MORRISBURG, ONT. — One year shy of their 60th anniversary, leaving the gates closed this summer was something Upper Canada Village wasn’t going to do.
“I can’t imaging not opening the gates this year, so to be able to do it has just been amazing,” manager Tracey Ogilby said on a beautiful sunny day.
The park reopened partially to the public on July 1 and Ogilby says strict guidelines are in effect including physical distancing and mask wearing.
“(There were) lots of challenges with how to figure out how to do physical distancing, keeping our staff and our visitors safe in this time of COVID,” said Ogilby.
“We worked with the local health unit on the physical distancing. We know we have a lot of families that come through and they need more than that six feet, so we’ve given them a 20-foot physical distancing space when they arrive,” she said.
Lines are marked on the ground to keep visitors separated indoors and out.
“Everybody needs to wear a mask every time they are in a building. We ask them to put masks on in our Discovery Centre and in any of our historic homes,” Ogilby said. “When they are outside, walking on the streets, they can take their mask off and enjoy the fresh air.”
Even the 19th century people who work in the village are wearing masks now.
“We’ve got a great costume department,” Ogilby said. “They’ve been able to find the materials and everything that somewhat match the outfits they are wearing and make the staff with a whole bunch of cotton masks that they can wear. It’s a little bit different but, in today’s world, it’s somewhat expected that everybody is wearing a mask, so it’s working out very well for them.”
The Village even incorporated a storyline into the mask use.
“Some people go along with the story that we mention, they’ve got a bout of cholera or whooping cough but, for the most part, everyone knows we are living in pandemic times,” said Milton Kooistra, a research and training officer and tour guide at the park.
He noted that the experience is a bit different as well.
“Normally, the visitors are given a guide map and they tour the village on their own accord, enter the buildings, and talk to the staff inside. This year is different. We are offering guided tours to our visitors in groups of about 10 to 12,” Kooistra said.
It may be different, but it is something he says the visitors are enjoying.
“A lot of people appreciate the guided tours because they find they end up learning different things than they would have in a normal visit when they go alone through the village,” Kooistra added.
Even the parking lot requires physical distancing, with signs telling drivers to use every other spot.
On a regular Saturday in the summer, the Upper Canada Village would normally see more than 1,500 people in the park. This year that number is around 350.
Twenty-nine tours are offered every day in 15 minute intervals and you can book a time slot online.
Visitors said they enjoyed the experience and felt safe. Diane usually comes from Gatineau a couple of times a year.
“The people are very nice and they have no choice to keep their distance. It’s like that, but its ok,” she said. “It’s a nice place to come. I don’t regret it and I’ll come back again.”
Valerie was enjoying the village for the first time, driving in from Montreal.
“It was so awesome! It was so fun! It was good to learn all the different things people went through in ,those days.” she said. “Just relax and enjoy it because it’s well-organized and well done and very, very informative. It’s like going back to school.”
When asked if she felt safe:
“Absolutely, absolutely. Everybody is respecting social distancing, everybody is aware, and everybody had their masks,” she said, smiling through her mask.
Ogilby said that a lot of support is coming from locals “staycationing” from nearby.
“I think sometimes they are hesitant at the beginning that it’s a 90-minute guided tour,” said Ogilby. “They are so used to free flowing but once they take the tour they are really excited by the time they get through it and see how much time they have with the interpreters through the whole thing.”
Even though the park is not fully open, visitors will still see what 19th century life was like.
“We’ve got all the different trades and the domestic life interpreted through the site we have open,” Ogilby said.