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The Fryfogel Tavern was so much more than a drinking spot.
A stopping point for the region’s earliest settlers, the tavern is a crucial piece of local history.
The Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation is on a mission to share the space – and all of its tales – with residents in the community and beyond.
Built in 1844, the tavern is now used for all sorts of educational programs, including an annual pioneer program for Grade 3 students.
For the first time, the facility will be open through the summer months, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It’s free to visit, though donations are welcome.
Thanks to the Canada Summer Jobs program, the tavern will have two summer students leading tours and diving into research.
“It’s significant to how everything else came around – the roots in the area, really,” said Jake Dickey, a St. Marys resident and one of the summer students.
Both co-workers are history buffs, excited to spent time in a place so steeped in Perth County culture and heritage.
“You get to be in here and you kind of feel the years this building has seen. I think that’s important for people to experience,” said summer student Justina Reinhart.
But for many driving along Hwy 7/8, the Fryfogel Tavern is just a commuter landmark. Dickey and Reinhart have already seen a number of visitors come through the doors, including one descendant of Sebastian Fryfogel, who built the tavern in 1844.
“Hopefully getting more people in can kind of be the beginning of momentum growing, and excitement growing for what’s going on here,” said board director Kathryn Haynes.
There are lots of projects to complete at the centuries-old tavern in order to turn it into a popular historical hub.
That’s why the tavern is competing in a contest among heritage sites called This Place Matters.
The campaign emphasizes both votes and donations. Every dollar contributed also counts as a vote. The national winner will take home a $30,000 prize and regional leaders could win $15,000 – money the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation (SPHF) would put towards electrical work.
“The classic story is that anybody who comes to visit has driven by it for years and never been able to come in. It’s an important building and could be a good part of the community, but we need some work done inside,” said Barry Nowak, SPHF president.
The building is very “raw,” Haynes said. There are no washroom facilities, it can’t accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, and the lack of lighting makes rainy day activities somewhat challenging.
A renovation last year added a modern room – with lights – on the upper level. That’s now home to a photo display and a great place for programming.
But the rest of the facility is outdated, Nowak said.
“It doesn’t have electrical at all or lighting at all. A lot of those pieces are missing or old and removed,” he said. “We’re trying for the electrical upgrades that would make the building more accessible and useful to everybody. That’s the next major step, getting hydro back in there.”
Their crowdfunding goal is $8,000, and those donations will come to the SPHF whether or not they win the contest.
Nowak said it’s an important historical site that the foundation wants to share with the wider community.
Though it operated as a tavern between 1844 and 1867 – that ended when the railroad was built and drastically reduced traffic along the route – the building was home to a whole lot more.
“It was not only a place for shelter along the Huron Tract,” said Reinhart. “(Taverns) had a big influence on shaping the culture.”
Similar resting places were constructed every 20 miles along the Huron Tract, she said, so it was a day’s journey to find anything like the Fryfogel Tavern.
“Taverns provided a place for people to drink together, socialize together, and a place for people with mixed identities to come together and bond over food and alcohol.”
Voting in the contest ends July 17. Donate to the campaign or vote at https://thisplacematters.ca/project/electrical-update-phase-two.
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