When I was a kid, I never did get to go on that school trip to Upper Canada Village. It became became one of those classic “lost-in-plain-sight” sort of places for me. I’ve known about it for years and always thought I should visit, but just never did.
This year I decided it was time to fill in this glaring lapse in my upbringing. Off I went, and I’m glad I did. Upper Canada Village made for an excellent summer outing, and definitely exceeded expectations.
The park was created as a heritage component of the St. Lawrence Seaway project, completed in 1959, which resulted in the flooding of several historic towns and multiple heritage buildings. Before the waters rose, it was decided to save as many of those historic buildings as possible by moving them to a new location. The result is a remarkable historical theme park just east of Morrisburg, containing more than 40 historic buildings.
That number brings me to my first point. The park is big. Very big. There is a ton of stuff to see, and it’s spread out over a wide area. You won’t be able to see it all in one day. We certainly couldn’t (and I guess that’s why they gave us free tickets to get back in with our original $20 admission).
The park is also very pretty. We were there on a bright sunny day. The trees were green, the flowers bright. Just walking around the streets would have been a very pleasant experience.
The main attraction of the village, however, is the opportunity to experience Canadian life (almost by definition rural) as it was in 1866. To get that experience, you really need to go into as many buildings as possible.
Inside the various stores, mills, taverns and houses, you’ll find people dressed up in historical garb who will explain all sorts of things about pioneer life, from cooking over an open hearth, baking, making cheese, weaving, quilting and more.
Maybe you’re shy, but I really encourage you to talk to these historical figures as much as possible. They have really interesting things to tell you about life in another era and that will make your visit much more enjoyable.
My favourite building was the saw mill, where an early kind of turbine (rather than a waterwheel) is used to power the reciprocating equipment, and they actually use it to saw lumber. The guy will start and stop it so you can see how it works.
Another building I liked was the blacksmith’s shop where the docent had the forge going and was banging away on a wrought iron piece. He got some great flames going as he applied beeswax to the iron to prevent rusting.
My third favourite building was the print ship, where the expert on hand explained all sorts of things about early typesetting and demonstrated an early printing press in action.
For those of us who spend all day on computers, websites or phones, the print shop provides a great reminder of the nature of communication back in the day.
It’s a good idea to get the paper map at the front desk, so you know where you are going, and can identify what you might want to see. It’s probably good to know there are washrooms spread around the site. There’s also a cafeteria, a candy shop, a tavern/restaurant, as well as a café, should you get hungry.
I’m thinking some of the explanations of pioneer life might go over the heads of younger children, but not to worry.
There’s horse and buggy rides that will get you around the village. There’s a boat-ride you can take in a barge pulled by horse along the canal tow-path. There’s pigs, and cows and chickens. That should keep the youngsters amused …
There’s also a train ride you can take through Chrysler Farm next door. You can take the train without actually entering the village, but you get a deal if you buy the train ticket with your admission fee.
Altogether, we enjoyed the village, talking to the “pioneers,” taking the train, and thought it was all worth the hour and a bit it took to drive there. The only downside was that we arrived around 11 am, the worst possible time, when there was a long line of people waiting to pay to get in. Took about 20 minutes.
There’s two things you can do to avoid the line. One is buy the tickets online before you go. Two is find yourself a shady spot and buy the tickets on your phone when you get there. Then you can simply sidestep the crowd, show your ticket and go in.
There’s multiple ways to get to Upper Canada Village, but the basic idea is to head south on Bank Street until you reach the St. Lawrence River, then turn left (east) on Highway 2. Check your Google map for directions, and check out the Upper Canada Village website for more info.