Monthly Archives: September 2012

Pow Wow at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology

It seems like ages have passed since I visited the Museum of Ontario Archeology. After a friend suggested checking out the Pow Wow and Native Harvest Festival I couldn’t wait to experience a Pow Wow and see how the museum has grown since I last visited there some twenty-five years ago. The festival was a weekend event, starting on a Friday evening. On the day we went we were lucky enough to arrive for the Pow Wow Grand Entry. Flags were carried by several representatives including military veterans.

Next in the procession came dancers from the mens, ladies and children’s categories. The women’s jingle dresses were beautiful and made a nice sound as they danced. This dance was introduced by the Ojibwa people and has its own legend.

Even more impressive than the sight of the dancers in traditional and modern costume was the sound of the drummers. Pow Wow music comes primarily from the drum groups who sit in a circle outside the arena. These men blend their voices with the beating of the drum to create the song; some native women also join in as they chant native songs. Each category of dance has a specific style of song and pace that is appropriate for the dance.

When the drums first started it felt like something had gently picked up the entire area and shook it. I felt a vibration in my toes that traveled up my spine to my crown. Everything went completely quiet, but not just in the crowd of spectators: even the birds hushed up to listen to the drummers’ song and play.

My friends agreed that the dances and native music that followed hit a spiritual chord with them as well.

During the traditional blessing for the day’s events, spoken in a native tongue, I looked up to notice a falcon gliding high above us. I smiled. How could that moment have been any more perfect? It made me think about how many Pow Wows must have taken place in Ontario over the last several centuries. Much has changed in both Native and Ontario culture but moments like the one I experienced at the Pow Wow give one a sense of the energy that emanates from such a raw spiritual moment. When I looked up at the wings of the bird in the sky above me, with the sound of the drums and the singing filling my ears, I smiled. I smiled because I felt tuned-in to what residents on those grounds must have experienced when it was an active village.

Inside the museum’s Lawson Jury building, constructed in 1980, were some fantastic displays about Native history as well as the research done by Sir Wilfred Jury. Craft and workshop rooms also were also available for hands on learning. Some displays were targeted at primary school children, but an original model village, created by Wilfred Jury, was of great interest as were the many artifacts found in the area. I was fascinated by the paintings and sketches, some done by Wilfred Jury.

History of the Lawson site

The site is a 500-year-old Neutral Indian village situated on a flat plateau overlooking Medway River and Snake Creek. Prehistoric Neutral Indians selected the location for a major village due to its defensible characteristics, access to water, and proximity to a wide variety of animals, fish and wild plants.

It covers 5 acres and was at one time occupied by an estimated 2000 people. It is one of the many known prehistoric Neutral sites; this one of only a few where earthworks are preserved. According to the museum, earthworks were linear mounds of earth about one meter in height which were deliberately piled up to help support the palisades that surrounded the village. These earthworks remain visible on the undisturbed portion of the site. Three-quarters of the Lawson site remains covered by trees and is undisturbed. For more information visit the Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s website.

History of Hauntings!?

A little research on the museum itself reveals that during construction of the building, evidence of a 4,000 year old campsite was found in the area. The site was named “Spook Hollow”. Why? Pioneer legends claimed that Snake Creek, that runs behind the village where the building is located, was haunted.

I’ll have to ask more about that next time I visit because no further information was available on-line!

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Western Fair memories – 144 years of fun!

My memories of the Western Fair in London, Ontario consist mainly of the smell of french fries, the taste of cotton candy and the sounds of the games and their attendants vying for fairgoers tickets. Favorite rides included the Gravitron, Scrambler, Haunted Mansion and The Himalaya, but NOT the Zipper! I remember candy apples and elephant ears and all manner of shows and exhibitions as well. The anticipation of winning or having a prize won for you was always a thrill, trying to outwit the ‘carnies’.  I even saw Weird Al one year there in concert.

When I went to the fair this year some things had changed, such as names of rides or games and the addition of a crazy slushy stand with brain-freezing beverages.

But the excitement and fun of the fair was still very much present. It made me think about it’s 144 years of history and how for decades it has brought a sense of magic and adventure to Londoners and provided a showcase for the local agricultural and artisan communities during the harvest season. Even the Hospital for the Insane had a display at the fair.

In 1868 the very first Western Fair was held in London, northeast of the current location of Victoria Park. The organizers had planned to use the Crystal Palace Barracks nearby as the main exhibition area and livestock shows took place on the parade grounds outside. In 1869, for it’s second year, the fair gained legal status through the Provincial Charter and Act of Incorporation. The fair then moved to 900 King Street further east of the downtown area. The property was purchased at that time for $65,000. This is where the fairgrounds remain today. The fair has been operating ever since, making use of the extensive grounds and racetrack.

John Huse Saunders was President of the Western Fair Association (WFA) for 22 years. He devoted more than 50 years to the Western Fair and was known throughout North America as a poultry breeder.

The only instance of the fair not operating was between 1939 and 1947 during WWII when the Canadian Department of National Defence occupied the grounds.

From 1997-2004 researcher Inge Sanmyia, Ph.D. created historical long-term and short term displays for the Western Fair association and also wrote it’s history in a book entitled A Celebration of Excellence: The history of the Western Fair. At one time the Western Fair Association had a museum and archive but unfortunately, it appears to have been closed to the public a few years ago. To date, no plans seem to be under way to re-open the museum.

During past years the fair used all sorts of different means to celebrate it’s success and promote itself with commemorative medals, maps of London, postcards and other memorabilia.

It’s over for this season, but I’d love to see a future fair include a permanent exhibit or area that pays tribute to its past. But this year there was no sign of any such display or historical references in public spaces, at least that I could see. Even if this has already been done before, an official display or history installation would be a great way for the Western Fair to celebrate it’s longstanding place in  our community and educate Londoners of all ages. Besides, history is fun and exciting too!

Note: The historical pictures included in this post are from the public domain.

Only MisstoricalFiction would bring home Dracula from the fair! Don’t you like my prize?

Fun historic outings

It was a busy summer, but luckily I was still able to fit in some great local history outings here in London, Ontario.

Tea on the lawn at Eldon House is always a treat. The season is now over but I managed to pop in just before it ended and enjoyed a shady spot on the lawn under the magnolia tree. I usually try to attend once a year for their outdoor tea program because the scones are lovely and the tea is delicious. This year featured homemade iced tea which was very refreshing. Strawberry and raspberry jam went perfectly with all. I wish I could have gone more often 😦

If you haven’t visited for a tour or for tea, be sure to put it on next summer’s bucket list! Should you prefer an autumn outing, Eldon House has great programs on during the fall as well. Visit them for a tour, a workshop, or as part of the Doors Open London weekend later this month.

Summer Tea Program
July 3 to September 2
Tuesday through Sunday
2:00 to 4:00 pm
Cost: $7 for tea, $10 for tea and house tour

Other historic event highlights

June 9 – Historic Woodfield neighborhood had its annual street fair. Each year they shut down the street and have horse and carriage tours, music, Victorian games and more.

June 14 – Red Antiquities building had its open house. What a great milestone after all the hard work, fund-raising and renovations. I didn’t get to attend but the place looks fantastic!

July 4 – Great Gatsby Gala at the Elsie Perrin Williams estate. This event always looks like such a blast and the estate is a fun place to explore. Check out the photos!

Just having a root beer with an officer!

Fun at Fanshawe Pioneer Village

Earlier this summer I also ventured out to Fanshawe Pioneer Village.

The village always has something going on, especially during holiday weekends. You can visit with the historical interpreters, explore the buildings or shop in the old hardware store.

Here are some highlights from my visit, but don’t take my word for it, they’ve got all kinds of great events lined up for this fall right up to December!

Lace-work by historical interpreters

The Orange Lodge

Jason Rip as the phrenologist with his subject!

The London Free Press building exhibit

Douglas Teeter explains early printing tools

Paul Peel’s childhood home

Getting all cranked up about history!

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