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12 interpretive signs highlight South River history

South River was considered the charcoal centre of Canada, and an area by South River was home to low-security risk German POWs during the Second World War
2022 south river interpretive signs
Don McArthur, clerk administrator with the Village of South River, at at one of 12 interpretive signs spread across the community. The signs were part of an Explore South River project. McArthur is at the Happy Landing site on Highway 124 which used to be home to the Happy Landing Truck Stop and Esso gas station. That land was transformed after the business closed and now houses a brewing company, a pharmacy, an electric vehicle recharging station and a sound art centre featuring sound-related art forms.

A project involving interpretive signs at several South River landmarks is being received well by the public.

And according to clerk administrator Don McArthur, the signs have also served as a learning gallery for some residents.

“People are very surprised to learn about some of the village’s history through the storyboards,” says McArthur.

One of those storyboards detailing a historical point for South River is on Highway 124 next to the South River Brewing Co. which the sign refers to as, the Happy Landing site.

McArthur says at one time South River had a number of gas stations well before the expanded four-lane Highway 11 was built and now the community is down to one.

One of the long-gone stations was the privately owned Happy Landing Truck Stop and Esso station which was a major stop for vehicles and included a restaurant.

The same strip of land is now home to the brewing company, in addition to a pharmacy and New Adventures in Sound Art building which features sound-related art exhibits.

The land also hosts a recharging station for electric vehicles.

“There’s a whole history of how the village developed that site from what was there with the previous owners to what’s there now,” McArthur said.

Visitors and tourists will find another interpretive sign at Tom Thomson Park, named after the famous artist associated with Canada’s Group of Seven.

“It used to be a former industrial site that was reclaimed and is now a beautiful park,” McArthur said.

A third interpretive sign is located at the former Train Station where decades ago the Ontario Northlander made a regular stop.

The building still stands today and part of it has been repurposed into a museum.

But the hope is it can once again serve as a drop-off and pick-up point for people as the provincial government continues to pursue plans to bring rail passenger service back to northern Ontario.

McArthur says the signs were put together by Todd Lucier, the co-founder of tourism company Northern Edge Algonquin and chair of the PARC Association, a non-profit group that helps promote the arts, recreation, and culture in the South River area.

The signs are part of the Explore South River project which Lucier and quite a few partners were instrumental in creating.

In total there are 12 interpretive signs spread across the village and when the public is reading the information, they are standing on the very spot where the history of what was once there occurred.

The information on the signs was collected by people going through the community archives and talking to local historians.

But in addition to the interpretive signs, Lucier and his group also created an app that holds far more information than what’s on the storyboards.

Lucier says cellphone users can download the app from the Google Play Store or the Apple app store.

He says once downloaded, the app shows the user the location of each storyboard  and touching the map icon takes the user to each sign where a person can read more about the site and get extended story information.

Lucier says the app contains a lot of information about South River and that information is in the palm of the user’s hands.

The app includes information on what’s happening in the region, the location of various trails and in some cases there are videos.

The website also showcases the same information.

Visiting the website will yield stories, like at one time why South River was considered the charcoal centre of Canada, and how an area by South River was home to low-security risk German prisoners of war during the Second World War.

The work that went into the project including all the information contained in the app garnered the Explore South River project a tourism award last fall.

See: North Bay woman receives Ontario Tourism Champion Award. South River takes home collaboration award

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.