The Years That Followed – Canada preview: the lost villages

 In Diary, News

The Lost Villages: what a great title for a story, I thought. Words that are resonant of mystery and ghostliness, of loss and change.

How can you lose something as substantial as a village? I was hooked. I wanted to find out more.

As so often happens, the reality behind the words turns out to be something more prosaic.

The Lost Villages are nine Canadian communities that were destroyed during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, back in the 1950s.

Whole villages were removed from their original locations so that the Seaway could be constructed: entire communities were uprooted and transferred elsewhere.

These nine Lost Villages lay between the city of Cornwall, Ontario, and the village of Morrisburg, Ontario.

Their names are lyrical, full of hidden stories: Milles Roches, Moulinette, Dickinson’s Landing, Wales, Farran’s Point and Aultsville,Woodlands, Santa Cruz and Maple Grove.

What remains of these nine villages now lies underneath the waters of Lake St. Lawrence.

The wonderful Museum of Civilization in Ottawa tells the story of the Inuit, the Métis and the First Nations people of Canada.

I spent a whole day there some time ago. That’s one story of this intriguing country: and a fascinating one it is, too.

Upper Canada Heritage Village, where I spent the day yesterday, tells one of the other stories of Canada: the story of the European settlers – the Dutch, the Scottish, the Irish, the Polish.

The Village recreates the way of life of those intrepid immigrants in the 1860’s.

Their particular story is one of tenacity, of hard work, of ruthlessness: above all, it is one of the will to survive and prosper.

It’s also a story of how we thrive in communities, how human beings need to build the structures that keep us connected to each other.

The entire Heritage Village was created in the early 1960’s and uses many buildings that originally stood in The Lost Villages of Ontario. It’s living history at its best: low-key, friendly, well-informed guides answer questions, demonstrate settler skills and bring an entire village to life.

Men and women working in the Village wear traditional clothing; the hotel serves only the kind of food that was available in the 1860’s; the bakery produces bread that tastes like bread used to taste decades ago.

The tinsmith continues his work: his bowls and pots are of a stunning, luminous simplicity. The broom maker crafts many different types: one for cobwebs, one for floors, one for delicate ornaments.

The dressmaker shows the three dresses that settler women traditionally owned: the working dress, the good dress and the best dress. Cotton was fine for the working women: silk was available for the more affluent.

The sawmill and the flour mill operate as they did in the nineteenth century: with an overwhelming amount of noise.

Rules for workers were strict back then: no talking, no time-wasting. Any imperfections in the work had to be paid for out of the offending worker’s wages.

Dickens’s ‘dark, satanic mills’ came to mind as I wandered around in glorious sunshine.

There is a church, a physician’s house, a school-teacher’s house and a pastor’s house: there are, in fact, over forty original buildings here, many transported from The Lost Villages before they were flooded.

Upper Canada Heritage Village is well-worth a visit: put it on your list if you’re coming this way.

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Catherine Dunne author - photo Noel HillisThe Years That Followed - Canada preview La Piazza Courtyard & Lounge event