantic seaports. With a link to the continental rail system in place London businessmen looked for an alternative way to bring goods to the city partially to provide competition to the GWR and keep freight rates low.
Their link to the lake was chartered as the London and Port Stanley Railway in 1853 and after nearly three years of construction the line opened for traffic on October 16, 1856. A majority of the stock was held by the City of London, the Counties of Elgin and Middlesex, and a lesser amount by St. Thomas then a small village of about 2000 persons.
During its early years the line had only two locomotives, about 40 freight cars, and, by 1870, six passenger cars. Lumber, grain and produce were shipped to “Port” and imports brought up to London and St. Thomas. By 1870 the road was beginning to haul coal from the US, a trade that would grow significantly in the decades ahead. Another growing business was taking vacationers to the lake. By 1870 almost half the business of the line was in passenger traffic and passengers had more than doubled over the preceding 10 years to 44,000 a year. Many passengers stayed at a large three-storey Fraser House Hotel perched on the bluff overlooking the lake and built by a former L&PS conductor named William Fraser. It would be the pre-eminent hotel in the village for the next 30 years.
After years of operation by the original Board of Directors, the line was leased in 1874 to the Great Western Railway (later owned by the Grand Trunk) for twenty years. The L&PS became a very small part of one of the largest railways in Canada. Regularly on the verge of bankruptcy, the GTR survived as a transfer service for American goods crossing Ontario on the short route to the Atlantic seaboard and had little time for the L&PS eventually giving up the operation of the line in 1892. In December 1893, the Lake Erie and Detroit River Railway took over the lease. The LE&DRR, built by Hiram Walker, a distillery owner located near Windsor, was already taking vacationers to the lake on its two routes: one from Walkerville (Windsor) running along the north shore of Lake Erie as far as Ridgetown and the other from Sarnia running south to Blenheim and Rondeau. By 1900 the line had a series of ferries running from Port Stanley and Rondeau to Conneaut and Cleveland. Known as car ferries, they were designed to allow entire hopper cars filled with coal to be rolled onto the ferry and rolled off at the receiving port. Passengers were accommodated on the upper deck.
The LE&DRR made several improvements at Port Stanley. The rail line was extended along the beach to the foot of the bluffs where a rebuilt incline railway took passengers to the top, 50 at a time. By the 1890s trains were bringing cottagers down at night and returning them in the morning to St. Thomas and London.
Coal was to be the line’s main business and the company intended to make Port Stanley the main entry point. Here they planned to build a huge coal dock conditional on an extension of the lease. However when they applied in 1902, London’s then mayor, Adam Beck, refused the extension. The dock was built at Rondeau and the next year the line was sold by the Walker Family to the Pere Marquette Railway a line out of Michigan looking for a route to run freight between Chicago and Buffalo.
Also prone to bankruptcy, the Pere Marquette’s line ended at St. Thomas where it built shops and an engine house on Elm Street in 1904. It had to obtain running rights over the Michigan Central to get to Buffalo. The PMR’s main business meant little capital was left for upkeep on the L&PS. But the line’s white knight was waiting in the wings for the lease to run out. When it did so in 1913 it was quickly turned from an old steam powered “coal drag” into one of the most efficient electric railways in the province.
The man now at the controls was Adam Beck. Since denying the Walker Family an extension of the L&PS lease in 1903 he had become MPP for London and had also been chairman of Ontario Hydro since its founding in 1906. Beck had been waiting out the lease planning to rebuild the line into a model of what a radial railway should look like. The radials would link cities and towns across the province with efficient, quiet, inexpensive electric passenger trains. Beck’s gruff, acerbic personality didn’t do much to advance his cause and the railways were not inclined to give up the passenger traffic in populous southern Ontario. What finally did the ambitious project in however was the change in government in 1919 which saw the United Farmers of Ontario take over. The party actually asked Beck to be premier but he declined. The conservative minded E. C. Drury became premier and wouldn’t support the project. While Beck’s province-wide plan was never built, electrification of the L&PS proceeded as soon as the lease expired.
Between January 1, 1914 and July 22, 1915 when it reopened the line was completely transformed. A commission was established to oversee the rebuilding and operation of the line. Beck, knighted in 1914, forecast a total of 450,000 riders following electrification. Stations were either rebuilt or replaced. The St. Thomas station was replaced with a new one opening April 23, 1920. The most extensive redevelopment occurred in Port Stanley where the railway built a huge bathhouse where one could even rent a bathing suit. The baseball fields between the tracks and the hill were improved, walks and lights were provided on picnic hill.
The ridership increased even beyond Beck’s estimate with over a million rider-trips a year by 1921. Much of the traffic was from cottagers and from large picnics organized by schools, clubs and businesses. Among the largest were the Irish Benevolent Society’s and the Commercial Travellers’. Both would see 10,000 to 12,000 people flood the picnic areas on the bluffs and the flats near the incline. Races, baby contests and band concerts entertained the picnickers. In 1926 the L&PS built a huge dance pavilion right on the lake front. Later known as the Stork Club, the dance floor could accommodate 5,000 dancers. Dozens of well-known bands and orchestras played the Stork Club into the 1960s.
After WWII, as the automobile became pervasive, passenger rail traffic declined. This was the case with the L&PS as well and in February of 1957, the passenger cars made their last run. Freight operations continued until 1966 when the line was given to CN by the city of London in return for a large property near Western Fair which had housed the railway’s car shops. CN abandoned the tracks south of St. Thomas in 1982 and while it continues to run freight into London from factories in St. Thomas, those days could well be numbered.
Mike Baker is the curator of the Elgin County Museum (now the Elgin Heritage Centre).
From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a performer. It was the most instinctual part of my childhood. At the age of 10, I was practicing my Oscar speech in my basement. Yet it was not until my first year of theatre school did I realize that my true passion was beyond performing — it was creating. A wise professor once told me, “anyone can be an actor, but can you be a creator?” From my time in theatre school, it became apparent that what truly inspires me is storytelling. As an artist, I believe it’s my obligation to bring light to stories that need to be told.
The Face It! Performance Art Installation began as just an idea to collaborate with Laura Woermke and tell the story of her work. This February I contacted Laura to ask if there was any way we could collaborate and bring something brand new to St. Thomas. As the idea grew into something much more, I began to reflect when I was a teenager in this city and the resentment I felt towards St. Thomas. As a young artist, I felt like there were no opportunities for me here. So that’s why I decided that my fellow company members for Face It would be young students from the area. I wanted to give an opportunity to adolescents to share their story and to claim their own sense of artistry in this community. As well as teaching them, you can get paid for your art, that shouldn’t be far fetched idea. Sometimes in a smaller community, we forget the concept that this is a profession and as an artist, we have the right to be paid for our work. I hope that my students leave this project feeling like creators and capable to do pursue their own art career.
"As a teenager, I constantly complained that there was no culture in this town — that the only place to find any type of artistry was London. I was so wrong."
I had a friend once tell me “there is no market for theatre in St. Thomas” and I completely disagree with that. We all crave storytelling one way or the other. It’s a matter of making it approachable and versatile for those who have their own preconceived notions of what “theatre” is. I hope this project can break expectation and inspire creativity in St. Thomas.
This guest post was contributed by local photographer Janine Jones.
There are many places I like to take photos in St. Thomas. Reasons being that there is some great architecture and nature spots in the area.
1. The Courthouse District
I love the vibe in this area. The old houses mixed in with different types of churches, and other great buildings. Old tall trees which carry years of stories. I love being in this area.
Again, with the architecture. City Hall, and the CASO Station are the most prominent features of the downtown area. Buildings that look good in all seasons. CASO in particular is one of my all-time favourite buildings. Once a transportation hub, now a home for local businesses and events. I buy coffee there, I insure my car there, I have spent many hours at psychic fairs held in the hall, and I have even spent many work lunch breaks sitting outside the building. A real gem in the heart of the city.
3. Jumbo & Area
How could you not like Jumbo? A giant elephant, lit up with by coloured lights. An attraction for all to see and enjoy, despite the tragic story of this elephant. There are also cute houses, and other buildings in the area which I really like. The Old St. Thomas church looks amazing lit up in blue hour!
4. Lake Margaret
Based at the south side of Pinafore Park, is Lake Margaret -- home to many birds and other wildlife. It's nice to have a lake in the city to relax at and enjoy nature.
5. Pinafore Park
Last but not least, my favourite chill spot in the city. Whether it's meditating in the forest, walking my dog along the paths, or doing fun photoshoots with friends on the bridge, there is no shortage of things to do here. No matter the season.
Janine Jones is a local photographer. She has been taking photos for 25+ years, but decided to get serious about her passion by studying digital photography at a post-secondary level in 2011. She received formal qualification from Open College Dublin in January of 2012.
Chris is a multimedia artist practicing in various forms of discipline and mediums, from canvas to murals. As an artist Chris aims to reshape the integral roles of artists in the community and society, exploring opportunities and sharing colour.
Tour around St. Thomas and look for Chris' signature graffiti style as murals inside places such as the Back Alley & Mitchell's Soup, or outside places such as the Elgin County Railway Museum (boxcar mural painted with fellow artist Ben Vandevooren).
Chris says about his art "I love to explore the relationship between linear and colour abstraction. Using different mediums like spraypaint and acrylics and different subjects like portraits and landscapes lets me explore those themes."
Check out Chris' Instagram account and see what he's up to!