Insight Advisor

History Comes Alive

Delve into the past in South Eastern Ontario by exploring sites that played a key role in Canada’s past. Become a soldier for a day and learn to fire a real cannon; immerse yourself in pioneer living; lock through on a historic canal, or even eat bread that is made from heritage wheat milled by authentic techniques in a 200-year-old grist mill. The experiences in South Eastern Ontario are waiting to transport you back in time – and reveal another side of this intriguing region!

Heritage & Museums at its Best

Interactive Signature Sites
Interactive Signature Sites
Time Travel the Past
Time Travel the Past
Community museums
Community museums

History comes alive

Fort Henry National Historic Site of Canada is one of Canada’s premier historic attractions, along with the Rideau Canal and the Kingston Fortifications has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fort Henry in Kingston offers exhibit and museum tours, live artillery demos, mock battles, guided tours – and kids can even march with the Fort Henry Guard! The award-winning, world-famous Sunset Ceremonies take place Wednesday evenings in July and August. Redesigned for this season with a new, action-packed show, the Sunset Ceremonies promises to captivate, featuring the Fort Henry Guard Drums, Drill Squad and Artillery Detachments presenting a taste of 1860s military music, drill and artillery.

Walk through history – literally. The refurbished Brockville Railway Tunnel has the distinction of being the first railway tunnel in Canada, completed in 1860 and running under Downtown Brockville. The experience is accented by a colourful light show highlighting the tunnel’s architecture and geology, as well as sound effects imitating the trains that once passed under the city from the waterfront.

Get set for a high-flying adventure at the National Air Force Museum of Canada in the Bay of Quinte region!  Our country’s Royal Canadian Air Force history is tangible with more than 75,000 square feet of display space attached to a sprawling, 16-acre airpark. See Canada’s first military aircraft, as well as the Halifax bomber, and even get a behind-the-scenes peek at the restoration process. This aviation gem was originally founded in 1984 as the RCAF Memorial Library and Museum, it has developed to where it now enjoys a national reputation – the largest number of aircraft on static display and the most skilled team of restoration volunteers of any military museum in the country.

Where can you explore an authentic shipwreck of a gunboat, try on a soldier’s costume, take part in a military drill, play games from hundreds of years ago, participate in a Fort Kids themed program and even learn to fire a real cannon? At Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada in Prescott! This well-preserved military marvel was originally built during the War of 1812, but today, it’s a fun and educational place to immerse yourself in the life of a member of the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment.

Be a part of one of the largest living history sites in the country: Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg. This magical experience transports you back in time to 1866. The whole family will enjoy this era as interpreted and demonstrated by staff in period clothing. More than 40 historical buildings are featured here, many moved here prior to the flooding of the “Lost Villages” during the St. Lawrence Seaway development project. These include homes, functioning mills and trades workshops. Traditional farming is demonstrated through the growing and harvesting of heritage vegetables and livestock, while weavers, spinners, and dressmakers demonstrate traditional handiwork. It all adds up to a memorable glimpse into how life was lived more than 150 years ago!

Inspire awe at The Old Stone Mill in Delta while witnessing a working flour mill, grinding grain with traditional equipment and methods used in the 1800s. This unique mill is a National Historic Site of Canada and the structure has been painstakingly renovated to give visitors an authentic experience of flour-making demonstrations while also featuring many interactive exhibits and milling artefacts. It’s open to the public during the summer, and on special occasions the working millstones grind heritage, locally-grown grain into flour. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The Rideau Canal is further awash in history with several surviving blockhouses, lockmasters houses, and community buildings that have been preserved.

Unique specialty museums

South Eastern Ontario is a history buff’s haven. Authentic experiences meld with special sites that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Our past is showcased throughout the region – step back in time for a distinctive heritage experience to remember!

There is more to Canada’s prisons than crime and punishment, but discovering everything along the way at Canada’s Penitentiary Museum in Kingston is intriguing. This award-winning museum is housed within the former Warden’s residence of Kingston Penitentiary and is dedicated solely to the preservation and interpretation of the history of our federal penitentiaries.

Dig for fossils, learn about the oldest known animal fossils from Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, check out the newest addition of an interactive Augmented Reality Sandbox or marvel at the beautiful crystals in the extensive mineral gallery at the Miller Museum of Geology and Mineralogy in Kingston 1000 Islands.

Witness history in motion at The Pump House Steam Museum in Kingston, located in one of Canada’s oldest original waterworks – where steam-powered pumps provided the first running water to Kingston residents from 1850. Only six similar preserved water pumping plants remain in North America.

Brockville’s Fulford Place, operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust, is an elaborate, 22,000-square-foot mansion built for a millionaire business tycoon and Canadian senator. After touring the remarkable residence and grounds, settle in for some refreshment in the authentic tea room.

Hands-on is how they roll at the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum between Gananoque and Kingston in the 1000 Islands. The MacLachlan Woodworking Museum holds the most extensive, nationally significant collection of woodworking tools in Canada.

Dinosaurs have taken over South Eastern Ontario! At Prehistoric World, get up close and personal with dozens of real-life replicated dinos. This marvelous site features a winding trail through the woods and open fields with hand-crafted detailed dinos to discover along the way.

The Historic SDG Jail is known as one of the oldest public structures in Ontario, dating back to 1844. But delving further into its storied past reveals that men, women and even children were incarcerated in Cornwall for more than 168 years. Take a guided tour of the jail as it is today and experience life behind bars to see the holding cells, visitation and common areas, exercise yards, and the gallows.

Discover the lavish Glanmore National Historic Site in Belleville in the Bay of Quinte region, built in 1882 for a wealthy banker. See grand furnishings, hand-painted ceilings, and ornate woodwork and learn about this prominent family and this enduring example of unique architecture.

The residence of Canada’s first prime minister at the beginning of his political career, Bellvue House National Historic Site of Canada was built in the 1840s. Take part in interpretive programming, talk with costumed gardeners and visit the heirloom orchard. (Please be advised that in 2018 Bellevue House is closed for restoration repairs however the orchard, visitor center, and garden remain open to the public).

The Museum of Health Care at Kingston preserves and promotes the rich material legacy of our medical and health care past. Look here for guided tours, family programs and more. Visit another museum nearby in Kingston 1000 Islands with a storied past: Murney Tower National Historic Site, one of Kingston’s historic limestone military defense structures. Or, tickle the ivories at the unique Canadian Piano Museum, open by appointment only, but a pianist’s dream.

The Rideau Canal Visitor Centre in Smiths Falls dives headfirst into the intricacies of building and maintaining this historic engineering masterpiece. Located in a 19th-century stone mill, the Rideau Canal Visitor Centre is the flagship interpretation center for this National Historic Site of Canada, a designated Canadian Heritage River, and a UNESCO World Heritage destination.

With more than 40 intricate model ships on display, the Doran Bay Model Ship Museum in Iroquois can be fascinating. Each model has been painstakingly built according to original plans.

READ ALSO: 17 Historic Sites In South Eastern Ontario, 5 Family-Friendly Museums In Kingston

Community museums

Ancestry and heritage is waiting to be uncovered in the communities of South Eastern Ontario. An abundance of pioneer sites, archives and regional museums, weave together a tapestry of stories and experiences that contribute to the cultural history of the region.

The Brockville Museum is home to exhibits and displays on Brockville’s industrial and social past, focused primarily on the themes “Made in Brockville” and “The People of Brockville”.  The museum is also home to a permanent collection of exhibits illuminating Brockville Loyalists, river history and early industries.

Unravel exciting heritage in Prescott with the Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site. Be sure to also stop by the Forwarders’ Museum downtown in Prescott to learn about the early days of the town and its ancestors.

The Arthur Child Heritage Museum in Gananoque 1000 Islands welcomes more than 30,000 visitors each year to learn about the rich cultural and natural history of the region through interactive exhibits. Explore the museum’s new exhibits including this year’s main feature, Migrations. Look for butterflies!  Next door is the Thousand Islands Boat Museum on Gananoque’s shoreline ties it all together, bringing tales of the river to life while paying homage to river-going vessels. This hands-on museum allows history to be touched, built and experienced.

Prince Edward County is steeped in history and the five local museums here are the keys to unlocking a fascinating story. With deep farming roots stretching back to the late 18th century, the Museums of Prince Edward County interpret that dynamic heritage. Visit a pioneer village, complete with a log cabin and blacksmith shop at Ameliasburgh Heritage Village; or head to Rose House Museum to get a sneak peek into life for the first Marysburgh settlers. Housed in an 1885 Quaker Meeting House, Wellington Heritage Museum, local history is brought to life including the Crawford Collection, which tells about the importance of the canning industry in the county. Visitors to Macauley Heritage Park can tour the gardens as well as a traditional Carriage House in this historic former church. Lastly, feel like a pirate by visiting the Mariner Park Museum to see treasures that have been surfaced from shipwrecks in the waters around Prince Edward County.

Witness a window to past, by exploring items found here from prehistoric times to the first tire produced at the Goodyear plant in 1990 and beyond. The Lennox & Addington County Museum and Archives is home to incredible collections from the Lennox and Addington Historical Society – its artifact inventory tops 10,000 items! The rich local history in unveiled through furniture, textiles, clothing and toys, ceramics, household collectibles and more. Check in about special events here that welcome children for crafting and adults for workshops.

Fun fact: the Glengarry Pioneer Museum has an original barroom – believed to be one of the oldest in Eastern Ontario! The museum opened in 1962, but has a much longer history, starting life as a store, then an inn and stagecoach stop. The museum consists of several nineteenth-century log heritage buildings and artifacts. Also in Cornwall and the Counties, the Lost Villages Museum site is shrouded in intrigue. It consists of 10 heritage buildings, moved and restored to Ault Park from The Lost Villages and surrounding townships to commemorate the flooding of lands to the south of the museum complex on July 1, 1958, to create the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The Rideau District Museum in Westport along the Rideau Canal houses many insightful gems, but perhaps most interesting is the wooden carved statue of Sally Grant – recognized as the only outdoor carved wooden statue of her time-period known to exist in Upper Canada, or possibly all of North America. Also along the Rideau Heritage Route, be sure to visit the Lockmaster’s House Museum at Chaffey’s Lock; the Blockhouse Museum at Merrickville; Heritage House Museum in Smiths Falls and more!

It’s no secret that Kingston is home to an abundance of museums and historical places – but community museums are an intriguing part of the cultural landscape here. Fairfield House and Park was built in 1793 and preserves the building skills of the Loyalist settlers. Visit for a guided tour – the park on the lakeshore is a pleasant picnic area. The Frontenac County Schools Museum is another gem. Located in Barriefield it’s a window into education of the past that is educational for all ages.

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