Upper Canada Village has gained worldwide renown since it opened 50 years ago, on June 24, 1961. The respected Michelin tour guide lauds it as “one of the top 10 must-see historical attractions in North America.” In 2000, Upper Canada Village won Attraction Canada’s “Number One National or International Attraction” Award. This reputation was not earned lightly but is rooted in the Village’s long-standing commitment to heritage preservation and living history.
Upper Canada Village’s creation goes back to the 1950s. A massive construction project, which included the building of a hydro-electric dam and a new navigational route, began in 1954. This joint Canadian-American enterprise altered forever the shape of the St. Lawrence River and the many villages located on its banks between Cornwall and the town of Iroquois. Within four years, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was complete and the production of hydro-electric power had begun. The St. Lawrence River and the waterways to the Great Lakes were made accessible to large freight and container ships, but, in the process, eight waterfront villages had to be destroyed.
When the Seaway officially opened in 1958, these villages disappeared under the rising waters of the river. Many of the buildings and houses from these “Lost Villages” were saved and moved to Upper Canada Village. As it was not possible to find all the necessary components of a typical 19th century village from the flooded areas, buildings were also brought from elsewhere in Eastern Ontario or reconstructed on site, creating one of the finest restoration projects in North America.
The Village today is an outdoor historical museum consisting of 40 buildings on 62 acres of land situated 11 km east of Morrisburg (22 km west of Cornwall). These buildings are grouped in the form of a small riverside village, typical of eastern Upper Canada before Confederation. Each year between May and October, about 180,000 visitors experience life as it was in this busy little community of the 1860s. It boasts many unique features such as three operating mills, two working farms, an operating Cheese Factory, a bakery, printing office, general store, tavern, school, tinsmith shop, homes and churches.
What truly brings history alive, however, are the historical interpreters in period costume who portray people of the 1860s and recreate daily life and work of that period. Agricultural activities, operational water and steam-powered mills, bread baking, cooking and butter churning, spinning, horse-drawn wagons, trades people in their shops and domestic animals of all kinds complete the picture which allows visitors to travel back in time and discover the past in a very real way. The sounds, sights and smells – the very feeling- of village life more than 130 years ago is conveyed to the millions of visitors who have walked the sometimes dusty or muddy Village streets. To complement their stay, visitors can also enjoy a typical 1860s meals or shop at the Village Store where many items and goods produced in the Village are available.
In addition to its daily program, Upper Canada Village offers numerous special events throughout the season, highlighting 1860s festivities and celebrations such as Queen Victoria’s Birthday, Heritage Festival, Horse Lovers Weekend, Wood Lovers weekend and Fall Fair. During the month of December, Upper Canada Village is transformed into a winter wonderland with over half a million lights decorating the buildings, trees and fences.
Another growing area of interest are the interactive educational programs at the Village which comply with the current Ontario curriculum. Teachers may bring an entire class for a 22 hour Live-In experience or simply explore the site using themed activity sheets. Another popular youth program has been the “Time Travellers” summer camp, which gives children the opportunity to actually live at the Village for five days.