The community of West Montrose has had quite a storied past, from famous codebreakers to murder-suicides. Those interested will have the opportunity to learn more during Sunday afternoon’s historical tour at the 10th annual neighbourhood barbecue hosted by the BridgeKeepers.
“We’ve never done a historical tour for the residents,” said Tony Dowling, BridgeKeepers spokesperson. “It’s really about the history of the core of the village. So for example… most of this stuff is in the news at one time or another, but the house immediately to the south of Letson Park, it was a scene of a murder-suicide back in the late 40s. It was a lovers’ triangle, and five people were killed.”
The incident that deeply impacted the community occurred in 1947, with community association member Hans Pottkamper referring to it as the town’s “darkest day.”
The history is not entirely ominous, however.
William Tutte was a well-known British codebreaker and mathematician. He made significant breakthroughs in decrypting major Nazi Germany cipher systems during the Second World War, as well as contributing important research into the field of graph theory.
“Will Tutte did codebreaking behind the Lost Acre Variety store in the yellow brick house,” explained Dowling. “He broke the code on a much more difficult encryption machine than the ones featured in the film ‘Enigma.’”
There are plenty of other features that this historical tour will cover, including a sawmill on the south side of the river, and a barn that was previously a storage shed.
The BridgeKeepers aims to do this to raise awareness of the historical significance of the area. The location chosen for the barbecue itself, Letson Park, has been a project of the group for quite some time.
“We have worked on improving this location over the years, so we now have more tourist facilities,” said Pottkamper. “We have a second porta-potty, and we’ve got extra picnic tables; we had two before, now it’s six.”
“We planted some trees, the township planted some trees, the township put in a chain-link fence that we’re not too keen on,” added Dowling with a laugh. “But they replaced an old, falling down fence that was there. And there’s some planting of some hedges and shrubs, too.”
Dowling said this determination to improve the park is due to the substantial increase in traffic around West Montrose.
“What we had 10 years ago is nowhere near adequate today,” he said. “We had about 50,000 people a year, eight or nine years ago, and we’re certainly much more than that now, in terms of visitors and guests.”
The BridgeKeepers is a not-for-profit group dedicated to preserving the heritage of West Montrose Covered Bridge. They have 60 members that hold meetings once a month. In addition, they hosted several public events like the barbecue every year.
“So we try to do at least two good events a year,” said Pottkamper. “There is a Christmas Carol sing as well as the barbecue, and we try to do road clean-ups periodically, and also maintain the bridge.”
There is also a golf day that the group hosts in the summertime.
The barbecue is set for Sunday (September 9) from 1-4 p.m. at Letson Park, located at the corner of Rivers Edge Drive and Letson Drive.