I don’t know about you but I have to assume that you have an interest in museums... or you wouldn’t be looking at this site. When I was young, I was always too busy “doing something” to visit a museum, and besides which they seemed rather dark and stuffy places often filled with dead animals in glass cases - not a place to draw you in when there was a good movie playing. We’ll, that was then and this is now! As I got older and worked and visited many different places, I found, increasingly, that I wanted to know and understand more about the local communities (where I was) and how they came to be.
Museums can tell a story and really need to be seen in context to appreciate what they have to show. To me, it doesn’t matter if they come as a refined and modern palace of space with carefully selected items with neatly printed information or an audio-visual clip that you can pick up on your smart phone, or as a jumbled collection of this and that all squished into a tiny space. Both have merit. It’s what they tell you that counts; how they tell you is often a matter of the resources available to put materials on display and that shouldn’t deter.
Prince Edward County has five local museums and each is very different from the others. The County has a rich history and together they are a microcosm, providing a powerful representation of the cultural changes that have occurred in many parts of the Great Lakes, not just the County. Some of the County museums are in historic buildings and others are housed in repurposed buildings (as is the Mariners Museum at South Bay). So, get a County map (they are free and widely available), get your car, a bike or join a tour group and head on down to South Bay. Make time to go further …. … a trip to the Little Bluff Conservation area and Point Traverse and the National Wildlife area is well worthwhile (especially since you will pass a small winery on the way); and don’t forget to stop at Black River for cheese and ice-cream! In fact you can bring a sandwich and drink and enjoy a seat in the outside display area at the museum. A great place to be on a hot and sunny day. Don’t try to eat inside …… the museum is already near bursting with exhibits.
Transportation and fishing meant that County communities had a strong focus on the lake (Ontario) from the time of the earliest Loyalist settlers until well after WW1. But with the coming of the rail road (to Picton) less and less produce moved by water, and travel too moved away from the lake. As you cross the Black River, it’s hard to believe that Milford was once an important site for building lake schooners (as was Picton and several other shoreline communities in the County). Huge profits were made during the “barley years” (1860-90), shipping grain to the United States (especially for making beer). Hops and fruit (especially apples) were shipped to the US and even to Europe. Many lighthouses were built to guide shipping along the south shore and rocky reefs and islands of the County, and there are numerous wrecks that witness the folly of trying to make just one more trip before the winter storms.
During prohibition (1920-33), rum-running became a lucrative activity for more than a few County residents and local interest in powerboat racing may be thought of as something of a “natural evolution” of such activities. The Gold Cup races were a fixture in the County for many years (after WW2), and probably the best known event was the capture of the World speed record by the unlimited hydroplane, Miss Supertest, in 1957. Many men left the County to fight in WW1 and 2, and for those joined the Navy and the merchant marine, and for the local fishermen too, an annual memorial service is held at the South Bay United church next to the museum.
So what’s to see? there’s remains of a dug-out canoe, model boats (including an 8ft long radio controlled battleship), photographs and pictures, locally built boats, artifacts from old lake steamers, fishing gear, outboard motors, a wide collection of items from the powerboat races (including the starting clock), and naval memorabilia including the bell from HMCS Hallowell. Oh yes, and the kids will love working the old fog horn. Outside there are lifeboats, large pieces of wreckage recovered from Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, and even a stone lighthouse (removed from the False Ducks and rebuilt on site). What more do you want? There is a washroom (that’s important); and to get the best from your visit, be sure to ask questions, the staff love questions. Enjoy!
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