Power down the tablet and pop out the earbuds: you’ve got a few days left to check out old-style pioneer living at the newly reopened Founders’ Museum and Pioneer Village on Hwy 61, just south of Thunder Bay. The attraction is packed with an incredible array of artifacts, from vintage hats and pinball machines to antique tools, cameras, cars and a railway car, all housed in buildings painstakingly reproduced to match the originals.
The site is the result of the efforts of Fred Goodfellow, who purchased the property in the 1960s with the idea of creating “hands-on history.” “He would go around to local farms and homes and see if there were any old things people wanted to donate, and sometimes he bought items at sales,” says staff member Jean Mayo.
Goodfellow took special care when fashioning the buildings, which include a church, train station, mechanic, pioneer home, print shop, cobbler, blacksmith, tannery, carriage shop, schoolhouse, a village square with a milliner, photography studio and music store, and a general store with a pharmacy, butcher shop and bakery. “The train station, for example, is a replica of the 1905 Upsala station, made using the original plans filed in Ottawa,” notes curator Lois Garrity.
The attraction faced an uncertain future when it closed in 2013, facing mounting bills and significant repairs. Fortunately, however, a new board was established and the township of Oliver Paipoonge took over the management. (Garrity also is the curator at the Duke Hunt Historical Museum on Rosslyn Road.)
Currently the site has one tour guide and self-guided tours are also available. You may also happen to find local volunteers like a woodcarver at the carpentry shop, carving items by hand. There’s a small selection of hard candy and souvenirs available for sale at the general store. Local interest has been keen since the site reopened. “We’re just ecstatic with the response,” says Mayo. “Coming to work is like coming to play.” If you want to get a closer look at how Northwestern Ontario’s pioneer families lived, worked and played, Founders’ Museum is definitely worth a visit.
The Founders’ Museum and Pioneer Village at 3190 Hwy 61 South, just past Loch Lomond, is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (May-August), 12:00-4:30 pm until September 14, reopening in Spring 2015. For more information call 807-475-7424.
Admission is by donation.