Friday, 31 August 2012

O'Hara's Mill

Looking at this, don't you expect to see Laura Ingells?

 If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. 
 You are a leaf that doesn't know it's part of the tree.
                                                      Michael Crichton

    We are very lucky to have O'Hara's Mill only 20 minutes away.  O'Hara's Mill is a pioneer park and conservation area.  Over the years 100 dedicated volunteers have worked hard to restore and build the buildings on site.  I am a real history nut (some might replace the work "nut" with "nerd", both would be accurate descriptions).  To me it is amazing the dedication that these volunteers have shown to this project.  I have been going to O'Hara for the last 20 years on and off.  Each visit sees a new building, or a new addition to the park.   Each visit I have a great appreciation for the people who are generous with their time and money, and make this park work.

    This past Wednesday we took the kids, and met up with my parents and visiting niece and nephew.  When we arrived we were treated to the site of the new covered bridge over the dam.  It smelled glorious, and looked beautiful.  What an amount of time and money that must have been to build.  Sadly we have a drought currently that has really effected the water flow through the dam.  In the past the water has been just smashing over the rocks, creating both physical beauty and a treat to the ears.  The water was nearly dry this time.  Although the water was nearly dry, it did create an intriguing site for the kids.  A small pool of water was still there, I mean really small.  In this small pool were some tiny little fish, who had become trapped.  The poor little fish were sitting ducks so to speak for the water snakes who had found their way over.  The kids stood looking down from the covered bridge fascinated, who needs the nature channel.

    When we arrived the buildings were all locked up.  It was still neat to just wander around and look at the buildings.  The kids loved being able to run and jump and look without being told to "calm down". 
It did not take the kids long to find the old school bell.  My kids love the opportunity to make noise, and were delighted to each take a turn ringing the noisy big bell.  After we had been there for a little while, a very kind volunteer came and asked if we would like him to unlock the school house.  Apparently the summer university students who look after the park had finished.  It was very lucky that the nice man was at the park and was able to unlock the doors for us to take a peek.

    The school house had been beautifully restored.  The kids all ran to find a desk.  We had been to Lang Pioneer Village early in the week, and seen their school house.  At the Lang school house, my dad had told the kids about when he was a child at school.  Dad had told the kids that when he was a boy, each desk had a hole cut out of the corner of the desk to hold an ink bottle.  They used a pen that had to be dipped in ink to produce writing.  When we walked into the little O'Hara school house, the desks each had a small hole cut into the desk.  Dad made a point to show the kids, and remind them of what he had said earlier in the week.
    The school house was really neat because it was like looking at a snap shot in history.  It even included report cards from the time, and a leather strap on the teacher's desk.  It struck me as funny that today we are always talking about class sizes and caps on the amount of students in each class.  Right now there is talk from the Ontario teachers unions about striking, and negotiations.  When you look at teachers in the past, man do our teachers have it good!  Can you imagine the difficulty in teaching grades 1- 8 all in the same classroom?  Because there was only one teacher in the community, she had a hundred eyes on her, outside of the classroom, waiting for her to slip up.  There were lists of rules not just for her conduct in the classroom, but her conduct in the community.  I cannot imagine many teachers of today signing on for that sort of a career.

    We loved the O'Hara family homestead.  It had been lovingly restored and furnished in period furniture.  Each room received generous gasps from my mother "we could live here", she would say of each room.  

    For me it is was neat to see how little they lived with.  I am always complaining about how small our house is, and yet by the pioneer standards our house is a mansion.  It would be obscene to them that not only did our children each have their own bed, but their very own rooms.  To them children shared beds.  In the winter sharing a bed would have definite advantages.  

    As I looked at the simplicity in which they lived, part of me longed to return to those days.  Keeping up with the Jones for them did not mean buying flat screen t.v.s and big cars, it was about planting fields, and livestock.  You would have risen in the morning knowing what had to done, and it involved physical hardship.  You would have fallen into bed at night exhausted.  It was a hard life but was simple.  Having said all of that... the Amish live this same life, and I know with 100% certainty, that the Amish community would kick my lazy butt out (and I am so lazy that it would probably involve actual physical kicking).  Although I think wistfully about the simplicity of the pioneer life, it was a hard life, where the average life expectancy was like 40.  People had to sleep sitting up because of pleurisy, if they slept on their backs, they would not survive the night.  Families with 8 children in them, may see 3 or 4 children into adulthood.  Infant mortality rates were staggering, as were deaths of the mother due to childbirth complications.

    The volunteers have not only lovingly restored the buildings, they have even included a period garden.  For the pioneers, they did not just use their herbs for flavouring, in the way that we do.  To the pioneers herbs were also medicine, the only medicines that they had.  To survive, they would need to have a well stocked herb garden.  Today, many people are re-educating themselves about herbal remedies. 

    I was impressed to see that the vegetable garden was not lush and beautiful.  It was crispy, needed water, in other words it was authentic.  This part of Canada is and was an agricultural community.  Survival was based in the land.  Right now we have a stage 3 drought.  In pioneer times, they would have been in a panic.  The rivers and streams are drying up in the heat, removing water sources.  With drought like we are seeing this summer, the pioneers would have been looking at sparse amounts of food to put by for the winter.  I cannot imagine the level of panic that they must have felt when crops were poor.  So much for my simpler times theory.

    Some extremely artistic volunteer has painted the picnic tables.  So you are not just surrounded by natural beauty when you choose to have a picnic at O'Hara park, you just have to look down.  The tables are all different, and each one is equally beautiful.

     It does not cost a penny to visit O'Hara's Mill.  The dedicated volunteers work on the park not only building and restoring, but planning fun family activities... at no cost. This December there will be Christmas at O'Hara, December 7, 8, and 9 from 4-8 p.m..  We went two years ago, and it was beautiful.  The kids loved it!  It was a short distance, and no cost.  I keep saying that it costs nothing to visit O'Hara's Mill, and it does, but perhaps we as visitors should give either what we can afford to donate, or give what it would have cost us to visit another pioneer village.  Without volunteers, and without donations, the park could not exist.  Without money, they cannot continue to expand and improve.  With our donations of time and money, just imagine what O'Hara's Mill could look like in 20 years.

    As you may have already surmised, I highly recommend visiting O'Hara's Mill if you are in the Madoc area.  There are signs on highway 7 that direct you to the park.  I highly recommend going for their Christmas celebrations.  If you want to find out more information about the park, or how you can volunteer, have a look at the website.

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