Upper Canada Village
Walking into Upper Canada Village feels like heading through a time warp—with gorgeous heritage buildings and friendly staff playing the part of 19th-century villagers so well you almost believe it’s real. Even the transport around the village is authentic, with wagons, “tow scows”—horse-drawn barges—and a tiny train.
Just east of Morrisburg on the banks of the St Lawrence River, Upper Canada Village is only an hour’s drive from Ottawa and 1.5 hours from Montreal, but it feels like an entire world away. Magical in the summer, it’s especially charming at Halloween and Christmas, with the annual Pumpkinferno and Alight at Night celebrations.
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More about Upper Canada Village
Upper Canada Village may showcase life back in the 1860s, but its own history is a little more recent than that. In fact, many of the heritage buildings that make up the village once existed as part of nine 18th century communities and villages along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Now known as the “Lost Villages”, they were submerged by the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s and disappeared under the surface of the rising water.
Still, all was not lost, with over 6,500 people and 530 buildings relocated, including the ones that went on to become Upper Canada Village. Authorities bought in special technology to do the deed and families were given a day’s notice (if that) of their houses being moved and just told to put their lamps on their floor. If only moving house was still that easy!
In a pretty impressive feat, entire towns like Iroquois were also picked up and moved out of the way of the rising waters, and half of Morristown was shifted to higher ground. Now, if you go into the town and explore along the water’s edge you can sometimes still catch a glimpse of sidewalks and old foundations which have been underwater for over 60 years.
As part of a big plan to preserve this slice of regional history—which actually dates back as far as 1784—40 of the buildings were chosen to take pride of place in the newly designated Upper Canada Village. Opened in 1961, it was hoped the heritage village would both preserve the buildings and showcase life in the 1860s. Luckily for everyone, it does just that!
Offering a unique chance to taste, see, touch, smell and hear what life would have been like back in a typical rural English Canadian village in 1861, this unique heritage site has become one of Ontario’s most popular destinations. Plus, with farm animals, one of Eastern Ontario’s biggest gift shops and plenty of fun things to see and explore, it’s a big hit with the whole family.
Upper Canada Village not only looks the part but it also still acts it too, with three fully-functioning mills: a sawmill, a woollen mill and a flour mill that supplies the bakery. This steam-powered mill, known as Bellamy’s Mill, is pretty impressive. It dates back to 1822. Visitors can taste freshly-baked bread made from the ground flour.
There is also a blacksmith, broom maker and cabinetmaker, a dressmaker, a newspaper press, a weaver, a doctor, a shoemaker, a tinsmith, a cheese factory, a school, two farms, a hotel, a fire brigade—complete with a hand-pumped fire engine—a tavern, churches, houses and halls. When you get hungry, you can stop for a bite in one of the restaurants and cafes. For a quick bite swing by the Village Cafe in the Village Store or grab a BeaverTail pastry. Other options include the Harvest Barn and Willard’s Hotel, which offers afternoon tea and fancy sit-down meals.
Spread out across the countryside, the village also features rolling grassy hills, fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, farmland and even a canal where you can take a ride on the tow scows (an old-fashioned barge). Hop on take a ride in a horse and carriage to see it in all its 1860s glory. History aficionados can also learn about the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, one of the most important sites of the War of 1812.
Despite how cool the buildings are and how beautiful the setting is, the best thing about Upper Canada Village is probably the villagers. Dressed in period costumes, the villagers (staff) are fully skilled in their areas of expertise and able to answer any questions you have about life in Upper Canada in the 1860s. You can see demonstrations of traditional skills like weaving and blacksmithing and even purchase locally-made products like tinware, yarn and blankets, cheese, bread, jams and preserves in the Village Store.
Visiting Upper Canada Village
Upper Canada Village is open from mid-May to mid-October every year. However, there are also special holiday weekends during the winter months, like the Halloween Pumpkinferno and the Christmassy Alight at Night Festival.
Easy to visit on a day trip from Ottawa and Montreal, the best way to get out to Upper Canada Village is by car, although you can also look into joining day tours from the big cities. The nearest town offering public transit is Cornwall, 30 minutes to the east.
With over 40 buildings to explore and lots of outdoor sights, you’ll want to allow a good few hours to make the most of your visit. If you feel like staying overnight there are a few options nearby, including Montgomery House on the outskirts of Upper Canada Village. A night or two in this 19th century rustic log house is an experience in itself. The cabin has a few mod cons, like a fridge and a TV (and showers) but other than that it’s pretty traditional in its set up, with a fold-out double bed in the open-plan downstairs and six single beds in the upstairs bedroom. There is also a two-storey historic farmhouse known as the Guest House.
Outside of the park, there are campsites, cottages, holiday homes and hotels within a close radius and plenty of lovely spots to relax on the St Lawrence River. Visitors staying longer in the region could also check out Ault Park and the Long Sault Parkway to find out more about the Lost Villages.