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A Visit to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Editors note: We have added a new monthly feature to the Travel section of OsideNews written by Cecil Scaglione. Cecil is a former San Diego Union-Tribune writer and for a number of years has been a world traveler, writer and currently a syndicated columnist.

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features
ST. MARY’S, Ontario —- The chronicles of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame are written in concrete.The St. Mary’s Cement Co., founded in 1912, is to Canadian cement what Louisville is to baseball bats. It donated 32 acres of land for this museum-and-sports-field complex.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame was opened in 1983. It was dispossessed in 1989 because it was not included in the plans for the American League Toronto Blue Jays’ new home — the massive Skydome built in the lee of the CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing structure that looms over downtown Toronto and Lake Ontario.

The sports memorabilia includes the bat used by Babe Ruth to clout his first professional home run during a 1914 game in Toronto. It had been housed in the Blue Jays’ original home at the lakefront Canadian National Exhibition stadium.

We stopped by this hidden gem a couple of hours east of Toronto while touring Southern Ontario to dip our toes in the three Great Lakes that lap these shores: Huron, Erie and Ontario.

Canada's Baseball Hall of Fame is housed in a former company house that was built in 1868 in St. Mary's Ontario, a comfortable little community about two hours east of the international border crossing at Detroit. Photo:  Cecil Scaglione

Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame is housed in a former company house that was built in 1868 in
St. Mary’s Ontario, a comfortable little community about two hours east of the international border crossing at Detroit.
Photo: Cecil Scaglione

Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame is housed in a former company house that was built in 1868 in St. Mary’s Ontario, a comfortable little community about two hours east of the international border crossing at Detroit.

This bustling industrial town also produced Arthur Meighen, who was prime minister of Canada during the early 1920s, and Timothy Eaton, who launched a coast-to-coast department-store empire. And it was a brief stopover for Thomas Alva Edison, who worked as an itinerant junior telegrapher for Western Union in his teens.

“We know he worked here,” said Mary Smith, curator of the nearby St. Mary’s Museum. A near-disaster vignettes his brief career in St. Mary’s first railway station. “But you should know that many places lay claim to this story,” she said

As the story goes, he displayed his inventive bent while serving as the local night telegraph operator. To prevent night operators from sleeping on the job, they were required to tap out “six” every half hour.

He invented a device that automatically sent out the code when a crank was turned and he slept while the night watchman turned the crank every 30 minutes. One night a message came through to hold a train in a passing track. Edison failed to relay this message to the train crew. Fortunately, the engineers saw each other’s train in time to stop. And the young man slipped out of town before the subsequent inquiry was completed.

The Hall of Fame is on a comfortable knoll that was chosen in 1868 as the site of a house to be rented to cement-company employees.

A mill race, as seen through a window made out of an old mill wheel, guides a stream outside Goderich on the blue-water shores of Lake Huron, one of the three Great Lakes that cradle the many attractions of Southern Ontario. Photo:   Cecil Scaglione

A mill race, as seen through a window made out of an old mill wheel, guides a stream outside
Goderich on the blue-water shores of Lake Huron, one of the three Great Lakes that cradle the
many attractions of Southern Ontario.
Photo: Cecil Scaglione

Among the more renowned Canadians recognized there now is Chicago Cub’s Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, who was born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, about 50 miles east of Detroit and a major terminal on the underground railway used by slaves fleeing the United States. He is the only Canadian inducted into the Cooperstown, N.Y., Hall of Fame.

His Cy Young award for the National League pitcher of the year 1971 is displayed here. Also memorialized here is Jackie Robinson, who played for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn
Dodgers farm club, before he broke the color barrier in the major leagues.

The bat used by Babe Ruth to hit a home run while playing for Providence against Toronto has its own special story. It was used to pound out the only homer the Babe hit in the minors. While hanging around to read about baseball pioneers and listen to the echoes dancing around the uniforms, mitts, bats, spikes, caps, and photographs was enthralling, it soon was time to return to our original mission, to dip our toes in the three Great Lakes.

We had left Goderich on the blue-water shores of Lake Huron just a couple of hours earlier after a couple of days roaming around the rustic region along its eastern shore. We stayed outside of town in the Benmiller Inn, a comfortable 48-room hotel transformed from a flour mill, and went antique gawking in such fanciful towns as Tobermory, Kincardine, and Southampton.

Villages in this area boast stone and brick churches that look large enough to house all the remaining buildings in the community.

From St. Mary’s, we dropped south to the north shore of Lake Erie. Here, the water appears to reflect the tone of the earth around it. We took time in Port Stanley to sample the sweet and succulent Lake Erie perch, a lunch you’ll always remember once you’ve tried it.

Our next leg was east around the metropolitan Toronto complex to Prince Edward County, an island on the shores of Lake Ontario. This lake serves as a weather monitor angry black-and-white when it’s stormy, crisp and translucent blue when sailing is at its best, and steel-grey cold when the temperature plummets.

Loyalists to the British cause during the War of 1812 scudded across Lake Ontario to this land of milk and honey that has become Canadian wine-and-cheese country.

Picton, about 90 minutes from Toronto, is the major town that anchors the eastern end of the Ontario wine country that winds westward through the Niagara peninsula and to the junction of the Detroit River some 300 miles away where it pours into Lake Erie.