Did you know Walt Disney’s family has history in Canada? We’re looking back at the Canadian roots of Walt Disney’s father, with stops at some iconic landmarks that hold a place in Disney history.
I am a person who tries to find Disney magic beyond the parks. From Disney on Ice to the Disney Animation Immersive Experience to once upon a time visiting Disney stores, I do my best to locate different events, all to experience the magic of Disney while living in Canada.
While in pursuit of the magic one afternoon, as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I came across a post by the Walt Disney Family Museum:
“On this day in 1859 in Bluevale, Ontario, Canada, Walt’s father Elias Disney was born. Elias lived a rugged pioneer life, moving around the United States and trying his hand at a variety of trades.”
Walt Disney’s father was Canadian? I couldn’t believe it! This led me to wonder just how far back these Canadian-Disney roots really went and if Walt had any other connections to the country I call home.
The Disney Family’s History in Canada
I started to do some research. I learned that Elias Disney left Canada at the age of 20 to accompany his father to a farm in Kansas. Though this was where the Canadian roots ended, I was curious to learn more about the Disney family and their life in Canada.
I also discovered that Walt himself traveled to Canada in 1947 to visit where his father grew up and where his ancestors once lived. It was at this moment I knew I wanted to travel to this area and find these places myself. I decided I was going to take a similar trip to Walt Disney’s, and I was going to try and find the same locations he had visited.
As exciting as this sounded, I quickly ran into a problem: though I knew which places Walt had visited, some of their exact locations were unknown. I started to dig deeper into my research to find out where these places actually were. With the sources I was able to find and with the assistance of the Huron County Museum (shout out to archivist Michael Molnar for all their amazing research support), I was able to narrow down where Walt would have roughly visited during his trip.
Now knowing where I needed to go, I mapped out the following route and began my journey:
Disney History in Bluevale, Ontario
I began my trip in Bluevale, where I hoped to find the Bluevale Post Office, which is where Walt stopped in to enquire where he could find the Disney homestead. I was, unfortunately, unable to find the post office, but I already knew where to go in order to find the Disney homestead property.
Kepple Disney and Mary Richardson (Walt’s grandparents) purchased a farm in Bluevale on lots 27 and 28. Thanks to Huron County’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) services, I was able to find where these lots are located today, and I was able to drive by these lots. The old Disney homestead didn’t appear to still be standing, but it was fascinating to know that this land was once where the family home was located and where Elias Disney lived for part of his life.
Disney History in Holmesville, Ontario
I next made my way to Holmesville, which is where Arundel Elias Disney (Walt’s great-grandfather) built one of the earliest saw and grist mills in the area. Arundel, his wife Maria, and his older brother, Robert Disney, with his wife, sold their properties in Ireland and immigrated to America. From here, Elias made his way to Upper Canada and settled in this area. The property he purchased was said to be located on lots 38 and 39 on Maitland Concession. Once again, GIS services came to the rescue, and I was able to find the exact location of these lots.
Not far from these lots is where Disney Road can be found, most likely a nod to the family that once lived in this area.
Disney History in Goderich, Ontario
As I headed towards Goderich, Ontario, I stopped in at the Maitland Cemetery along the way. This is where Arundel’s brother, Robert Disney and his wife Jane Cooke (Walt’s great uncle and aunt) were buried. The cemetery is quite large and even though I already had the section and plot number, a map was still very much needed to figure out where to find Robert and Jane’s final resting place.
Thanks to the cemetery mapping documents I was able to obtain from the Ontario Genealogical Society, I was able to find their gravesite.
Goderich was my final destination for this road trip, but the location I was trying to find in this town proved to be one of the toughest. Again, thanks to the amazing research conducted by archivist Michael Molnar, we were able to find where lot 275 was located, which is where Kepple Disney and Mary Richardson (Walt’s grandparents) were once tenants of a home in town.
It was during this time living in Goderich that Elias attended Central Public School. This location was much easier to locate as the school is now a part of the Huron County Museum. Walt visited this school during his trip, and he even took some time to draw some cartoons for the students. This final stop concluded my Canadian-Disney history road trip.
What I found most interesting during this trip was that there were no monuments or plaques of any sort in sight to identify that any of these locations I had visited were, in fact, a part of Walt Disney’s family history. As I mentioned earlier, some locations were difficult to uncover, and perhaps with some of them being private property, this may have something to do with their lack of identification.
But maybe this is why the trip felt a little sacred. It was as if this Disney fan was being let in on a best-kept Canadian secret. Knowing that I was traveling to the same places Walt had when he made his trip up to Canada all those years ago also made this experience feel that much more special. Yes, you can visit Disneyland and make your way around the park as Walt had done so many times, but having walked the same steps out in the middle of nowhere to find his family roots, it had an entirely different feel to it and one I hope other Canadian Disney fans will venture out to experience for themselves.
Disney magic really can be found beyond the parks, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, and sometimes right in your own backyard.