Yesterday we spent a fantastic family day in the 1860′s, courtesy of Upper Canada Village. This is a recreated town in which people dress and function as they would in the 1860′s and also act as guides to us visitors. We visited a wool mill, rode a mini train, walked around houses, shops and even took time out for a spot of afternoon tea. It was bliss.
The first part of our visit revolved around learning about the 1812 war, which the boys really enjoyed and was very informative for us non-native Canadian parents! But as soon as we moved into the village itself the atmosphere was completely different. We left the modern world behind and entered into a world that contains hard work and peacefulness in equal measure.
It was a scorching hot day so we were grateful for the many mature trees providing shade and places to rest and picnic. Each shady porch had a bench where it was a wonderful pleasure to sit and soak up the breezes and watch the world go by. The village was full of industry but also quiet; no cars, radios, phones or any of the other noise we are so used to in the modern world.
As we progressed through our journey, visiting houses, businesses, farms, we naturally began to relax and slow. There was no rush, no urgency, we simply discovered alongside the boys who ranged safely around, running along shaded walkways and exploring to their heart’s content. I was struck often by the simplicity of the homes and the ingenuity we saw again and again. What would have been considered a prosperous home would today seem stark and a little lacking. Yet each item had a practical and aesthetic value that most objects today could not claim.
It is all to easy to idealise or course, to see only the simplicity and forget the gender inequality, illness and vulnerability that these people would have faced every day. A million challenges I don’t even have to think about. Certainly as I chatted to one of the ‘farm tenants’ as she cooked on an open fire, the table swarming with flies and her long sleeves and skirts only adding to the heat, I was more than a little grateful for my cool summer dress and my idle vacation day.
But I admit that when returned to the modern world I felt a loss of something, a peacefulness, a sense of order and purpose that I often find elusive. Perhaps it was the sense of each thing having value, of nothing wasted, of industry and simplicity. Perhaps it was just the feeling of older buildings reminding me of home. Whatever it was I find my mind returning there, to the safe gravel paths my children ran along, to the simple benches taking advantage of summer breezes in a shady spot, to the slow progress of a barge along the water. And I wonder, I wonder at how much we have gained and how much we have lost.