I had recently taken an interest in the Underground Railroad after discovering that my great-great grandfather had been named after the escaped slave and abolitionist, William Parker. One of the routes of the Underground Railroad also passed very near my home. I knew the story of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania and Ohio. It would be interesting to see how slaves lived once they crossed Lake Erie and reached the safety of Canada. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site” in Dresden sounded like a good place to learn some of that history.
By the time we arrived at Uncle Tom’s Cabin and stepped out of the car the rain had stopped. (See honey? What did I tell ya?). Inside the visitor’s center a young college intern gave us a basic tour that included a short video.
In 1789, Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Maryland. At the age of 41 he escaped and made his way to Canada where he eventually started a settlement and a school for other escaped slaves. They were taught to read and write and they learned the skills of craftsmen and tradesmen that would allow them to earn a living. Josiah Henson was the inspiration for the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
After visiting the museum, we moved outside where our young guide once again joined us to give us an overview of the buildings on site. They included a worker’s house, a saw mill, a smoke house, a church, and of course, the original Uncle Tom’s cabin built by Henson.
We arrived mid-afternoon in Port Stanley, a busy town with some cute shops to browse. Broderick’s Ice Cream Parlour was bright and welcoming and not at all busy, but then it was a chilly day in the low 60s, not exactly ice cream weather. While I can take it or leave it, John never met an ice cream flavor he didn’t like. We weren’t going to pass it by.
With a billion flavors and toppings to choose from (or so it seemed) it took us a few minutes to order our cones and sundae treats. When I took my first bite, I became an ice cream convert. I had, through happenstance, ordered the best ice cream sundae ever. A single scoop of “pralines and cream” ice cream, topped with caramel sauce, toasted coconut, whipped cream and a cherry. It was like…WOW.
Rory and Kay love their coffee too. After ice cream, we stepped into a coffee shop next door. I drink coffee sometimes but never made a habit of it. John doesn’t drink coffee at all. While our friends waited at the counter for their order, John and I sat down in a comfy pair of chairs next to a fireplace. It was warm and toasty and very relaxing. I could see why people enjoyed meeting up and hanging out in coffee shops.
As we wandered down the street, John and Rory stopped to talk to a man about an electric bike that for some reason they found fascinating. I glanced up and saw that we were standing in front of a shop called “Connections,” a place I had read about in my pre-travel research. With the others absorbed in bike talk, I stepped inside.
Talking to the store clerk, I learned that the shop, run by YWCA volunteers, is a not for profit shop that sells all sorts of unique gifts made by women around the world. It uses its profits to fund community projects. Interesting global crafts and products were nicely displayed—tribal figures and masks, scarves, handbags, jewelry, candle holders, carved boxes, and hand-crafted goods.
When it came time to move on, Kay and Rory were outside waiting on a bench. John was missing. I went back inside the shop and found him talking with one of the shop volunteers. Never one to pass up conversation, John’s description of our Lake Erie tour had been repeated to interested strangers all over Canada. I loved the way he could talk to anybody at any time about any thing. This time his Lake Erie tour description has somehow morphed into a lengthy conversation about … religion??? The volunteer explained that her brother was a Mormon convert.
Well, okay, but how did a description of our travels reveal John’s Mormon background? Remarkable. I prodded John out the door before the subject of politics or basketball or the War of 1812 could suck up the rest of our afternoon.
Port Stanley is a popular tourist spot. So popular we had been unable to find interesting lodging that wasn’t already sold out. Instead of settling for a chain hotel, we had chosen the Idlewyld Hotel in London, 40 minutes to the north.
Built in 1878, the Idlewyld Inn and Spa was once the home of London’s mayor. It’s a gorgeous Victorian mansion that retains many of its beautiful historic features. The Idlewyld Hotel and Spa felt luxurious. To make it even sweeter, the price was very reasonable and included a free breakfast.
Most everywhere we stayed on this trip, our rooms were random, meaning that we didn’t choose or see ahead of time what we were getting. We took whatever room key the desk clerk handed us and that would be our room for the night. John’s and my room at the Idlewyld was lovely with walls and carpet done in a soft gray. A large picture of a peacock set the color scheme with accent chairs, pillows, and curtains in blue and turquoise. Kay and Rory’s room was even prettier, with a lovely arch over their window and the same gray background. Their color setting art piece featured a large flower and their room accents were red. After our first two uncomfortable nights in Windsor and Leamington, we were all looking forward to an evening of unwinding and restful sleep.