Bringing History to Life
My VisitList is a selection of three historic places across the country that have brought history to life for me in very different and exciting ways. As a living museum, Kings Landing recreates the 19th century way-of-life in rural New Brunswick. In Ontario, the McMichael Gallery’s collection shares the imaginative and creative life of notable Canadian and Indigenous artists. Finally, Manitoba’s Exchange District is teeming with lively contemporary art, culture and entertainment amongst a neighbourhood of historical significance.
By Aubrey Reeves, National Executive Director, Culture Days
Photos (clockwise): Aubrey Reeves, Control No Control, Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, 2018 – photo courtesy of Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, and Lucky Girl Pop-up, Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, 2018. Liz Tran.
Prince William, New Brunswick
I grew up in southern New Brunswick where I spent much of my free time in my pre-teen years reading historical novels such as Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women and other tales of life in the 1800s. So it is no surprise that I adore visiting Kings Landing, an open-air, living museum that brings that era to life. The museum is situated about a half hour’s drive from Fredericton, N.B. beside the beautiful Saint John River. You can walk the grounds to visit 70 historic buildings, interact with costumed villagers, dine at the inn or take a horse and wagon ride, among many other activities.
As an 11-year old, I attended a historic camp at Kings Landing, where I got to dress in period costume, milked cows and made butter by hand, learnt to knit and weave, attended lessons in the one-room schoolhouse and got to fully immerse myself in what life was like for a child in rural New Brunswick in the 19th century. It was the closest I’ll ever come to taking a trip in a time machine and cemented my life-long love of historic places.
Located on 100 acres of forested land beside the Humber River, the McMichael is an ideal day-trip out of Toronto combining great scenery with great art. I try to get out to visit at least once a year to continue a family tradition my grandparents started by taking me regularly as a young child. It was at the McMichael I was introduced to the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson, Emily Carr, Bill Reid and many other notable Canadian artists. My great-uncle, an avid collector of Inuit art, would sometimes join our family trips and would lead us on his own personal tours of the extensive First Nations, Métis and Inuit art collections.
The McMichael reopened to the public July 31. With spacious galleries and ample grounds to explore, visitors can feel confident social distancing while taking in the exhibitions. Or, there are a range of online art classes, virtual exhibition tours, recorded talks and studio visits to enjoy from home no matter where you live.
The Winnipeg Exchange District is a whole neighbourhood that was designated a National Historic Site in 1997 recognizing its pivotal role in shaping the development of Western Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century including the site of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The District includes over 100 heritage buildings ranging from stone and brick warehouses to terracotta-faced financial and business buildings arranged on narrow angled streets and alleyways. Many of these building now house offices for financial and creative industries, or have been converted into theatres, galleries, museums, trend-setting boutiques, distilleries, bars and restaurants.
In late September each year, the Exchange District comes alive at night with interactive public art and performances for Winnipeg’s edition of Nuit Blanche that is organized as part of Culture Days, a national celebration of arts and culture. I visited for the 2017 Culture Days weekend and spent the night exploring the District where the historic setting and contemporary art interplayed to create a night of wonder and discovery. With restrictions on the size of public gatherings, this year’s Nuit Blanche will be more modest in size but is going ahead with a variety of public art that will be safely accessible for longer than just one night.
Prince William, New Brunswick to Winnipeg, Manitoba
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