Eatonville Roadhouse: Local landmark’s history revealed

On February 10, 2016, this local landmark made the CBC news:exterior-view-of-11658-talbot-trail

“An old hotel building that once housed dozens of Japanese Canadian men working in an internment camp in southwestern Ontario during the Second World War could soon be demolished.

“Local heritage experts say 55 men stayed at the old Eatonville Roadhouse in 1942 and 1943, after they were relocated by the Canadian government from British Columbia during the war.

“Decades later, the building where they once lived near Morpeth is in decay and the current property owner wants to tear it down…”

You can read the rest of the article here, but I wanted to share my own memories of this corner.

My brother, Peter Duck, shared,”I remember riding by this place in my parents’ green station wagon hundreds of times as a child. Back then, it was a mysterious pink building. Later, it became a mysterious grey building. Seems this part of its history is little known – not even mentioned in the local history books I had my parents scour through.”

Like my brother, the Pink Building was a landmark for me. When we passed the Pink Building, we knew we were almost home. Or when we turned off the #3 highway, the Talbot Trail, on our way to Rondeau Provincial Park, we’d pass this building. When I was trying to learn to drive our little standard Mazda pick up truck, I have a hilarious memory of my mother an I jigging uncontrollably into the intersection when I was trying to shift into gear right in front of this building.

The unsuspecting traveller would not know this corner was a community with a name, and the name was Eatonville. In the 1930s, the building was owned by a man named Eaton.

Like other locals, we knew that the building had been some form of hotel. I knew that it was used during my youth as staff housing for migrant farm workers. But I didn’t know that the building was also used as lodging for Japanese workers. Japanese men who were relocated here from British Columbia worked at Rondeau Park. “The winter of 1942 and summer of 1943 saw the Park Hotel being used by the Federal Government as an Internment Camp for 55 Japanese men from British Columbia. The men were paid to work at Rondeau Park clearing timber and brush.” (J. R. Hind).

Prior to that, it was a busy hotel, hot dog stand and establishment for obtaining somewhat “bootlegged” drinks. Here are a few pictures I got from an article compiled by J. R. Hind.roadhouse at eatonville

Eatonville 1942 Japanese men

When I was a student (not long after the Mazda driving fiasco), I also worked at Rondeau Provincial Park. I feel a sense of connection to this story because the sight of the “pink building” was a fixture in the landscape of my childhood memories on my way to work at the same location the Japanese men were forced to work. I’ve made several close Japanese friends as an adult, and I think it’s important to know these stories and learn from the past.

While I hadn’t heard of Japanese workers living near Morpeth, I know that my great grandparents had many farm hands over the years. In the 1940s, my great grandmother often noted in her diary, “Germans here.” She was kept busy cooking for the farm workers. Another local person, Joanna Brown, shared the following commentary about her family’s involvement with German POWs: “I know my grandfather & his brothers worked along side the German POW soldiers on their farm in Chatham off the Bloomfield line. The wives / mothers of the local farms at that time made a point of competing to provide huge meals to feed the workers. It was a matter of pride that they showed that kind of hospitality. Many of those soldiers we were told stayed here after the war.” (Joanna Brown).

I found it interesting to hear how many people who grew up in Kent County remembered this building, and started sharing their stories and memories. Do you remember this building? Share your memories too in the comments! During the hotel’s prime, in the late 30s and early 1940s, my grandparents were dating and got married. I wonder if they had a $1 chicken dinner there?

Chicken

 

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4 thoughts on “Eatonville Roadhouse: Local landmark’s history revealed

  1. It was never an ‘internment camp’ …. it was a relocation camp. The USA interred their Japanese citizens Canada did not. It’s very important that going forth this distinction is made.

  2. We often think history is happening elsewhere — when in fact, it is all around us, just waiting to be acknowledged. Incidentally, the last chapter may not yet have been written about this building. See:
    http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/2016/02/12/japanese-canadians-want-property-preserved
    (This building was a familiar sight when our family farm was located on the northeast corner of the Desmond Road and the Talbot Trail from 1955 to 1963. Donald Duck did some custom combining for my father then, and I went to Ridgetown District High School with Danny Duck.)

  3. I remember it well being from New Scotland just up from Rondeau. The story went that when Mr. Duck first arrived in Kent County, he phoned the dentist’s office for an appointment. When the receptionist asked for his name, he said I’m Donald Duck…and she said, ” yeah, and I’m Mickey Mouse” and hung up!

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