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Exploring the Past in Ontario

Archaeology and History Sites in Ontario

Battle Hill

Located west of Wardsville, visitors can stand before a memorial cairn and plaque atop Battle Hill and remember the Battle of Longwoods that took place here in 1814. Part of the War of 1812, in which British-governed Canada clashed with the United States, the battle involved a skirmish between British Regulars and American forces and led to a British retreat to Delaware. Since 1924 the government have recognised it as a National Historic Site.

Church of Our Lady Immaculate

One of the most impressive sites of Christian worship in Canada, the Church of Our Lady Immaculate can be found in the city of Guelph. The architect Joseph Connolly designed the Gothic Revivalist structure, which was then built between 1876 and 1888. It was modelled in large part on the late medieval Cologne Cathedral. The Church of Our Lady Immaculate has been a National Historic Site since 1990 and a basilica since 2014.

Donaldson Site

The Donaldson Site can be found along the Saugeen River in Bruce County. The archaeological value of the site was first recognised in the 1940s, with excavation following over the coming decades. Excavation revealed that the area was used for seasonal activities, most notably fishing, and that those who used it were members of the Saugeen Complex culture. Since 1982 the government have classified it as a National Historic Site of Canada.

Finnish Labour Temple

The Finnish Labour Temple in Thunder Bay stands as a reminder of the Finnish migrant community who made Canada their home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Built between 1908 and 1910, it demonstrated the political and cultural organisation of Finnish Canadian workers and at the time was closely linked with local socialist politics. Since 2011, the government have classified it as a National Historic Site.

Fort George

Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake started life in the 1790s as a base for British and Canadian troops close to the U.S. border. During the War of 1812, in which the two countries clashed, the U.S. Army attacked Fort George on multiple occasions and occupied it for several months in 1813. Reconstruction took place in the 1930s. As well as a range of surviving earthworks and palisades, the fort contains an original stone powder magazine.

Fort William Historical Park

Opened in 1973, Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay is a recreation of the Fort William fur trading post. The North West Company established the original post in the late 18th century, and it eventually gave its name to a city that grew up on the site. The recreation seeks to depict the fort as it appeared in 1816, using reenactors to contribute to the immersive visitor experience. Special events take place throughout the year.

HMCS Haida

Named after the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest, the HMCS Haida is a Tribal-class destroyer vessel which was formerly part of the Royal Canadian Naval fleet. Launched in 1942, during the Second World War, it was used in operations along the French coast. It was subsequently employed during the Korean War, during which it shelled North Korean land targets. Retired in 1964, the ship is now berthed in Hamilton as a heritage attraction.

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung (Rainy River Mounds)

The Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung are often considered the finest collection of earthen tumuli in Canada. Located on the north side of the Rainy River, the site has revealed evidence of human activity over the course of 8000 years. The earliest mounds are part of what archaeologists call the Laurel Complex culture. A research centre on the site houses over 16,000 objects in its archive. The Rainy River First Nations operate the site as a heritage attraction.

Mazinaw Pictographs

The Mazinaw Pictographs can be found across the Mazinaw Rock in Bon Echo Provincial Park. Comprising over 260 paintings on the rock face by indigenous communities, some depict figures from local mythologies. In Algonquin, the name “Mazinaw” means “painted rock.” The rock is surrounded by a lake and thus access is facilitated by canoe or kayak. The country’s largest collection of visible pictographs, since 1982 they have been a National Historic Site.

Terry Fox Monument

Terry Fox was a famous athlete who ran across Canada while wearing a prosthetic leg to raise money for cancer research shortly before he succumbed to the disease. His efforts established him as a heroic figure within Canadian culture and various memorials to him have appeared across the country. The monument at Thunder Bay was erected in 1982, several months after Fox’s death, and occupies a spot offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

Popular Sightseeing Tours in Ontario

Museums in Ontario

Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Established in 1975, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum focuses attention on the culture and heritage of the African Canadian community. Much of its focus is on those African Americans who fled enslavement in the southern states of the U.S. and made it all the way north to Canada. Two of the buildings preserved at the museum, the Taylor Log Cabin and Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church, date from the 19th century.

Anderson Farm Museum

The Anderson Farm Museum at Liveby occupies an old family farm that, in the 1920s and 1930s, housed one of the largest dairies within the Sudbury area. As well as preserving and showcasing the farm’s historic buildings, it also brings together a broader range of material collected from the local area. Many of the displays focus on the Anderson family, Finnish immigrants who made their home in Ontario.

Arthur Child Heritage Museum

pened in 1995, the Arthur Child Heritage Museum explores the history of Gananoque, a town alongside the St. Lawrence River, and the wider 1000 Islands region. Displays outline the geology and the ecology of the area, the culture of local First Nations communities, and the history of the European settlement and the subsequent War of 1812. Various temporary exhibits supplement the main collection while special events take place throughout the year.

Backus Mill Heritage and Conservation Centre

The Backus Mill Heritage and Conservation Centre helps to preserve the heritage and natural beauty of this part of Norfolk County. At the site is the late 18th century Backhouse Mill, a National Historic Site. The centre includes the heritage village, an open-air museum showcasing a dozen historic buildings. At special events, visitors can see reenactors engaging in traditional crafts. The site sometimes witnesses re-enactments of a battle from the War of 1812.

Bygone Days Heritage Village

The Bygone Days Heritage Village is an open-air museum in Collingwood. Over 30 historic structures are now housed at the village, most of them dating from the 19th century. The collection began to be amassed in the late 1960s but has grown over the years. As well as its historic structures, the heritage village boasts a collection of buggies, wagons, steam engines, and 24 different antique tractors.

Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa explores the heritage of Canada’s military and their involvement in various historical conflicts, from those of the early 19th century right through to recent engagements abroad. The museum launched in 1880 although now occupies a purpose-built structure opened in 2005. Various special exhibitions supplement the main display collection. The archive contains a vast quantity of objects and documents available to historical researchers.

Fanshawe Pioneer Village

The Fanshawe Pioneer Village in London is an open-air museum devoted to preserving and showcasing historic architecture from around Ontario. Opened in 1959, the museum now has over thirty structures in its collection, scattered across an area of 46 acres. Many of these are furnished with authentic historic artefacts, with the museum boasting 25,000 artefacts in its collection. A range of events, involving reenactors in period costume, take place throughout the year.

Lang Pioneer Village Museum

Based along the shores of the Indian River, the Lang Pioneer Village Museum brings together over 30 historic buildings from various parts of Ontario. Many of these date from the 19th century and include domestic dwellings, shops, a cheese factory, a town hall, a school, and an ice house. The museum also houses the Aabnaabin Encampment, a recreated pre-colonial era Michi Saagiig camp. Reenactors in period costume ensure a more immersive heritage experience.

Lost Villages Museum

The Lost Villages Museum brings together ten historic buildings that were once found in the ten “Lost Villages,” a series of small settlements that were submerged by the creation of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1958. As well as an open-air museum that allows visitors a better insight into rural Ontario life in the early 20th century, the site also serves as a memorial to the communities broken up by the seaway.

Museum of Classical Antiquities

Based at the University of Ottawa, the Museum of Classical Antiquities is a must see for aficionados of the Classical world when in the city. Its collection of material covers a broad span of time, from the 7th century BCE to the 7th century CE. The permanent collection is also supplemented with a range of touring exhibitions. Entry to this small museum, which is found within the university’s Department of Classics and Religious Studies, is free.

Museum of Ontario Archaeology, London

With over two million artefacts from archaeological sites throughout Ontario, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology tells the story of 11,000 years of human history. Besides this vast collection of objects, the museum is adjacent to two important archaeological sites. The first, the Spook Hollow site is a 4,000 year old campsite, and the second, the Lawson site, is a densely fortified Neutral Iroquois village dating to the 16th century that was at its peak occupied by an estimated 2,000 people.

Royal Ontario Museum

Founded in 1912, the Royal Ontario Museum is Canada’s largest museum, with over six million objects in 40 galleries exhibiting both natural history and World cultures. An impressive set of galleries range from the Stone Age to the more recent past. One of these, created in consultation with First People, tells the story of Canada’s past from pre-European times to the relationships between Europeans and Indigenous people. Also, there are extensive collections from the Far East, the Classical World and Africa.

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