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My Summer Reading: Lost and Found Loyalist Worlds seen through the Eyes of Peter J. Stokes and Anne Michaels
Catherine Nasmith | September 11, 2017

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From Issue No. 260 | September 11, 2017

Moving Christ Church to Upper Canada Village

Over the summer I have been quite a bit of Peter J. Stokes as references for a route guide I am writing for the Friends for Life Bike Rally. The route travels along waterways between Toronto and Montreal, going through some of the earliest (Loyalist) settlement areas in what was then Upper Canada. It also takes us past the St. Lawrence Seaway, and past the lost villages that were flooded for it.

Companion reading was Anne Michael’s 2009 novel, The Winter Vault which poetically links three international places where heritage challenges resulted in different responses to lost fabric. She examines the human emotional connection to place, and the human limits to dealing with loss. The flooding of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the moving of the Abu Simbel pyramid to make way for the flooding for the Aswan dam and the rebuilding of Warsaw after destruction during World War II, all present different technical challenges, but what Anne Michael’s considers, in astoundingly beautiful prose, is why such reclamation projects happen, why they matter, as well as the limits they have to satisfy our human need for connection to previous generations.

In spite of our current conservation ethics which poo poo moving heritage buildings around, and which I confess held me back from visiting Upper Canada Village, I found it a fascinating place. Two generations later, Upper Canada Village is a conservation story in its own right, ably told by Peter Stokes in In A Village Arising: The Story of Building Upper Canada Village. The experience of it as a museum is valuable. At the same time, thinking of the destruction of all the places that yielded the buildings makes it a very bittersweet experience. In A Village Arising, Peter Stokes gives an excellent history at the beginning of the book of the people who worked at Upper Canada Village how they were connected, and goes on to give a lot of detail about the conservation challenges posed by moving a lot of buildings from a lot of different places, as well as working with the powers that be. He sketches the founders of the conservation movement in Ontario, putting into context figures like Eric Arthur and Anthony Adamson, who founded Architectural Conservancy Ontario, Marion McCrae, Napier Simpson and many others. He also paints quite a picture of them working under great pressure, trying to understand the technologies of the buildings and how to best show and conserve them. Experiments failed, lessons were learned.

Peter Stokes started at Upper Canada Village a new graduate of architecture, with no particular specialty. I found myself a bit jealous of this generations’ access, being able to glean so much experience through re-assembling so many building in a short period of time. All who worked there became the experts and founders of professional conservation practice in Ontario.

The choice to read these two books at the same time was somewhat accidental for me, but I encourage you to do the same. If you have never visited Upper Canada Village, put it on your "must visit" list.

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