Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sweet!  Mason Takes Home His Prize

Mason Puppa was a lucky winner at Westfield Heritage Village’s Ice Cream Festival held on August 5th and 6th.  Visitors to the General Store were challenged to guess the correct number of ice cream flavoured candies in the jar, without going over.  There were 619 candies, and Mason guessed 613.  He modestly attributes his win to some basic mathematical calculations, and is looking forward to enjoying his prize, for a long, long time!

Cones and Carnivals – A Perfect Pairing!

Carnivals are widely popular celebrations of local history and culture that are celebrated all over the world.  The early versions of these carnivals are fairs, which are as old as recorded history.  Fairs were used as both market places and places for entertainment.  In the 1700s, the British combined these trade fairs with what were known as “agricultural improvement societies” to develop what we would recognize as our still-popular agricultural fairs.  These fairs were brought to the colonies by the earliest British settlers.  In a predominantly agrarian society, the conceptof the fair was enthusiastically embraced. 

The first agricultural society in Canada was founded in 1765 in Nova Scotia and in 1792, the Agricultural Society of Upper Canada was established in Niagara on the Lake.  By the mid-1800s, agricultural societies were springing up all over Ontario, and these groups enthusiastically planned and participated in enormously popular fairs that were a way to promote and celebrate advances in agriculture.  The Rockton Agricultural Society first held a fair in October 1852 offering an impressive $194.50 in prize money.  The fair was so successful and popular, that in 1878, local author Andrew Kernighan commented that the Rockton fair should be called the “World’s Fair” because the whole world seemed to attend.  This fair and others like it have continued to be an important tradition in Ontario and across Canada.

The concept of a world’s fair had its roots in the 1844 French Industrial Exposition, held in Paris.  The success and acclaim of this event prompted many imitators, and the scale of these events became increasingly ambitious.  The Great Exhibition in London, held in 1851, was the first to open its doors to exhibitors from all over the world.  The central purpose of this and other world fairs was to both educate and impress the masses with new technological innovations and to introduce them to international cultures.  The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, unprecedented in its scale and content, introduced a new concept – the midway.  Prompted by a need to create additional revenue, the “Midway Plaisance,” was an area designed purely for the purpose of amusement.  In addition to the first Ferris Wheel and a carousel, the midway featured tented side shows, comedians, musicians, gymnasts, fortune tellers, animals, food concessions and spectacles of all descriptions.

Although small travelling circuses had been around since the mid-19th century, it was the tremendous success and popularity of the midway at the Chicago World’s Fair that spurred the development of large numbers of travelling carnivals and related attractions.  By 1905, there were close to fifty carnival companies operating in the United States, and many of these companies traveled north to take advantage of the Canadian market.  The rapid growth of railways lines facilitated the movement of these carnivals.  Carnival-like amusements were also added to the traditional offerings of agricultural or historical festivals.  The largely attended agricultural fairs guaranteed crowds for the carnivals, and generated significant revenue for the fairs.  It was a sometimes uneasy, but mutually beneficial partnership.

Carnival companies offered a diverse collection of rides, animals, tented side shows, games and food concessions.  In The Midway on the Margins: the First Half of the Twentieth Century, it is noted that Vaudeville stage shows comprising comedians, musicians, and variety acts were common features of early twentieth-century carnivals, as were gambling booths and other games of chance.”  Due to the expense of moving large equipment, rides were less common in the early days.  

Carnivals and related fairs were, and continue to be, places where one could enjoy “fun” foods not normally eaten.  At the turn of the century, carnival and fair visitors could enjoy many of the foods we still associate with carnivals and fairs today – ice cream, cotton candy, caramel apples, popcorn, soda and lemonade.  Fun seekers also snacked on baked potatoes and pickles. 

Ice cream cones were, and continue to be, an enduring feature of fairs and carnivals.  Since their dramatic rise in popularity following their introduction at the 1904 St. Louis world’s fair, this sweet, cool treat will forever be associated with the delights of a day at a carnival.

How the Ice Cream Got its Cone

 Cool, creamy, crunchy – there’s nothing like an ice cream cone to bring back memories of summer fun.  While ice cream itself has a long history, stemming back to early civilizations, serving it in cones is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Just how and when the ice cream cone was invented, however, has been the subject of an ongoing debate. 

Sources dating to the 1770s recommended serving “iced puddings” or “ice cream puddings” with small almond wafers.  These were considered “stomach settlers,” and were served at the conclusion of a meal to calm one’s digestion.  Eventually, these became little treats in their own right.  When rolled into “funnels” or cornucopias, they could be filled with creams and iced puddings.  The 1770 publication The Complete Housekeeper & Cook (Newcastle: 1770), recommended filling cornets with ice cream “as a garnish.”

An Italian confectioner working in London in the early 19th century described baking almond wafers into “little horns” and filling them with a variety of sweet fillings, including “creams.”

In the mid-19th century London, the production and sale of food in public, particularly ice cream, provided a steady income for many Italian families of the time.  Selling their cool treats from a cart, vendors would often serve the ice cream in a small glass, referred to as a “penny lick.”  These dishes were typically made of a thick glass with a heavy base and shallow depression on top, in which the ice cream was placed.  The customer, paying one penny, would lick the contents clean and return it to the vendor for reuse.  This presented two main challenges – the vendor couldn’t serve the ice cream fast enough, and sanitary conditions were difficult to maintain.  Penny licks were banned by 1899, due to concerns about the spread of disease, as these cups could not normally be washed between uses.

Food historians most often credit the first true ice cream cone, that is, one made specifically for ice cream, to the Italian immigrants living in Manchester in the mid-19th century.   Seeking to speed their sales and replace the troublesome penny licks, which were often stolen or broken, they began to produce large quantities of rolled, waffle-style biscuits for serving ice cream.  It is estimated that by the turn of the 19th century, there were nearly a thousand ice cream vendors, or “Hokey Pokey Men” in London’s Little Italy. 

The traditions and techniques associated with public ice cream vending were brought to North America through immigration, including the use of the cone.  It wasn’t until the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, however, that ice cream cones became enormously popular, widespread and readily available.  The fair was home to more than fifty ice cream stands and a large number of waffle shops.  There are several competing versions of the story about who it was who actually rolled the nearby waffles into cones and served ice cream from them at the fair.  What is widely acknowledged, however, is that cones became so popular that, at the conclusion of the fair, companies throughout North America scrambled to produce equipment to efficiently manufacture them.  

These are the beginnings of a sweet tradition that thrives to this day.  Come to Westfield Heritage Village for the Ice Cream Festival on August 5th and 6th to learn more about this and other delicious traditions.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Fox Talbot Would be Proud   

One of the most interesting challenges of living history museums is to find ways to take our visitors back to earlier times and places.  Interestingly, sometimes one of the most effective ways to do this is to bring the past into the present day.  David White is just one of our volunteers who has been doing just that with remarkable success.

David is passionate about photography and works almost exclusively in historical processes.  He's a notable figure in the village, most often seen partially obscured under the black cloth hood of his large format, 1890s wood and bellows view camera.  Carefully composing his subject on a ground glass screen, he exposes the film onto a simple silver-chloride emulsion; one remarkably similar to that used at the dawn of photography.  His home brew developer recipes go back almost as far.

For David, the most exciting magic of his process is in the making of paper prints from these negatives.  He makes his paper in exactly the same way W. Henry Fox Talbot did in 1839, when he invented photography.  Ordinary paper is brushed with salt and silver solutions, making them light sensitive.  The negatives are then placed in contact with the paper and, at a leisurely pace, and right before your eyes, sunlight turns the negative into a positive.  To halt the process, and make them permanent, the images are fixed, washed and dried.

Talbot's salted paper printing method produces photographs of a surprising tonal range. David can control the final outcome by choosing papers of varying textures, and altering the salt compounds used.  With so many variables, a final, successful print is all the more precious, and the handmade nature of the printing paper means that no two prints will ever be the same.  David says, "Talbot's own photographic prints from the 1840s remain as some of the most beautiful ever made." 

In a fun project this spring, David engaged long-time Westfield volunteer and woodworker Al to custom build a large format camera that takes negatives up to 20 x 24 inches in size.  The beautiful monster has been christened Queen Victoria.

Below are just some of the beautiful images David has recently produced at Westfield.  We sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm and unique skills that David brings to our site, and are very excited about what is to come.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Canajun, eh?   

Civil War Re-enactment Explores Canadian Connections

Did you know that more than 53,000 Canadians fought in the Union army during the American Civil War?  During this conflict, twenty-nine Canadians were awarded the Medal of Honour for gallantry.  Four Canadians, Henry Benham, Jacob Cox, John Farnsworth and John McNeil, attained the rank of General in the Union Army.  William Winer Cooke joined the 24th New York Cavalry in 1862.  Fourteen years later, while serving as General Custer's adjutant, he perished at Little Big Horn, and is buried in Hamilton, Ontario.  Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, born in Toronto in 1837, completed his medical degree in his home city at the age of 23, becoming the country's first black doctor.  Offering his services to the Union Army in 1863, he was appointed surgeon.  Abbott was later given responsibility for Camp Baker and Freedmans' Hospitals in Washington, DC, where he met and became close friends with Abraham Lincoln.

More than eighty Civil War re-enactors and historians set up camp at Westfield on Sunday June 24th, allowing visitors the opportunity to learn about some of the the Canadian connections to the war.  Authentically dressed and equipped Union and Confederate re-enactors, sleeping in canvas tents and cooking over campfires, allowed a glimpse into the life of soldiers, camp followers, merchants and civilians during this tumultuous time.  Exciting and dramatic demonstrations of artillery and cavalry were topped off by a battle in the meadow.  The day was a great opportunity for photographers, who snapped away happily.

Rare Vehicles and Steam Engines a Hit   

Engines were chugging, whirring and whistling during Westfield's Steam and Machine Show during our special Father's Day programme on Sunday June 17.  Steam traction engine rides ran throughout the day, offering visitors a one-of-a-kind tour of the village.  Car enthusiasts enjoyed the classic and vintage automobiles, and the antique farm machines wowed with their beautiful, functional design.  A delicious ploughman's lunch in the Ironwood was the perfect accompaniment to this fun day.

A Day in the Country   

Westfield Welcomes Students for Special Spring Programme

On Tuesday June 12, Westfield was humming as more than 450 students, teachers and parents visited the village for A Day in the Country.  Combining the best of our public and education offerings, this new day-long programme gave students the opportunity to visit as many buildings as they wished, while also offering a range of hands-on activities.  The kids danced up a storm at the barn, rolled up their sleeves and did laundry at the Lockhart farm, visited furry and feathered friends at the barn, put their dramatic skills to work at the puppet theatre, took in a Charlie Chaplin film, and many other activities.  Despite alarming weather predictions, the sun was shining, and many groups were able to enjoy their lunch on the village green or in the picnic area.  We were very grateful to the many volunteers who helped make this a special day for all involved.  We look forward to planning our next Day in the Country!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Swarm!   

There's nothing like a bee swarm to stir up some activity.  Arriving for work one recent morning, a Westfield staff member discovered a marvellous sight in a tree in the service area: two extremely large clusters of bees hanging side by side.  Time to call in the experts!

The "double" cluster

Westfield volunteers Marion and Rick are extremely knowledgeable about bees, and help maintain the site's highly successful hive.  When they first arrived and sized up the situation, it appeared that there were in fact two separate swarms; a very rare event indeed.  A little motion in the trees, however, quickly cleared up this question, as thousands of bees from one cluster moved to the next, forming an impossibly large mass.

Suited up and smiling

Bee swarms are one of the most beautiful and fascinating phenomena in nature.  A swarm may involve anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 bees, and is a natural mechanism for a colony to reproduce itself.  When a hive becomes overcrowded, a queen, workers and drone will leave, taking up a temporary position on a tree limb, bush or other suitable site.  During this event, the queen is producing a strong pheromone, which causes the bees to cluster around her in a protective mass.  Over the course of a day or two, scouts will be sent out to search for a suitable location to begin a new hive.  Our goal was to make Westfield's apiary that new home.

Encouraging the swarm to occupy an empty bee box took a little ingenuity, but with some strategic tying off of branches and a good, well-timed shake, the bees landed on the target below,  and very quickly took up residence.  What was most fascinating is that the bees, so intent on protecting their queen, were not at all aggressive.  They buzzed around in a dark, whirring cloud, never touching any of the humans in their midst.
Watching the queen and her workers take up residence

Standing in the middle of thousands of bees, whose only goal was to stick with their queen, was a memorable and thrilling experience.  There were smiles all around as we realized these beautiful creatures had taken a liking to the home that we offered.  We look forward sharing the sweet results of their labours in the months to come.

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Westfield Invaded Over Holiday Weekend   

The village was bustling this Victoria Day weekend as nearly 150 re-enactors, camp followers and merchants moved in and set up camp for a new programme - Life in 1812 Upper Canada.  Visitors on Sunday and Monday were treated to a glimpse of what life was like in Upper Canada during this time of military conflict, rapid social change, and a growing sense of national identity.

Throughout the weekend, there were opportunities for visitors to watch troop inspections, participate in "mini militia" training, survey campsites and chat with soldiers and their families in their authentic camps.  Daily skirmishes filled the air with shouts, smoke and the boom of musket fire, as officers barked orders and troops marched and fired on command. 

Quiter moments could also be enjoyed, tasting bread fresh out of the bake oven, visiting the more than thirty-five historic buildings on site, or listening to the gorgeous sounds of the Rosewood Consort, who entertained visitors in the church with their Early and Baroque music.  Historian John Bryden also presented a lecture each day in the Mountsberg Church, speaking about Brock's travels throughout Upper Canada.  All in all, a terrific, bustling weekend!

Lights, camera... sheep?   

The Ontario Visual Heritage Project was back at Westfield again this weekend, continuing work on their War of 1812 film.  The Lockhart Farmstead became the setting for the story of a family whose farm was one of the many ordered to be pillaged and burned during the war.  Thankfully, our lovely log cabin was spared!

In addition to several talented and authentically dressed actors, and 1812 re-enactors representing American troops, a number of Westfield's regular four-footed and feathered volunteers were on hand for the filming.  The good nature of the lambs and chicks was appreciated by all, as they patiently submitted to being stolen over and over during several takes.  We think they enjoyed all the attention.

Green Thumbs All Around    

On May 19th, the Friends of Westfield held their annual Plant Sale, and it was, once again, a huge success.  There were many special items for sale, including a good selection of robust Carolinian trees, a corkscrew willow and some lovely ferns.  Old favourites were also on hand, including peonies, hostas, columbine and several varieties of iris and lilies.  An inspiration for us all to get out those shovels!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

 Good (Egg) Friday   

I vividly remember a warm spring day when I was about five years old, exploring in our back yard.  In the freshly mown grass, I discovered a tiny blue egg.  I picked it up, and promptly dropped it in surprise.  It was not the chocolate treat I assumed it to be, but a real egg.  I carried it into the house, and my father gently explained that it was a robin’s egg that had fallen from a nest.  My next thought, of course, was that I would hatch it and soon have my very own baby robin, a plan soon dashed by my father’s observation that that egg was very cold indeed.

Eggs and springtime have always been closely linked, and with Easter in particular.  Throughout the year, we seldom give much thought to the useful and ubiquitous inhabitant of our refrigerators and breakfast plates.  At Easter, however, the egg takes centre stage.  Dyed in bright hues, molded from delicious chocolate, wrapped in shiny foil, paired (mysteriously) with bunnies and devoured; there is no escaping the egg.

Eggs have long been associated with that other springtime theme - fertility and birth.  In pre-Christian Europe, eggs were believed to have mystical properties.  Farmers would rub raw egg over their hoe or other farming implements to ensure a successful crop.  Brides would break an egg in the doorway of their new home, with an eye to future children.  The rich symbolism of the egg, like many pagan traditions, was soon co-opted by Christianity.  The egg became linked with the Christ’s resurrection; the chick springing forth from the egg became the perfect metaphor for Jesus’ emergence from the tomb.

In early Canadian settlements, eggs played a key dietary role.  Scavenging in the barnyard for weeds and insects, chickens could be raised cheaply and easily, and their eggs were a reliable source of nutrition.  These early breeds would have been slightly less prolific than our modern-day hens, however, so it was important to make the most of the eggs when they were the most plentiful in the spring.  Early cookbooks and household manuals devoted many pages to the preservation of eggs.  The 1882 Common Sense in the Household:  A Manual of Practical Housewifery, instructs,
“Keep eggs in a cool, not cold place.  Pack in bran or salt, with the small end downward, if you wish to use within two or three weeks, and furthermore, take the precaution to treat them well with linseed oil, or wash them over with a weak solution of gum tragacanth or varnish.”
A popular 1833 publication, The American Frugal Housewife, described several methods for preserving eggs.  Many of them were somewhat alarming, such as this one:
“Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared.  One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water.  If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs, and if there be a single shell cracked, it will spoil the whole.   They should be covered with lime-water, and kept in a cold place. The yolk becomes slightly red but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years.”
The housewife who failed to plan ahead was typically scolded,

“The cheapest time to lay down eggs is in early spring...  It is bad economy to buy eggs by the dozen, as you want them.”
In times when one had to literally hunt through the barn or barnyard for randomly laid eggs, it was important to be able to recognize whether or not an egg was fresh.  One source advised:

“Having washed and wiped the eggs clean, touch the large end with your tongue, and if, by holding it there a second or two, it feels warm to your tongue, it is good, but if it feels cold, it is a certain sign it is not good.”

Would you like to hunt for real eggs in a barn, try your hand at Egg Jarping, Egg Rolling and Egg Bunching or participate in an egg-themed scavenger hunt?  Visit Westfield Heritage Village on Friday April 6, from 12:30 – 4:00, and have a great day learning all about the history of eggs and their place in our culture.  For more information on this and other events, visit

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cold Comfort: Surviving the Canadian Winter

Winter survival tip No 35: get married!

"The cold is at this time so intense, that the ink freezes while I write, and my fingers stiffen round the pen; a glass of water by my bed-side, within a few feet of the hearth... is a solid mass of ice in the morning."
-Mrs. Anna Jameson, describing her first winter in Upper Canada in 1836.

On Family Day, February 20, 2012, Westfield Heritage Village will give visitors a glimpse of how early Canadians not only survived, but thrived, in this wintry climate. For early settlers, winter was a popular time for marriage. The dashing young Mr. Ensign Harrison Burrill, resplendent in his military uniform, will pledge his allegience to the lovely Miss Stirling, who will wear her best gown for the occasion. The Reverend William Wheeler will officiate. All are welcome to take a seat in the Mountsberg Church and witness an early Canadian wedding.