The past comes to life in these 10 Canadian living history museums

Most museums feature static displays of artifacts and maybe a few interactive screens, but living history museums really make the past come alive by having costumed re-enactors walk among visitors in historical places to explain and demonstrate what life was like in times gone by.

There are numerous locations in Canada where visitors can experience living history museums. They can see how their ancestors lived and often get some hands-on instructions on how to do things the old-fashioned way, something that children are especially fascinated by.

From east to west, here are 10 Canadian living history museums that you won’t want to miss. Some operate all year, others only during the warm weather while some close during the fall and winter, only opening for special events, especially around Christmas, so be sure to check their websites for the latest info.

Norstead, Newfoundland

If you journey to the northern tip of Newfoundland, you can visit L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site to see the remains of the only Viking settlement known to have existed in North America. There’s a sod house on site with costumed actors that is a lot of fun, but for a more expansive Viking experience, visit nearby Norstead, a recreation of an entire Norse village. Learn how to forge iron, get your fortune told and see Snorri, a massive replica of a Viking ship that has actually sailed across the Atlantic, proving that Leif Erikson could have done the same.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Nova Scotia

The 18th-century Fortress of Louisbourg sits on a windswept stretch of Cape Breton, welcoming visitors to step back to a time when France and England battled for supremacy in North America. Walk through the immaculately-restored walls of this stone city and chat with people that live there like soldiers, bakers and craftsmen, most of whom will remain in character as you interact with them. A new virtual reality experience, The Messenger, will bring you back to 1744 as you race against time to deliver a message to the fortress about English spies.

Kings Landing Historical Settlement, New Brunswick

Kings Landing boasts one of the largest collections of historic artifacts in eastern Canada which is on display at the site’s museum, but visitors really come here to interact with costumed characters from New Brunswick’s colourful past to experience life in the 19th century. You’re encouraged to step into their homes to talk to them, help them with their chores on the farm or in the village and imagine you are in another time. Kids love it, but so do their parents.

This is just an excerpt. You can read the rest of the story on Canada.com.

Rescuing baby puffins in Newfoundland

I point my flashlight through the night air at a white-coloured object on the road, thinking I have found a baby puffin. My excitement turns to disappointment when I realize it is nothing more than a discarded coffee cup.

A light rain falls as I wander the streets of the tiny coastal town of Witless Bay, a short drive south from St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am searching for baby birds because I have joined the Puffin and Petrel Patrol. It is a dedicated band of volunteers who comb the streets of communities near the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve every late summer, looking for fledgling birds that are drawn to the towns’ artificial lights, confusing them for the moon and the stars by which they navigate to sea.

The thing about puffins and baby puffins—more properly known by the all-too-cute name of pufflings—is that they are much better swimmers than fliers. If these six-week-old baby birds become stranded on land, they aren’t always able to get back to sea without human help. The patrol spends hours every night during the fledgling season in August and September rescuing hundreds of these birds before they become injured or killed by cars or predators.

Read the rest of the story on WestJet Magazine.

Canadian human rights museum connects the Holocaust with today’s troubled world

A new and spectacular museum in the western Canadian city of Winnipeg teaches visitors about Canada’s own connections to the Holocaust and how the decisions we make today can have an impact on the human rights of others.

“Six million did not just happen out of the blue,” said Dr. Jeremy Maron, the curator of the Holocaust gallery of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. “It required a lot of individual actions and a lot of individual choices. We want our visitors to reflect on how their own actions and their own choices might contribute towards human rights, either in positive or negative ways.”

Opening its doors in 2015, the CMHR is an audacious structure of glass and steel that was the vision of one of the city’s greatest Jewish philanthropists, the late Israel Asper. He wondered why children from Winnipeg, a city with a sizeable Jewish community, and other Canadian cities had to leave the country to visit museums in the United States or Israel to learn about the Holocaust and was inspired to create a similar institution closer to home.

The idea quickly morphed from a Holocaust-specific museum into one about human rights as viewed through a Canadian lens. While Canada has an outstanding human rights record today, it’s not perfect and has plenty of dark stories of its own, including the treatment of its aboriginal people and how it interred foreign populations during both world wars. These and many other human rights themes are presented to visitors in interactive galleries that challenge them to question their own beliefs about how they think they and others should be treated.

The museum is one of only two Canadian national museums outside of the country’s capital of Ottawa, and the only one in Western Canada. Its Holocaust gallery features several fascinating artifacts that are connected to the personal stories of people who were caught up in the Nazi genocide.

”Presentation of first-hand experience is very important,” said Maron. “It can really root this historical atrocity that is something so big that it becomes abstract, Hearing a first-hand story can personalize it and make it real in some sense.”

“We try to bring individual stories to the forefront for visitors to make those individual connections and see some of the faces behind these mass numbers. Each of those six million is a particular individual who has a particular experience with a particular impact that happened to them and their families.”

One of the artifacts that Maron likes to highlight is a Yiddish poem that was probably written in the Radom ghetto in Poland on January 13, 1943, the date of one of the mass deportations from the ghetto to the death camps.

“It was donated to us by the poet’s son who found it in his family’s belongings long after the death of this father. The poem describes the conditions and the despair of the ghetto, but it also contains this sense of oblique hope for the continuation of the Jewish people, either in this world or the next.”

Maron also talks about the moving story of Sigi Wassermann who lost his parents in Auschwitz. He is a local survivor whose experience are told in the museum of being a child sent to Great Britain on the Kindertransport after Kristallnacht in 1938 before finally settling in Canada.

But possibly the most emotional story of all is that of the SS St. Louis, a passenger ship filled with Jews that the Nazis let sail before the outbreak of the war. The ship attempted to land in Cuba, but was refused entry, then was turned away from the United States and Canada before returning to Europe. Most of those who returned would later perish when the Nazis occupied its neighbours, although the lucky few who made it to Great Britain would survive.

Maron says there are some analogies to refugees fleeing today to Europe and North America from places like Syria and the museum’s Holocaust stories make visitors think about parallels in the world today.

“They were granted a means to leave safely that is different from a lot of refugees today whose very mode of fleeing is extremely dangerous right now, but what is the same is the lack of will of some countries to actually allow these refugees to dock and enter so the borders that were closed previously, remained closed.”

Making connections with the past and the present is something that the CMHR does well. One of the the themes that it examines in the Holocaust gallery is the abuse of state power and how the Nazis wielded it.

“The Nazis used the instruments of power to very quickly implement their racial and totalitarian policies. If a user is looking at this gallery, they are learning about that history in the context of Nazi Germany and the growth of the Nazi party in the 1920s that came to power in the 1930s. if they are doing this as part of the museum journey more broadly, they may very well pick up other connections to the theme of state power that they may recognize either elsewhere in the museum journey or make connections in their own mind about similar themes that they are thinking about.”

While some people think that the story of the Holocaust is complete, Maron thinks it will be a long time before we completely comprehend it, if ever, and galleries like the one he curates will always be changing to reflect new knowledge.

“I think more will be revealed in years to come because there are so many micro-histories. Whenever I go to a Holocaust conference, I’m always shocked that there will be a panel or papers on a particular aspect I had never thought about,” he said. “There’s always going to be more that we don’t know and that we’re uncovering, maybe some surprising links that we’ve never uncovered either through archives opening up or new discoveries by researchers. It might slow down a little bit once we no longer have first-hand voices, but I think it will always continue.”

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
https://humanrights.ca/

 

Kingston is magically hip

Kingston’s favourite sons, The Tragically Hip, have played their last concert in their hometown, but they won’t be the last big thing to come out of this small Ontario city that is bursting with creativity.

Part of that energy is fueled by the young student population of its academic institutions, Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College of Canada, but a lot of it stems from the city’s human scale. Everybody seems to know everybody and they all gather in the city’s charming and compact downtown to share a meal and some drinks and hatch new projects.

That human interaction is one of Kingston’s most potent attractions for visitors. Everyone is made to feel welcome and be part of the community, even if it’s just for one day.

“Give Kingston a chance. Give it a weekend and you will be amazed,” said Claire Bouvier, a local entrepreneur who is one of the co-founders of Kingston fashion truck, The Loft Girls. “There are so many amazing people in this town and, it is a secret, but once you’re here long enough you start to recognize how many incredible people are here.”

Claire Bouvier

One of those people is Eric Brennan, the chef at Le Chien Noir and a force in the city’s up-and-coming food scene that features a surprising number of outstanding restaurants crammed into the city’s historic downtown.

Eric Brennan

“In the summertime, especially, there’s lot of great places to go in Kingston,” said Brennan “There’s a huge patio scene going around and on the waterfront. I’m a patio hopper, for sure. I like going down the street to our friends at Tango Nuevo, kind of a Spanish tapas place that’s a lot of fun and I like that as much as I like the neighbourhood pub down the street, the Iron Duke on Wellington.”

Another pub worth visiting is Redhouse. Founded by the Reid brothers, Mike, Dave and Dan, it’s a happening spot that features good food, live music and local brews like Stone City and MacKinnon Brothers.

“We are trying to bring in some craft beers, some beers that people weren’t drinking,” said brother Mike, explaining the genesis of the brew pub. “We are getting away from the big, bland brands. We’re getting local, local produce. Everybody from the community were involved to start something new and it worked.”

And if you thought Kingston was a stodgy place that was all about Sir John A. MacDonald and Fort Henry, then you need to spend some time browsing the city’s many art galleries or make a visit to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre located in the heart of the historic campus of Queen’s University.

“Something that people don’t know about Kingston is that there is a large, large art community,” said Jo Perodin, who is an artist at Ink-Tegrity Tattoo Studio that she runs with her husband Max.  Kingston also happens to be home to Eikon Devices, one of the country’s best-known manufacturer of tattoo supplies.

Jo and Max Perodin

“We have multiple tattoo shops here in Kingston, all of us specializing in different styles, different art, different environments,” added Perodin.

Located halfway between Montreal and Toronto and a similar distance from Ottawa, Kingston seems to be the perfect combination of all of those places, but without any of their big-city pretensions. If you’ve only ever stopped on the outskirts of Kingston on the 401 to gas up your car, then you owe it to yourself to drive a few minutes into the downtown to see why it is such a magical place.

SHOP
Kingston has numerous locally-owned shops that cater to all tastes. Start your explorations on Princess Street.

EAT
Le Chien Noir Bistro (69 Brock St.)
www.lechiennoir.com

DRINK
Redhouse (369 King St E.)
www.redhousekingston.com

SLEEP
Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront (2 Princess St.)
www.hikingstonwaterfront.com

PLAY
Fort Henry National Historic Site is a popular place to visit. For relaxing time, take the free ferry to Wolfe Island where you can go for a swim or enjoy the view of Kingston from the other side of the St. Lawrence River.
www.wolfeisland.com/ferry.php

Most expensive cities in Canada for hotels? It’s not the ones you think

If you were to ask me which cities were the most expensive for hotels in Canada in the summer, I’d probably pick the most popular resort destinations followed by the country’s three biggest cities, but I’d only be half right.

Online hotel booking site Cheaphotels.org surveyed prices in 30 Canadian destinations for August 2018 to find out which were the most expensive places to book a centrally-located hotel, rated 3 stars or higher.

Tops on the list was a resort destination, Banff at $336 CAD, followed by Vancouver at $324, but Montreal and Toronto didn’t even crack the top 10.

I would have expected Whistler, B.C. to be in the top 10, but it was other resort destinations like Canmore and Niagara-on-the-Lake that made the cut.

The least expensive destinations among the ones surveyed were Edmonton and Saskatoon where travelers can find rooms for around $100 per night which is a great deal because both cities are fantastic places to visit in the summer.

Here’s the top 30 list:

1. Banff $336
2. Vancouver $324
3. Canmore $316
4. Richmond $236
5. Niagara on the Lake $235
6. Halifax $234
7. Kingston $234
8. Kelowna $221
9. Quebec City $187
10. Victoria $184

If you want to read the full results of the company’s survey, visit:
https://www.cheaphotels.org/press/canada18.html