Nostalgia for Narcisse: St. Joseph's Grand Visionary by Lauren Ihrig

Photo of the Cantin Family
Photo of the Cantin Family

A three-story hotel, bustling sawmill, pipe organ factory and winery were but a taste of the hub and hype, which characterized Narcisse Cantin’s dream for the planned town of St. Joseph at the turn of the nineteenth century.

If this epic figure in Huron County’s local history were to boast a twenty-first century ‘C.V.’ it might include such highlights as a bilingual salesman, farmer, promoter of industry, businessman, patent holder for an “instant crockery mender” and liquid furniture polish, amateur boxer, transportation planner and founder of The Great Lakes and Atlantic Canal and Power Company - to name but a few!

For Cantin, the development of St. Joseph at the site of the former Village of Lakeview (Johnson’s Mills) was intrinsically tied to his desire for the construction of a deep water canal system - one that would connect Lake Huron to Lake Erie from St. Joseph to Port Stanley, and, in turn, the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cantin was an enterprising man. His experience in his French-Canadian family’s ship-building traditions, along with his knowledge of farming, equipped him with the drive and enthusiasm to take on the cattle trading market in the late 1880s.  Cantin’s adventures included seven years spent in Buffalo with his wife, Josephine, before returning home in 1896 with a treasure trove of experience, business acumen and enthusiasm for the canal project.

Narcisse & Josephine Cantin
Narcisse & Josephine Cantin

At over 6-feet tall and 240 lbs, Cantin was as strong in physical stature as he was resilient in his quest for a deep-sea connection and transportation network between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. He was as creative in promoting St. Joseph as he was charismatic in advocating for his community over the next 44 years of his life.

Despite Cantin’s best efforts, his dream of transforming St. Joseph into a hub of commercial and industrial activity was never fully realized. The arrival of the First World War and rededication of energies to the war effort, along with competing interests for hydro-electric power, most notably from the Beauharnois Light, Heat, and Power Company ahead of the 1930 election (and ensuing scandal!), were but two of the challenging tides Narcisse was forced to navigate.

Although Cantin’s aims fell short, due in large part to circumstances beyond his control, his legacy helped set the stage for the rich and robust character of the Lake Huron shoreline in the present day.

Visionary, inventor, entrepreneur and family man are but some of the accolades for the “wizard of St. Joseph” - a man limited to an elementary education but whose life experiences and ingenious spirit led him to be remembered as “The Father of the St. Lawrence Seaway”…and the subject of an award-winning play in 2011!

For more on Narcisse Cantin (1870-1940) and the story of St. Joseph, see Joseph L. Wooden’s “A Drum to Beat Upon,” and visit A commemorative plaque to Narcisse is located in St. Joseph on the west side of Highway 21 at County Road 84.  The story of Narcisse was the subject of a play by local playwright Paul Ciufo staged by local actors and community members in 2011.  The production received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming!


“The Pipes Are Calling” – and so are fiddles, Celtic harps, tin whistles, bodhráns, flutes…

by Judy Johnson

Celtic Festival performers Michael and June
Celtic Festival performers Michael and June

Every August, Goderich is imbued with Celtic magic in the form of a three-day, outdoor Celtic festival and four-day Celtic college under the umbrella of the Celtic Roots Festival. Find out why Discover Magazine rates this festival “quite simply, the best folk festival on the planet.”

Thousands of people from close to home and around the world embark on a musical pilgrimage to Goderich to attend the Celtic Roots Festival, in 2020 celebrating its 28th year. As you pass through the gateway of Lion’s Harbour Park, you’ll be delighted by the sights, sounds and energy of this one-of-a-kind international gathering that showcases some of the world’s best Celtic music, dance and art on five stages.

An annual attendee, I recall fondly sitting with hundreds of other Celtic music lovers as I air-play the spoons on my leg and tap my toes on the grass, responding to the infectious rhythm from the stage. At the back of the stage, large, colourful Celtic motif banners move gently in the breeze. The concerts are a Celtic musical smorgasbord, from jigs to lullabies, ballads to slightly bawdy, Celtic classics performed traditionally and often with modern twists that point to jazz, bluegrass and other influences. Harps, fiddles, bodhráns, (traditional Irish frame drums), guitars, accordions, flutes, tin whistles and drums are among the instruments utilized to their highest purpose by Celtic masters. Between performances, musicians often preface a song or melody with its historical references, paying homage to story, song and Celtic folklore.

Celtic musicians from around the world apply to Festival organizers to join the impressive roster of performers. Many look forward to returning each year, and because performers billet with local residents, they gain an intimate perspective of the Goderich community. Artistic Director and General Manager Cheryl Prashker shares that many multi-year and multi-generational friendships develop with host families. As a member of RUNA, the internationally known, award-winning Celtic music group, Cheryl has attended and performed at the Festival many times and brings that depth of understanding and passion for all things Celtic to her Festival responsibilities.

Complementing the performances, the Artisan Village offers Canadian-made, one-of-a-kind treasures. A selection committee ensures artists produce all the items sold in the Artisan Village. Watch demonstrations of Celtic crafts at the Craft Art Workshop tent Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Many craft artists also demonstrate their skills at their booths throughout the weekend. You will find solar woodcuts, leather-works, goldsmith jewelry, chainmail, pottery, stained glass and more.  Celtic dancers’ accessories and floral head garlands are also popular. Food and beverage booths have loyal followers: “The Baked Potato Lady” has a devoted fan base, as do The Witches for their smoked bacon Panini. Sample fresh local fare, homemade ice cream, Huron County Fries, smoothies and more palate pleasers.

For four days leading up to the Festival, the Celtic College offers an immersive educational experience for all ages with workshops during the day and evening concerts or céilís (Caleys). College faculty include 60 international experts in craft arts, storytelling, dance, song, sound systems and mixing as well as traditional and folk music.  There are beginners’ and advanced classes – specialized music sessions including harp, bodhrán, piano, guitar, fretted string, percussion, fiddle, accordion, flute and whistle. The Celtic crafters workshops include illuminated letter creation in the Book of Kells tradition, mandala symbols, Aran knitting, chainmail, felting and more. Craft art classes often include stone carving, stained glass, pewter casting, knotwork and calligraphy, jewellery-making and basketry.

The Celtic Kids Day Camp, held in Goderich District Collegiate Institute, runs on the same days as the adult Celtic College. Children aged 4 to 12 years have the opportunity to be immersed in song, tin whistle, harp, percussion, dance, drama, storytelling and craft art with local professionals and masters from the Celtic College.

More Information

For full details, performer bios, ticket purchases and more, visit


  • Bring your lawn chair and follow the unspoken rule of placing it in rows, leaving ample aisles.
  • For evening concerts, after the sun sets, you will be glad you brought a sweater, hoodie or light blanket to keep you cozy.
  • No talking or during performances please. Celtic music lovers who attend this event have often travelled great distances at considerable expense to enjoy these amazing live performances.
  • Turn off cell phones.
  • Carry out food wrappers, water cups/bottles, when you leave. The aim is to leave that expanse of green grass as pristine as when the gates first open.
  • Allow plenty of time to find your preferred parking space and to walk from your car to the entranceA limited number of accessible parking spaces are behind the Festival grounds, through the Park House Restaurant parking lot.


KSPFN Pow Wow dancer (Photo: Teya Cloud)
KSPFN Pow Wow dancer (Photo: Teya Cloud)

The second weekend in July is an opportunity to share in something truly outstanding – a celebration of native cultural heritage at the Kettle & Stony Point Powwow. The Annual Competition Powwow takes place July 10 and 11, 2021 at 9226 Lake Road (

The powwow is a combination of many things: a social event for all ages and tribes, a spiritual and sacred occasion, a celebration of heritage, culture and pride in one’s roots.

Organizers Brenda George, Debbie Bressette and Liz Cloud work hard throughout the entire year to make the powwow happen. They bring together dancers from Canada and the U.S., vendors, drummers, singers, volunteers and sponsors, and manage the countless details that make a successful powwow. More than 2,500 people attend every year.

From the moment you park opposite the powwow grounds, you will be caught up in the excitement and anticipation. Elaborate, often bright regalia of the dancers moves in the lake breeze and sparkles in the summer sunshine. Natives and non-natives of all ages from babes-in-arms to elders move into the grounds, smiling and chatting.

There is always a bustle of activity. Booths beckon with goods for sale – art, jewellery, clothing, crafts, beadwork and more. There are food and beverage stands – some featuring fresh Lake Huron fish, native flatbread strawberry shortcake. Known as the heart berry for the wild berry’s shape, the strawberry is a sacred food in Ojibwe culture.

KSPN Pow Wow Dancers (Photo: J. Baillie)
KSPN Pow Wow Dancers (Photo: J. Baillie)

On both the Saturday and Sunday of the powwow, people come early to be in time for the impressive Grand Entry which is the official opening. You might get a seat, but best to bring a lawn chair or blanket. Brenda George has been involved in planning the annual powwow for many years and relates that every time veterans, flag bearers and dancers enter the grassy arena from the East, walking in the direction of the sun for the Grand Entry, she is so moved her “heart pounds at the sight”.

Throughout the afternoon, about 200 dancers in full regalia compete in traditional native dances. Among the women’s dances is the Fancy Shawl dance, a whirl of colours and creative designs suggesting butterfly wings, danced by young women moving into womanhood. Elaborate regalia with an eagle feather circle bustle is a feature of the men’s Traditional Dance. The eagle is the messenger to the Creator, flying highest of all birds and carrying prayers up into the sky. The men’s Fancy Dress Dance is very athletic and requires endurance by the young men who wear heavy regalia on a hot summer day. The Men’s Grass Dance movements imitate grass moving in the wind. The Jingle Dress dance, a healing dance is an Ojibwe tradition, and other traditional dances each have their own meanings and movements, passed down through generations. Regalia is highly individual and holds deep meaning for a dancer.

The beat of the sacred drum and the sound of the singers accompany the dancers as they perform.

At the end of the day, everyone knows they have been a part of something very special. We say Miigwech! Thank you for giving all the opportunity to learn and share in this wonderful, unforgettable celebration.


  • Arrive early to get a seat. Bringing your own lawn chair is a good idea.
  • Check the Grand Entry start time on Saturday and Sunday and come early.
  • Follow announcements about when to stand, when to be silent, when to remove your hat, etc.
  • Clap and cheer the dancers – follow native folks’ leads.
  • Be courteous. Ask a dancer if you have permission to take their photo.
  • There are dances for everyone to join in, native and non-native, in regalia or not. When the announcer offers an invitation to dance, accept the opportunity to share a time-honoured ritual.
  • No alcohol or drugs allowed.
  • Consider donating to honour and support the costs of these non-profit events. Go to the organizing desk to the left of the grounds entrance or find out if there’s a donation box.
  • Do not refer to the dancers’ attire as a costume. It is regalia, imbued with great spiritual and personal significance.


Photo: Banaise-Kwe and Cindy Henry, M.L. Flutter

People who have experienced the Kettle & Stony Point Powwow will probably have seen Cindy Henry dancing in Jingle Dress. Honouring the Ojibwe cultural traditions is in the family: Cindy’s Mom is a Traditional Dancer; Cindy is a Jingle Dress Dancer, as is her daughter.

Cindy started dancing about the age of five.  As a student in non-native schools, she was a target of bullying, surrounded by kids with hands clapping over their mouths imitating stereotypical war cries they heard in the movies and TV. Cindy fought back, constructively – by bringing her dancing regalia to school, educating other students about her people’s cultural tradition of dancing and showing them traditional dances.

Cindy’s passion for her culture and the dance is obvious as she describes when, according to tradition, she was in her Berry Fast of puberty, when a girl moves from childhood into womanhood, learning skills and knowledge from an older woman. During the year, the young woman is not allowed to eat berries, showing self-discipline, nor can she dance. “Can you imagine how difficult it was as a dancer, not to be able to dance, not even to move to the beat of the drum? When I was able to dance again, I valued it even more”, Cindy shares.

Later she became a Fancy Shawl Dancer and now, as she explains, “with more life experience, age and knowledge”, she embraces Jingle Dress Dancing, competing in powwows in Canada and the United States.

Jingle Dress regalia has 365 metal jingle cones, one for each day of the year. During the dance one foot must always be in contact with the ground, keeping the dancer connected to Mother Earth.

The Jingle Dance is native Ojibwe. Originally cones were rolled from the lids of snuff boxes; now they are usually purchased along with beads and other regalia items from stores like Thunderbird Crafts in Kettle Point. The Jingle Dress makes the sound of icicles in winter during the graceful dance, harking to the healing qualities of Mother Nature during the dormant months of winter.

All the powwow dances are spiritual, but the Jingle Dress Dance is the only healing dance. Before the event, people bring gifts of tobacco wrapped in cloth with a tie of yarn or twine to a Jingle Dress Dancer which she carries during the dance; they request that she dance to bring physical or mental healing to a family member, friend or themselves. The Jingle Dress Dancer also dances for general healing of those who might not have asked, but also are in need.

Powwow regalia is made with much care; it has a great deal of spiritual meaning to the dancer. Other regalia, such as that worn by Cindy for Ceremonial occasions, is sacred, not to be viewed by non-participants in the Ceremonies. Dancers’ attire is not a costume, and should not be referred to as such, rather it is regalia, imbued with spiritual and personal significance.


CNR School on Wheels Car #15089 (Photo: J. Baillie)
CNR School on Wheels Car #15089 (Photo: J. Baillie)

Clinton’s School on Wheels Museum offers more than just a glimpse into windows past. And, there’s good reason for its inclusion in Ron Brown’s Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Ontario!

Restored working railcar turned museum encourages visitors of all ages to experience the magic of an educational experiment turned unique family experience, firsthand and hands on!

Located in Sloman Memorial Park (76 Victoria Terrace), CNR School Car #15089 is equal parts mid-century classroom, Canadian railway gem, ‘tiny home’ and treasured family chronicle.

Passionate museum guides share the story of Fred and Cela Sloman and their five children, who helped realize Dr. J.B. MacDougall’s dream of delivering education to families in Northern Ontario through a mobile school on wheels.

During Fred’s WWI service overseas, he was inspired to pursue a teaching career as a way of empowering people through literacy. Fred and Cela took the helm of one of two railway routes servicing Ontario in 1926. Their school car route covered 237 kilometres of northern Ontario rail from Capreol near Sudbury to Foleyet. The Slomans spent the school year on the rail line and summered in Clinton. The program expanded to seven routes and lasted until 1967.

Interior of the School on Wheels (Photo: J. Baillie)
Interior of the School on Wheels (Photo: J. Baillie)

The museum celebrates the demographic diversity of those who attended the school on wheels, including children of loggers, trappers, First Nations families, railway and hydro-electric workers. Impressively, students would often travel long distances to attend the school car, sometimes by skis, dogsled, snowshoes or canoe, depending on the season!  At various stops along the way, students would enjoy a week of classroom learning before heading home with a month of homework to tie them over until the school car returned in five weeks time.

Ahead of his time, Fred taught academic subjects and citizenship while maintaining an experiential approach to learning. This is something museum staff have creatively adapted to make the visitor experience extra special. Adult learners gained English language skills to help in writing letters, taking correspondence courses or ordering from Eaton’s catalogue.

Highlights of school car life included enjoying film reels of diverse hometowns played on Fred’s movie projector, participating in Christmas concerts, enjoying the company of the family’s pets, birthdays of students and celebrities, and, hands-on learning, including playing with farm models and observing railway life.  The school car was a social and educational centre.

The museum also showcases the Slomans’ cleaver use of the small living quarters in the railcar’s rear by using multifunctional furniture and basic amenities.  The abundance of artifacts and original records is but one of the perks of visiting the museum! The lived in the original Tiny House.

Fred and Cela’s legacy has included a royal visit in 1939, the receipt of the Order of Canada and induction into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. Current highlights include a popular Children’s Festival with Thomas the Tank Engine held the second week of August.

Entrance is by donation and the is open Victoria Day Saturday to the last weekend in September, Thursday through Sunday and Holiday Mondays, 11am-4pm. 76 Victoria Terrace, Clinton, 519-482-3997. Just off Highway 4 at the south edge of Clinton, between London and Wingham.

Arkona Lions Museum & Information Centre
  • Discover Devonian Era fossils and aboriginal artifacts found at Rock Glen Conservation Area.
  • April, May, June, September & October: Saturday & Sunday, Noon – 5pm. April-October: 519-828-3071;
  • July & August: Daily, Noon-5pm. November-March: 519-235-2610.
  • 8680 Rock Glen Rd., Arkona.
Forest Lambton Museum

Themed exhibits located in the former Forest Home Bakery building. Open by chance or appointment. 8 Main St. N., Forest, 519-786-3239.

Huron County Museum

Home to historical and cultural exhibitions, temporary and permanent. Thousands of artifacts illustrate the history of both our rural and urban communities in a variety of themes and topics. Permanent exhibitions feature early settlement, agriculture, military, and main street galleries including a full-size steam locomotive central to the building. 110 North St., Goderich, 519-524-2686.

Lambton Heritage Museum

Explore two main galleries and seven outdoor historical buildings. Collection established to preserve and interpret local history. Main galleries open year-round; outdoor buildings open mid-April to mid-December., 10035 Museum Rd., Grand Bend, 519-243-2600.

Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum

Dedicated to the preservation and retelling of famous Lucan area historical events, such as the founding of Wilberforce by a Black community from Cincinnati, area settlement by Irish immigrants and the Donnelly murders. May to Thanksgiving., 171 Main St., Lucan, 519-227-0756.

School On Wheels Museum

Hands-on experience of an early 20th-Century classroom built into a railcar and used to educate children in remote Ontario. Annual Thomas the Tank event. Victory Day Saturday to last Sunday in September. Thursday to Sunday 11am – 4pm., 76 Victoria Terrace, Clinton, 519-482-3997.

St. Joseph Museum & Archives

Photographs and digital scans of original documents about the Huron Tract, the City of St. Joseph, the St. Joseph Canal, Narcisse Cantin and Saint André. Memorial Park (Hwy. 21 & CR. 84) displays historical plaques and statues of St. Joseph and Saint André. Open by chance or appointment., 72981 Bluewater Highway, 519-236-7707.