Revisiting the past at Upper Canada Village – from a distance

Tour guide Lauren Casselman led our group past Mr. Robertson’s garden.

MORRISBURG – The St. Lawrence Parks Commission’s largest attraction, Upper Canada Village, re-opened on July 1st this year. Its season was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions on gatherings.

Blacksmith Sperry Lee hammers iron for a project.

The village reopened to booked tours of groups of no more than 10 people, providing a guided glimpse into life in 1866.

I was invited by the SLPC to visit and become a tourist at the village, experiencing what had been put in place to enable the village to re-open.

This was not my first visit to the village, or even my 20th. Visits to Upper Canada Village have been a frequent part of summers here, living in South Dundas. Arriving at the village, the first thing I noticed was the parking was double spaced to ensure visitors getting in and out of their cars can maintain physical spacing from others.

At the front entrance before going in, I was greeted by Dave, the locomotive engineer. As the village’s replica train is not operating so far this season, Dave is on hand to greet new people and renew old acquaintances to the village.

Interpreter Carol Sargent at Cook’s Tavern checks on lunch.

Entering the village proper required passing through the front entrance and a hand sanitizing station before stepping into the past.

Our guide, Lauren, took the group on a trip back in time to 1866.

Unlike the usual self-guided tours in other years, the benefit of the guided tour offered currently is that you learn details you might not pick up on your own.

The smaller, guided group setting works well with the interactive, but distanced, activities visitors do along the way.

Tom Henbest with the Morrisburg Melodeons performs.

This included meeting Tom the musician, a member of the Morrisburg Melodeons musical troop, who described the quadrille or square dance that had occurred the night before. Tom showcased the many instruments the group, who was still sleeping off the effects of the previous night, played.

Another interesting location was inside Cook’s Tavern, where Carol was in the kitchen checking on a lunch of baked beans and ham.

Interesting to me was that while the tour did show fewer buildings, I didn’t feel like I missed out. The village was still the village, the interpreters still did a great job showcasing the history of the era. It was just different. Different doesn’t mean less, or bad.

Some areas are currently off limits including the Battle of Crysler’s Farm Memorial, while other areas like the school house are under repair as capital projects were delayed due to the COVID-19 related shutdown.

After the tour, village manager Tracey Ogilby explained that more buildings are gradually opening up, but other buildings are going to be closed for a longer period of the summer because work that normally would be done in the spring before the village opened was delayed. Other areas, like the Battle of Crysler’s Farm Memorial are closed to help control group sizes in park spaces.

Going back to the village was like reconnecting with an old friend, and it was good to be back again. As “Stay-cations” are going to be the norm for the rest of the summer 2020, I will visit again.

Here are some tips for when you book your tour.

Bring a mask: Masks are required inside all buildings and indoor spaces by the local health unit. Even period costumed staff wear masks in indoor spaces. There are exemptions made for those unable to wear a mask for medical reasons.

Bring hand sanitizer: There are minimal contact points at the village. While there is frequent, but unobtrusive, signage reminding visitors to keep two metres apart, hand sanitizing stations are limited to the village gift shop and the entrance to the village.

Bring water and a snack: Except in the village gift shop, there is nowhere to purchase a drink or food. As the tours are about 90 minutes long, you’ll need a drink, especially on hot and humid days.

Book your visit online: Walk-up visits are not allowed currently.

A farm hand explains some of the heritage plants in the Cook’s Tavern garden.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.