“May is Museum Month in Ontario, as promoted by the Ontario Museum Association. Each year museums across Ontario host special events to attract visitors to come and see what they have to offer.”
Several years ago Judi and I visited our first re-enactment, the Battle of Stoney Creek, and were “hooked” on “Living History”! Since then we have visited many “Living History” Museums, Historic Sites and Pioneer Villages. Each visit brings closer to understanding Canada’s and Ontario’s rich past and experiencing what a marvelous Country and Province we are privileged to live in and explore! Since our first "brush" with "Living History", we have been privileged to visit many more. In fact, over the past 8 years, Judi and I and our team of Festival Nomad Correspondents, have visited over 50 villages, museums, pioneer villages and re-enactments!
After visiting the Battle of Stoney Creek, visiting re-enactments became an annual activity. One of our favourites is Wasaga Under Siege. Our friend, Dave Brunelle, has been the perennial leader of the event for many years. This year, however, Dave is backing away and letting others have the fun of organizing this great event. Other battles we have experienced include, the Battle of Crysler's Farm (Upper Canada Village, Morrisburg), the Marine Heritage Festival (Port Dover - now no longer held), the Battle of Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Heritage Mica Days (Perth) and Rise to Rebellion (Georgina Pioneer Village). Our Festival Correspondents were also busy visiting (and some re-enacting) re-enactments. Our friend Anne Brooks visited the Battle of Longwoods and the Battle of Backus Mill. Our youngest correspondent Benn Fisher not only wrote about Wasaga Under Siege and the Battle of Queenston Heights, also re-enacted in both! I think that he was awarded the best "dying scene" trophy! Other correspondents who visited re-enactments include Carol Law (Scouts Canada 200 Years of Peace - Fort George), Thomas Coke (Battle of Gananoque), Jim Hill (Siege of Fort Erie), and Jan Bonhomme (Flight of the Royal George).
Pioneer Villages have also been part of our annual "must visit" agenda. The first pioneer village we visited was the Black Creek Pioneer Village located in the GTA. That visit was followed, in the winter of 2007, with trip to the Lang Pioneer Village Museum to experience their Christmas By Candlelight. I took my then 10 year old grandson with me and we had a great time! This was the start of a great "love affair" with Lang Pioneer Village Museum, its management (Joe Corrigan and Laurie Siblock) and its great staff. So much so, while we were living in the area, Judi became a volunteer! A few years ago, we published a "Special INSIDER Newsletter" featuring articles about our Lang visits. I am placing a LINK HERE, for those who would like to read the Newsletter. Since those first two Pioneer Village discoveries, we have visited Upper Canada Village (Morrisburg) twice, Fanshawe Pioneer Village (London) twice, Kawartha Settlers' Village (Bobcaygeon) 3 times and the Georgina Pioneer Village (Keswick), Scugog Shores Museum Village (Port Perry), Ball's Falls Historical Park (Jordan) and the Ameliasburg Historical Museum. And, this year, our newly discovered, Westfield Heritage Village (Rockton) 1 time, "but not the last time"!
Historic Sites have also played a big part in our "Visit Planning". Our first taste of a National Historic Site was, of course, Fort Henry. I say, "of course", because I believe that it is one of the best known historical sites in Canada. Also, I met Will Baird (now the Fort's General Manager) at a festival conference and he convinced me that it was a great place to visit and write about. Judi and I have been back a few times since that first visit. In fact, I (but not Judi) have faced the "terror" of Fort Fright (a scary Halloween Fort Henry) twice. Once with my son-in-law, Eddy and once with his family (excluding his 9 year old daughter). All of us were suitably frightened! If you have never experienced a Sunset Ceremony at Fort Henry, it should be put on your "Bucket List". This is now an "Enhanced World Heritage" event! Other Historic Sites that we have visited include ~ National Historic Site Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake), National Historic Site Fort Wellington (Prescott), Historic Site Nancy Island (Wasaga Beach) and Historic Site Fort Willow (Minesing).
Although we have visited some Museums in the past, they were not prominent on our "Visit Agenda". However, over the past few years we have visited more and have really enjoyed our visits. One of the main problems that we have in visiting Museums is that many do not allow us to take and publish photographs. While we understand the challenges with allowing photos to be published, the lack of photos somewhat diminishes our articles. That being said, we are trying to find ways to enhance our visits without breaking the trust of the people who run and manage them. The first museum I visited was the Canadian Canoe Museum located in Peterborough. I went with an American friend who was fascinated with Canoes, especially Canadian canoes. The museum shows the history of canoes and features many of the Peterborough and area manufacturers. There is even an exhibit of canoes owned by Prince Andrew. Another fabulous Museum I visited was the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (Hamilton). I visited this Museum with our Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart. We met Kevin's Dad, Malcolm, who is a volunteer at the Museum. Malcolm gave us a great tour of the facilities and its contents. My late brother, Chuck, was one of the Museum's first members. After the 3 founders, he was even Number 4 member or Number 5. When I asked him which number was, he couldn't remember, so I'll call him Number 4. His good friend, Dennis Bradley, was the Museum's founding president. More recently, Judi and I have visited the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), the Canadian Museum of History (Gatineau), Canada Agriculture and Food Museum (Ottawa), Discovery Harbour (Penetanguishene), Sainte Marie among the Hurons (Midland), Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), Fulford House (Brockville), Sharon Temple Museum (Sharon), Country Heritage Park (Milton) and Stratford Perth Museum (Stratford).
"This video features vignettes taken at the following "Living History" facilities Ameliasburg Historical Museum, Fanshawe Pioneer Village, Fort Henry National Historical Site, Fort Wellington National Historical Site, Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives, Kawartha Settlers' Village, Lang Pioneer Village Museum, Nancy Island Historical Site, Scugog Shores Museum Village, and Westfield Heritage Village."
As mentioned above, May is Museum Month in Ontario and Museums across Ontario will be opening their doors to let "history" welcome you! This month's issue of the INSIDER Newsletter focuses on the fantastic historic places we have visited and the exciting re-enactments we have enjoyed. The newsletter introduces two new Ontario Festivals Visited You Tube videos ~ "Living History ~ Re-enactments" and "Living History ~ Pioneer Villages, Historic Sites and Museums". During the month of May, we hope to visit a number of Ontario Museums. Hopefully, some will allows us to take photographs and, perhaps, videos. Whatever happens, I know that we will learn a lot more about Canada and Ontario and will have a lot of fun along the way! We hope that you will join us in our quest to re-discover Ontario!
Festival Nomad’s Report…
It’s great to be back on the road! The snow and ice has disappeared from Georgian Bay and my “snow tires” are now off our car! With this new found sense of freedom, we’ve started to really explore the Region. At the beginning of April, Judi and I decided to see if Wiarton Willie actually existed. We had never traveled to the Wiarton area, so we set out for it on a beautiful sunny day. In Wiarton, we didn’t “actually” see the famous “Weather Expert”, but we did see plenty of signs and statues in his honour. Outside of Wiarton we explored the area’s Georgian Bluffs. Judi took hundreds of pictures, including photos of ice covered cliffs and cascading waterfalls! While we were visiting the town’s South Bruce Peninsula Bluewater Park, we were able to enjoy Wiarton’s annual Easter Egg Hunt. From Wiarton we decided to take a side trip to Sauble Beach. I had been there many years ago in the summer, but the “winter Sauble Beach” looked much different. We hope to go back this summer to experience a more vibrant holiday area! I’m sure that we won’t be disappointed.
"Having fun in Wiarton with Wiarton Willie!"
A week later we decided to take another exploratory trip. This time we traveled east instead of west. We were now off to Wasaga Beach. Although Judi and I had been to Wasaga several times for the “Wasaga Under Siege Battle Re-enactment”, we had never explored the town or the area. Wasaga Beach has now become a vibrant community, not just catering to vacationers, but home to thousands of permanent residents. From Wasaga, we continued east and found the picturesque community of Woodland Beach. As we wound our way through the narrow streets of Woodland Beach, we marvelled at the diversity of housing. Although this was originally a cottage community, it is now the home of many permanent dwellers. Throughout the community there were a number of parks that allowed visitors and residents to opportunity to enjoy the shores of Georgian Bay. Judi and I stopped a number of times to take in the breath taking views. The spring winds had pushed the Bay’s remaining ice to the Woodland shores, making the scenery even more spectacular! From each vantage point we could see across the Bay and admire the snowy slopes of Blue Mountain!
"Beautiful view of the Blue Mountains from Woodland Beach, Wasaga."
Our next trip took us a little south to the elusive Walter’s Falls. I say elusive, because Judi and I had tried, unsuccessfully, in the past to find the falls. This time we succeeded and were definitely not disappointed! Walter’s Falls is a wonderful oasis, set on the Bruce Trail. There is a modern Inn adjoining the falls where visitors can stay while they enjoy the falls and the area. Another area that we enjoyed visiting was in the near-by village of Clarksburg. The Beaver River runs through the village and a beautiful little park, just west of the village, allows visitors to enjoy the river as it flows by. A short distance upstream is the Haines Dam. When we visited the dam Salmon where trying to jump their way to the top of the dam. Most attempts were futile, so were our attempts to photograph them jumping! I can’t tell you exactly the number of photos we took just to get one photo of a fish jumping (try hundreds)! Thank goodness for digital cameras and the computers that process them!
"Overlooking the amazing Walter's Falls!"
In the middle of the month we traveled west again. This time we were off to the shores of Lake Huron to the town of Southampton. My first memories of Southampton are very sketchy. I was only one years old when my parents took me and my siblings to our Southampton family cottage. I am told, so the story goes, that when I was 3, my brother and older sister tried to drown me in the lake. I think that they were too busy fooling around with their friends. Fortunately some concerned neighbour saw what was happening and saved me from “going under”! Needless to say that my parents were not very happy when they found out what happened. Chuck and Meem, of course, were in big trouble and “poor little Gary” was given ice cream! Who had the last laugh?! Southampton has changed a lot over the years and Judi and I enjoyed exploring the town. The beach and waterfront were particularly interesting. Large chunks of ice still dominated the harbour and beach area. We also explored the Chantry Dunes Great Lakes Heritage Area, an amazing area where preserved sand dunes and native grasses flurish! We look forward to going back this summer. Further south, we visited the Town of Port Elgin. Like Southampton, Port Elgin's waterfront area was iced in. It looked like the winds from the USA has been busy pushing ice flows across Lake Huron and depositing them on the Canadian side of the Lake. This effect happens many times over the course of a harsh winter! Once we had finished exploring Port Elgin, we continued south to Kincardine. I had lived in Kincardine several years ago, so it was interesting to re-discover an area that I had known so well. I think that my strongest recollection was the Saturday summer night parades and concerts performed by the Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band. I believe that they still take place, with the band marching up the main street to the town's downtown park and its concert gazebo.
"Looking out at the Chantry Island Lighthouse from the Chantry Dunes Heritage Area."
The Importance of Living History...
by Judi "Scoop" McWilliams
As Gary has shared with you in this issue of “The Insider”, I too wanted to share with you just a few of the amazing insights gleaned from some of the industry leaders we have had the opportunity to interview. The focus here is mainly on the “Importance of Living History and Museums”. As I like to phrase it … “Reflections of the past … Hope for our future!”
The Museums of Prince Edward County ~ Jennifer Lyons, Head Curator ~ Museums
“There has been a real shift in museum work in recent years. The artifacts are still important, but interestingly it is the people, the visitors, that have become a bigger focal point. Museums are places to experience history, whether it is locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally themed."
“Living history sites fit this bill particularly well. It’s “living” not just in the sense of parading out historically costumed characters to impart interesting snippets about the past. It’s about the visitors actually having “living” experiences themselves— an opportunity to ignite their senses with the sounds, sights, smells, tastes and touches of bygone days or eras. Living history sites are not mired in the past. For visitors, they are about being in the present, here and now – albeit with a better understanding of the differences between yesteryear and the present day."
"Living history dispels the myth that museums and heritage sites are fusty, dusty and boring! Here in Prince Edward County, it’s an effective way of celebrating the unique heritage of our community in contemporary ways that truly feel “alive” for our visitors."
You can check more about the Museums of Prince Edward County www.thecounty.ca . We hope you will visit the Museums this season!
"Living History... Life at the Ameliasburgh Historical Museum. One of the 5 unique Museums of Prince Edward County."
Lang Pioneer Village & Museum ~ Laurie Siblock, Acting Museum Manager
“Living history helps preserve both tangible and intangible heritage for future generations.”
“Part of understanding history is to help us not repeat the mistakes of the past. It helps us gain appreciation for what we have today”
“Artifacts” may just seem to be “old junk” to some. We may not necessarily know how to use artifacts that are located in the Village & Museum, or even know what they were used for in the past. With a live demonstration, we can teach our new generation the ongoing traditional skills, how to operate and care for the artifacts and we will not loose these vital components. We can preserve the past, keep “History Alive”! A once intangible artifact now becomes a “treasure”. If we don’t take the time to share, learn, use and grow, these precious artifacts will become intangible lost items, become un-comprehendible of how to use and what it was used for. We would loose a great part of our “Future”!
Enjoy more of Lang Pioneer Village Museum by checking their website at www.langpioneervillage.ca.
The Honourable Michael Chan, previous Minister of Tourism and Culture
“The War of 1812 gave Canada an identity and it is important to remember that and the heroes of that time as well!"
"It is important to engage New Canadians as it will enhance the integration of these people into Canadian life and society. These celebrations will greatly help “pull the new immigrants from their own box into Ontario. It will be an opportunity to integration. In 25 years from now, these New Canadians will not be new. They will be integrated and form our Canadian communities. These folks will continue to immigrate and become the supply of the new people”.
The Honourable James Moore, previous Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages
“It is important to understand that the War of 1812 defined the fact of Canada. This War is especially important to remember, as it is very, very rare story line in that it was an event that was National in Consequence. Again, it defined Canada.”
Mr. Chris Robins, History/Geography Teacher at the West High School in Cobourg, Ontario and Professional Re-enactor!
"He sees that the students enjoy the history. Until you get involved with re-enacting, you underestimate just how important history is."
“It just was the way they did things”. A great “Living History Re-enactment Story” from Chris … “There was no wind at the time and many cannons went off leaving a thick mass of smoke in the air. He was portraying a British soldier that day and they did not know how many folks they would be “battling”. Suddenly jackets started to appear, coming right through the dense smoke, hundreds of jackets, hundreds of men." Chris tells me that he said out loud “that’s so cool” (and I saw the glimmer in his eyes even though we were just standing in his classroom as he remembered) … then he said out loud “we’re so screwed”. Chris does re-enacting for the love of it, but, mostly, as I’ve witnessed, he does it for the FUN of it!
Westfield Heritage Village ~ Rondalyn Brown, Manager
"Westfield Heritage Village is a great example of a living history museum located in Rockton (Hamilton), Ontario. Operated year round as a living history museum, the Village provides special events for the general public, educational programs for students, unique heritage activities and wedding, business rentals and filming opportunities."
"Living history museums are carefully reconstructed environments that encourage visitors to experience historical themes in a very personal way. By simulating the sights, sounds, smells, taste and textures of earlier times and places, these unique museums can provide opportunities for visitors to engage directly in a variety of cultural and/or natural settings."
"Stepping into the doorway of a 200 year old log cabin, stroking the smooth lines of a handmade chair, tasting a morsel of bread baked in an open hearth, hearing the bells jingle as you enter a general store – these are the experiences that make visits to living history museums unique and personal."
"A testament to the value of these living history museums is demonstrated by the number that still thrives today."
"Westfield’s unparalleled collection of architectural holdings makes it a unique destination and resource for the large and diverse audience it serves. Nearly forty historic structures, including rare historic homes, businesses, agricultural and manufacturing buildings ranging from the late 1700s through to the early 1900s, have been preserved at the museum. The rich artifact collection used to furnish these buildings is from throughout Southern Ontario, and serves to vividly illustrate the environments of early Ontario."
"Visitors are able to enter these buildings and immerse themselves in the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of earlier times. Authentically costumed interpreters in these buildings illustrate historical themes through period activities and demonstrations. Historic buildings of note include the 1793 Queen’s Rangers log cabin, believed to be one of the oldest preserved log structures in Ontario, and the c1810 Westbrook Home, historically significant in that it was originally situated at the site of the 1814 Battle of Malcolm’s Mills, the last land battle of the War of 1812."
For further information on Westfield Heritage Village visit westfieldheritage.ca.
"Living History... Shopping at McRoberts Dry Goods Store in the Westfield Heritage Village, part of the Hamilton Conservation Authority."