The slogan of Goderich, on Lake Huron, is “The Prettiest Town in Canada.” It’s never seemed like hyperbole to me. Last Sunday, downtown Goderich was slammed by a tornado. It devastated buildings, trees and vehicles. A man was killed.
We had a cottage just south of Goderich when I was a kid. Bluewater Beach was my favourite place. Dad built me a tree house and I spent hours in it and prowling around in the woods. Also hours at the beach – in the water, building sandcastles, picking up beachstones, on the hill up from the beach.
Then we’d go to town. I loved the main street of Goderich – the square. It’s more a circle around the beautiful courthouse in the middle, with huge trees and a bandshell. Spokes go off all the way around, streets leading to the beach and other parts of town.
There was a five and dime on the square – we spent hours in there. A glorious old hotel on one corner. I never went inside, but thought it was the most elegant building I’d ever seen. Sometimes we’d swap Bluewater Beach for Goderich beach with its fine white sand.
The old airport was a favourite stop, to visit the parrot who lived in the waiting room and talked a blue streak. We’d drive along the industrial side of the harbour. Sometimes just to look at the mountains of salt waiting to be loaded on ships. Sometimes to go out in Dad’s boat fishing or just in the harbour steering around the huge Great Lakes vessels tied up.
First time we went, to look at the cottage for sale, it was winter. We heard sleighbells. It seemed like a magic Christmas card, snow sparkling on the ground and evergreens, snowflakes falling. It must be our imaginations, but our imaginations were all hearing the same thing. And through the snow, we saw a horse-drawn wagon coming toward us.
The driver whoaed the horses and asked if we wanted to jump on. Two Clydesdales were pulling a hay wagon full of kids and adults all bundled up. Thermoses of hot chocolate were passed, people introduced themselves. We rode around the small complex of streets, then people began jumping off at their respective cottages, saying “Thanks John, see ya later.” We did the same thing when we got back to our car.
The man with the horses was Mr. John Hindmarsh. His family had published The Star in Toronto. I would walk out Bluewater Road to the highway where the Hindmarsh farm and another were kitty-corner from each other. At both, the horses would amble over to the fence for handfuls of grass I’d pluck.
We referred to them as “the millionaires.” I don’t know if they were in terms of bank balances. But the late Mr. Hindmarsh certainly was in terms of generosity of spirit. The Hindmarsh farm has been donated to the Ontario Farmland Trust and there are many walking trails and protected lands around Goderich thanks to the John Hindmarsh Environmental Trust Fund.
If you’ve ever enjoyed driving around the square, or relaxed under the trees by the courthouse or on the beach, Goderich needs your help now. You can donate to the Red Cross (1-800-481-1111 Canadian Disaster Relief), the Salvation Army, Perth-Huron United Way, Huron County SPCA or check out the open Facebook pages Goderich Help Link and Goderich Ontario Tornado.