Step Back to 1860s Rural Ontario...
A Visit to Upper Canada Village
by Sharon Harrison
Upon entering the grounds of Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg, it is immediately apparent the place is a little different to most other communities. There is peacefulness in the air; the soft chirping of the birds can be heard above the din as hoards of excited school children gather nearby. There is activity as village folk toil, and yet the pace of life is different and the busyness doesn’t feel rushed. As leafy trees sway in the breeze of a different time, there is tranquility and an unusual charm about the place. Welcome to the year 1866.
No time machine is required as you step back to 1860s rural Ontario. The unique village setting is an extraordinary accomplishment, and brings together a group of authentically-historic buildings making up the working village. Run by The St. Lawrence Parks Commission, the village, nestled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, was formed in 1961. The village was created using many of the heritage buildings, moved here several years earlier, and saved from flooding during construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Seaway project saw a number of small riverside communities and villages disappear as a result of the massive engineering undertaking—those villages are now known as the Lost Villages.
The scene may be a man-made, created history, but the forty-plus historic structures form a very accurate portrayal of life in the 1860s. The many buildings on site—many functioning just as they would have in the 1860s—are solidly rustic in their construction and include a chapel, a tavern and livery, two farms and two mills. There is a doctor’s house, the Masonic lodge, a church, a hotel and a general store. The skilled craftspeople include a broommaker, a dressmaker and a shoemaker. The village offers an insight into a time many have never before experienced: this little slice of local history is show-and-tell meets time travel meets historical interpretation.
The aroma of freshly-baked bread emanates from the red-frame building; the distinctive homely fragrance wafts through the village on a daily basis. Baked in a traditional brick oven, the bread is made from flour ground in the flour mill. Would you like some cheese to go with the bread? Visit the cheese factory to see how cheese was made in the 19th century using methods and equipment of the time. The embers at the blacksmith’s workshop are always glowing red hot. Visit the forge to watch the blacksmith as he creates metalwork—from horseshoes to weathervanes to hinges. Interested in knowing how the weekly newspaper was put together back in the 1860s? The printing office will show how the typesetters individually placed the lead letters to create the text of the newspaper. If you are fascinated to know how an oil lamp or a pail is made, drop by the tinsmith and he will show you how.
Everything from the garb of the villagers, to the contents of the homes and stores, to the many tools and equipment of the trades, is an accurate representation of mid-19th century rural Ontario. From the method of bread making, to the wood planing in the saw mill, to the way the farmer works his oxen in the field, all are true to the period. Many of the custodians of the stores and trades will indulge the visitor: the act, customs and language of the costumed interpreters unmistakably reminiscent of the time. From the horse and buggy gently clip-clopping along the dirt path, to the horses grazing in an adjacent field, it is as if the occupants know they exist in a different time.
While the experience does include static exhibits, most of the set up is real life, with hands-on, interactive and functioning operations. The dedicated staff and volunteers form an integral part of the village atmosphere, proudly showcasing their special village and ensuring visitors leave feeling enthralled by the day’s adventures. Upper Canada Village provides not just an educational experience, but allows a glimpse of what life may have been like for our ancestors. There is a feeling of curiosity and a touch of nostalgia for a simpler time. You can take a trip on the miniature train as it travels along the river. The Moccasin is a scaled replica of an 1860s locomotive: red, grey and black with shiny chrome gleaming in the summer sunshine. For something a little different, take a trip on the horse drawn tow scow: the large, flat-hulled barge is pulled along the canal bank by a horse.
While regular programming runs through to mid-September, Upper Canada Village offers many special events throughout its season including a haunted walk tour and a civil war re-enactment. Don’t forget the unique Pumpkinferno in October, and completing the year, the ever-popular Alight At Night. A very unique and exciting attraction, Upper Canada Village is one of the largest living-history sites in Canada. The enchantment will delight every member of the family as it offers a genuine insight into the fascinating world of daily working life 150 years ago.
www.uppercanadavillage.com I 1-800-437-2233