Historic London Ontario is an exciting destination for
people passionate about Time Travel. Discover 5 fun places where you can escape
the 21st century and explore what life was like “way back when”.
Above: Longhouse at the Ontario Museum of Archeology in London
To begin at the beginning … the Museum of Ontario Archeology takes you back to the earliest days of human settlement of the province -- 11,000 years! The museum is actually in two parts. First, there are the outside grounds called the Lawson Site, surrounded by a palisade (walls made of logs), with reconstructions of longhouses, other early structures and native gardens. Second is the Lawson-Jury Building that houses the indoor exhibits.
First, the outside part. It’s called the
Lawson Site and it was occupied up until 500 years ago by the Neutral Iroquois
nation. Each year the museum hosts a powwow on the grounds. This event includes
dancing, singing, traditional blessings, art, craft and native food. It’s an
inspiring and fun event welcoming everyone. Here are some pictures I took at
their recent powwow. The dancers are dressed in colourful regalia.
Each powwow features several sets of drum circles. The groups take turns entertaining the crowd and competing for prizes for best music.
Inside the Lawson-Jury Building, you’ll find slightly old-fashioned-feeling exhibits with artifacts that have been unearthed on the site over the years, history murals, a large diorama about early encounters between Aboriginal people and Europeans, and later pioneer and historical materials related to daily living.
One feature that fascinated me was the reconstructed office of a famous Ontario archeologist, Wilfred Jury, who did a lot of work excavating sites in Ontario in the mid-20th century. I don’t suppose the archeologist ever expected that he would wind up in his own museum!
Jury was an interesting, creative and hyper-productive man. In addition to being one of the founders of this museum, he led the work at one of the province’s most famous and extensive archeological digs, Sainte Marie-Among-the-Hurons. For more about that site, see my article about Midland. He was also the founding curator of Fanshawe Pioneer Village (see below) and the re-creator of the Huron Village, also in Midland. (Note: If you’re interested in archeology at all, there’s a fascinating book about the archeological dig and reconstruction work at Sainte-Marie called “After the Fire” that I would recommend.)
If you’re going to tour the museum, be sure to borrow the audio guide. I found it very helpful for understanding what I was seeing. And pick up the handy little paper map of the Lawson Site.
This museum in downtown London is a bit of a mixed bag – part history museum, part art gallery. Actually I think it leans more towards the art gallery side. The rhino out front gives you some clue that you may encounter something a little different than what you’re expecting once you step inside:
Above: Tom Benner, White Rhino, 1985-86
In the main lobby, a big white glare-y space, you’ll find cases of artifacts introducing you to the history of the area:
The building is sprawling and feels a bit empty, but it does host some interesting temporary exhibits. We saw one about a local 19th century school for women when we were there.
There were also some temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Shows change frequently, so always check ahead.
A secret gem is the museum’s wonderful restaurant, the River Room, with lovely decor, a scenic view on to the Thames River, and great food. (I can still taste the best beef dip sandwich and Yorkshire pudding I’ve ever had.) It’s reasonably priced (mid-range) and makes a nice change from the usual choices in museums in Canada – inexpensive junk food or good but very pricey gourmet food. This place strikes a lovely compromise.
This pioneer village is one of my favourites in Ontario. Highlights include the childhood home of Paul Peel, the famous Canadian artist; boyhood home of Wilfrid Jury, the archeologist I mentioned above; a printers’ shop; seasonal festivals with special meals; two cool old one-room schoolhouses; and much more. For greater detail, see my extended article about Fanshawe.
Above: Paul Peel's childhood home. Peel was a famous Canadian artist who grew up in the area.
If you or someone you love has diabetes, then
you’re probably familiar with the name Sir Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941),
a Canadian who co-discovered insulin as a treatment for the disease.
Thousands if not millions of people have credited Banting’s work with saving their lives. Before insulin, the only treatment was the so-called “starvation cure”, which did not cure but certainly starved people to death. Inside this museum is a room full of framed letters that he received thanking him for it. It’s a very touching space, this tiny room, and in the centre is a box of Kleenex -- a necessary element, as you’ll understand when you visit.
Banting was a multi-faceted man. The house contains several rooms of exhibits covering different aspects of his life – his family practice office (he wasn’t a very successful family doctor ... his strength was research); his military life; his artistic life (he was a painter and friend of the Group of Seven and planned to retire at 50 and take up art full time, but died in air plane crash during WWII before he could fulfill his dream).
This house was his home at the period when he made his great discovery. In fact, you can actually sit on the bed where he slept and where he wrote that the idea came to him one night. Many people (including me) can’t resist getting their photos taken there.
The small garden beside the house is pretty, and features a statue of him, as well as a monument containing the “eternal flame”. It will burn until a true cure for diabetes is finally found; the doctors who find the cure will come and put out the fire.
Almost every town has one: a “house museum”
once occupied by a local elite family. Eldon House is London’s oldest remaining
mansion. Built in 1834, it was the home of the Harris’s for more than a
century. Four generations lived here and most of the artifacts you’ll see today
belonged to them. The garden is also a treat for visitors.
London is about a two-hour drive (south west) of Toronto, which makes it an easy day trip or a perfect little weekend getaway.
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