The story of Canatara Park contained in “lost” binders

The elusive Canatara Park binders were compiled by resident Jack Fraser, who created them as an educational resource for tour guides of Canatara Park in the early ’90s. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

They’re plain and unassuming binders, but inside them is the most complete research ever compiled about Sarnia’s beloved Canatara Park

And for the longest time, nobody knew where they were.

The story began when researcher Tom St. Amand met Dean Hodgson while working on a project to trace the origin of Sarnia’s street names.

“In passing, Dean mentioned if I had ever read the history of Canatara Park,” St. Amand recalls.

Hodgson told of nine binders created as a resource for tour guides and visitors in the early ‘90s and once housed at the park’s Ted Leaver Information Centre.

One day they disappeared, however, and when Hodgson later came back he discovered the center had been shut down.

He asked city hall to investigate the whereabouts of the binders, but to no avail. They were gone.

Hodgson and St. Amand decided to find out what happened. While working on the street name project St. Amand was referred to guy named Jack Fraser who was known to be an expert on Canatara. St. Amand asked in passing if he knew about the missing binders, and Fraser replied he not only know about them, he was their author.

“I’ve lived on Lake Chipican Drive all my life,” Fraser told The Journal, adding neighbours who had lived in Sarnia longer than he had were the source of the information.

He became involved with the Canatara Park Preservation Volunteers and was tasked with writing the park’s history. He visiting the registry office, the library, and read newspapers issue by issue.

“Instead of just writing what other people said, I wanted to go back to the original sources and find out the details,” he said.

The binders contain little known stories about the park, such as the aggregate company that was preparing to turn it into a gravel pit but went bankrupt during Great Depression.

How Lake Chipican was named for an Ojibwa woman named Chip-Can, which translates as Lake of the Root.

Then there’s the amusement park that opened on the west side of the lake in 1876, and how a wildlife reserve was created to protect the oak woods and cattail marshes that encircled the pond on three sides.

“The park was created in 1933, but before that, all kinds of things happened in that territory,” Fraser said.

With permission from the city parks department, Hodgson and St. Amand were finally able to get into the former Ted Leaver Information Centre.

“We just started digging around in cupboards,” St. Amand remembers. “Sure enough, on the lower floor, tucked inside a closet, were those binders. Dean almost had a heart attack.”