by Festival Nomad "Scoop" Correspondent, Judi McWilliams
The following is an excerpt from the Discovery Harbour website. "Discovery Harbour traces its roots back to the original British naval and military base in Penetanguishene, built to safeguard access to Upper Canada after the War of 1812. "His Majesty's Naval Establishment on Lake Huron", (as it was first called) kept ships prepared to supply British posts to the northwest. By 1820, it was home to over 70 people, including sailors, officers, shipwrights, and soldiers. Five large ships, 15 smaller vessels, and numerous workshops and dwellings were built. In 1828, a British garrison on Drummond Island was relocated to Penetanguishene. By 1834, Canada was defended exclusively by these forces. An impressive stone Officers' Quarters was built in 1845. The military occupied the site until 1856."
"The following is a description of our tour of Discovery Harbour"
Ours To Discover...
The Festival Nomad and I love adventure! Over the years we had heard about a wonderful place to discover … Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene. This was going to be a great adventure, as Discovery Harbour is set on the beautiful shores of Penetanguishene Bay and features a historic naval establishment that operated during the 1817 to 1834 period. Our first glimpse of the site was breath taking! The sun shone brightly on the glistening water, and we could see majestic schooners docked below. Beautiful gardens and boardwalks welcomed us into the main building, where we picked up our comprehensive visitor brochure which to help guide us through the site. A gift shop and Captain Robert’s Table restaurant were to be discovered later, as we were excited to get to the schooners!
John Graves Simcoe...
The Bay is tucked around the entrance to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. It was in 1793, that Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe set about establishing a plan to develop a naval base to assist with an overall defence strategy, as a “back door” safeguard to Upper Canada during the War of 1812. The land was purchased from the Ojibway in 1795 and was well suited for the maintenance of ships during these times. The King’s Wharf provided a docking facility for schooners to transport supplies such as barrels and crates, and personnel. 1820 would be the peak of the Penetanguishene Naval Establishment and be home to more than 20 vessels. Today, the Festival Nomad and I were about to embark onto the replica deck of Tecumseh. We walked to the wooden plank and set foot on a massive deck with a maculate wooden deck, tall wooden mast polls, wide ropes and thick sails. We were able to venture below the deck and discover the intricate details of life below! A young sailor in period clothing talked with us about life during these times and guided us through questions we had about the H.M.S. Bee. This is a smaller vessel but just as amazing!
Walking the Site...
Our journey continued as we walked up from the Bay and started a quiet trip through the establishment. A Captain in full period clothing, Cocked Hat and all, greeted us along the way. He talked about the Jolly Boat – Le Canot that sat on the shore. His knowledge enhanced our visit, and we began to truly feel transported back in time. At this point, we wandered by the boatyard fire pit, and were greeted by a young lad in period clothing authentic to the times. He was covered with black sot as he was tending to the fire. We made the decision to continue our journey along the pathway closest to the shore. This way, we could look up at the heritage buildings on the upper part of the steep embankment. My favourite stop at Discovery Harbour might have been our stop at the “Home of the Fort Adjutant”. Here young interpreters in heritage clothing talked about the games children played during these years. The game “Snakes and Ladders” was explained by the interpreter and had a very distinct different meaning than the simple game that I had played as a child. The historic knowledge seemed to have been lost over the years. At this point, we shall leave you. There was much more to discover! I will remind you that bringing along a hat, sunscreen and cold water is a good idea for this journey! It was worth the voyage to Discovery Harbour!
Duscovery Harbour Visited...
"Kevin Stuart, one of our intrepid Festival Nomad Correspondents also visit Discovery Harbour. The following is his report."
by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart
Many areas of Ontario are rich with colourful tales of the past, particularly those places that were used as military strategy posts. One such location is Penetanguishene, located just northwest of Midland. The long steep sided water of Penetanguishene Bay lent itself well to maintaining ships in addition to being tucked around the entrance to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Purchased from the Ojibway in 1795, the area soon proved its importance to Upper Canada during the War of 1812. Beginning as a naval and later a military outpost, it was developed into a museum in the 1970’s. While none of the original structures remain from the time period, the buildings one now finds at Discovery Harbour were reconstructed from historic blueprints. While a great way to take a stroll, it should be noted that a few buildings may not be accessible to some as they are situated higher up the side of a hill. These include the Sailors’ Barracks and the Assistant Surgeon’s House. Inside, the barracks is laid out in a way that would accommodate six sailors during the summer months . Also displayed are leisure activities such as “quoits”, played by tossing rope rings at a board of nails on the wall. Picture horseshoes played vertically. Many of the kids including our son had a great time trying to hook the ropes and most did surprisingly well. A few of the sea shanties were also sung offering everyone to join in recreating the mood of the time.
All buildings are appointed with many of the furnishings and amenities that pertained to the rank and status of those who resided in the various buildings. In addition to the assistant surgeon’s house, one can view the inside of the Home of the Clerk-In-Charge, the Commanding Officer’s House and the Quarterman’s Office. The holder of that position oversaw the civilian personnel who worked on the various vessels that sailed in and out of the harbour.
One thing I noted was that, even without air conditioning, many of the old buildings retained a comfortable level of cool, despite the fact that it was a rather hot day. In fact, a fire was burning in the hearth at the Home of the Fort Adjutant. The period focused on is that of James Keating who was an active member of the Penetanguishene community. The original structure might have remained to this day except that it was burned to the ground in 1913. Again, the present structure was built from original photographs. The double fireplace and chimney were restored from the original house.
A newer building on the grounds is the North Visitor Centre which houses a ship display and ongoing exhibits. One feature of this centre that helps bring the past to life is an audio-visual presentation with a very colourful narrative of the adventures of those who sailed in and out of the area.
Of course, the full Discovery Harbour experience is not complete without a climb aboard the two ships anchored at the King’s Wharf. H.M.S. Bee was one of three major transport vessels at the Penetanguishene Naval Establishment in the early 1830’s. Today’s replica was completed in 1984 and has received a historic warrant. Many visitors today may find the lower deck area very confining, a reminder as to how much smaller people were two centuries ago.
Slightly more accommodating to those of larger stature is the lower deck of H.M.S. Tecumseh, which sits almost adjacent to the Bee. The original was a supply ship on Lake Erie prior to joining the Penetanguishene Naval Establishment. The replica was completed in 1993 and was reinstated as an honourary ship in the Royal Navy. Visitors here can also be put to work swabbing the deck which we learned was as much about preserving the wood as maintaining cleanliness. My son and others seemed to be having a ball performing this task. Perhaps imagining themselves on a ship may encourage kids to hold the same attitude at home!
We also learned of how another etiquette practice began. Below deck is where sailors ate on swinging tables. In order to keep their plates from sliding during a voyage they used to hold them in place with their elbows. Since society considered them to be among the lowest of the low class, parents would tell their children to keep their elbows off the table while eating so as not to look like those uncouth men of the sea. How far we’ve evolved!
Another element to fostering interest in the younger ones is the Summer Fun Passport. Upon visiting and speaking with the interpreters in certain buildings, kids can collect stickers to serve as a souvenir of their voyage to Discovery Harbour. Also, at scheduled times throughout the day, various presentations depicting life in the early 19th century can be enjoyed. Aside from all that, the picturesque view of the bay make for a pleasurable few hours. Make your initial “discovery” on line at www.discoveryharbour.ca.
Discovery Harbour has a number of special events that are held throughout the year. Here is a list of events that was available at the time of writing this article. CLICK on the underlined events below to read our Ontario Festivals Visited articles.
July - Canada Day
August - Métis Day Bo'jouNeejee
October - Naunted Harbour
You can visit the Discovery Harbour website for current event information. (Link: http://www.discoveryharbour.on.ca)