Fur Trade Re-Enactment
(Lang Pioneer Village)
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
Fur Trade Re-enactment Re-visited
by Festival Nomad "Sidekick" and Partner, Judi McWilliams
Another special event, held at Lang Pioneer Village this past August weekend, was the Heritage Celebration Weekend Fur Trade Re-Enactment. This year was especially exciting for me, as I was about to embark on a new adventure by volunteering. It takes many volunteers to help create an amazing weekend full of fun and activities for the visitors to Lang Pioneer Village and its special events. I have “helped” out in the past, but when Laurie Siblock, (Lang Pioneer Village Special Event and Community Liaison) contacted me and ask if I would be interested in volunteering at their new station (Volunteer Appreciation Centre), I couldn’t say "no". It makes me feel good to be able to welcome the volunteers to Lang Pioneer Village for the day, to prepare a barbeque lunch for them, and to assist wherever possible. When I arrived at the Fur Trade Re-Enactment area on the Saturday morning, I was delighted to see all the re-enactment tents and camp areas. The field was buzzing with excitement. The colourful displays and flags flying, added to the ambience. Although I did not assist, it was great to hear that these re-enactors were treated. on both Saturday and Sunday, to a wonderful cooked breakfast. This would help them keep hardy for the long day's activities. I did enjoy making the BBQ lunch for the volunteers on both days of the weekend. It was especially interesting to here how the “sleep over’s” went for the re-enactors. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect! One young lad was asked how he had slept, to which he replied “great! I slept in the van, nice and comfortable”. Some had little sleep, as they tossed and turned, while others had a wonderful, sound, sleep. I guess that the fresh air and the comfort of familiar surroundings in the great outdoors, made for their good nights sleep! I finished my duties early on the Sunday. Everything went so smoothly, so I had about an hour to spare while I waited for my ride home. I was very fortunate to be able to take the time to wander through the Fur Trade Re-Enactment camp, watch the Canoe rides, take a stroll through the Village, listen to Hardtack and Harmony perform their great music and take a ride in the horse drawn wagon. I even had time to create a “Fur-Trade critter” in the craft area (with much assistance from the helpful youthful volunteers who where so patient and skillful, while helping the children, and me, visiting the Heritage Celebration Weekend.) All-in-all, I was glad to have the opportunity to enjoy this special weekend and look forward to my next volunteer efforts on Sunday September 5th at Lang Pioneer Village’s Corn Roast Celebration.
Back At Lang…
Laurie Siblock, Special Event Co-ordinator for Lang Pioneer Village, called me to ask if Judi and I were interested in visiting the Fur Trade Re-enactment at the Village. I told her that we were booked for another event and that we wouldn’t be able to make hers. That was Saturday. So why, on Sunday are we heading north to Keene and the Village? First of all, we really like visiting the Village, it’s very interesting. Secondly, the thought of finding out more about Canada’s fur trade intrigued me. Fortunately it was a beautiful day and the trip to Keene wasn’t too far. This, after our marathon trip to Muskoka and the Rosseau Classic Cruise the day before, was very appealing! Don’t get me wrong, I love driving, but sometimes it can become just too much. Today was that day! Before we left I called a surprised Laurie to let her know we were coming! After about an hours drive we reached the front entrance of Lang and were greeted by the Villages friendly volunteer staff. They were expecting us. Across from where we parked I noticed that a row of white tents had been erected for the re-enactors. We heard the beat of a drum off in the distance. We walked towards it and the large group of people that had gathered by rivers edge. History was just across the field!
Fur Trade in Canada
The re-enactors were getting their gear and canoes organized for the re-enactment show. The canoes, which were brought to the Pioneer Village by the Canadian Canoe Museum, were replicas of the 36ft Montreal Birch Bark canoes used in Canada’s fur trade. When all the gear was stored, each participant carefully climbed into his/her canoe. Once everyone was settled, the helmsman pushed off from the shore and then paddled out into the middle of the river. As the 2 canoes disappeared around the bend in the river, Judi and I decided to take a look at the encampment that had been set up nearby. The encampment consisted of a tent and an open pit fire. Trunks and other paraphernalia had been left openly at the side of the tent. Two Hudson’s Bay coats were hanging in the fresh air while a pot boiled over on the fire. Close to the encampment a tipi had been constructed. Beside the tipi a fire pit had been dug and a goose was now being “smoked” by the fire. Around the fire a family were singing and beating a traditional drum. As we continued our exploration of the displays, more and more people arrived at the river’s edge. Finally, we heard the sound of a lone bagpipe. Then on the path from the Village we noticed that a group of Villagers and guests had gathered to form a parade! It was time for the voyageurs to land at the Village! The parade made its way to the spot where the voyageurs would land. They were led by the bagpiper and a group of Villagers carrying flags. The flag carriers lined up at river’s edge ready to greet the weary voyageurs. Off in the distance the rhythm of paddles and song could be heard. Slowly the canoes appeared and the crowd let out a cheer of welcome! The canoe came parallel to the dock and then turned towards shore. Near the shore paddlers jumped out to help guide each canoe to its resting place. The flag carrying Villagers stood silently as the piper welcomed the travelers with winsome tune. When the canoes were secure the voyageurs started unloading their cargo and carrying it to the shore. Bundles of goods were stacked neatly on the bank near the encampment. Once this task was completed, one of the great canoes was hauled gently onto the shore out of harms way! The voyageur leader acknowledged the crowd that had gathered and thanked them for their participation in the Fur Trade Re-enactment. He then invited anyone interested in taking a demonstration ride in the canoe that had been left in the water. With that the crowd broke up and went their separate ways. Judi and I decided to take a look at the row of merchant tents that had been set up on the other side of the road way.
Meet the Re-enactors
We left the voyageurs and made our way to the re-enactment tents. Along the way we passed the Cree encampment and their tipi. The family was singing and dancing and the goose was smoking. The re-enactment tents displayed a wide variety of pioneer pursuits. In the first tent we visited a lady was making silver jewelry. She showed us how she fashioned the metal into the shapes she wanted. In the next tent the re-enactor was showing a small crowd his rifles and explaining how they worked. Beside him a woman was creating necklaces and bracelets from colourful shinny gems. A prospector was in the next tent. He had a heap of raw gems lying on an old wooden chest in front of him. He took each gem from its place on the chest and told us the story behind it! His stories were fascinating and his knowledge about each extraordinary! We moved to the next tent. A woman was sitting at a table knitting. Several of her creations were on the table. Beyond her was the blacksmith’s tent. His works were on display and he proudly explained, to the audience around him, his craft. Across from the re-enactors’ tents was a First Nations Crafts and Games table. Paul Whittan, an Ojibway Storyteller, was enthralling a group of children with his exciting tails. Back at the tents we passed one that was filled with wooded storage cabinets and boxes. People were milling in the tent investigating each piece. The final group of tents was for the re-enactors. The musicians from “Hardtack and Harmony" were lounging around one of the tents, relaxing before their next performance! After completing out tour of the tents, we started back towards Lang Pioneer Village Visitors' Centre. It was time to explore the Village in daylight! The last time I had been in the Village was at night during Christmas by Candlelight.
Into the Village…
The first Village building is located just west of the Visitor’s Centre. We started our tour there. As we walked into the Milburn House, the smell of baking immediately caught our attention! We looked to our right into the kitchen and sure enough the lady of the house was hard at work baking bread! She offered me a piece which I quickly accepted. It was very good! We explored the remainder of the house and then went back outside. The Milburn House is located at the south end of the Village and is separate from the other Village buildings. As we neared the other buildings, we came to an intersection of roads. The Village’s horse drawn wagon ride was at the side of the road waiting to take on passengers. Judi and I decided to join the other passengers and take the journey around the Village square. While the wagon rolled forward, we talked to owner/driver Earl Cochrane. Earl and his family own High View Farm and are at most Village events. We had a great trip! Along the way we passed a huge “Steam” powered tractor that was chugging along the other way. As it turned the corner, the driver sounded the tractors steam whistle) After the ride we restarted our tour of the Village. The Hastie Carpenter Shop was our first stop. A Village interpreter was bust working on a project. While he worked, he explained each of his action to the shop visitors. North of the carpenter’s shop in the Tinsmith’s Shop. Inside the lady showed us samples of the Tinsmith’s work. Across from this shop was the Fitzpatrick House. The interior was warm and inviting. A gentleman interpreter was telling visitors about the furniture that graced the house. He went on to tell us how much of the furniture had been stolen a few years ago and how, at a later date they were recovered. Fortunately modern technology, the Internet, played an important part in the furniture’s recovery! Outside the Fitzpatrick House, 2 ladies sat working on a giant quilt! We stopped to talk with them for a few moments, marvelling at their workmanship. Across the road smoke billowed up from an open pit fire. A young woman sat by the fire stoking it to keep it going. The fire was just outside the Fife Cabin. Inside the cabin another woman was explaining the history of the one roomed log cabin. On the other side of the road there was a large open field. Several sheep were quietly grazing. We walked across to get a better look. The sheep curiously walked over to the fence to see if we had anything to offer. When they found out that we were there empty handed, they quickly turned away looking for “Greener Pastures”. North of the field was the Register Print Shop. Inside the printer was explaining to a family how everything worked. She stopped long enough to allow me to take her picture! As we exited the print shop, we noticed that there was music in the air! Lang Pioneer Village Green was alive with music! A stage had been set up in the middle of the green and on the stage “Hardtack and Harmony” were performing before an enthusiastic crowd. We crossed the road and joined them!
“Hardtack and Harmony” were well into their performance when Judi and I joined the crowd listening to them. We went to the front of the stage and found seats. The audience were tapping their feet and moving their heads and bodies in time to the music! When the group finished their song, the crowd enthusiastically applauded their efforts! To reward those gathered, the band started off with another lively tune! Once again bodies, feet and heads started moving to the rhythm of the instruments! Hardtack and Harmony had captured the essence of the Re-enactment! Across from where Hardtack and Harmony were playing was the Douro Town Hall building. The building was occupied by the Lindsay Fur Harvesters’ display. North of the Town Hall was the Glen Alda Methodist Church. We peeked inside, but there were no activities in the church today. To the east of the church a foundation for a new building had been started. The sign in front told us that this was the “Future Site of the Lowrey Weaving Shop”. From the site we wandered back towards the Keene Hotel. To get to it we needed to pass by the Village Green. Under one of the trees, just south of the music stage two Village crafters had set up their displays! A crowd had gathered around the two ladies as they worked on their separate pioneer projects needlepoint and spinning. Each lady worked diligently on their project as they answered questions from the audience. From the Village Green we crossed the road to the Keene Hotel. Inside the smell of freshly baked goodies filled the air! To the north of the Hotel was the Menie General Store. The shopkeeper was in the process of selling some sweets to visiting children and their family. Back outside we hear the ringing of metal against metal. We turned and followed the noise.
Working and Learning…
The banging noise was, of course, coming from the Blacksmith’s Shop. The heat from the forge and the sound of the clashing metal carried our thoughts back to days gone by of Villagers hurrying from shop to shop, of children playing games on the road and the Blacksmith replacing a worn horseshoe! A little used pathway led north from the Blacksmith’s Shop. We followed it to the Ayotte Cabin. Inside the Cabin a “Lumbering Display” had been set up. We looked around the two room Cabin at the displays and then walked back towards the Blacksmith’s Shop and the Village road. We turned east and followed the road the short distance to the next bend. The South Lake School house is located on the south west corner of the bend. At the side of the building Judi spotted a set of swings. The child within “forced” her to have a closer look! Before I knew it she was “trying them out”! I managed to take a photo before she jumped off! Inside the school a teacher was demonstrating “pioneer teaching methods” to a group of parents and their children. Back outside the school we traveled southward on the Village road. At the south side of the school was another play area with a unique log covered slide. South of the playground and school was the Cheese House. The sign out front told us that there was fresh Empire Cheese curds for sale inside. On the opposite side of the road a new building had been built, but not opened for viewing. It was the new Apple Cider Mill building. I believe it was due to open during the Village’s Applefest. Next to the Cider Mill was the Smoke House. Continuing south to the final bend in the road, we came to a large barn on the south side of the road. The sign outside the barn said that “Mr. Michael Gillespie” was inside demonstrating the art of “Broom Making”! We decided to take a look and there he was working with a young boy making his own new broom! The process was quite complicated, but the boy took it all in stride! We watched in fascination while the broom was being made. In no time the broom was completed and the boy and his father “swept” passed us. This was our last building to visit, but there was one more adventure waiting! In the field just south of Lang Pioneer Village Visitors’ Center an area had been cordoned off for the “Tomahawk Throwing Competition”. The competition was open to anyone “brave” or “foolish” enough to sign up! Fortunately competitors were required to receive training BEFORE competing! I was able to video one would be “Tomahawk Thrower” while he was being trained! It wasn’t a pretty sight, although he did finally learn how to throw without hurting himself or anyone else!