Julie Druker | Apr 21, 2011
Photo: Ron Brown gives a presentation at the Cloyne & District Historical Society’s meeting on April 18.
Many who enjoy the sights and stories of Ontario’s ghost towns were treated to a presentation courtesy of the Cloyne and District Historical Society by renowned ghost town author Ron Brown at the Barrie hall in Cloyne on April 18. Brown has published 22 books to date, his most recent being “From Queenston to Kingston: The Hidden Heritage of the Lake Ontario Shoreline”, and he engaged the audience with a multimedia presentation. The hall was packed with enthusiasts who got a glimpse at many of Ontario’s ghost towns, how they were born and why they inevitably died, often leaving behind some shell of their former glory, some more intact than others.
Brown trained as a geographer at the University of Toronto and worked for 27 years as a planner with the Ontario government, which he said, “Got me up to all of the ghost towns in northern Ontario.” As a student he recalled how he “learned to love the stories of the landscapes and towns”.
It was an exchange visit with an Aboriginal community on Parry Island and a visit to Depot Harbour that got him hooked many years ago. “It was at that point that I started documenting ghost towns whenever I learned of them,“ he said. His first book, “The First Ghost Towns of Ontario” came out in 1978.
Brown’s presentation covered a myriad of ghost towns in chronological order, beginning with the old Mission villages like those on Manitoulin Island, the Moravian town near Chatham and others like Sainte Marie among the Hurons, which has been recreated.
Next, Brown spoke of the more than 200 old trading posts or “ghost posts” of Ontario, which sprouted up during the fur trade in places like Thunder Bay, and Moosonee and Moose Factory. Brown included interesting facts and photos like the Floating Church in Moose Factory, where holes were drilled into its wooden floor to prevent it from floating away when the river flooded.
Next were the old forts like those of Fort Erie and Fort George, both of which have been recreated. Others like Fort Mississauga and Fort Joseph on the shores of Lake Huron have not fared as well as did Michael’s Bay on Manitoulin Island.
Brown also spoke of the old mill towns, fishing villages, mining towns like Jackfish on Lake Superior, Cobalt, Eldorado and Silver Centre, along with the old colonization road towns many of which include those still in existence in these parts.
For those interested in their own local ghost town adventure, Brown mentioned that Massanoga is the closest ghost town to this area. When Brown visited it a few years ago he found that it was pretty much intact, including the old foundations of the sawmill, and he felt it would be worth looking into to see how it is faring. It is located on the Massanoga Road near Bob Echo.
Brown strongly believes that more should be done to save Ontario’s ghost towns. “Things definitely have to be done at the local, municipal level and that begins first off by recognizing the heritage value of these places. Municipal councils have the power to designate them as heritage sites.” Brown said that conservation groups are doing a fair bit of work in this area in particular where a lot of old mill towns used to be. “Often people need to have an economic incentive to save these buildings, which unfortunately is not an easy thing to do.”
Brown has his sights set next on the railway heritage of the prairie provinces and can’t wait to get there to look at its old railway bridges, train stations, prairie ghost towns and old railway hotels.
For more information visit www.ronbrown.ca
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