Country Christmas at the Waterloo Region Museum

Last weekend we had some grand plans to have our whole family join us to experience Country Christmas at the Waterloo Region Museum and Doon Heritage Village but thanks to a round of snow storms and a few colds, the group was scaled back to me, AMH and my fellow adventurer in blogging, White Cabana! While I feel bad that our family was digging out or nursing a cold, I didn't feel bad for long as we had an incredible morning celebrating a variety of Christmas traditions!

There are multiple homes and businesses on the grounds of this 60 acre working heritage village that depict what live was like in 1914. Each home was set up to celebrate their heritage and the businesses gave a look at life over 100 years ago. Costumed interpreters, who have a wealth of knowledge in the area they represent, are located in the homes, businesses, and walking the grounds. We had a lovely time learning from them and marvelling at the ingenuity of our town's original settlers.

Ready for a tour? Let's go! 

The Region of Waterloo was first settled by Germans and Mennonite pioneers (in fact, Kitchener was known as Berlin until 1916. You can learn all about that in the Waterloo Region Museum's exhibit City on the Edge), so it's no surprise that we start our country Christmas tour in a traditional Mennonite homestead. 

The kitchen in the Peter Martin House is all set for Christmas. The bowls on the table, which are covered with a napkin as a kind of wrapping paper, hold an assortment of fruits and nuts. This is what the children of the home would receive on Christmas. When the Peter Martin family lived here, there were multiple generations in the home and this is actually one of four kitchens used. They had two winter kitchens and two summer ones, one for each of the parents and grandparents. 

I was particularly impressed with this indoor wood chopping shed built just off the main entrance of the home. As it was a cold and snowy day on our visit, I'm sure the habitants of the home would have appreciated a nice, dry place to chop their wood. I know when I was young I spent many (many, many) hours chopping wood with my dad and brother to heat our home for the winter and we did it outside no matter the weather. I would have loved this chopping shed! 

When we ventured into the cold storage in the basement, we were met with row after row of canned goods and I'm sure you will find the same in many homes still in this area. Canning is still in fashion here and when I set out to try my hand at canning a few years ago, I was surprised to learn about how many classes and groups there are to join in KW! Some things never go out of style and looks like canning is here for the long run. 

After touring the Peter Martin Home it was time to walk across the covered bridge, one of the few still in existence, and visit the business main street. 

The Dry Goods & Grocery Store was all dressed for the holiday season! Each business on this main street showcased a different aspect of rural life during the Christmas of 1914.

Kaufman rubber boots were a popular item to buy this time of year in 1914. Kaufman Footwear was founded in Kitchener in 1907 and sadly, declared bankruptcy in 2000 meaning, we can't get our hands on these rubber boots. Too bad, I would have proudly added them to my rubber boot collection (Please, someone start making these again! If you're interested in the history of the Kaufman Company you can read all about it here. Also, for architecture lovers Albert Kahn was the architect who designed the Kaufman building, now lofts, in downtown Kitchener. He also designed the Fisher Building in Detroit which I recently toured).

Just outside the Grocery Store we ran into the spot for horse drawn wagon rides! I am a sucker for horses and this is the second one I have run into this winter. 

Me asking for a pony for Christmas and AMH finally agreeing that we need a horse one day! Success!

Next stop was the post office, that shares a space with the tailor. The story goes that the tailoring business was slowing in 1914 with manufactured clothing becoming easily accessible so the local tailor became the post master of this little area. The pay was good and working for a government agency carried a lot of prestige. The post master was able to keep his tailoring business from failing by taking on this extra work. I started my working career as a postal employee and I have to say that this view of the mail slots looks pretty much the same as when I worked at a small town branch 15 years ago! 

The leather makers shop was filled with, you guessed it, leather goods. This shop would have made footwear, luggage, and would have sold all the tack needed for your horses, including sleigh bells which were used like car horns. If the snow was falling with limited visibility, at least you could hear another sleigh coming towards you. 

This shop also made, and still makes on site, baseballs! As an avid baseball lover I was interested to see how they are constructed and our guide showed us every step; from cutting the leather, to wrapping a small rubber ball with twine, to stitching it up. They sell them in the gift shop and while they were sold out on our trip, I will be picking up one when they are in stock. I want to try hitting one of these hand made baseballs!

While walking outside was rather cool, it was nice and warm in the blacksmith shop! Here we were able to see the blacksmith make an S hook that keen observers will notice are used throughout the entire village! Every home and business has one, showing just how important the role of the blacksmith was in a community during this time. 

Photo credit White Cabana

Next we were off to visit with some area families to see how they celebrated Christmas during this time. We stopped in with the local Scottish family, the McArthur's, to celebrate Hogmanay.

Peter McArthur was a popular author and, well, viewed as a bit of an eccentric. His home was quite rustic for 1914 but it was this was due to his love and fascination with pioneer life. The home was simple but, as you would expect, had many tartan touches throughout. 

The Seibert Home shows what life was like for a British soldier of some means. Around 1914 in this area there was a shift from strictly farming and men started doing jobs in other industries. 

The English house, all decorated awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas, was the fanciest home we saw on our tour. The table was loaded to the brim with sweets, mince pies and lots of blue and white dishes (my fave!).

The beautiful white church stands on a hill and looked especially beautiful against the bright blue sky (no photo retouching here, I swear!). 

We managed to steal a quite moment in the church before everyone filed in to sing Christmas carols. 

A quick look at the firehall and we turned around to finish our tour. 

And then we ran into the horse wagon rides just outside of the butcher shop. 

There are the S hooks in use from the blacksmith shop! We learned so much from the guide here about the diet in that time (lucky them, no kale. It's so gross, they didn't miss anything) they were hearty meat and potato eaters during this time. Cured meats were commonplace in the diet of 1914 thanks to their long shelf life. 

We finished our outdoors walking tour just in time to head out for lunch and a hot cup of coffee (possibly with some Bailey's in it). Tomorrow is your last chance to see the Doon Heritage Village for yourself before they close for the season. Grab the kids or friends and spend the day celebrating a 1914 Christmas. 

And dress warm. A nice thick sweater, coat and boots will serve you well. The village is all outdoors and there is quite a bit of walking (hint, I great way to get the kids to burn off their Christmas energy). 

While the village is closing the indoor museum is open throughout the holiday season! Check here for times and information about the exhibits. 

Special thanks to Sean and the media team at the Region of Waterloo Museums for hosting us! 

1 comment

  1. It doesn't look like my comment was posted. Oops. Just wanted to say that you wrote such an informative post about Doon Heritage Village. So glad we got a sunny (but cold) day for our visit.