Simcoe County Museum much more than dusty artifacts

Nothing makes a child’s eyes glaze over like an adult saying "when I was your age…"

The child knows when those words are spoken, they’re about to be lulled into boredom.

Save your breath and don’t tell them about what life was like at their age. Show them, instead.

“One of the best things about the museum is that you get to take a glimpse at what life was like in the county, whether that was 100 years ago or 10 years ago,” said Forrest Patenaude, education supervisor at the Simcoe County Museum in Springwater Township's Midhurst community, just north of Barrie.

“Everything here is historically relevant to the county, regardless of age," he added.

Much of the collection has been built through donations — gifts from ordinary folks who thought their treasures might be of interest to people a hundred years on.

Donated items have ranged from entire homes and wedding dresses to farm implements and hand tools.

Everything in the collection has, in some way, contributed to the rich mosaic and development of the region. Indigenous tools, weapons and pottery. Early transportation and construction equipment. A rural church and a century-old schoolhouse. Even a train station.

“A lot of people are amazed at what’s behind the front door," Patenaude said.

“It’s a lot like The Tardis (a fictional time machine/spacecraft) from Dr. Who — where it’s bigger on the inside.”

Inside the museum’s main building you come face-to-sculpted face with the county’s namesake — John Graves Simcoe, appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in 1790.

From there, you can stroll down main street Barrie circa 1900, stopping at the apothecary or the general store.

Outside, you can start your tour at any one of the 16 heritage and display buildings that have been erected on the museum’s 327 acres.

Each building is unique and represents a different period in Simcoe County’s history.

In addition to the church, schoolhouse and train station, there’s a smoke building, a blacksmith shop, a cottage, a bread oven, an icehouse.

“All of the buildings that are here were not originally here,” said Patenaude. “They’ve all been moved here — from across the county.”

Patenaude was at the museum the day the cottage was delivered and said it was something he’d never forget.

“It was a pretty cool thing to see this ginormous building coming down the highway and into our backyard,” he remembered. “It was completely rebuilt, piece by piece. Each brick in the chimney was numbered so it could be reassembled exactly the way it was before it was moved.”

Out beyond the buildings you encounter monster machines: earth movers and highway builders and stump removers that seemingly border on prehistoric.

Left out among the elements for goodness knows how many years, they’ve taken on a bit of age — the resulting patina a mix of rust and dirt.

Beyond the monster machines are trails, trees and an abundance of nature — an added bonus for the museum’s 30,000 annual visitors.

“We’re pretty lucky to have the acreage we have,” Patenaude said. “In the winter, we have a one-kilometre skate trail that people love, especially when it’s lit up at night.”

Visitors can also enjoy the museum’s walking trails, go for a bike ride and, if there’s snow on the ground, try a little snowshoeing.

The museum hosts a number of special events every season. From Sept. 15 to 17, the Simcoe County Quilt, Rug and Artisan Fair will be on location and Last Blast, one of the museum’s most popular events, will be back the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Oct. 14.

The Simcoe County Museum is located at 1151 Highway 26.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,