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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
Hamilton, P.E.I., woman encourages kids to get outside and use their imaginations
It's like a set right out of "A Fistful of Dollars", "Cat Ballou", or any John Wayne Movie – there's a saloon, a jailhouse and games for cowboys and cowgirls.
Located in Hamilton, P.E.I., Elaine Clarke opened MacGregor Old West Town and Petting Farm farm two years ago to get kids using their imaginations and into the great outdoors.
"Kids can come out and see the animals and get a new experience," said Clarke.
Growing up on a farm just down the road, Clarke remembers the freedom that came with it.
"They'd kick us [kids] out of the house in the morning, the only rule was we had to be off the roads by dusk. In that case, we'd take to the field," she said. "We were the hired hands for dad, and we loved it."
By 1991, Clarke was facing the possibility of leaving the Island.
"At that time, you were either a farmer's wife or you worked at the hospital. Those were the two major things. By the time I left the Island, I was working five jobs at a time and certain I would never get a full-time (position)."
Then the opportunity to work in the United States surfaced.
Clarke lived in South Carolina for two years before moving to Florida, where she would work as a nurse and in medical facilities until she returned to the Island.
But how did the Old West town come to be?
Clarke says it all started with a dream. Literally.
"It all started when I had that terrible dream," she said, laughing.
In her dream, which she had in 2015, Clarke was at her favourite place on her brother's farm just up the road.
"I was out where the brook ran along the property. The only way back to the farm was by horseback, walking or hopping on a carriage pulled by a horse."
She said she couldn't shake the feeling the dream had left behind.
"It was crazy. It was the being awake part and not being able to get it out of my head. I'd be at work sending labs to the doctor and going through files and the whole time I'd just keep thinking about all of the different things I could do."
For the next two summers, Clarke, now in her 60s, would visit the Island looking for suitable properties for the old west town.
Eventually, she settled on the former Riley horse ranch near the Cheese Factory Road.
"I knew it was available. It was more money than I wanted to spend, but it's the perfect location. It's great for tourists on their way to Cabot Park and the beaches in Malpeque. My brother's place is just down the road."
Animals at MacGregor Old West Town Petting Farm
- Miniature Donkeys
But unbeknownst to Clarke, she wasn't the only one with a dream.
"Mom was diagnosed [with cancer] in October 2018. By the end of November, she was gone. She had done everything right her whole life to stay healthy."
Following her mother's death, Clarke and her siblings found a book that contained entries from her mother about the various dreams and thoughts she had while she was sick. It didn't start with a date, but it had details about opening an old west town on the Island.
Clarke remembers the last time her mom came through the town before her death.
"She hugged all the animals. It was emotional, but she just loved it so much. I can remember her and dad sitting under one of the trees out front last summer," she said.
While the Journal Pioneer was chatting with Clarke, three patrons stopped by the farm to take in the experience.
"We are only on the Island for a couple of days and we were looking to do something different. And we're all stupid about animals," said Ann Wainwright with a chuckle, reflecting on the town.
"Anything you can do to catch [kids'] attention is important. Kids spend so much time with [technology]. It's important for them to get out and interact with each other and animals."
Now open for its second summer, the town is about to celebrate its first birthday.
"On Father's Day, the whole family was over. The kids were playing shoot-em'-up, the people who thought they could sing were singing, we had a campfire going. I was out with the kids since I can't sing. It was great," said Clarke. "This was how I grew up, I'm hoping other people see the fun in it."
Fun and games at MacGregor Old West Town Petting Farm
- Life in the town
- Barrel Train ride
- Bean bag toss
- Cattle roping
- Haunted coal mine