Sometimes people drop the nicest things in your mailbox. Last week I got a photo and a message from Pat McFarlane. Thanks Pat! It was all about the Storyland Bunny that sits in my yard.
Keep sending those memories in!!
The Storyland Bunny was a great joy to their family and visitors. John and her husband Richard ( Dick) met when we were all much younger before children at the Bank of Montreal. In those days we all got transferred often and kept track of our friends.
We visited John and Maria in Renfrew on our honeymoon ( before Storyland) and we kept in touch when he lost Maria.
The boys on the top left are Richard (Toronoto) and Kevin (Carleton Place).The young boy in red I have no idea.
Ronald (Toronto)- Girl in yellow top is Kristal, Carleton Place.
Tammy Marion emailed me on Saturday wondering if I knew our family’s Storyland Bunny had once been beheaded. Yes, I knew well that the rabbit sitting in my yard had been ‘Marie Antoinetted” ….
Apparently the white water rafting ‘kids’ down the road from Storyland on Storyland Road sometimes created acts of sabotage, including at least one beheading suffered by the five-metre-high fibreglass rabbit that welcomed visitors to the park. Storyland was the first man-made major tourist attraction in Renfrew County. The only other major attraction at that time was the Bonnechere Caves.
Storyland was founded in 1966 by Durk and Bonnie Heyda, immigrants from the Netherlands. The first figures were built in their basement; later ones were made by an artist. Berkhout bought Storyland in 1975 when his friend, Durk, grew ill: Raised in Holland during the Second World War, Berkhout had a difficult childhood. He visited the park and fell in love.
But in 1978, tragedy struck when his wife, Maria, was killed in a car accident, leaving him with five children. The business suffered until he remarried in 1983. Together, with a brood of nine children, he and Nancy rebuilt. By 1989, attendance was up to 40,000. When Berkhout retired in 2008, he sold the park to Todd Mattila-Hamilton, an Ottawa businessman who intended to inject new life into it “I saw potential,” says Mattila-Hamilton, 37. “That’s a classic attraction that has a built-in following.” Then the global economy collapsed, investment dollars dried up and he got cancer. “I haven’t had the strength to run the business. Storyland closed at the end of the 2011 season, which saw about 20,000 visitors. He put it on the market but was unsuccessful in finding a buyer interested in storytelling.
Dick Heyda had heard the “legend” of the monster of Muskrat Lake, near Renfrew, and worked all winter making a fibre glass “replica” of it according to a description (second or third hand) given by a Cobden man who claimed to have seen it. The 28-foot Hapyxelor, as he called it, was put on display in a prime spot in Storyland 40 acres of bush laced with trails and huge hand-made fairy tale characters overlooking the Ottawa River at Champlain Point, near Renfrew. read– Lake Monsters–Hapyxelor, Nessie, the Monster of Muskrat Lake
If Hapyxelor was largely a figment of many imaginations, no one seemed to mind. Heyda and his wife Bonnie worked long and hard to make it that way. They made the woods come alive with fairy tales. The fibre glass characters in clusters represented 30 different stories and in the middle of it all is Heyda’s own brainchild, Dr. Goodkind, who cared for all the Storyland inhabitants in Goodkind hospital. Many of the characters talked in both French and English and some, like the Pied Piper, come with sound effects.
In 1990 there were over 200 figures and 40 storyland settings including the wicked witch’s house, Mary’s growing garden, the Madhatter’s tea party and the old lady living in a shoe. Many of the settings had moving parts, activated by pressing a button.
John Berkhout, who died on May 30, 2022 at the age of 81, owned and operated the Storyland theme park near Renfrew for more than three decades, from 1975 until he sold it in 2008. There, more than one million visitors and generations of families came to walk its fairytale paths.
All stories come to an end. After 45 years of delight and imagination, the three-dimensional figures were dispersed at an auction that my son and I attended in the pouring rain. The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, Little Miss Muffet and the Pied Piper were are now “chattels” sold to the highest bidder, along with the candy floss machine, picnic tables and inflatable slides. On the auction block: Two 12-foot-high fibre-glass rabbits, Porky’s Bandstand, the Cow Who Jumped Over The Moon, Storyland Windmill, Crooked Man and Crooked House, the Lion and the Mouse and more.
Every day I look out the window and remember that Storyland belonged to children and those that were young at heart like myself. It was the world of books, of summer, of Sunday drives, the family together for a special trip. Anticipation would build during the drive, along a twisting road off Highway 17 west of Ottawa. Giant ice cream cones with child-size alcoves stood as sentry boxes by the path from the parking lot. Once the kids and I got there we never wanted to leave, even though we went there many times. I am sad that my grandchildren will never experience Storyland, but one of the remains still lives in my yard.
The Balderson Cheese Cow- that stood beside the old Balderson Cheese place on HIghway 7 for years in my yard..
As you know the Balderson Cow is nicknamed Baldy Welsh after Carleton Place’s iconic paddler from the Canoe Club. The Storyland Bunny is now named the Storyland Ballygiblin Bunny now he is residing in Carleton Plac
Perry the powerhouse of the production– All Photos by Schuyleur (Skyler) Seccaspina– that was his job– like his mother– photographer and document for history.
It began about 9 pm last night on Lake Ave. East in Carleton Place. I came downstairs not wanting to watch the Warriors game and there my two sons were in the garage with heavy tools. I immediately thought some repossession deal might be coming down. I don’t know what goes on these days with all these TV reality shows– who knows what’s going to be ravaged and plundered.
Being a concerned mother I asked them point blank why one had an axe and the other one had a giant plundering tool which some call a mallet. They said they needed them and nothing else was said. When your kids are over 30 you don’t ask and just hope to heck you don’t get a call at 3 am in the morning. I waved goodbye and called it a day.
At 10:45 PM my sons return asking for the front gate key. Okay… and then I said, “Am I getting the Storyland Bunny to look after?” Last time I asked Sky for said bunny was the day of the Storyland auction, and I knew the word “No” was always on the table. Perry being the muscle of the production roared up the street in a tiny bulldozer and all of us stood there being eaten by mosquitoes while he wheeled Mr. Bunny in. Steve was trying to cut a big Pine branch down and Perry just yelled,”Lower it a bit!” and he snapped it in half. Canadian Tire should use Perry as their advertising man for their power tools. He would give that guy “Gary” a run for his money.
The boys are always busy looking after their Dad’s business and and leasing and space at Motorhouse has been rented to Ford (across the street) now by the family company Maniplex. Stay tuned, the boys are always up to something, and I knew their Dad would be happy to see the Bunny moved to the family home yard. Mom most certainly is.
Thanks Sky and Perry for allowing me to babysit him– Mum is thrilled. As Steve says: “There is never a dull moment around here at Hi Diddle Day House!”
As you know the Balderson Cow is nicknamed Baldy Welsh after Carleton Place’s iconic paddler from the Canoe Club. The Storyland Bunny is now named the Storyland Ballygiblin Bunny now he is residing in Carleton Place. Thanks Ted Hurdis and a high five from Lynette Stanfield!
Selena ConnahWe were wondering what the noise was! I can’t wait to show my kids that it’s there and my daughter will be happy she always says the cow needed a friend lol!
Supergirl Jess Irvine sent me this video from today’s Kiss 105.3 Ottawa morning show. She missed most of the interview– but they were chatting about the former Storyland Bunnies. I have written about them until the cows come home, as they were part of many childhoods from the Ottawa Valley and need to be remembered.
If you live in the Carleton Place area, or are even driving up Highway 7 you can see the original Storyland Bunny on the lot of Motorhouse car dealership staring at the Thruway Restaurant. Why is he staring at the Thruway Restaurant? Quite simple– there were those among us that felt the iconic bunny was scary or disconcerting. Excuse me? So my son Schuyleur Seccaspina, who owns that bunny, moved it from the front of the lot to the side to please the folks. The perfect location would be in my yard– but he is having none of that.
My sons Schuyleur and Perry 1990 at Storyland–Linda Seccaspina
Nicki LaFramboise has the second bunny at the first ‘glamping’ site in Eastern Ontario. ELEMENTS LUXURY TENT CAMPING is located on the former STORYLAND site, about a hour west of Ottawa– so no one need to worry–the bunnies are in good hands–but again one of them ( I am looking at you my son) would look great in my front yard. (nudge nudge wink wink say no more say no more)
It was a sad day when that auction happened in 2013. It poured rain all day as each item was auctioned off piece by piece. I documented it as I wanted people to remember what we once had. After all, sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
So thanks to Kiss 105.3 for bringing up what was once great and be thankful we had childhood memories like these before technology took over.
Jennifer Hudebine Derstroff sent me an email about a hot topic on Carleton Place Moms on Facebook last week that was initiated by Tamara Hill. It was all about the two ceramic geese that used to sit in front of a house near the arena on Neelin Street. If my old laptop had not died I would have a picture of those ducks– but nothing is forever right?
Karen Fleming Ferguson
For those who were asking about the geese, we wanted to let you know that they have settled into their new home at Carleton Place Childcare Services. Staff have organized their clothing and they are now sporting new outfits! See a frew outfits belwo
My son Schuyleur loved the Storyland Bunny so much he bought it when Storyland closed and it sits at his car dealership Motorhouse on Highway 7. Some people don’t really get what things mean, and after some complained ‘that it was too scary’ he had to move it over on the side that faces The Thruway restaurant.
Sky and Perry 1990
Sky and Perry 2013
2016 Storyland Bunny at Motorhouse on Highway 7 Carleton Place
The older folk in Carleton Place will remember the Rubber Tree on High Street in the 50s or the Alligator sign that sat in the former clay pits/ swamp just before the corner of McNeely and Lake Ave East where the new condos are.
Thankfully that Alligator sign was saved, and you can still see it in the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum ‘lobby”. I got a new sign made up when the other was ‘expropriated’– but Ralph Shaw had to take it down. Again things don’t last forever.
So what happened to those geese that are no longer sitting on those steps on Neelin Street? Did the original owners know how many people counted on seeing the geese? Some even said that families used to drive by that house specifically on their way to and from hockey to see what they were wearing.
As the ladies quizzed each other on the Facebook group Kate Lackey mentioned they had been for sale and Kels Uden’s mum had bought them and they were now sitting at the front door of Carleton Place Childcare Services (Arklan) safe and sound. One of them even dons a life jacket now– and believe me these geese have something to wear every single day by looking at the boxes of clothing that came with them!
Some memories never fade– and even though things move, or photos are gone- the memories still last forever. We don’t remember days– we remember moments– especially those from our childhood. The Neelin Street Geese now have their very own forever spot and their fans are thrilled. Thanks to all those that cared!
My Granddaughter Sophia with them -September 2016
Talking about geese? Don’t forget to buy Carleton Place author Natasha Peterson’s new book Gayle the Goose Goes Global and her other books at:
I wrote a funny story about a privy/outhouse called Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in my first book Menopausal Woman From the Corn. Did you know that outhouses were once topped by a cupful of ashes? Rumour was the outhouse would always have a sweet earth smell with never an odor. Coal and trash ashes were supposed to be good as well. When we tore down the carriage house at our home there was also a hidden privy in there. How many privys were in Carleton Place? I am sure every home had one prior to 1900.
This is the privy at Heritage House in Smith’s Falls. This rare 2-storey privy was easily accessible for those late night visits. There are two shafts, the upper one being placed to the right side of the privy, and the bottom one placed further to the left side. A common wall separated the two shafts. The bottom portion of the privy was reached through a door on the outside of the building.
If you are not aware, Renfrew resident and woman extraordinaire Nikki LaFramboise bought Storyland and is turning it into a glamping site called: Elements Luxury Tented Camp and Nature Spa. For people who don’t know what that is: glamping is glamorous camping. Elements will be a luxury tented camp or outdoor hotel. Eventually, there is hope to construct a rendition of Scandinavian bath on the property for a spa type setting. The tents will be large with the smallest one at 14-by-16 feet and come furnished like a hotel with white linens, wood furniture and even a luxurious house coat.
So why am I talking about Storyland? Well, not only have I written about the memories often —a lot of the population of Carleton Place used to visit the former Storyland on a frequent basis. Nikki has insisted on restoring and keeping the original ‘settings” of Storyland as best she can. Not only that–Nikki has reinvented the old privy which means– it must be trendy and in vogue. Remember that Mississippi Lake cottagers before you put your fancy bathrooms in!
Nikki LaFramboise—“Afternoon Storyland project: outhouse reno! I’ll finish up tomorrow with professional finishes like rod iron accessories and only the finest 2ply.”
This is no small feat to restore Storyland, but if you have an incredible imagination to think big, and the courage and determination like Nikki– well, she will make it happen for us all to enjoy!
Because of this monstrous job Nikki is doing for everyone I dedicate this Bonnechere Manor Resident Choir video from Renfrew Ontario to her!