Did you know that Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is behind a wonderfully successful and huge tourist attraction—especially so for history buffs—that’s actually located in the city proper? Black Creek Pioneer Village is kind of, well, what it sounds like. It’s a historic recreation of life from the past, and it’s a great place to visit next time you’re in the Toronto area. Ranked at #34 of almost 230 Toronto tourist attractions, Black Creek has an average visitor rating of more than 4 out of 5 stars, with the vast majority of visitors indicating it as either an “excellent” or “very good” place to visit.
In 1960, Black Creek Pioneer Village opened its doors to visitors. The ‘village’ is a wonderful and accurate recreation of life as it was in 19th-century Ontario. It’s been championed by many, including famed restoration architect B. Napier Simpson, Jr. who devoted much of his professional life in raising public awareness of places of historical or conservational importance.
Over 40 historic 19th century buildings, decorated in the style of the 1860s (even down to their period furnishings), are scattered around the Village. More than its look and authenticity, it’s a working model that’s operated by passionate interpreters and craftspeople. Some of the more well-known structures include Dalziel barn, a hotel, original farm buildings from the Stong family, a water-powered grist mill, a general store (open for business!), a blacksmith’s shop, a hotel, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, and many others. Some of the buildings (from the Stong family) sit on their original site, while many others were moved in from across Southern Ontario. One visitor who went back for yet another trip in late 2011 had been married in the Chapel in the Village some 30 years beforehand!
The Village is not only active and open for a large part of the year; it’s also a regular stop for school groups. In addition to tours, the Village has numerous year-round education programs. All of their programs are based on the Ontario curriculum for Social Studies, History, and Geography. Most programs are between 1 and ¾ hours in length, but there are exceptions to that.
In 2009 an important (to some) addition was added to Black Creek: a working brewery!
Right in the heart of the Village you can, to quote Black Creek’s press, “come share a pint from the past!” The Village recreated a working brewery as it would have been in the mid-1880s. The brewers on site work in period costumes, and they handcraft ales and porters that Ontarians would have enjoyed in villages and towns before Confederation. Visitors can take in a lively brewery tour that ends with a tasting of some period authentic period ales, and those who wish to can stay on and have a cold one in their cozy on-site pub, or even take home a Growler! To find out more about the brewery, you can take a look at their site here: www.blackcreekbrewery.ca.
Admission to the Village is quite reasonable, running from $11 for children, to $15 for adults. Membership is an ever better deal, running from about $108 for a family to $68 for individuals. Memberships allow free admission, free parking, special tours, and a bunch of other discounts.
As you may want to spend several hours at the Village, you’ll be pleased to know there are several places for refreshments and food. The Half Way House Inn houses the brewery (which is also a pub), and offers a number of special meals — like Thanksgiving Dinner — in addition to their regular fare. There’s always the Event Pavillion Snack Bar & Barbeque, offering everything from a quick snack to lunch. And there’s the Gift Shop, located in the main Visitor’s Centre. It features light snacks and beverages as well as an array of gifts (everything from CDs, books, handcrafted reproductions to maps).
The Village has all sorts of reasonable, sensible policies in place to protect their historic buildings and to ensure your visit is just what you want. For example, there is no smoking on the property. Rollerblades, skateboards, and bicycles are not permitted. Accessibility is in place in various buildings, but not all; best to check that in advance. Families will be pleased to know there are stroller rentals, and baby changing stations. There’s a Lost and Found on site, and the Village very much encourages personal photography or videography.
There’s an array of activities for kids, ranging from workshops in how to make bread, to how to create crafts, and there are even some recipes that are made available. There’s also quite a bit of what the Village calls “Homework Help”, where kids can learn about our Aboriginal Peoples, natural resources, period clothing, and there’s even information available on the Stongs (from whom many buildings still remain on the property).
For everyone, from kids on up, there are several exhibits. There’s also the museum, called the Black Creek Pioneer Village Collection. The online search features for the Collection is fantastic, and if you’d like to explore that, visit the site here: www.blackcreekartifacts.com/bcpv/srchitem.html.
Black Creek is a great, lively, working vision from the past that’s been brought forward so we can learn from it and enjoy it. It has something for teachers and students, for families, for history buffs, and for kids of all ages. To visit their main site, please visit them at www.blackcreek.ca.