A little known fact – I love anything to do with history. Archaeology excites me. Museums are my favourite destination when travelling. I love to know about our past and why we are in the situation we are in (personally, I think it’s all the fault of our forefathers). I admit it – I’m a history geek.
As a Canadian, I strive to know more about this country’s history. Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishine, Ontario is just one of many great sites to visit to get a taste of Canada’s history.
We visited Discovery Harbour on one quiet weekend, while taking a drive for a change of scenery.
The site is a recreation of the early 19th century community that housed British naval and military forces.
Ontario’s History at Discovery Harbour
In 1793 Sir John Graves Simcoe decided that Penetenguishine Bay was an ideal spot for a naval base. It was a key port for ships that provided a transport link for York (now Toronto) to the northwest. During our visit we saw an example of one of these ships – a reconstruction of the British warship H.M.S. Tecumseth.
Almost all of the buildings at the Discovery Harbour attraction are reconstructions. They’re based on archaeological digs, old maps and records from the area.
The artifacts found inside the buildings at this historic Ontario site aren’t original. However, they are of the time period of the early 1800s when this base was in use.
And so, you get a very good sense of how simple and difficult life was in this time period. There’s not an electric light bulb in sight! At least the residents had a beautiful view of the Bay, with blue waters and abundant foliage during the summer. I can only imagine the huge ice-covered skating rink the sheltered Bay created in the winter!
The Officers’ Life In 1800s
While the only original building on site is the Officers’ Quarters, built in the 1830s, you can still experience what life would have been like back then.
The Officers’ Quarters was home to higher-ranking officers in charge of the garrison units. From the recreated room, you can see that they enjoyed a more comfortable residence. A knowledgeable and friendly tour guide shares information about specific items in the room and architectural features.
Our tour guide told us about a local Penetanguishine resident who donated a very old trunk for the Officers’ Quarters. Originally belonging to an ancestor who was stationed at Discovery Harbour, the trunk – made in the early 1800s – is lined with old records of the roll calls. The text is mostly legible with the names of garrison members clearly printed. It’s a fantastic find for local historians!
More History In the Area
If you visit Discovery Harbour, travel five kilometres southeast to Midland and visit Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and Martyr’s Shrine – two other historical sites from a period farther back in Ontario history than Discovery Harbour.
Directions to Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishine
About an hour and 45 minutes drive north of Toronto, it’s a short day-trip outside of the city and not overly packed with visitors.
Follow Hwy. 400 North to Hwy. 93. Take Hwy. 93 north directly to Penetanguishene (Hwy 93 turns into Penetanguishene’s main street). Take the main street to the bottom of the hill towards the water, turn right and follow the Blue Ship logos to Discovery Harbour.