AUTHOR, HISTORIAN, BRUCE TRAIL-ER
Ken Weber is a Caledon author. The many subjects of his 53 books include Headwaters’ past.
You grew up in small town Ontario, but your wife, she’s a city girl…
I grew up at the South West corner of Grey County, a completely rural area in a small village called Neustadt, which is where John Diefenbaker was born.
In 1981, my wife and I fell in love with an 1871 farm house. And my wife had no idea what she was getting into. Dirt road, no neighbours. Our first night, we go to bed and she says, “Where are the blinds?” I say, “There aren’t any. Nobody’s here to see anything.” She says, “Ok, I’ll give it a few years, then we reassess.” You couldn’t wrench her out of here now. There’s no way she’d ever leave here.
I was going to get into some name dropping here, because I read that you are a walk of fame kind of guy.
That was really a surprise for me. I was awarded the 2016 Caledon Walk of Fame Award, and I was amazed by that. It has to be approved by the council and there had to be all kinds of letters of submission from various people saying how deserving I am. I was really surprised, I didn’t know about it until the mayor phoned me at home. I’m certainly very honoured.
The great author Robertson Davies is also on the Walk of Fame. What’s his connection to you?
He was one of my professors which is kind of cool. When I was in undergrad.
Do you feel any Davies’ness in any of the small towns in Headwaters?
Oh, indeed. I think I have a rather unique perspective because I grew up in a tiny village, a very rural village where with all of the advantages and disadvantages that accrue to that, and then I spent a good 20 years of my life following my first degree in Toronto in the city. And what we have here in the Headwaters is an absolutely wonderful blend of both.
Everywhere you go there’s this lovely sense of community. When I go shopping, I can see a neighbour that I can say hi to, but at the same time there’s nobody sort of living in your back pocket like you get in a very tiny village. We also have the sophistication that you get in Toronto, wonderful entertainment, fabulous restaurants. I call this place sanctuary, my wife feels the same thing.
People up here make something out of nothing, and they work like dogs.
They have to manage and be in charge of themselves, which is really nice.
But they’ve always been that way, and I know you write a lot about the people who settled this area. It was a very colourful time 150 – 200 years ago, it seems.
It really was. People were dependent in a way that they couldn’t have been in a large city. They had to do things for themselves. And when you have a dramatic incident develop they had to manage it themselves. You know some of these colourful characters that I write about would probably have been controlled by a larger force, if that was available. But here everybody had to adapt and deal with them on a local basis.
Frontier justice in a way.
Very much so. One of my favourite stories, in the 21, 22 years coming up now that I’ve written these columns (inthehills.ca), is about a pioneer who came to Caledon township in 1830 in March of 1830 with somebody else’s ox team, and they dumped him and his wife and his baby into the snow. They dug out a hollow in the snow and covered themselves with a piece of canvas, a ship’s sail, and that’s how they started their lives together in Caledon. Eventually his wife died having their next baby.
I read that story and thought it was heartbreaking. He had to leave the kids with someone else and go see them every few weeks?
He had to take them down, walk three kilometres one way, leave them with another family and then walk back to his farm. Then he buried his wife on that property that he had, and after his wife died he couldn’t do this much longer. So with pioneer resourcefulness he proposed to another woman who had been a widow, married her and moved to Vaughan, which was more settled.
Then late in his life, just shortly before he died he came back to the property, dug up his wife’s body and took her to what was now a nearby cemetery that hadn’t been there. And she’s buried on a road not far from us where we live. My wife and I drive over in the summertime and visit her grave, because there’s nobody around to visit it.
Isn’t that nice! Have you figured where the actual original homestead was?
It’s at Escarpment Sideroad and Airport Road. That was his original land grant. And there was absolutely nobody here of course. The township had only been surveyed a few years earlier. It’s what my grandfather would have called slash land, because it’s not really worth farming. So he couldn’t have done terribly well there.
One of the more notable things about Headwaters is that traditions are maintained here… have you noticed that?
That’s the nice part about Headwaters. When I was growing up, one of the great events in my tiny village was the annual Christmas concert. It was held in what passed for a community hall, which was the upper floor of a brewery, and it was the one time that all of the church members could come together for a single event. Religion in the old days was always a problem, but that’s another story. The orange versus green competition here, the Orangemen versus the Catholics… but in the old days, the Christmas concerts in the schools and in the churches were the one time where everybody could come together and it didn’t matter what religion you were.
Now this year, I’m going to participate in an old fashioned Christmas concert at the Dufferin County Museum. It’s held in an old little church at the museum…
The church they cut in half to transport, then reassembled?
Yes! They’re sort of reactivating the old-fashioned community gathering, there’s little poetry readings, recitals, and my role is always to read a story which I write for the occasion.
I use everyone I interview as my tour guides, so… say you’ve got someone up for a day. Are there any places that you love to take them?
There’s two. Immediately north of me, there’s a road called Mount Wolfe. That’s an exaggeration, it’s not a mountain but a long hill, and from the top of it you can look south and you see Toronto. On a clear day you can see the skyline and make out various significant buildings. The reason I take people up there is twofold: one is to impress them with seeing the skyline of Toronto, but then some days, you get to see the extent of the pollution from Scarborough all the way to Mississauga.
Here’s the other place: where I live is only minutes from the Bruce Trail, which is my absolute favourite activity. I take people on at least a short hike, and if they’re willing I’ll take them on a longer one. There are many many beautiful spots on the Bruce Trail but my favourite is the Hockley Valley.
Why is that?
Well, for one reason, I’ve got a plaque up there with my name on it. I’m a benefactor!
But really, the views from there are simply magnificent on either side of the valley. I particularly like the south side of the valley because you can look down and see all kinds of different things. It just brings out the poet in anyone.
My particular joy on the Bruce Trail is, on a sunny summer day, to be among the hardwood. Being in a hardwood forest, it’s like being in a cathedral all by yourself. If you’ve ever had that experience of being in a huge cathedral, it’s empty, there’s a kind of expansive feeling, but you feel completely surrounded. Very spiritual. And the Bruce Trail does that. It isn’t just hiking: when you’re among all those beautiful trees, it’s a spiritual experience.