Faces of Uxbridge

Visiting Ontario’s Uxbridge Township is a must for fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Written by Faith Roebuck Shergold

September 12, 2014

In this town, the happening place to be on a Friday night is, surprisingly, a mausoleum.

When I moved to the Uxbridge area from Niagara two years ago, I thought no other place in Ontario could boast the same richness of nature and history as my hometown. A couple of changes of seasons in Uxbridge Township have shown me that it, too, has treasures to be found.

Built by former Toronto Mayor Thomas Foster in 1936 (for a quarter of a million dollars), the Foster Memorial is stunning inside — a glorious swirl of marble and mosaic. On warm Friday nights local volunteers fill it with an audience, candlelight, and music. The music starts as you wander across the stone floor through huge doors of bronze and glass.

On my “Friday at the Foster,” the artist was Bryan Rason, an acoustic finger-style guitarist. Many of his original songs were as ethereal as the evening light through the stained glass. Some of his songs, especially the rock covers, were vivid and energetic, like the wild twists of colour filling the memorial’s dome. The music and the memorial complemented each other, and I was left with the memory of a gorgeous spring evening (and one of Rason’s CDs).

Summer is the busy season for the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario, although its historic site can be seen at other times for special events and by appointment. Montgomery moved from her beloved Prince Edward Island to Leaskdale, in Uxbridge Township, in 1911 and lived the rest of her life in Ontario. Eleven of her books were written in the Presbyterian church manse that she and her minister husband called home for fifteen years.

Today, the manse is a national historic site. It has been lovingly restored by a dedicated group of volunteers who used Montgomery’s personal photos and journals to guide the restoration. We saw the library where her husband worked and the parlour, with its large window, where she did most of her writing. Heading upstairs, we ran our hands along the surprisingly short banisters. We found four bedrooms: the master, the maid’s room, the guest room, and the room shared by her two sons.

After the tour, we stayed for the stunning experience of a one-woman play, Maud of Leaskdale, adapted by a local playwright from Montgomery’s journals. No one can capture the essence of her life in Leaskdale better than Lucy Maud Montgomery herself, and one senses echoes of Anne and Emily, her two best-loved characters, in Montgomery’s own voice. The life Montgomery lives on the stage is bitter and sweet in turns, as most lives are. Most of us left with tears in our eyes.

We spent a foggy fall day on the York-Durham Heritage Railway, running between Uxbridge’s historic and distinctive “witch’s hat”-style train station and Whitchurch-Stouffville. The station is one of the highlights of the trip. Restored in the early 1990s, the waiting and baggage rooms have been turned into a country gift shop and local rail museum, both with lots of gems. The original ticket windows still serve their purpose, staffed by volunteers as we confirm the tickets we bought online.

On our ride, the colourful foliage and rolling hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine were just glimpsed through the fog. But we were in good company, the seats in the old cars were comfortable, and there were great volunteers along to improve the ride for adults (lots of train talk) and children (a clown and musician). Since then, the YDHR has restored a dining car, so now you can get a full meal as part of your ride. More appealing to the kids may be the opportunity to ride in the caboose!

Uxbridge is my home because of a twist of fate. But now that I’ve known it through the seasons, I love it. And I think you will, too.

When not working as a teen, digital, and community librarian, Faith Roebuck Shergold enjoys singing in a choir, volunteering with a historical society, getting literary tattoos, and riding country roads on an iron horse.

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2014 issue of Canada’s History Magazine.

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