Historic village to explore period of change


Doon - ONLINE Will 3
Photo by Will Huang

Opening in 1957, the Doon Heritage Village at the Waterloo Region Museum spent many years in development.

Originally Doon Pioneer Village, the current iteration focuses on the period of 1914, a major time of change for the Region of Waterloo.

“All the buildings, content, interpreters and how they are dressed come together to tell the story of what daily life was like in our small, rural village in 1914 in Waterloo county,” said Kevin Thomas, public program specialist for Waterloo Region Museum.

Thomas said the choice to have a fixed restoration date for the entire village was based upon an assessment of what the museum’s collection could best support, as well as the opportunity to build a different living history village than those typically found in Ontario.

Another important factor in the decision for 1914 was events happening outside of Waterloo at the time.

“If you start thinking about what is important in the history of this community, you simply cannot escape the impact of World War One on the community’s identity,” said Tom Reitz, manager and curator at Waterloo Region Museum. “If you had picked any other date, you wouldn’t have that opportunity to explore that issue of identity.”

With 20 buildings, the staff on-site at the heritage village are in period-appropriate costume and perform period-appropriate activities, such as gardening and maintaining livestock.

In the summer months, the museum offers day-in-the-life activities, where visitors have the opportunity to participate or watch demonstrations of butter churning, for example.

“[These activities] make it more hands-on and gives the opportunity to talk about specific things you normally wouldn’t come across if you were just visiting,” said Thomas.

Thomas believed it is this immersive quality that will interest people to come to the site.

“The context that activities took place in, you can get a better sense of what that activity was, how it was done.”

The land where the property is placed also adds a charm to the village.

“We sit on 60 acres of land that is a mix of forest, bottomlands and marsh areas. It really is an oasis in the community. You can get into the village and truly feel lost in this place and I think we will be able to maintain this idea,” said Reitz.

Plans are already underway to expand on the site.

Following the groundwater festival later this month, the museum has plans for a new harness shop to open next year.

Thomas said the museum is also looking at adding a schoolhouse, although that is a few years away from being a possibility.

When looking at the importance of retelling the past, he also commented that often when someone looks at where they have been, it can help them determine where they are now.

“People [in 1914] were going through a lot of change in their lives, just as we are now. That kind of comparison is helpful in figuring out how did those people deal with changes and disruptions,” said Thomas.

“What we do in the village is give people a sense of what here is and was.”

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