My Life Quirks – My Life From 1864 to 1866
When I was in grade eight, I had an amazing history teacher. Yes, he sort of brainwashed us all when it came to Canadian politics, but for learning about Early Canadian History he was amazing. He brought it all to life. We learned about the founding fathers of our Nation and it was all just magical. I loved it all so much that I went into high school announcing that History was my most favorite subject! (FYI, after taking the “mandatory to graduate” Current Canadian History course in grade nine, I lost interest in the subject lol) One day, my mother saw an ad in the paper stating that Upper Canada Village was looking for kids aged 11 to 15 who would be willing to volunteer at the Village during one month of the summer. My mom thought it was something I would enjoy so I did what I needed to do (including get a reference from a teacher) and soon enough I found out I was chosen to work for the month of July. I was 13.
When I arrived for orientation, I was surprised by what exactly was expected of us. We were to be children of 1865. In character at all times, unless we were in the” employees only areas”. We had to use 1865 language and wear full 1865 dress. Our manners were key as was our work ethic. We were taught about important international event of that era since that’s what people who lived back then would be taking about. We learned about Queen Victoria (even had to learn to sing “God Save the Queen” and about the American Civil War and about Lincoln’s assassination. Girls learned basic crochet and needlework and boys leaned basic manual labor. We were expected to go to school for an hour each day and learn for real. That is the part of the day that scared me the most because the Mistress or Master was also in full character. And teachers back then were mean and nasty! We wrote on slates before writing (with a quill and ink) on paper.
We memorized everything and there were actual consequences if we wasted expensive paper, wrote with our left hands or behaved improperly in any way. Boys and girls could play together in the school yard but sat on opposite sides of the one room school house during learning time. I never got in trouble my first year – I was too chicken! Tourists had a blast watching me sweat bullets and pray that I please the Mistress or Master of that day.
I ended up LOVING my experience there. I actually volunteered for three summers, until I was too old to apply anymore. When we were not in school, we worked at our stations. My first summer there, I worked at the Tenant Farm. It was the poor farm with only a couple of Oxen. We would cook over an open fire and do laundry and make butter.
My second year was also at the Tenant Farm. That year was more fun. They had recently built a barn (the real old fashioned way where the men of the village all come together and raise a barn) and had a few animals in it. They received a cow and a few pigs, all black except for one. That one was pink and they named it Julie. They slaughtered her at the end of the season. Yay for Julie. The adult staff at the Village (unless they were specialized like the blacksmith and such) would change jobs every year or so. That year I had two new ‘uncles’ who were total jokesters. They would convince tourists that cows give 2% milk but that the oxen gave Homo milk! Once, ‘Uncle Kevin’ was about to bring the cow into the house when she had to pee. My ‘aunt’ stopped them just in time. The cow had her two front hooves in the house and her two back outside when she stared peeing. ‘Uncle Kevin’ said “Watch the clock. She’s gonna pee for 3 minutes.” And he was right! I baked more that year and milked the poor cow and helped out more since I was familiar with the runnings of the farm.
My final year at Upper Canada Village was spent at the Tailors House (now called the Dressmaker’s House). They used to bake there but they stopped. So I sewed. I sewed and sewed and sewed. I made cravats for the gentlemen of the village. I also made pot holders. Lots and lots of potholders. As you can tell, that year wasn’t as exciting, but I still had fun. Since the tailors house was a little on the quiet side, I would get ‘lent out’ to other places that needed an extra hand. These people who work in the Village really do what you see them do. They take care of crops and fix things and make things and build things. And all by hand or by horse! It really is incredible. (No, they don’t live there. Many people wondered that when I worked there, but the full-time employees go home at the end of the day.) School was less stressful my third year too. There were new Mistresses and Masters and we would all sit together during our lunch hour and discuss who would do what and what consequence there would be. It was more fun knowing that you were either going to be the goody-two-shoes or the dumbass that day. I was always the good girl – except for one time. A male, middle-aged tourist stood at the school’s window while I was writing and asked me if I was using a real slate board. I made the mistake of answering him and was accused of being inappropriate with a man. THAT was humiliating. I mean, he wasn’t even cute! And I had to recite lines in front of everyone!
It’s been 22 years since my first summer experience at Upper Canada Village and I still think fondly of it. Would I want to live in 1866? Hell no. I like my Advil and my flushable toilets and my hospitals thank you very much. But I am very grateful to my mother for pushing me to apply because not only did I learn to milk a cow and write with a quill and churn butter and make potholders (lots of them), I learned that people back then worked their ass off yet never complained. That little made them happy and they took nothing for granted. I wish people from today still felt that way. It’s a shame we lost that ethic along the way. Now youth tend to feel like the world owes them over nothing. They should have to work at Upper Canada Village for a summer and see what real work was like. Or they could just stand there and watch a cow pee for 3 minutes. That too will change person. *shudder*
My life from 1864 to 1866. Just another one of my life’s quiks.
For fun, I thought I would include a map of the Village.