Christmas by Candlelight
(Lang Pioneer Village)
by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart
Christmas for so many of us is a time of tradition and fond memories of years past while making memories for future years. Residents of the Peterborough and Northumberland area often have made a habit of visiting Lang Pioneer Village on the first weekend of December for Christmas by Candlelight. This historic site is located near the village of Keene and set in the mid 19th century, offering visitors an insight into the circumstances and lifestyle of those who settled in the area.
While not quite an annual tradition for our family, Christmas by Candlelight is something we enjoyed for the third time and found there is still something magical about the visit. A good way to see the village as a whole is to board the free horse-drawn sleigh rides that pick up and drop off visitors at the main intersection near the village entrance. Yes, there were jingling bells on the horses which naturally brought to mind that iconic seasonal tune (you know the one). Besides the horses, there were a couple young and very friendly goats that were decked out in holiday splendor.
Once we got off the wagon ride, we viewed the experience on foot, stopping at the various buildings offering a glimpse into Christmases past. The Hastie carpentry shop workers showed us the fine art of crafting a chair leg and the vast amount of time it took with the tools then available. We learned how children were often employed in these shops, developing these skills at an early age.
Our next stop was the nearby Milburn House, offering samples of traditional festive dish known as snowball rice pudding. We were anxious to try the sweet treat and also noticed a complete layout of baked goods on the table. Regardless of the time, people have always enjoyed special sweets at Christmastime. In the room across the hall, they were demonstrating some of the games that children of the time might have played during the indoor season. It must have been interesting for today’s children to see that there were many ways to be amused before the electronic era.
From there we moved on to the Tinsmith shop, home to some of the shiniest works of art in the village. The combination of hole-punched designs and the glow of candles make for a festive look. The painstaking effort that went into these is a testament to the talent of those who created it.
Christmas By Candlelight Re-visited
by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart
For anyone who enjoys an old fashioned Christmas, one of the best places to experience it is a Christmas By Candlelight at Lang Pioneer Village, near Keene, Ontario. As an Ontario Festivals Visited reader, you are likely already familiar with this superb destination and with good reason. During the first weekend of each December, when the sun goes down, the village comes alive with the sights, sounds, and, yes, smells of Christmas in the mid 19th century.
It should be noted that Mom Nature provided the perfect environment for the pioneering experience…it was rather cold and a little breezy with just the right amount of snow blanketing the ground. Most of the village’s 34 buildings were open for visiting. We eased into it with a stop at Milburn House, which represented the innovations of the latter part of the time period. We saw how a family at that time would have decorated their tree. (No fancy strings of lights here). In the kitchen, we sampled the sugarplums dancing in our mouths.
Some of the other buildings depicted the more Spartan conditions of a few decades earlier. The polar opposite of today’s Christmases, theirs were modest with few decorations and one believes their main wish was to be able to stay warm until spring.
Next stop on Christmas By Candlelight was a good old sing along in the Douro Town Hall, with music provided by the very lively Muscovy Ducks. It certainly provided a warm sanctuary for many of us “visiting pioneers” on our journey.
A special part of the Sunday events at Christmas By Candlelight was an outdoor performance of the live nativity by Keene United Church. Despite the cold, many people stood around to watch this stirring depiction of the first Christmas, complete with live animals and a live baby who cried right on cue!
More sweet treats were available to purchase at the General Store at prices that were somewhat comparable to 19th century. Next door we warmed up in the dining room of the Keene Hotel with baked goods, hot chocolate and apple cider being served. For some, including me, just wrapping our hands around the warm cup did wonders but I must also compliment the hotel staff for the tastiness of it too. Down the hall, we found the recreation room with a period pool table and croquinole board. Yes, there was life before screens and joysticks.
Naturally part of the pioneering journey includes a wagon ride and we climbed aboard the two-horse open sleigh which makes its way through Lang Pioneer Village during Christmas By Candlelight. That led us to the doorstep of South Lake Schoolhouse. Inside we learned of the origins of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which author Clement Moore wrote during the early 1800’s for his children. To enliven this school production, one of the children from the group was chosen to help add animation to the reading of the famous poem. If only all my school days could have been that easy.
Finally, we returned to the main building where we saw Father Christmas who appeared much like the jolly old elf described in Mr. Moore’s poem. We knew he was the real deal when he picked up on my son’s name before he sat on Santa’s lap. In that same room, one could purchase a number of unique decorative items including tin art. All these were by local artists and perfectly captured the essence of Christmas of old. Actually, kids can be old-fashioned crafters too. My son was shown how to make a St. Nicholas tree ornament which may become a traditional decoration at our house. I guess we’ll take that one Christmas at a time.
Of course, a big thank you must go out to the many volunteers who interpreted what we saw in the buildings and answered our questions. My wife and I agreed it helped instill the feeling of Christmas. I hope that feeling will stay with us when the bills arrive in January. We look forward to experiencing the many events that await in 2011 at Lang Pioneer Village. For now, here’s wishing you happiness for this Christmas.
Christmas by Candlelight
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
Lang at Night…
As the “Crow Flies”, Lang Pioneer Village is located about 30 km north of Cobourg! However, I am not a crow so I had to drive, by land, around Rice Lake. By doing this, the distance doubles to 60 km and takes about an hour. My Grandson and I (Judi was off visiting her sister and niece in Newmarket) were traveling north to visit the Christmas by Candlelight celebrations being held at the Village. The Village, situated between Peterborough and Keene, is a wonderful representation of rural Ontario in the 1800’s. Tonight they were opening most of their buildings and flooding them with candlelight and joy! They had asked their knowledgeable interpretive staff to be on hand to join in on the celebrations and to give celebration visitors a taste of what Village life was like at Christmas time. This was the first night of a two night celebration. It was also the last event of the season. The Village was closed to the public until the spring. We arrived while there was still light left (dust light away). I wanted to take some photographs in the daylight. After taking a few pictures of the road and grounds leading to the Village, we drove into the parking lot. Village staff was still rushing around making sure everything was ready for the night’s event...
I had asked Barb VanVierzen, one of the organizers of the event, if we could come a little early to take some daylight pictures. She said “great”. The staff was aware that we were coming and pointed us in the right direction. There was still sufficient light to recognize the buildings and take some photos. The Village roads are set up in a rectangular shape with buildings on either side of the road. As you come out of the Visitor Centre, the first building you see to the west is the Milburn House. This is a log home restored to the 1870’s period. Traveling north, the next building is the Hastie Carpenter Shop followed by the Tinsmith Shop. These two shops house the tools and products of the respective trades. These 3 buildings are all on the west side of the street. The first building on the east side is the Fitzpatrick House. Across from it is the Fife Cabin. Here the road splits into a “Y” that forms the Village Green in the middle. On the western road are 3 buildings, the Douro Township Hall, the Glen Alda Methodist Church and the Church Driveshed. On the eastern part of the “Y”, there are 3 more buildings, the Register Print Shop, the Keene Hotel and the Menie General Store. Here the road intersects with another road. On the northwest corner of the intersection is the Blacksmith Shop. The road runs east for a short period and then turns south. The first building we come to is on the west side of the road. It is the South Lake School. Just south of it on the same side of the road is the Cheese Factory. On the east side of the road several smaller buildings. All of these were closed for the evening celebrations. Just past these building the road turns west and runs to meet the first road. On the north side of this last road is one large building, the Transportation Barn. So, here we were back where we started, all ready to join the party and have some fun…
NOTE: Anyone wanting a more complete description of the Village buildings or would like to see a Lang Pioneer Village map, log onto http://www.langpioneervillage.ca/interactivevillagemap.php.
Let the Journey Begin…
We went back inside the Visitor Centre. It was already filling up with people eager to explore the Village by candlelight. Our first stop in the centre was the gift shop. It was full of enticing village gifts ready to take home as a Christmas present to a loved one. From there we passed by the reception area to Main Gallery located at the back of the building. Here kids could decorate there own Gingerbread cookie. My grandson and I entered the Gallery to find several tables ready for cookie decorators. The cookies were already made, so all the kids had to do was to squeeze icing on to the cookie! There were lots volunteers in the room ready to help each cookie maker create his/her masterpiece. Oh to be a kid again. From the Main Gallery we went to the MacKenzie Room where Father Christmas was greeting visitors. Also in the room were two village artisans who were demonstrating their crafts, rug hooking and garland making. After my grandson had made his wishes know to Father Christmas and I had watched the artisans at work, we left the building. Just outside the building Carollers in period costumes were gathered in a circle singing songs of the season. Just beyond them a horse drawn hay wagon was coming to a stop ready for a night of adventure...
Christmas By Candlelight (Part 1)
The horse drawn hay wagon ride was our first stop. That is, it was my grandson’s first stop. He climbed onto the wagon with the rest of the adventurers for a wagon tour around the village’s roads. While the wagon tour was in progress, I decided to start my exploration of the candlelite buildings. The first one I entered was the Hastie Carpenter Shop. Here tradesmen showed us how the tools of the day were used. From the carpenter shop, I walk next door to the Tinsmith Shop. The shop contained a “wonderful array of handcrafted tinware”. It was amazing to see the variety and quality of the pieces being offered. With the wagon ride over, my grandson rejoined me for our walk through the village. He told me that the ride was a lot of fun and that everyone on the ride seemed to enjoy themselves. Our next stop was across the road to the Fitzpatrick House. This building was very crowded. The lady of the house was making old-fashioned rag dolls for Christmas and had the attention of everyone there. From the Fitzpatrick House we crossed back to the over side of the road, this time to the Fife Cabin. As we walked up the snowy path, I almost missed “Mr. Fife” sitting by an open fire that had been set up in front of the cabin. Inside the cabin “Mrs. Fife” was huddle in a corner of the cabin trying to stay warm! A book lay on the table in front of her as see tried to read by candlelight. This was a portrayal of how the pioneers spent their first Christmas. Again we crossed the road, this time to the Register Print Shop. The building was crowded with old printing presses and type. The print shop clerk told us about the prints that decorated the inside of the building and how they were produced. It seemed so far from how printing is produced today! Progress is a wonderful thing, but it does take away some of the amazing skills demonstrated by these pioneers of printing. It was quite cold outside, so we were glad that the Keene Hotel was our next stop! In side the smells of home cooking floated through the air. On our way to the dining area and kitchen, we passed by a sitting room and a barroom. A Bagatelle table (a game related to billiards) was set up. My grandson went back to the room to try his luck. From there we moved to the crowded dining area. It was full of cold hungry visitors eager to place their order to the kitchen staff. We finally squeezed our way in and ordered cookies and hot chocolate. While we were waiting for our order, I introduced ourselves to Barbara van Vierzen. Barb, who was one of the three Hotel cooks, was the one who invited us to the Village to enjoy the celebrations. After saying our goodbyes, we joined the other hungry guests at the dining room table. All too soon, it was time to leave the warmth of the Keene Hotel and continue our journey outside.
Christmas By Candlelight (Part 2)
Fortunately the Menie General Store was a little down the road. We went in and were greeted with the warmth of a pot belly stove in the back of the store. I am not sure if it was actually lite, but the store was definitely warmer inside. The store was covered with general goods for sales from floor to ceiling. Two shop keepers were on hand to help customers with their purchases. While we were there, Laurie Siblock, the main event organizer, came in from the cold to check to see how the store keepers were doing. From the general store we headed to Glen Alda Methodist Church. We entered the empty building to take a look at the Christmas altar. Everything was ready for an old tyme Christmas service. The Douro Township Hall was just down the street from the church. The sign outside told us that the “Muscoy Ducks” were performing inside. As we entered the crowded Hall, the sound of people singing filled the air. The Muscoy Ducks were on stage leading the Village Carollers and celebration visitors in a sing-a-long of Christmas Carols. With voice hoarse from singing, we left to continue our walk. On the other side of the village square was the South Lake School House. We walked the along the narrow snow covered path to the school entrance. Inside the one room school house the desks were set up in neat rows. Blackboards were covered with writing telling us all the schools rules. Boy am I glad I am NOT a kid! Teacher were at the front of the classroom showing kids how to make Christmas Crackers. My grandson made his way up to the front of the room so that he could participate. I wonder it he is that quick to walk up to the front of the class at his real school? After a little instruction he had made his cracker. It’s amazing what a toilet roll, Christmas paper and ribbons can make! With the cracker project completed, we moved on to the final leg of our journey. It was back down towards the visitor centre. The transportation barn was located at the bottom of the village square. Inside the barn was an assortment of antique sleighs, wagons and carriages. It reminded me that my father’s family had been carriage makers in Lakefield during the mid 1800’s. This was the last building to be seen. We had a great time seeing how the pioneers celebrated Christmas by Candlelight at Lang Pioneer Village!