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Changes to Upper Canada Village

I remember going to Upper Canada Village when I was 13, just one of several historically significant stops that my dad took us to on our vacation that year. We spent most of the day there, exploring and learning how the Loyalists went through their daily lives.
Now, with the state of the economy, Upper Canada Village is feeling the effects of reduced visitors and revenue.

from "Loyalist Trails" UELAC Newsletter, June 28, 2009:

Help Preserve Upper Canada Village

At the cessation of hostilities in 1783, United Empire Loyalists made their way from the United States of America to their new homes in many parts of Canada, including the shores of the St. Lawrence River in what is now Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. 60 years ago, with the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway many of those first settlements, and an important part of our heritage, were flooded. Forever lost to the river were the towns of Milles Roches, Aultsville, Wales, Maple Grove and other settlements along the Front, where our loyalist ancestors carved homes out of a wilderness. While many homes and possessions of historical value were lost, the Government of Ontario made a promise to the people of this area, many of whom were of loyalist descent, and to population of Ontario that their history would be “recreated” in Upper Canada Village. Care was to be taken to ensure that the story of these first settlements would be preserved, protected and provided to the visitors to this village in a respectful manner
Growing up in a family where history was discussed on a daily basis, I had many opportunities to visit Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg. To me it was a magical place where history seemed to come alive. It was a place where the village blacksmith or grocer could be a neighbour from down the street, a place where you could smell fresh bread baking, taste horehound, that old time confectionary, see a stagecoach in operation, hear the brrrrr of the saw as it cut lumber in the sawmill and maybe experience a bit of what life was like in 19th century Ontario. Just as I have changed over the years, it would seem time has changed our beloved Upper Canada Village. Originally it was to provide the visitor with demonstrations of the settlement of this area from the coming of the United Empire Loyalists to the end of the 19th Century. We have seen how the contribution of the Loyalists has been downplayed in the village, with more emphasis being put on life in the 1860’s. One of the most visible examples of this change was the renaming of the French-Robertson House to the Robertson House. Later changes included a reduction in the number of first person interpreters and the introduction of special events such as fall fairs, quilt shows, historical wedding ceremonies and historical funerals. To be fair, it would appear that some of these changes have been beneficial to the visitor experience at Upper Canada Village.
A few years ago, news of plans to build a historical “theme park” at Upper Canada Village circulated, complete with roller coasters, water slides and other activities being located near not only Upper Canada Village but in close proximity to the Crysler Farm Battlefield. While these plans were abandoned, a few years later similar ones surfaced, disappeared and once again, earlier this year, news began to filter out about more changes to Upper Canada Village. This time, many of the changes were in the process of being instituted before the general public got wind of them. Stories circulated of penny farthing bicycles being purchased for customer rental, of renovations associated with turning the historic Cook’s Tavern into a licensed tavern and of an abandoned building being turned into a concession stand where cold drinks and various sundries would be sold. There were also rumours of wide-screen television screens being put into buildings and hidden amplifiers in trees for the "Traveling Tilton's".
At two meetings held in the local area, people have been told that many of the changes which are being implemented are to ensure the viability of this local heritage site and to ensure compliance with government legislation. Other reasons for the changes include a steady decline in visitor numbers and a corresponding drop in revenue. Something had to be done to ensure the survival of Upper Canada Village.
Since late May 2009, local historical societies as well as members of the general public have begun to speak up about many of the changes that are occurring at the Village. There is widespread concern about the historical integrity of buildings undergoing renovations, about changes to village building schedules as well as communition problems which seem to exist between the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and the general public. There has been press coverage of the protests, which have included demonstrations, letter and email writing campaigns, meetings and attempts to contact Commission members.
As descendants of United Empire Loyalists,we have a duty to ensure that our heritage is preserved, protected and promoted in a respectful and meaningful manner. If you are concerned about what may be happening at Upper Canada Village, I urge you to research the issues surrounding the changes and make an informed decision as to your next course of action. Please feel free to contact me at for more information if you wish. Other email contact information is listed below if you wish to make your views known.

Pat MacDonald – St. Lawrence Parks Commission -
Hon. Monique Smith (Tourism) –
Jim Brownell MPP (Liberal) –
Hon. Aileen Carroll (Culture) –
Premier Dalton McGuinty –
Bob Runciman – interim opposition leader –
Tourism Critic - Ted Arnott –
Culture Critic – Julia Munro –

Carolyn Goddard, UE, St. Lawrence Branch

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