Whether it’s your first time visiting Muskoka Heritage Place (MHP) or your tenth, there’s no better way to get acquainted – or reacquainted – with Muskoka’s past, particularly in Canada’s sesquicentennial year.
Experience life in early Muskoka
The time frame of the pioneer village at Muskoka Heritage Place encompasses 50 years – from 1860 to 1910 – along with a First Nations’ encampment and trapper’s cabin which predate both Canada’s confederation and the village of Huntsville. As we approach Canada 150, it’s important to remember that this area has a rich, pre-settler history that you can learn more about first-hand. (Teachers take note: if you’re looking to complement your curriculum with some experiential programs, Muskoka Heritage Place’s educational programs cover both First Nations and early settler periods of this region’s past. Dates for this school year are booking up quickly.)
In honour of Canada 150 celebrations, there will be a display in the village’s Daniel Bray House that includes Canadian symbols and details on historical events. And the annual Dominion Day Strawberry Social and Steam-Up Day will have special significance on July 1 this year – join the village’s costumed narrators for strawberries and scones, strolling musicians, and the first steam engine run of the season at the train station.
If you work in tourism and want to know more about the pioneer village and museum so that you can share details with summer visitors to the area, join staff on June 28 and 29 for a free tour of the property. “If you talk to tourists in your job, bring a guest and come to see what we’re all about,” says MHP general manager Ron Gostlin.
Eighteen historic buildings in the pioneer village await exploration. Most of these aren’t replicas, keep in mind – many of the buildings in the village, which includes a one-room school house, a general store, hotel, church, blacksmith’s shop, and family homes – were moved to the site from various locations across Muskoka and were originally built as far back as 1868.
Stop and chat with one of the costumed narrators to learn more about life in the village. Be sure to check with the admissions desk for a list of the day’s activities and demonstrations – learn what games the First Nations, Métis, and pioneer children played and try them for yourself, make a candle, see how difficult it was to keep clothes clean (a washboard and manual wringer are hard work!), and watch how a blacksmith made every day tools. Later this summer, watch for the installation of a new heritage playground.
A ride on the historic Portage Flyer train is a highlight of a visit to Muskoka Heritage Place. Once the world’s smallest commercial railroad, which operated from 1904 until 1958 between the nearby villages of North Portage and South Portage, the train now ferries passengers alongside the Muskoka River to a beautiful stop on the shore of Fairy Lake. Take the train there and back, or bring along a picnic lunch and ride the train back on its next trip. Don’t forget to check the train schedule online or at the admissions desk, though – times vary and the train always leaves promptly on time. You don’t want to miss it! Your ticket is valid all day, too – ride as many times as you want.
You’ll also want to spend some time in the Steam Museum inside the train station. The station is a replica representative of those in the area in the 1920s and contains a telegraph office and interactive displays.
For eager train enthusiasts, you can become an engineer for a day, too – the full-day program lets you get behind the controls of a historic 1926 steam locomotive or a 1949 diesel electric locomotive, taking a coach full of passengers to the end of the line. There is only one spot left for this season, though, so book now or plan ahead for the 2017 season.
Special show brings history to life
For three nights in August at MHP’s pioneer village, the Huntsville Festival of the Arts will pay homage to playwright Stina Nyquist with Tales from Muskoka. Stina was an important contributor Huntsville’s theatre scene for almost 20 years prior to her death in 2016. Her plays highlighted the struggles and trials of this area’s early inhabitants.
Director Greg Perras will open each evening in the pioneer church with ‘Once Discovered’, an adaptation of Stina’s ‘Ripples From The Bush’ and ‘Letters From The Bush’ which follows three contemporary women as they discover and share correspondence from their descendants. The audience will then be invited to move to site in the village, stopping for a sample of old fashioned lemonade and biscuits along the way, for ‘Up The Blasted Trail’, an adaptation of the play of the same name and directed by Suzanne Riverin.
Tales from Muskoka runs August 10-12. Purchase tickets online here.
The Muskoka Museum offers a self-guided chronological journey of artifacts showing human activity in the area starting 7000 years ago. New this year is an activity that young and old can do to learn more about Huntsville’s past: a scavenger hunt. It’s five different levels are geared to age, with a picture scavenger hunt for the museum’s youngest visitors and an expert-level hunt for those who want a challenge.
The museum’s current feature exhibit – War: What is it Good For? running through 2018 – features WWI artifacts including several specific to Muskoka’s own 122nd Battalion, plus information and historic images in honour of the 100th anniversary of “The Great War.”
There will also be a temporary exhibit this year, celebrating the 140th anniversary of The Huntsville Forester. With this exhibit, you have a unique opportunity to can get even more immersed in the past. The Muskoka Museum is looking for volunteers to help transcribe some of the profiles written for the paper by H.E. Rice, one of the Forester‘s earliest editors and later owner. When complete, the profiles will be gathered together into a booklet. It’s work that can be done from home – contact Sara White at [email protected] if you’re interested.
Adopt or donate an artifact
Did you know that you can adopt one of the museum’s artifacts, a village building, or even one of the trains? Find out which ones here. (Insider tip: you can adopt other artifacts not on the list, too!) Your adoption helps to preserve these artifacts for the future. You not only get bragging rights, you get a certificate to hang on your wall or give as a gift.
If you have an artifact from the museum’s time period that you’d like to donate, the museum’s collections coordinator, Sara White, would love to hear from you. Not everything can be accepted – a collections committee works to ensure that it is in the best interest of the museum, the community and the artifact for them to take responsibility for it – but please contact Sara first for details at [email protected] or 705-789-7576 extension 3215.
The Muskoka Museum is open year-round and the full Muskoka Heritage Place site is open for 2017 from Saturday, May 20 through Saturday, October 7. There are multiple ways to visit – a village pass includes admission to the museum, you can buy a ticket for the train only, or purchase a full site pass to see it all. Note that the train does not run on Sundays or Mondays.
While the museum and village grounds are accessible, the historic buildings are not all wheelchair-friendly. The village has large-print colour photos of the interiors for those who cannot gain access. The train can accommodate two wheelchairs at a time, but the hill to the station is steep and guests may prefer to drive around instead. Friendly staff can help – just ask!
The Muskoka Heritage Place admissions desk is at 88 Brunel Road in Huntsville; the train station is on Forbes Hill Drive adjacent to the Active Living Centre.
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