Skip to content

Howdy! This Ontario backyard is a wild tribute to the Old West

Mike and Shelley Duval love welcoming visitors to their backyard village. Shelley jokes that since retiring, 'we just play in the yard now'

For Mike and Shelley Duval, each day is like a visit to the Old West.

The retired Penetanguishene couple have put their combined passions for carpentry, creativity and the fabled American mid- and southwest to good use with a village that one almost has to see to believe.

One can imagine if Hollywood legend Kevin Costner ever happened into this Georgian Bay town, that he would seek out the Duvals since he also shares a penchant for this indelible slice of the American history pie.

From a general store that once served as a storage shed to storefronts for a livery, undertaker, dentist and even a newspaper, the Duval’s backyard feels like something out of a classic western.

It began two years ago with a simple idea to highlight Shelley’s passion for the American southwest and Mike’s carpentry skills and has grown exponentially thanks to the couple’s vision to create something special that they can share with others.

“We don’t charge anything and people can take pictures,” says Shelley, whose love for the American southwest extends to the couple’s living room, complete with a giant cactus.

“We want everyone to feel welcome.”

The Duvals have been married for 54 years. And like their marriage and the two children they raised together, the project is a full partnership filled with love, patience, understanding and the ability to fully explore their obvious creative and artistic talents.

“We work really well together,” she says.

Mike notes that they had mentioned during a get-together with their children they’d like to eventually add a wagon to the display.

“So, they found this wagon in London and got it for us as a present for our 50th wedding anniversary,” he says.

So far, they’ve welcomed more than 1,400 visitors to their backyard and hope to welcome many more over the coming years.

While Mike worked with a custom home-building company and has been involved with other carpentry projects, he spent 30 years of his career at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, a place that allowed him to hone his skills while ensuring his work on the site maintained a high level of authenticity.

That dedication to ensuring the building fronts and other items within their backyard project sport authentic looks is evident with even downspouts and wooden sidewalks carefully crafted to look like the Real McCoy.

Classes from nearby Burkevale Protestant Separate School where Shelley worked for nearly a quarter of a century are regular visitors as are others who’ve heard about the Duval’s work and wanted to see for themselves whether this dream-like world actually exists.

They even have costumes available for those interested in really becoming a part of the scene.

Shelley jokes about what they’ve been up to since retiring, noting: “We just play in the yard now.”

Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks