Friday, February 22, 2019

Towns in my history (part 1)

I was born after the first malls had opened, but they still confronted me as a deviation from the norm, which had been established for me by the traditional, downtown hub of Goderich, Ontario. The town's agora was the Square, an area delimited by a road that (ignoring its name) follows the contour of an octagonal yard, in which stands the Huron County courthouse. The town's main shops and businesses lined the outer edge of the road. Our house was a short walk north of the Square, which I visited often with friends or on errands for my parents. At first, attempts to reconcile the Square's name and shape flabbergasted my juvenile mind, yet immersion in the local culture soon led me to accept the contradiction as something perfectly natural and puzzling to outsiders only.
The Square (1920), archival image
The original courthouse, an Italianate structure completed in 1856, burned down in 1954.
Huron County courthouse, before 1954 (postcard, Valentine and Sons United Publishing Co.)
The courthouse yard's shape was set by the town's co-founder, John Galt, impressed (as he was) by the insight of an ancient Roman planner, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, whose idea it had been that polygonal sites are easier to defend from attackers, such as the Visigoths (or the Americans on the other side of the lake).
The new courthouse, built in 1954 (Wikimedia Commons, JustSomePics [CC BY-SA 3.0 (])
One was continually meeting history in Goderich -- in the old jail (or 'gaol'), with its legacy of violence, in the lore about devastating storms that had swept in from the lake, in the local museum with its stuffed, two-headed calf and yard full of old artillery pieces, or in the war memorial on the courthouse lawn.

The most conspicuous history was a relic of the early-mid-19th century, when the place was designed and built as an outpost of the British Empire. The Empire loomed at practically every turn. Among the town's streets are these: Victoria St., Trafalgar St., Nelson St., Wellington St., Waterloo St., Wolfe St., Brock St., Elgin Ave. The commemorations said little of the Indigenous peoples who had lived there for millennia: the Wendat (or Wyandotte [aka Hurons]), after whom the county was named, the Attiwandarons of the 'Neutral' Confederacy, and the Mississaugas. They were largely gone from the town and its official, public memory.

Goderich, like its environs in Huron and Bruce Counties (Alice-Munro country), was colonized mainly by Scots-Irish immigrants, some of whom had fled the Highland Clearances. Both of Goderich's co-founders, Galt and William 'Tiger' Dunlop, were Scotsmen. Dunlop took his nickname from an earlier imperial adventure (when he had tried to clear Saugor Island in India of its tigers). He and Galt worked for the Canada Company, the main function of which was to facilitate the movement of British and Irish settlers into the area.

Coat of Arms of the Canada Company

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