Time-travel 1860's Ontario at Upper Canada Village

Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg bustles to the rhythm of the 1860s.

Why did the designers of this historical village choose this decade? Because it was a period of innovation, expansion and prosperity in southern Ontario. And after all, 1867 saw the birth of Canada..

Development of the Grand Trunk Railway connected people here in Morrisburg to Montreal and Toronto on a daily basis, and the heyday of its construction brought labouring jobs, a demand for lumberů and a host of other needs for goods and services.

By the 1860s, some fortunate settlers had made the transition from subsistence farming to reasonable prosperity. All in all, this decade showcases a fascinating period in community life, whether it be from a manufacturing, agricultural or societal viewpoint.

And entering Upper Canada Village through the turnstile immerses you in this exciting era. While you explore, you'll share the sandy street in company of a gaggle of schoolchildren, scuffing their feet in the dust while heading to the one-room schoolhouse for their lessons.

Yes: from child to adult, costumed interpretive staff play roles of various occupations. A dressmaker explains the latest French fashions; a physician regales young and old alike with gruesome-sounding "cures." And the bakerů Mmm. Who can resist the fragrant call of freshly baked loaves?

The village's woollen, flour, and saw mills stand beside the "race" of the mill pond; that rush of water which propels their waterwheels.

All are fascinating: for instance, at the woolen mill you follow the progress of raw wool to finished blanket. At the saw mill, timbers are reduced to various widths of lumber, used on-site for building and repairs. Meanwhile, at the flour mill, you will hear how a fire in 1863 destroyed its interior. But disaster turned to ingenuity, for when rebuilt "new-fangled" steam power was installed, meaning the mill could operate year-round.

Just as today, back in the 1860s new innovations such as steam power permitted folks to trade goods and services more easily. Not everyone now had to spin their own wool; not everyone had to make their own bread. The times, they were a-changing, and shops and specialty stores sprang up.

But it's not only such industrial buildings as the mills which beckon. As well, the homes and shops of such artisans as the tinsmith and cabinetmaker depict different styles of 1860's life and livelihoods.

As do the farms. Named after German settlers, the Loucks family's tidy farm projects prosperity. During the 1860s, progressive farmers operated mixed farms where they raised cattle, grain and feed, as well as vegetables and other crops where the latest horse-drawn farm machinery was used.

Unbelievable though it might seem today, by the 1860s most arable land in southern Ontario was already owned. Therefore, tenant farm labourers were hired to live in modest dwellings and work for the landowner. The village's Tenant Farm offers intriguing contrasts to Loucks'.

Not only are the farmhouses different; so are the types of animals you'll find at each, reflecting the relative affluence of the families. Whereas Loucks' used horses, the tenant farmers would have used oxen to plough their fields, for example. If you're lucky, you'll spy the village oxen hauling a wagon along the street, or perhaps working the land. Called Red Devon oxen, the village's sturdy team has been together all their lives. They are docile and despite their size, if you ask their handler they can be slowly approached and petted.

Almost all children like animals and here's where a visit to Upper Canada Village can be great for families. There are sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese: you name it, all the critters are there and many can be petted. As well, you'll surely find the Canadian horse, another rare breed here used to haul a scow upriver. It's fun to jump on this flat-bottomed boat, dangle your hands in the St. Lawrence Seaway, and muse over how the river impacted this community.

For this "village" is totally reconstructed. When the Seaway was constructed in the 1950s, its embankments with their towns, farmhouses and outbuildings were flooded. Many buildings were carefully moved and re-erected here to create Upper Canada Village.

In fact, this all happened 40 years ago: yes, 2001 is the village's fortieth anniversary.

So it's a particularly appropriate time to visit.

To complete your visit, we strongly recommend that you have a meal at Willard's Hotel (reservations are a must) where you can enjoy such 1860s treats as Scotch eggs or pan-fried perch. And to take advantage of the village's admission which includes entry for two consecutive days, stay overnight at The Guest House, a plain and simple B&B where solitude (and Canada geese) reign supreme.

Come on, return to the village and rediscover our past!

Travel bag

Less than a two-hour drive away, Upper Canada Village makes an ideal family destination. Its excellent website at: www.uppercanadavillage.com includes a map, virtual tour, and full details of life in the 1860s.

Village facts: open daily from May 19 to October 8, 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There are special children events including the Pioneer Pals Day Camp, as well as a kids activity centre open in July and August.

Cost: admission varies from $15.95 for adults to $14.95 for seniors (+65) to being free for youngsters four and under.

Getting there: see map on website. Directions: Upper Canada Village is on County Road 2 (formerly Highway 2), 11 km (7 miles) east of Morrisburg and 29 km (18 miles) west of Cornwall.

The Guest House B&B is shown at the village website, at http://www.uppercanadavillage.com/ghouse.htm

Toll-free number: 1-800-437-2233 for information and reservations.