A Summer of Canadian History

MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre

Summer vacation is fast approaching and the kids are at the age where boredom arises very quickly, especially for my 9-year-old. Years ago, when the kids were smaller, I was very good at planning days around naps. We went on outings to parks and museums, we had structured times for snacks and crafts and, for the most part, the day went very smoothly until the suicide hour (dinner prep time)…of which no stay-at-home parent has much control. That daily catastrophe seems to have lessened with time, happily, but the need for structure, is still relevant…especially for me. As much as I love the freedom of summer, I also have difficulty moving from a structured school year to a completely open calendar. Now lest you think I am one of these parents who schedules their children to death. No, I am not. I definitely believe in the advantages of free play. But there is only an advantage to it if the kids are engaged and not complaining of boredom or not spending all of their time in front of a screen. So, I have decided to take summer by the reigns and ride it out with a theme in mind. Canadian History.

Children’s Museum – The Canadian Museum of Civilization

It may actually be more appropriately named, Ontario History, as Canada is such a huge country with a diverse history, it would take us multiple summers to skim the surface. But, whatever, I’m not putting out a bloody brochure so I shall digress no further. Luckily, Ottawa is a great place to be if you want to delve into the history of the country, the province, and the city. The first place I always think of when someone says they want to know more about Canadian History, is the Canadian Museum of Civilization. My kids love the Children’s Museum, which is a section of the Museum of Civilization. This year, I may, however, encourage them to explore beyond the Children’s Museum. As good as it is for kids, there are so many interesting things in the main museum that give excellent insight into our history. Not only does the museum cover our pioneer past, they have in-depth exhibits on aboriginal history and arctic exploration.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa

The Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Museum of Science and Technology, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Agriculture Museum and the Canadian War Museum are all national museums to which we have access, not to mention Parliament Hill and the Governor General’s Estate. I’m sure we will visit each one but I would like to go beyond the big names and search out the smaller places too that focus on local history. Places like Pinhey’s Point Historic Site, Billings Estate Museum, and the Bytown Museum have quaint charm as well as being great resources for history. A nicely compiled list of Ottawa and area museums to visit can be found here if you are interested. (I should also mention that cemeteries are another great way to absorb local and national history while enjoying the lovely grounds. See my post here on Canada’s National Cemetery here in Ottawa.)

The Mill at Black Creek Pioneer Village

Of course, moving beyond Ottawa, the variety of museums and historical sites is so numerous, I wouldn’t even try to mention them all here. But I will tell you of a few places I have visited that I would highly recommend. About an hour south of Ottawa is the beautiful Upper Canada Village located just outside of Morrisburg. Here you can see and experience the way pioneers lived and take part in fun events like carriage rides, old-fashioned weddings, and bi-plane rides. Further West is Kingston’s Fort Henry. There you can explore the fort as well as get an idea of what living there would have been like in the mid-1800’s. Like Upper Canada Village, it is situated overlooking the beautiful St. Lawrence river and also hosts exciting events like the sunset ceremonies and a military tatoo. Even further West is another museum hub…Toronto. A couple of my favourite places to visit there are the Royal Ontario Museum and Black Creek Pioneer Village. The ROM focuses on natural and world history where as Black Creek focuses on local pioneer history. Black Creek, like Upper Canada Village, as well as being educational, is just a beautiful place to walk in and spend the day. Toronto also has Casa Loma and historic Fort York (which I haven’t been to yet), and even more numerous other places than Ottawa.

Fort William Historical Park

Finally, I can’t not mention Thunder Bay’s Fort William Historical Park. It is one of my most favourite historical sites in all of Ontario. It’s a pity it’s so far away but if you’re ever in the area, do not…I mean it…DO NOT miss it! It’s not like the forts we have here in Southern Ontario, made of stone and full of tunnels and trenches. It is laid out more like a pioneer village and surrounded with a massive log fence. It has a huge courtyard, numerous buildings, a farm, canons, canoe rides, and lots of hands-on activities and other fun and exciting events throughout the summer. I shall not go further into what Northern Ontario has to offer in the way of history as I’m not that knowledgeable. If a reader is from the area and wants to make some suggestions, I’d be delighted to read them. If not, there are online resources like this one which list museums and museum events according to locale.

Also, before I conclude, something that I discovered while doing research for the is post I must pass along to all the parents out there. If your child is attending an Ontario school you can sign up at Ontario Fun Pass and get free passes for many of the museums and historical parks around the province. Go get them here!

Here’s to a fun and adventurous summer that I hope will prove to also be educational. Enjoy the sunshine and free spirit of summer!

(For all those readers not from the area, thanks for reading and if you ever visit, you’ll have a good head start on what to see! :))

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11 thoughts on “A Summer of Canadian History

  1. Here in Owen Sound we have the Grey Roots Museum. If you are ever up this way they have built Moreston is the scene for summer tours from our Grand Opening on July 1 through Labour Day, pioneer children’s and school programming, as well as a variety of events throughout the year from the Maple Syrup Festival in the spring, to candlelight Christmas celebrations.

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    1. Hi Jayne! Thanks for telling us about Grey Roots! I’ve never been and I’d love to visit it. If I’m ever in the area, I’ll go with the kids. So glad you dropped by.

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  2. Thank you for a very informative article. I’m particularly pleased because my knowledge of Canadian history is on par with that of your children. I feel awfully guilty for neglecting to enrich my life with learning more about a country that is, by expert testimony, the future of Civilization. I look forward to visiting these monuments and museums. In the meantime, I’m thinking that perhaps I should find a work of fiction weaved against a historical background of Canada. Most of my knowledge about other countries was accrued this way. Any suggestion?

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    1. Well, Abufares! It’s neat that you’re so interested in Canadian history, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. From your blog one can tell that you enjoy history. I do hope you get to visit some of the places I listed if ever you are here. I think you’d find them quite interesting. As for Canadian historical fiction, I can’t say as I’ve read any recently, except perhaps Murdoch Mysteries: Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings. I do remember reading Cabbagetown: A Novel by Hugh Garner and The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy back in highschool and really enjoying them. You could look into the titles and their synopses and see if they interest you at all. Let me know what you find in the end and if you liked it. Thanks so much for your comment.

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      1. Thank you for taking the time to suggest these titles. I went through their synopses, as you’ve suggested, and found the Tin Flute quite interesting. Meanwhile, my search led me to The Deserter (Alford Saga) by Paul Almond. I kindled a sample from Amazon and got hooked immediately 🙂 I will start on it as soon as I dry up from a 3 months cold dip into Swedish fiction.

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  3. Great post Isobel! I definitely learned about a bunch of places that I must visit. I didn’t know we had a pioneer village in Toronto.

    In Kitchener we have a similar village in area called Doon, and in Waterloo Park they actually have the first school house in the KW area. It’s a nice little log cabin where the pioneers first learned to read and write.

    I have yet to visit the Museum of Civilization. Perhaps on the next visit to Ottawa.

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    1. Hi Omar. Black Creek is really very nice. Take a picnic when the weather is nice and plan to spend the day. There’s a brewery there too which makes quite a nice selection.

      Yes, Doon Pioneer Village. I think I was there as a child although I don’t remember it well. There’s a lot of history in Kitchener/Waterloo its surroundings with a fascinating German/Mennonite heritage.

      Next visit to Ottawa you go to the Museum of Civilization and then we meet for coffee. 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by.

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  4. I’m driving through ON this summer with my two daughters (aged 8 & 10) and am trying to decide between visiting Upper Canada Village and Black Creek Vilage. Just wondering if you preferred one over the other. and if so why?

    Thanks :).

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    1. Hi Gina. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I preferred Upper Canada Village over Black Creek. First of all it’s much bigger and being by the St. Laurence River, it’s much prettier. Black Creek is a lovely spot to visit when you’re in Toronto. It’s a little oasis in the big city. But if you want a full on pioneer village experience, come east to UCC. 🙂

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