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Canyonville, Oregon

by Foster Church on February 9, 2011

Canyonville, population 1800, is 200 miles south of Portland on Interstate 5. You’ll know you’ve arrived when the sprawling Seven Feathers Casino appears on the east side of the highway. Canyonville is really two towns. There’s the casino, a bright, jangly place of slots and lounge singers. Then there’s the real town, best reflected in the business district a mile or so down the road from the casino. It’s threadbare and wizened, but for all that, like an old logger, it’s still a spunky kind of place. At this writing, there are two antiques shops, a bead shop couple of cafes and a natural foods store. For my money, the browsing in this part of town is better than at the casino, but judging from the casino parking lot, I’m in the minority.

History: Jesse and Lindsay Applegate camped here in 1846 on their way south to scout what became the Applegate Trail. The trail avoided the treacherous passage down the Columbia River near the end of the Oregon Trail, but it also forced settlers to struggle, wet and exhausted for days, through the rocky Umpqua Canyon. By 1851, a small log cabin was built to sell tobacco, whiskey and other essentials to the settlers. The past is on display at the Pioneer & Indian Museum, located on the west side of the freeway at 521 W. 5th St. Its location, in what looks like a warehouse, is modest, but its got a collection that includes gowns, children’s toys, and the contents  of a physician’s bag.  The most moving item is a flag sewn by Canyonville women in 1862. It appears to be linen, 20 feet long by 9 feet by 10 inches wide. The 34 stars are irregular, like real stars, cut by hand.  May of the women who made this flag probably endured the terrible journey through the canyon.

Shop ‘til you Reach the End of the Street: Like many small freeway towns, Canyonville attracts antiques dealers and two of them have established shops on Main Street. Serious shopping can also be pursued at South Umpqua Valley Arts (or SUVA) and Bead Mecca that inhabit two connecting shops. The bead shop stocks a huge inventory of beads used for jewellery and crafts. The SUVA store serves as a cooperative gallery for the artists and craftspeople that hole up in the town and in the lovely surrounding countryside. The work includes textiles, pottery glass, wood, photography and jewellery.

Meet This Man: Down the street from SUVA and the bead shop is Promise Natural Foods and Bakery owned by Javelin Ormond. He’s a beefy, avuncular guy, the very picture of the small town baker that he is. His store gives off an unmistakable hippie vibe, not unusual in southern Oregon. Hippies flocked to Oregon in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, settling in places like Takilma and Wolf Creek farther south. Ormond recalls hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Canada in 1971 and stopping at the store. He bought it in 1986. Baking became his love, his life, his career, his release and his refuge.  All his breads and pastries are natural grain, and he goes light on the sugar.  During holiday season, he will make 500 or so cookies a day as well as holiday breads like panettone. He admits that for the latter, he breaks his whole grain rule and uses white flour.  Like most hippies, who settled into a life of familoy and entrepreneurship, Ormond has become a pillar of the community.

“For a long time, I was just a crazy hippy on the corner,” he says. “But now I’m mainstream.”

Stay and Eat: No question, the Seven Feathers Hotel offers the best rooms and best value in town, but if you are here to soak in the atmosphere of a little Oregon town, this place is like staying in Reno. The Valley View Motel and the Riverside Lodge, both not far from the casino, will do in a pinch, but the rooms are small and showing their age. There’s also a Best Western and in the downtown, the Leisure Inn.  The latter offers nicely remodelled rooms and a sense that you are really in Canyonville.

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