10 Places to Get a Taste of County History 🛶 🥫
The County’s five local museums are the keepers of 225+ years of history, artifacts, heritage gardens, park lands, orchards and outdoor exhibits, but there are plenty of places to explore and experience the influence of Indigenous, British, French, Dutch, German and many others who have at some time called The County home.
Macaulay Heritage Park comprises the house, gardens and church established by Rev. William Macaulay, an Anglican minister whose generous inheritance helped build the town of Picton. Inside the house you’ll find evidence of a comfortable life, albeit one lived in the 1800s: a winter and summer kitchen, three generous bedrooms, a sitting room, a parlour and more. Throughout the summer, Macaulay Heritage Park comes alive with special events, exhibits, day camps and programs meant to connect the community with its past. This is also the starting point of the popular Graveyard & Gallows tour, a guided, summertime walk highlighting the grisly double-hanging of the Lazier murder suspects.
Mariners’ Museum is a budding pirate’s paradise. Filled with marine treasures, from model ships to maps of shipwrecks to details of rum runners’ routes, it also has a fort with a cannon, a swing set and a yard full of ship/boat-related paraphernalia awaiting exploration. Water has always figured prominently in County life, once providing transportation routes into the interior. Trace the history of steam ships, schooners, speed boats, dugout canoes and fisherman’s skips at this South Bay museum.
The County was once known as the Garden County of Canada, owing to its plethora of fruit and vegetable canning factories. The first opened on the corner of Spring and West Mary streets in Picton. It was soon joined by dozens more and in the 1890s and early 1900s in became common to see horses and wagons loaded down with produce, waiting to be weighed and processed. Soon, The County was producing one-third of all canned tomatoes in the country. The industry began to wane after the Second World War, when factories were bought up and closed by competing American companies. Learn more about this industry at the Wellington Heritage Museum and get a closer look at vintage canning labels. It’s possible some were influenced by members of The Group of Seven when they worked in Toronto’s commercial art houses.
Step back into Edwardian times at the Ameliasburgh Heritage Village, a collection of buildings nestled near the Harry Smith Conservation Area. By the 1890s, The County had already seen the Barley Days come and go. It was awash in canning factories, dairies and cheese factories. But at its heart, it was an agricultural community. The Village has a heritage school and church, as well as a general store, log cabin, sugar shack, honey house and blacksmith’s shop. It will also become the permanent home of The deVries Collection, consisting of more than 500 natural history specimens and one of the finest private collections of taxidermy in the province.
When upstart Americans began a rebellion against their British founders, the British not only deployed their own troops, they also made use of indentured German soldiers. The Hessians were a fearsome lot: they fought under German flags, with German commanders, and were known for using pikes as weapons. (They were famously wiped out during the Battle of Trenton, a key turning point in the American Revolution, when 1,400 Hessian fighters were killed, wounded or captured during the December 26, 1776 battle.) When the Americans at last declared victory, the British gave their hired fighters a choice: they could either receive passage home, or claim land in Canada. Rose House belonged to the descendants of one of the Hessians, who arrived in The County in one of the first waves of German immigration to Canada.
Marilyn Adams was a teacher with a keen interest in her family’s history. Today, her estate has become the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre, a hidden gem of family histories in Ameliasburgh. The centre’s volunteers specialize in sleuthing out nameless photos and deciphering the sometimes difficult-to-read handwriting of years gone by. Resources include a reading and library room, collections of township documents, historical and genealogical documents, a names database, microfilm readers and more. It is also home to one of the world’s most prestigious military collections, the Victoria Cross Archive, which was transferred from Britain in February 2011. They also offer library-level subscriptions to Ancestry.ca at no charge.
Loch Sloy – aka Camp Picton or No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School – was one of 151 British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) schools established across Canada between 1940-1945. Recruits from allied forces around the globe gathered at Camp Picton for training, including flying sessions out over the lake, where they dropped ‘bombs’ filled with coloured powder in an attempt to hit white canvas targets. Today, Loch Sloy is a business park, with many of the base’s original barracks having been painstakingly restored. But part of the charm of the place is seeing the way some of it has been lost to the elements, with Dali-esque buildings slowly swaying their way to the ground. Occasional walking tours visit the museum, the mess hall, the parachute drying building and a few of the hangars.
2018 is the 100th anniversary of The Regent Theatre, marking a century of providing entertainment to Picton residents as the “Monarch of Main Street.” The building was turned into a theatre by George Cook, a Greek immigrant who ran the theatre with his wife and daughters. Over the years, it became an important stop on the vaudeville route, before becoming a venue for moving pictures. Back-of-house tours at 11am Friday and Saturday take visitors behind-the-scenes, into the projection room, Green Room and behind the famous red curtain.
Naval Marine Archive: The Canadian Collection holds a quarter of a million maritime and nautical documents, books, images, charts, magazines, journals and ship plans, plus their databases provide comprehensive marine and nautical research capability. The Naval Marine Archive hosts art exhibits, in addition to their archive and collection of marine books, ship models and displays.
Glenwood Cemetery is an active cemetery located on 62 acres of land in the heart of Picton, and a popular spot for pedestrians looking for a serene spot set in rollings hills. Designed as a garden cemetery, it has mature forests, gardens, water features and winding walking paths. Established in 1873, the cemetery is an unrecognized trove of Canadian history and the final resting place of Letitia Youmans, a leader of the Canadian temperance movement.
At the most eastern edge of The County’s south shore lies the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, home to the Point Traverse Lighthouse. The fixed red light began guiding small vessels safely to shore in 1881, in response to a plea from ship captains. The lighthouse’s lamp and reflectors were replaced by a French lens in 1909. Three years later, the Canadian government terminated the lighthouse, but reinstated its light the following year, due to demand. The light was automated in 1941 and received a heritage designation in 2015. Walking and birding tours of the area are available in the spring and fall.
Peter Lockyer grew up in The County and has devoted much of his career to documenting the area’s history. He’s also the mastermind behind History Lives Here walking tours of downtown Picton, taking visitors along the main and side streets, regaling them with stories of tall ships, rum running, the Barley Days, temperance and canning.