—Charles Ketchabaw, Fixt Point
In this southwestern Ontario city, which has based so much on its English namesake, you can shop at the Covent Garden Market, then go for a walk at the fork of the Thames. We spent two weeks of our Tale of a Town tour in London, trading ice cream for stories on the street, interviewing shop owners, and making plans for a site-specific spectacle that will take this community by storm next year.
Downtown, we found older buildings that are ornate and lavish behind their façades. But others have fallen to the wrecking ball, and most of the disappeared properties have become empty lots—which is why it seems strange that everyone says there’s no parking in the city centre.
Memories flowed about the days of downtown when the Simpson Sears windows glowed at Christmas time and the stools on diner counters always swirled with customers. Nowadays, the area has a bad reputation. Social services and methadone clinics have changed the atmosphere around here. But the heart of the city is still pumping, and lots of love is pouring onto its bricks and mortar.
We heard stories about a whole block being demolished long ago, though Londoners spoke proudly about the state-of-the-art developments that refilled it. We heard tales of a mall so grand that limousines escorted the elite to its opening. The shopping centre ultimately failed, but the building now houses an accessible and awesome public library.
We met some people with true passion—booksellers and bar owners and suit tailors and city planners who are determined to stand their ground downtown until suburbia’s cheap thrills no longer abound. (To meet them yourself, check out our daily blog.) During our final days in London, we met the last maître d’ in the city: a man who brought fine dining, tableside service, and the caesar salad to the people way back in 1973. His name is Jack DiCarlo, and you can join us at his retirement party by tuning in to our podcast below.
Huntsville’s downtown doesn’t need too much community spirit renovation. In the summer, it’s a happening place with tourists and locals cruising the strip. We stayed in the town for three weeks. During the first two, we did dozens of interviews in our story mobile; then we brought in our Fixt Point team to listen to the footage. Together, we created stellar scenes to perform in our pop-up storefront at Nuit Blanche North.
It was in Huntsville where we first realized that old hotels are ripe with memories. Mix locals and travellers with alcohol over many years, and some unforgettable things are sure to happen. Here, it was the tale of The Empire Hotel—a big old building on a downtown corner. Once an elegant meeting place, the Empire had turned seedy before it was sold and renovated room by room. It provided low-income downtown housing until it was suddenly taken by fire. Now it’s just an empty shell for a whole lot of faded dreams.
The whole town—from the mayor to the Rotary Club to the business improvement association—got on board in the story creation. (To meet all of these lovely locals, check out our daily blog.) During our last week in Huntsville, we had to close up our story mobile to rehearse our show. Each day, we found a note or an old book or a newspaper clipping attached to our door. How to include all the stories they told? Well, we couldn’t. Clearly, there are many more stories to tell in this growing town: if you’ve got one, call our story line at (855) CAN-TALE.
Nuit Blanche North truly rocked the block. The energy that night in Huntsville was contagious. Our show was amazing, with a lineup at the door before each performance. We were joined by many local talents—including Tina Turley, the Janis Joplin of Ontario’s near North, whose story we told in one of our scenes.
With all that said, here it is: our podcasted memories of Huntsville, which will bring you closer to the spirit of the fantastic people we met there.
A Walk Down Main Street: Huntsville Edition
We stopped in downtown Ingersoll to gather some stories in Charles’s hometown. We heard tales of a fire on the main drag, of legendary department stores, and of brown-paper packages tied with string. We even heard a love story (included in the podcast below). The tables turned on us when the Ingersoll Times decided to tell our story. Read the local newspaper’s tale of the story mobile here, and check out our story map of Ingersoll on our website, thetaleofatown.com.
A Walk Down Main Street: Ingersoll Edition
Nestled in the heart of Grey County, 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Markdale is full of memories. We’d heard that the downtown strip was once so busy that it was hard to get up and down the sidewalk. When we first visited, the small farming community’s Main Street seemed quiet. But once we were led to the hub of the action and started chatting, stories began seeping out.
Eric Robertson, a friendly real estate agent who grew up in Markdale, escorted us down the street. We met almost everyone in town outside the post office. That’s how we decided where to park our story mobile. Slowly but surely, the people came for their mail.
We spoke to former mayor Stan Baker, Rotarian Jerry Bartley, and former school principal Willard Foster, among others. In between story mobiling, we stopped by some shops on the strip, including the Bargain Store, where whoopee cushions have cost a dollar for as long as anyone can remember. We talked to a local teen at a café where every customer has their own mug, then skipped into a toy store for a little play on words.
Finally, we headed to Chapman’s newly built ice cream factory, which replaces the old creamery that burned down a few years ago. I’m sure the original had inimitable charm, but this new setup is sleek and sexy. We interviewed Ashley Chapman, the vice president of Chapman’s Ice Cream. After a great chat with him, we met his magnificent mom, Penny Chapman, who co-founded the company with her husband David. Listen below to some of the memories we gathered in the land of ice cream dreams! Tales of the street frolic, the cake wheel, and the house of refuge await.
A Walk Down Main Street: Markdale Edition
How lucky we were that there was a cancellation at Turtle Creek Lodge on Manitoulin Island. We drove straight from Markdale to Tobermory, drove onto a ferry, took a gorgeous cruise north to the spirit island, and found our way to this secluded paradise on the biggest island on a freshwater lake in the world.
In this mystical place, we wrote and recorded our first few editions of our podcast series: A Walk Down Main Street. One very touching thing happened while we visited: a couple got married down at the water. A bagpiper announced the surprise celebration and we joined in for the ceremonies. Later that night, the couple treated the lodgers to a fireworks show and we watched from our cabin as we worked the night away.
Before we left, we checked in with Points North on CBC Radio. We let listeners know that we were on our way to Little Current, then on to Sudbury. And zoom! We were off again to seek out more stories in this province of towns and trees.
It was a whirlwind twenty-four hours in Little Current. We stayed at the legendary Anchor Inn, sat in on the live broadcast of The Cruisers’ Net, a local radio show, and met the father-daughter team that own and edit the Manitoulin Expositor. Trading ice cream for stories, we met some delightful haweaters and even joined a civic initiative to keep the postal office downtown. It’s true, there is something spirited about this island. We could have stayed forever!
A Walk Down Main Street: Little Current Edition
The drive from Little Current to Sudbury—across a swing bridge, along Highway 6, then up the 17—was simply breathtaking. In the home of the Big Nickel, we first took in our surroundings—two flatiron beauties, the remains of several demolished buildings, and the once neglected, now bustling Elgin strip. Next, we met with Paul, the manager of the storied Townehouse Tavern. (Did you know? Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote “Sudbury Saturday Night” at the Townehouse.) He told us all about the evolution of the city—from its construction atop a meteor crater to its days as a rail and mining town to what it is today.
Later, we parked downtown, got a feel for the place, and caught up with some local press. We also talked shop with David Savoy, the artistic director of the Sudbury Theatre Centre, and, together, imagined what it would be like to tell the tales of the city and take audiences down its street.
A Walk Down Main Street: Sudbury Edition
Back in Little Current, some people had spotted our story mobile and suggested we head up to Killarney. So, to Killarney we went!
On the waterfront Channel Street, the town’s main drag, the mayor flagged us down and insisted he treat us to fish and chips at Herbert’s, the local hotspot. Before long, we were joined by the town historian, a local elder, and our acquaintance from Little Current, Mary Jane. They told us some interesting things: that Killarney (pop. 500) is not an Irish settlement, but in fact Native and French in origin; that the town didn’t have electricity until 1950, or a connecting road to the rest of the province until 1962.
Afterward, we visited a hand-built stone church, then walked the docks and learned about the bygone days of commercial fishing. If you have something more to tell us about Killarney, call our story line at (855) CAN-TALE.
A Walk Down Main Street: Killarney Edition
Near Georgian Bay, in Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park, we transformed our story mobile into a daytime studio and nighttime camper. For a rugged and rustic three days, we worked in the woods, listening to the stories we gathered, cutting up interviews, writing around the clips, and mixing everything together. The campground was bustling; we left only to record our voices deeper in the wilderness.
All finished, we drove our story mobile back to where the traffic outnumbers the trees and the buildings sometimes block the breeze, a place where faces are familiar and the streets are straight and all the restaurants are open late. We arrived back home to Toronto to lay our heads in our own bed.
About FIXT POINT: Founded in 2006, FIXT POINT is an incorporated not-for-profit professional performance and media based company led by artistic director Lisa Marie DiLiberto and managing director Charles Ketchabaw. FIXT POINT creates original, site-specific spectacles. Our mandate is to inspire audiences to imagine change. Help FIXT POINT get into the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab by boosting our project.