Upper Canada Village
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
"Here is a photo video of our visit to Upper Canada Village."
On to the Village…
The sound of the water relentlessly pushing the wheel beckoned us to come and look! We had just walked through the main entrance of Upper Canada Village. The battle was over and it was now time to explore Canada’s history! The beauty of the Village was apparent right from the start. Gracious buildings, brightly coloured gardens, reflecting waterways and grazing animals all added to its charm! We had entered the past!
The water wheel that we heard was moving the giant saw blade located at Beach’s Sawmill! We walked into the dark building and were greeted by the musty smell of freshly cut logs. The giant blade was dancing up and down to the rhythm of the flowing water. Upstairs we heard the shuffle of feet against the wooden floor. We decided to go upstairs and investigate. Two sawmill workers were manipulating a large squared log so that it would be perfectly set up to be cut into smaller planks. After all the measurements were taken and the workers were sure of their accuracy, a lever was pulled and the water wheel started to turn again. With the wheel turning, the blade resumed its up and down motion. The log was pushed forward and the blade began cutting (Click HERE to see video). Slowly the square wooden log became two and the cutting process was completed. We left the saw mill and walked down the ramp back into the bright sunlight! We continued our journey along the Village’s dirt pathway. Along the way we passed the Broom Makers building and then the shed that housed the fire engine. Passed the shed, a secondary path ran off to the right. On the corner of both paths was the Blacksmith’s Shop. It was open, so we walked in to have a look around. There was the smell of a smoldering fire, but the building was empty. On our way out we noticed that the blacksmith sitting outside under the shade of a tree! The heat of the day was taking its toll! Back on the main pathway we came to the Providence Chapel. It was closed off with a half door, but we were able to peer in for a closer look. Just across from the chapel was the Cabinet Maker. As we walked into the building we were given a friendly greeting by the two apprentices who were working together on a difficult project. A little further in the room was a young boy working on his own project. His head was down and his concentration high! Just as we were about to pass, the cabinet maker waked down the stairs and came over to the young boy. He started to talk quietly to the boy. It was interesting to see the intenseness of the boy as the master explained the intricacies of cabinet making. We walked away impressed! Back outside we returned to the Village pathway and our explorations!
We Continued On Our Journey…
Outside the sun was still beating down. As we walked down the path, we were passed by a horse drawn wagon loaded with sightseeing visitors. Our next discovery was the Ross Farm House. We first investigated the barn. We first entered the Tack Room full of harnesses. Beside this room were the stables. Two horses slowly munched on hay as we looked in. Back outside we walked over to the farm house. It was a roughly hewed single room log home that had been built by Thomas Ross. Inside one of the Village interpreters was working on a comforter. Near her a young girl was working on her own project. Next to the Ross’s log farm house was the McDiarmid House. This house is now used to demonstrate spinning and weaving. Inside a lady was hard at work on her spinning wheel. A young woman sat nearby reading. The weaving loom sat quietly in the room unattended. Our next adventure was in the Gazette Printing Office. Inside the lady printing interpreter was explaining to a couple and their children how, if they had lived back in the 1800’s, they could become printer apprentices. She told them what a great life they would have! They would get up early in the morning; work hard all day under the watchful eye of the printer master, 6 days a week! They would get room and meals, but would not receive any pay. Their parents might receive a small compensation. They would have to do this for a number of years! The parents looked like they would like to turn back the hands of time! The children didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic! We had been wandering the Upper Canada Village paths for a while, so it was a perfect time to take a break. The Harvest Barn Restaurant was just around the corner and it had air conditioning!
Back In The Sun…
Refreshed from our rest in the air conditioned restaurant, we walked back out into the afternoon sun. Our first stop was the Schoolhouse. Inside the one room school, the teacher was ready to give the lesson of the day! Just around the corner was the Union Cheese Factory. The Cheese Maker was already telling a group of visitors about the cheese making process. We joined the group inside the factory. The Cheese Maker was talking about cheddar cheese and its curd by-product. From the Union Cheese Factory we walked a distance to the Louck’s Farm. Their farm house was located at the bottom of a long laneway. The inside of the farm house was beautifully decorated and furnished, reflecting the prosperity of the Louck’s Farm! We walked up the laneway to the Barnyard. There were a number of buildings in the yard. The first we came to was the Poultry House and the Pig Pen. Outside the main building was a fenced area where chickens and ducks pecked at the ground looking for morsels of food. Inside the main building we almost stumbled over several little piglets that were roaming freely. Lying in a closed-in pen was the mother. Two of the piglets were in there with her. Outside in a muddy fenced yard were two giant male pigs wallowing in muddy pools. Next to the Pig Pen was an outbuilding that house farm equipment. In a paddock beside the barn a horse slowing munched on a mouthful of hay! There were two Schoharie style barns, one housing several carriages and the other the farm’s cattle. Inside the cattle barn visitors were invited to try their “hand” at milking! This was an interest proposition for us “city slickers”! I passed! The final group of buildings in this area was the Tenant Farm House and Barn. The interior of the farm house was quite sparse, but it looked very efficient. We had reached the end of the farming display and arrived at the Village’s Canal system.
The Road Back…
We walked from the Tenant Farm to the Village Canal. The “Tow Scow” was at the dock and unloading its passengers. Across the canal cows quietly grazed at waters edge, some event kneeling to drink water from the canal. Also across the canal we could see the Telegraph Signal Tower and the Village’s Family Activity Centre. Waiting patiently a little down the path was the “Tow Horse” and its herder. There patience was rewarded when the Two Scow was refilled with passengers. With the Tow Scow now away from its mooring, the Tow Horse started pulling the Scow forward on its long slow journey to the other end of the Village. Judi and I followed a path that took us back to more of Upper Canada Village’s historic buildings. The first building we encountered was the Dressmaker’s House. The dressmaker was inside discussing her handy work with several visitors! From the Dressmaker’s House we walked to the Physician’s House. This wonderfully restored physician’s home also included the Doctor’s office and all its equipment. The house’s interpreter gleefully showed and explained in detail the Doctor’s instruments! Set back from the road was Crysler Hall, home of John Pliny Crysler, Member of the Legislative assembly, Justice of the Peace and County Registrar. The building now houses the Village’s visitor orientation centre and special exhibits. Willard’s Hotel is located down the road from Crysler Hall and offers dining in comfort and style! The Bakery, which supplies baked goods to the Hotel and the Village Store, sits between the Hotel and the Crysler Store. We passed by the Bakery and entered the Crysler Store. This was a typical 1800 dry goods store that offered a wide variety of products needs by village inhabitants! The last building on this street was the Robertson House. This is a pretty little home surrounded by colourful flowers and a white picket fence. As with other of the Village building, this too was beautifully restored. We were now on our way to the final leg of our historical journey!
The End of Our Village Tour…
We followed the path that took us back towards the river. There were several buildings located here. Christ Church with its tall steeple showed us the way and its arched doorway beckon us to enter! To the right of the church a small graveyard honoured those who had gone before us. The Lutheran Pastor’s House lay to the left of the church. Inside the houses’ interpreter talked with a group of visitors and answered their probing questions. The newly built Masonic Lodge was next in line. The interior displayed Masonic symbols while an interpreter explained their meaning. The final two buildings housed the Shoemaker and the Tinsmith. Both houses contained the tools needed to create and finished each of their products. The Tinsmith’s Shop was located next to the canal and overlooked the St. Lawrence River. Having reached the end of the road, we turned around and walked back up the street. Our final historic building was Cook’s Tavern. In the garden just outside the building a musician completed his final tune and packed up his instrument. The Village was shutting down and it was time to take our leave. But first, we needed to stop at the Village Store to investigate all the “Made in the Village” products.
Upper Canada Village Re-Visited
For those who long to be in a simpler time, you can experience just that at one of Ontario’s foremost historical attractions. Located just outside the village of Morrisburg in eastern Ontario, Upper Canada Village has, for more than five decades, portrayed life in the 1860’s for countless visitors. I was particularly impressed at how upon stepping into the actual village area, you can almost feel time slow down. To that end, one of the first things we did was take a leisurely riverboat tour to the other side of the village in a horse-drawn barge. It offered a most picturesque view of the shore of the St. Lawrence River and an overview of much of the local buildings. Having visited it several times as a child, many vivid memories returned although there was one newer building to see which was our first stop. The children’s activity centre provided a chance to dress in period outfits or try out various activities or maybe just enjoy an afternoon tea.
Sometimes the interactivity can be quite real, such as trying to walk an energetic calf or priming the pump for water for the farm animals. There were other live inhabitants to see up close in some of the barns. Of course, one can also check out the many homesteads representing some of the pioneering families of the area. Numerous period artifacts could be found in these stately residences. There was even had a hotel that served actual meals and snacks should you need a rest stop during all the touring.
If you want to see what an actual hotel stay might have consisted of, there’s Cook’s Tavern located at one of the main intersections. Check out the various recreation rooms on the first floor along with the codes of conduct on the walls. It certainly differs from a similar venue in the 21st century. Upstairs we saw some of what would have been considered spacious rooms and luxurious beds.
One of the most worthwhile aspects of Upper Canada Village is it is a working village featuring townsfolk performing chores that were a routine part of life in mid-19th century Ontario. We not only witnessed a taste of life on the farm but also saw a bread-making demonstration and several quilters bringing their creations to life. We also witnessed the working sawmill and flour mill along the way. I found watching the sawmill to be just as fascinating as when I was younger and the complexity of the machinery is something worth noting.
One place the kids particularly enjoyed was the one-room schoolhouse complete with a detailed explanation of life in the classroom was experienced by children of the time. Along with the rules, two of them were made “examples” of to demonstrate some disciplinary techniques that were used. These of course were the lighter punishments which seemed to draw more laughs than “repentance”.
We got a glimpse of the visitor centre which featured very 21st-century media allowing kids of all ages to interact with the past. This is one of the newer additions and worth having a look at after a tour of the village itself.
One thing we realized is just how much you have to pace your visit to be able to see everything. We were there for more than five hours and, while we hit all the highlights, there were still a few buildings we missed due to lack of time. It’s something to bear in mind when planning your visit to Upper Canada Village.
That is one assessment of our visit. Since this is also a very family-friendly destination, let’s allow some space for our two youngsters to describe it from their perspective:
I like most of Upper Canada Village. My favourite building was the building with pigs and piglets. I also liked being pulled by the horses. I loved going in the boat and I also dipped my feet in the St. Lawrence River.
They explain places which leaves me to ask more questions. It was very big. It had most things a pioneer village needs. We liked the canal, the horse ride and other types of pioneer transportation. I also like the wool factory because we got woolen beards.