These days, life moves at such a fast pace that constant stress is pretty much the norm. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like I need an escape sometimes. Looking for a way to slow down and retreat to a simpler time, I hit the road to spend a day at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario.
Just over an hour’s drive outside of Ottawa and Kingston, or about two hours from Montreal, Upper Canada Village is a popular attraction that transports folks back into the 1860s.
Yeah, that sounded like what I needed: a glimpse into what life was like in a 19th-century rural Canadian village. It’s like the ultimate social media cleanse.
Just the scenic drive from the city into farmland was enough to feel like I was journeying back in time — I spotted horses, cows and even deer on the way.
As I pulled into the entrance, I was struck by the beauty and size of the place. Everything is so gorgeously maintained, with colourful flower beds, gardens and planters everywhere I looked.
I’d heard this was one of the largest living history sites in the country, and it was even bigger than I expected. Once I got my ticket and walked through the glass doors into the park, I was completely transported into a different time and place — I didn’t know where to start.
You can stroll through the village and see the blacksmith forging iron, watch the tin maker craft watering cans, stop by the cabinetmaker to see how they built furniture and coffins back in the day — the list goes on and on.
I started at the sawmill, which was truly impressive. Water rushing in from Mill Pond powered the giant saw that was currently making its way through a huge log. It takes between 15 and 20 minutes for just one cut — the kind of patience I aspire to.
Next, I stopped by the grain and wool mills. The latter uses sheep's wool to make cloth for clothing. They say folks were shorter back in the day, but the sheep were honestly huge (and adorable).
It was super cool to see how everyone in town used to have a vital role. It was seriously a breath of fresh air — there were no malls or grocery stores, rather the local dressmakers would design your garments, the cobbler would handcraft your shoes and you’d get your bread from the baker.
Of course, hierarchies were still very much a thing: in contrast to the more modest abodes of the farmers and mill workers, the doctor’s house was huge, and the Crysler Hall was totally opulent.
You don't just see how these things were done back in the day — you actually get the chance to try things out for yourself.
Each building had interactive activities like sheep shearing, cow milking and cooking demonstrations, plus at least one costumed historical interpreter who never breaks character. Everyone is ready to share their bounty of knowledge, whether that’s how to weave a blanket or make some cheese.
Speaking of cheese, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for cows. Oh, did I not mention this place has adorable animals? Yup.
The farm had a hen house, piglets sleeping with their mom and horses on the field and, of course, grazing cows. With permission from the farmer, I even got to pet a baby calf that was just 10 days old (and was instructed how to safely do so).
It feels like there’s always more to explore since the site is so huge. I kept a map of the village with me at all times so that I wouldn't miss a thing — there are over 40 buildings, trades and farms to visit in Upper Canada Village.
Travel by foot (bring comfy shoes!), horse-drawn wagon, tow-scow boat up the canal or even miniature train. The train takes you on a scenic ride through Crysler Park with views of the St. Lawrence River and the U.S. just beyond. You can even opt for an audio tour of the Battle of Crysler Farm.
There are also many places to eat on site, like Willard’s Hotel, where you can get a taste of classic heritage meals or relax with afternoon tea, or the Harvest Barn and Village Café for modern-day fare.
On your way out, don't forget to stop at the village store for a freshly baked loaf of bread or cheddar cheese made right there in the village.
Yeah, it’s a foodie’s paradise; actually, the living heritage site caters to a bunch of interests — whether you’re a history buff, animal lover or adventure seeker. This is a great spot to visit with family, friends or your partner for an out-of-the-box date.
My advice: plan ahead so that you can fit it all in; be sure to catch the boat rides and the presentation at Cook's Tavern.
You can book your tickets online and select the time that works best for you, but I suggest making it for the horse-drawn bakery delivery in the morning — it was super interesting to see, and the bread smelled heavenly.
Overall, my time at Upper Canada Village was a dream — it was so relaxing to get out of the city, unplug and see how life used to be. It doesn't hurt that it was a gorgeous and sunny 27-degree day (with a cool breeze coming off the St. Lawrence River).
The village is bustling this summer, but it’s also open in the fall and winter for special seasonal experiences.
I’m already planning a visit in the fall for the Pumpkinferno event, where local sculptors carve illustrious pumpkin displays. Then, in the winter, the village lights up with over a million twinkling lights for Alight at Night.
Whether you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life or you want a unique setting for your next IG photoshoot, Upper Canada Village is the place to be. Heed my advice and take a leisurely road trip back in time with your crew; you won’t regret it.
Address: 13740 County Rd 2, Morrisburg, ON.
Cost: $24 for adults, $18 for students; $15 for kids aged 5 to 12; children aged 4 and under get in for free. The train costs $8 per person or $5 when you purchase a ticket to the village. With the Reciprocal Pass Program, guests can present their Upper Canada Village ticket at Fort Henry in Kingston to gain complimentary admission (only valid for regular programming in the same operational year as the original ticket purchased).
Although products were provided for free in this review, the author's opinions are genuine and do not reflect the views of Narcity Media.
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