Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Travelling to a Small Town in Ontario, Canada, in 1914

In the last year, Mary Ann and I have made efforts to discover our local area in day trips by car, motorcycle, walking or bicycling. Yesterday, we found one of those places that I would put near the top of the list. It's a place I pass by every time I go to Port Dover, or almost anywhere actually, called Doon Pioneer Village. I did visit the place about 30 years ago, and have not been back since then. In fact I used to enjoy visiting pioneer villages, and have seen several including Drummondville Quebec, Upper Canada Village, and Black Creek Pioneer Village in Ontario. 

But the occasion yesterday was much better than I remember, and possibly hard to match at any time. First of all, it was free for us yesterday. The new Waterloo Region museum will be opening soon on the site of the village, and this is actually quite a big museum, of the size you might normally only find in larger cities. So the museum held an open house for the Historical Society and their guests, and lo and behold it appears that Mary Ann got invited and that was extended to include me. Not only free admission, but free punch and snacks at the museum, and free access to the Pioneer Village.

At some point Mary Ann and her friend were talking shop, and I decided to go outside to check out the steam locomotive parked at the edge of the outdoor cafe patio. I am somewhat interested in trains, I guess part of my mechanical interest that also draws me to motorcycling. When I finished looking over the engine, I noticed a restored train station beside it. It looked like there was no one around, and the door to the main waiting room was unlocked so I decided to poke around. I went in and was looking at some of the posters on the wall when I was startled by a voice behind me asking "Would you like to purchase a ticket to somewhere?" I recovered enough to look around and found that there was actually a woman behind the ticket counter, dressed in an old fashioned costume. I said "Maybe, where does the train go?". Then she showed me a map of the Grand Trunk railway tracks in Canada in about 1914, and a similarly dated schedule of passenger services and fares. It seemed like I could probably get to Vancouver, British Columbia for about $5, which I had in my wallet, and this price was quite a bargain.

After we talked for a while about the history of the Grand Trunk railway, I made my way back to Mary Ann and told her the strange tale of this women trying to sell me a ticket on the train. According to Mary Ann it was nothing supernatural, it was merely one of the tour guides for the pioneer village. I said there is nobody in the village, I think it's closed today. So the three of us decided to go out and stroll about the village, and although we didn't see any other tourists, every building was fully staffed with costumed guides. All we needed to do was walk in to a building and talk to them. All three of us were interested in history so we had lots of questions. For example, I was asking about the unusual electric light bulbs in the general store. Apparently, they were supposed to look like they dated back to about 1914, which was about the time that this area first started getting electricity. I'm pretty sure they were not original pieces, as they were all working, and all turned on.

Another place we visited was "Peter McArthur House". He was apparently quite a famous writer for the Toronto Globe in 1914, and lived in this house near Appin, Ontario. The house was moved to Doon Pioneer Village some time ago. I never heard much of this Canadian writer, but I took a look at some of his work, and I like his style, which was a blend of Stephen Leacock-like humour and serious political commentary. He tried to promote farming as a way of life, and was an informal spokesman for the "back to the land" movement, at a time when farmers were heading for the cities in droves. Looking back from 2010, he was apparently not that successful in his quest to stem the tide.

I found a long article about him here.

It was like a trip back to 1914, the target date set by the pioneer village. I'm not sure how much I would like visiting the village again with bus loads of schoolchildren around, but it is a place we will go back to see again, especially if we have some out of town visitors staying with us. Or maybe even some in-town friends or relatives (like my grandchildren maybe, except they keep saying they have already seen everything I take them to - they have been on many class trips).

Picture: The Stanley Steamer club photo, when they visited Doon Pioneer village in 1999.

1 comment:

  1. Another site to add to your 'local area in day trips' list, if you've not already been there, is the Halton County Radial Railways museum.

    A pleasant run from the K-W area, it's located just south of Highway 7 between Guelph and Rockwood.

    This is a real gem - oddly enough, relatively unknown to many in Southern Ontario.

    And, unlike your Doon Pioneer Village experience, their railway actually takes you somewhere! And, even better, you can treat yourself to a nice ice cream at the far end of the loop!