One of the most fascinating aspects of Southeastern Ontario is the diverse number of ways to immerse one’s self in history. From the earliest days of Upper Canada and beyond the echoes of our past are everywhere you look- ranging from stunning architecture, charming villages, art, industry and more.
This particular story collects a sampling of locations throughout The Great Waterway that are open year-round; allowing visitors to see, feel and even taste a dynamic culmination of activities that are both fascinating and uniquely local. Whether you’re a history buff or even mildly interested, these locations are prime stops on your next autumn road trip.
The Bethune-Thompson House serves as an intriguing example of the tried and true building methods of both the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The house presents a marriage not only of timelines but also cultural influences; featuring both French Canadian and British attributes.
Once the home of two prominent figures in Canadian history, this house is synonymous with a pivotal era in our heritage. The first Presbyterian Minister in Upper Canada: Rev. John Bethune purchased the house 1804. He was a Scottish-born military Chaplain before being posted to a Loyalist Battalion and eventually becoming one of a few Scottish ministers in Upper-Canada before 1812.
In 1815 the house was purchased by David Thompson: a famous cartographer and explorer for the North West Company. He is credited with exploring and mapping out a great deal untamed wilderness that is now Western Canada.
Situated along the world-famous Rideau Heritage Route in Smiths Falls, the Heritage House Museum stands today as a pristine example of Canada’s industrial coming of age. The original owner was a businessman from Athens who later came to own two mills located in nearby Sly’s Rapids.
Built during the 1860’s and strategically placed between the railway and the nearby mill it allowed proximity between them – and made the movement of raw materials from the mill to the nearby trains easier and more cost effective.
The house remained inhabited by various residents for nearly a century before being purchased by the Town of Smiths Falls to be restored as a museum. Today, visitors can have a picnic on the houses beautiful grounds which feature a picturesque gazebo and gardens. The museum also hosts several different special events ranging from new exhibits, historical workshops, kids programs and art shows.
Heritage House Museum
The Brockville Museum is a fantastic stop for the whole family boasting a fascinating collection of exhibits. ‘From Carriage to Car’ provides a look at Brockville’s once thriving carriage manufacturing industry and subsequently fleeting automotive legacy. On display is a pair of vintage Briscoe automobiles – and some wonderfully preserved carriages.
The exhibit is a nice segue into ‘Made in Brockville’ which showcases an assortment of products once manufactured right in town which included cables, metalworks, and even Stetson hats. Another exhibit of interest is Brockville’s Rail Story, which provides an intriguing illustration of how the advent of trains shaped and influenced Brockville’s development.
A fascinating brand new exhibit has made its debut as of September entitled: Brockville’s River Story. It provides a comprehensive look at Brockville’s waterfront and how it has changed over time from an industrial epicenter to the residential and commercial area we see today.
The Brockville Museum
Brockville’s waterfront has undergone many transitions over the past two centuries. Once the site of a series of mills that saw prominence in the mid to late 1800’s, the area was at one time a bustling hub at the dawn of the industrial age. The Robert Shepherd Grist Mill in Brockville is a grand monument to that pivotal era – and one we nearly lost.
The mill itself and surrounding lands were purchased and repurposed as a coal depot for the rail lines which replaced the mills near the turn of the century. Later, it was used as a storage house. The City of Brockville came to own the property in the 70’s – and by 1984 the mill was slated for demolition.
Rather than see this important piece of history lost forever, current owner Peter Hoogendam won a bidding competition and set to work repairing the derelict mill. Over the course of nearly a year, the mill was gutted and painstakingly renovated using as much of the original materials as possible. Today, The Mill Restaurant serves up a delectable selection of genuinely local dishes with a Mediterranean flare. All three stories of the building contain spectacular areas for dining, special events, and live entertainment.
For 37 years the Frontenac County Schools Museum has been providing visitors an experiential glimpse into Canada’s educational history. Within this impressive stone structure is an impressive collection of school records, texts and other items of intrigue which date from the pioneer era right up to the turn of the century and beyond.
Most notable is a recreated classroom modeled in the fashion of the 1900’s-1930s. The fun and interactive classroom has everything you’d expect complete with desks, books and the famous great, great, grandfather of the iPad: otherwise known as the slate.
Frontenac County Schools Museum
Not far from the museum – in beautiful downtown Kingston is a unique pub with a genuinely historic edge. In fact, this charming restaurant has a direct line to our nation’s Confederation. The namesake for the pub is in no need of lengthy introductions. From 1849 – 1860 the building was once the law office of none other than our first Prime Minister: Sir John A. MacDonald.
Sir John’s Public House sports a warm and inviting atmosphere reminiscent of the taverns and tap-houses of the mid-nineteenth century. The menu even features dishes that are inspired by and prepared using the ingredients and techniques of the period.
Take a Trip Through History
The L&A County Museum & Archives gives visitors an astonishing glimpse into the lives of those who lived during the late 18th to 19th centuries with exhibits, artifacts, and stories centric to Lennox & Addington County. The museum has a modernized reading room, genealogical research materials in addition to regular programs throughout the year.
L&A County Museum & Archives
Take a Look
Built in the 1880’s Glanmore National Historic Site is a superb example of the Second Empire style of architecture made popular in the later 1800’s. The house’s official name is the Phillips-Faulkner House, which is partially derived of home’s original owner: John P.C Phillips. Glanmore remained a family residence until 1971 when it was sold to become a museum.
Today, the home’s interior is lavishly furnished with both original components of Glanmore itself, as well as different collections of artifacts and curios of the timeframe. Visitors can tour the home and get an in-depth look at upscale life in a bygone era.
Glanmore National Historic Site
Take a Look
The building which now houses the Trent Port Museum is an important piece of Trenton’s municipal heritage. First erected in 1861 it served as the inaugural town hall for what is now Quinte West. It has been the sight of a courthouse, a market and was once home to the police station until the 1980’s.
In addition to the museum’s exhibits, visitors can sit and enjoy a coffee and baked goodies in the Heritage Café. Staffed entirely by volunteers this quaint little café offers a lovely place to relax and enjoy the wonderfully restored town hall. All proceeds from the café go to support the Trent Port Historical Society – and the museum itself.
Trent Port Museum
The Tweed & Area Heritage Centre is a one-stop introduction to the rich heritage, both past and present, of the Tweed area.
Amid the charming warmth of Tweed Ontario is a popular destination for history buffs and travelers alike that exceed the expectations of a typical welcome center. The Tweed & Area Heritage Centre hosts a local arts and crafts gallery, a museum as well as a research area and archives.
While exploring this scenic region just north of Belleville this fun little stop offers an education time capsule of sorts and a glimpse at the history of those who built Tweed and the surrounding hamlets and villages.
Tweed & Area Heritage Centre
Take a Look
Time Travel: Fun for the Whole family
The scenic roadways and breathtaking driving routes along The Great Waterway run parallel with a living, breathing history that is both interconnected, and exceptionally unique with each and every town, village and city you unveil. It’s a remarkable series of tales told with great pride by the communities who keep it alive.
As always, thanks for reading! I hope this post has inspired you to experience everything the Great Waterway has to offer. To get started on planning your next adventure hit the link below!
Explore Ontario’s Heritage