Exploring the Ghost Towns of Cottage Country - Dundurn
Jun 08, 2023

Exploring the Ghost Towns of Cottage Country

My name is Andrew Hind. I’m the proud author of Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country. Writing this book, in many ways, is about memories – it begins with my own and becomes that of the many, many people who are woven into the tapestry of the communities I feature in the book.

My own dates back about forty years when, during a cottage ramble, my siblings and I trekked along an abandoned railway bed (formerly the Grand Trunk Railway, now the Seguin Recreation Trail). It was a grand adventure. After an hour or two, we stumbled upon an abandoned general store. The paint was peeling, the front porch creaked ominously with age, and faded signs hung from the walls. I distinctly remember the plate-sized spiderweb hanging from the eaves that sent a shiver down my spine. What mysteries hide behind the drapes that limply hung from the windows?

We learned the store was from a former community with the evocative name of Swords. You can imagine how this would fuel a young imagination.

That excitement has stayed with me, fueling my interest in ghost towns. As an adult, I no longer dream up fantastic tales about the ghostly remains as I did when I happened upon the Swords store as a child, but there’s still a sense of mystery surrounding ghost towns that I find captivating. When I see a foundation hole or a building leaning wearily with age, I can’t help but wonder who lived there, what were their lives like, and what happened to their community? These stories are very real, not the fantasy of a young imagination, and yet just as gripping.

Many books paint the ghost towns of cottage country with the same brush. The narrative is that people came here for free land, found the farming too hard, and then eventually left dejected. That’s certainly true, but it does these villages a disservice because each one had a unique story of its own. I love uncovering these stories, pulling away the mystery to reveal the truth.

I’ve had some adventures along the way, but the treasures I’ve found are the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, people who generously shared their memories.

Velda Gilbert, for example, a kindly lady with wispy white hair who gave me a tour of the Germania church and cemetery. Though her eyesight was failing, she could point out the graves of everyone interred there and share an anecdote about each. I still remember the youthful dance that returned to her eye when she spoke of her father, still ‘daddy’ even though she was closing in on her ninth decade.

Or Jim Taverner, who guided me through what remained of the ghost town of Lewisham, including his family’s homestead where flowers planted by his grandmother still bloomed amid the regenerated forest. When we stood before the one-time school, he became that little boy who played ball in the yard eight decades earlier.

“I don’t see it the way it is now,” he told me. “I see the fun and games we had, the snowball fights, the young teachers, the faces of my classmates who are all dead and gone. I see the school the way it was, I guess.” 

These memories are priceless. Preserving them is one of the reasons I embark on my ghost town adventures. 

Andrew Hind is an author and a local history columnist. He has written on history and travel for a number of regional and international publications. He lives in Bradford, Ontario. Learn more here.