Who knew Vanastra could be so fun? As someone who grew up in this tiny town, I can assure you that I did not think so. However, over the past couple years I have seen a new devotion to trying to make Vanastra a better place to live. A new park, more regular events, community gardens, dedication to keeping the Recreation Centre, bringing in more business, and a desire to use its heritage to inspire interest have all been efforts put forth by Vanastra residents to encourage further development.
A big win for Vanastra happened this past Friday, when Canadian comedian and television star Jonny Harris came to town to put a spotlight on this forgotten historical town. Nominated for best television host on CBC’s ‘Still Standing’, Jonny is also well known for his role on the Canadian crime drama ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ as Constable Crabtree. His fun-loving and humorous nature has won the hearts of many Canadians across the country. It is no surprise that he drew over 300 locals out to enjoy some great laughs at the filming of ‘Still Standing’ featuring Vanastra as the once important town, now lost in history. This stand-up comedy routine not only featured Jonny Harris, but also performances by Fraser Young and Steve Dylan. Together these three comedians made the audience laugh until their cheeks hurt.
For this great Canadian comedy act, Harris immerses himself in small towns all across Canada and loves to bring comic relief to the folks who call these places home. He finds that he comes to appreciate each town for its uniqueness and that everywhere he goes the people love to laugh at themselves. The local Christian Reformed Church hosted this incredible event with a room packed – standing room only – with hundreds of locals who wanted to meet Jonny and enjoy the comradery of making light of Vanastra’s long-standing perception as the abandoned and fallen town.
Not many, including those who grew up in Vanastra, know the details of its history in helping in World War II with its radar technology. At the time it was established, Vanastra was a top secret base for the Allied Forces, built to train and supply over 7,000 technicians and support staff for Canada, Britain, and America. In fact, Vanastra was so top secret that not even those who built the entire town in 14 weeks knew what it was built for.
History screams from the walls of the nearly crumbling buildings. These stories are overlooked by the ruins left behind after the RCAF was done with the town. However, there are people like Diane Ryan and Maureen Dunsmore who are working hard to bring some of those stories back to life. Where Vanastra was once a place kept secret, it is now a town that the residents are shouting from the rooftops to take notice of – rooftops that Harris pointed out are not quite fit to to be standing on.
Although Vanastra may not be the happenin’ place that Diane and Maureen are striving for, it doesn’t mean that we can’t expect some great things from them in the future. As tourists coming to Huron County, this town may not seem like the No. 1 stop along the way, but keep your eyes open and perhaps one day the stories that are trapped in the abandoned buildings will be torn out and shared for the world to appreciate.