Doon Heritage Crossroads

Homer Watson Blvd.

Kitchener, Ontario

June 27, 2001

As we rolled east through Ontario, we decided to make a stop outside Kitchner. We had heard that Kitchner had one of our favorite attractions and a story was in the making, the Doon Heritage Crossroads Living Museum, The closest thing we have found to tele-portation into the past. These living museums allow us to see, smell and touch the very existence of those who lived in the town or fort for which the museum was created. The Doon Heritage Crossroads is created as a rural community in 1914. Upon entering, we were invited to view a short 8 minute film describing what we were about to see. The community of Doon was situated at the intersection of two through roads and as such gathered an assortment of farmers and shop owners who made a living selling their products and services to those who traveled by. Many of the travelers would stop and create homes for themselves. It was a time of great immigration from Europe. The Great War was just beginning, but in Canada, life was on the upswing. Although disease was a constant that took a heavy toll, the population continued to grow. Land was still plentiful and work available for the healthy and the strong. It was a happy time in Central Ontario. The railroad now connected most rural towns. This added to the changing population and offered an assortment of new and different goods. Just outside the Town Hall building where the film was showing, sat old engine 894, built in 1911, next to the 1856 train station where we bought a ticket to Toronto from a delightful young lady who was full of all the latest gossip from the big city. We then walked down the country lane heading for Peter Martin's farm. Mennonites from Pennsylvania were among the first settlers of Waterloo County. By 1914, along with others, the Mennonite farm community had created one of the most profitable agricultural regions in Canada. The young lady who was in attendance took time from her writing with a long tipped pen to explain that the Martins had 17 children. That was in addition to the grandparents who lived in the rooms in the front half of the house.
The rooms were big and somewhat sparse. Clothing was hung on the walls rather than put in closets and drawers. There
were two examples of quilting that was done during that period. For our visit we found that the house was full of third graders running everywhere. They added the sound necessary to get a realistic feeling for life in the house. I found, of particular interest, that in a period before electricity, these farmers had elected to run the metal uninsulated stove pipes through the upper bedrooms, generating radiated heat during the night. We wandered down the lane and over the covered bridge with its massive oak beams and planks. For being made out of wood, these old structures held up remarkably well, being able to support quite a bit of weight. Rarely painted, the walls and roof were mainly to protect the heavier flooring from destruction by the elements. On the far side of the bridge we found the buildings of what would comprise a small town at the turn of the century. We stopped at the Dry Goods and Grocery store where we met Tyler Leach, an aspiring college student who was enjoying his first year as proprietor. He explained that the Dry goods store in a community represented the center of activity for a small town. It was the store that most people would likely pass through during the day. The actual building was built in 1830 and operated by Robert Bodkin, this type of store would have been the only source of dry goods offered to the community. As time progressed and the railroad finally came, these stores felt the pressure from the new catalogue industries that became available. Mr. Bodkin, seeing his business decline, made several attempts to combat the trend to buy through catalogues. He put in electric lights which allowed him to stay open longer into the evening, plus he added a phone, the only one in his community and charged a nickel for anyone to make a call. He then put in an ice box and sold nickel ice cream. In the end the catalogue stores were just too powerful and the goods too accessible, resulting in most of the local dry goods stores closing. It was during this early part of the century that the "cottage industries" began to pop up. Weaving, blacksmithing, carpentry, and print shops were represented in the various buildings that lined the streets. We stopped by the tailor shop and talked with Justin Armstrong, a anthropology student who has spent the last two years as proprietor of the tailor shop. The merchant-tailor of 1914 offered both custom services and men's clothing for sale. In addition to tailoring, mending, cleaning, and processing , they also sold bow-ties, collars, shorts, hats and underwear. The prices were reasonable and the workmanship often as good as the best. Invariably, one of the cottage industry buildings would also house the local post office. Here most of the rural residents would maintain a mail box or cubby hole in which incoming mail would be left. There was great competition for this privilege as the frequency of visitors would jump measurably after the addition of a post office. Our final stop was at the Siebert House where Susan Streicher was just starting up an 1897 victrola playing the soft melody of "Dream Boat" by Bob Haring and his orchestra. This device used no electricity to produce the sound. Just a wind up spring from a side crank and the vibration of the needle on the record was amplified by the use of soundboards built under the turntable. The contrast between this house and the Mennonite house seen earlier was quite startling. Families with more disposable income in the early 20th century took full advantage of the consumerism encroaching upon small rural communities. Their homes contained many of the mass-produced goods now readily available in the large urban centers through mail order catalogues. Enhancing the beauty of the surroundings were lush flower gardens surrounded by manicured lawns. It was a very pretty place. As we walked back across the babbling brook that ran beside the town I couldn't help thinking that all in all it seemed like it was a kinder, less stressful existence at the beginning of the century than it was today. If you'd like to learn more about Doon check out their website at:


Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!