Upper Canada Village brings colonial Ontario to life
The city of Cornwall, founded by British Empire loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, shares its heritage with this historic corner of South Eastern Ontario. The region, part of what was originally Upper Canada, is a stone’s throw from Upstate New York and Quebec. The three cultures combine with a strong First Nations population to create a unique cultural mix.
Take a walk through Cornwall’s historic center before making the short jaunt to Upper Canada Village, where history lives in an authentically recreated 1860’s town. The smell of fresh-baked bread wafts from hewn-stone buildings baked by villagers in traditional costume. Down the road, blacksmiths work horseshoes with historic tools. Upper Canada Village
is more than a living museum; re-enactments and special events greet you year round, including the wildly popular Alight at Night festival leading up to Christmas. The village also hosts the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario’s “Best Event of the Year,” Pumpkinferno.
Short hikes from Cornwall for
The best way to get the full picture of life in Upper Canada during the 1800’s is to detour off the main road and explore the lesser-known, historical gems tucked around away every corner. Start off your historical trip with a tour of the Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site in the small community of Williamstown, northeast of Cornwall. The house was built by wealthy landowner and staunch Union Empire Loyalist Supporter John Johnson about 225 years ago and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Ontario.
Next, travel to South Glengarry and wander through the ruins of St. Raphael’s Catholic Church. Built in 1821 and once one of English speaking Canada’s oldest Roman Catholic churches. A 1970 fire destroyed the church’s interior, but spared the stone outer walls, giving the whole site a serene, haunting look that’s begging to be captured with an impromptu photo session!
After a visit to St. Raphael’s, stop by the Star Inn at the nearby Glengarry Pioneer Museum for an historical pint. The Inn was a popular stagecoach stop back in the 1860’s and is believed to be one of the oldest preserved taverns in Eastern Ontario.
Later, if you’re in the mood to see the darker side of Cornwall’s past, get a taste of prison life and book yourself a guided tour of the cellblocks and gallows at Historic Cornwall Jail. Originally built in 1834, the jail is widely known among ghost hunters as a paranormal hot spot. Throughout the tour, you’ll have a chance to hear hair-raising true stories of prison life, escapes and even hangings from guards – and former inmates.
If you prefer natural history, you can also find 5 km of meandering hiking trails just east of Cornwall in Gray’s Creek Conservation area.
Scuba dive to explore Cornwall’s “Lost Villages”
Not all of Cornwall and the Counties’ history is found on land. Beneath the waves of the St. Lawrence lie the ghostly remains of the “Lost Villages”. As part of the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, 10 communities were permanently submerged and their residents relocated. Now, the only visible reminder of these lost villages that remains are 11 islands united by the Long Sault Parkway. For a quick historical primer, check out the Lost Villages Museum in Ault Park, three kilometers east of Long Sault. The museum features 10 restored heritage buildings salvaged from the flooded villages, as well as plenty of interesting historical artifacts, videos and memorabilia to sift through. One of the most popular parts of the trail is the 30-kilometer stretch between Upper Canada Village and Cornwall. Cyclists can step back in time and experience pioneer life in Upper Canada as it would have been during the 1860’s. Save a few hours to tour the old mills, houses, farms, trade shops and churches. Actors in period costume acts as guides and
After the museum, rent a canoe or kayak and explore the Lost Villages yourself. The area is massively popular with new and experienced scuba divers alike, who flock here to dive among the eerie ruins of the Lost Villages’ streets, buildings and canals. A great place for a first dive is the submerged Mille Roches Power House, a former hydroelectric station
and dam site. Keep an eye out for the old power turbines and wheel pit. A little ways up river, you can explore the narrow, maze-like basement halls of the massive Provincial Paper Mill, or Lock 23, an expansive, submerged canal system that runs between Cornwall and Cardinal.
Glengarry Highland Games and other festivals
Festivals throughout Cornwall and the Counties keep everyone entertained. The Glengarry Highland Games is the largest celebration of its kind outside of Scotland, and is celebrated by families from across the globe. “The Games,” as it is affectionately referred to, is home to the North American Pipe Band Competition and many traditional Scottish athletic games, creating a great cultural experience.
Ontario’s only hot air balloon festival, Kinsmen Cornwall Lift-Off takes place each year on the stunning waterfront of Lamoureux Park of downtown Cornwall. Great international recording artists, a midway, and over 20 hot air balloons fill the park and the skies in Cornwall and the Counties each July.
One of the newest festivals that has quickly become a favourite is the popular Ribfest circuit that makes its way to Cornwall’s
Lamoureux Park. Outstanding live entertainment, plenty of rides and games, a large beer garden, and of course, some of the best ribs you’ve ever had!
After a good feed of ribs, you might feel like a long walk. Lucky for you, you’re already on Cornwall’s waterfront trail which you can follow to hike the entire waterfront and the remains of the Cornwall Canal.