Coteau-du-lac National Historic Site

For a last Canadian historic site (for now), here are photos from a visit to Coteau-du-lac National Historic Site. This is on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River, the site of the first lock canal in Canada, plus the remains of a fort . . . and more.

shows a model of a fort with a lock canal and a second, narrow passageway along the curved edge of the shore

This first photo is of a model of the fort. It shows the lock canal and general outlines of the fort as it was in it’s heyday — but also, it shows a canal/passage older than the lock canal which winds around the headway. This is a spot which people have been using for centuries to passage between two lakes on the St. Lawrence.

As you can see from the line(s) of white across the river, there are good reasons for people to want to avoid the rapids here.

One of the facts I found particularly interesting–from talks with the rangers stationed at Coteau-du-lac (I wound up talking to three of them as I made my way around) was that in the 1930s the river level here dropped 30″! It’s still nowhere near as high as it once was, which partly explains why the remains of the canal are so dry.

Most of the fort fell apart over time, and only the foundations remain. One of the key visual marks of the fort is the tower — this is a replica, built as accurately as possible with the exception of location. It’s right next to the original foundation.

Overall, an enjoyable site–and I lucked out with nearly perfect weather for the visit, too!

Fort Chambly National Historic Site

While up in Quebec a month or so ago, I stopped at Fort Chambly National Historic Site. It’s located south and east of Montreal. It was an absolutely gorgeous day when I was there. Alas, I arrived a bit too late, since I’d visited a different site earlier (photo & account next week!). Oh, I was able to get into the site and walk around all right . . . but, horrors of horrors (yes there’s a bit of sarcasm in this), I actually had to pay for parking. This being not only a gorgeous day but Sunday, a sizable number of citizens had come out to enjoy themselves.

The fort has a wonderful location on the river, and the park around it makes it a top-of-the-line attraction for picnickers. As shown here . . .

And then there’s the fort itself. It’s actually the last of four forts, first built in wood and only later in stone (circa 1709-1711). Originally, it was intended to protect the French against the Iroquois. Later, it was a line of defense against the English.

The entrance is on the north side (I think!) not too close to the river, but enough around that any force coming up along the river would have to go around the fort to get to the entrance.

There’s a large open space in the center, as typical of European-style forts. Nowadays, since it’s a museum, this is a staging area for all sorts of activities. For instance, as you can see at the center, one can try on an army costume (I didn’t):

Here are a few views of interior spaces — and of windows showing just how thick the walls are (plus the gorgeous view of the river!):

There’s also a place to peer down at the foundations of earlier forts, built in wood atop stone or partly wood, partly stone.

And then there’s the museum inside the fort, as well. They’ve done a very good job at making a colorful display set to appeal to many ages. Here are some photos of the individuals highlighted as part of a display on smuggling:

In short, I regret that I had not more time to spend there (and that I didn’t arrive early enough to snag a free parking spot, since there were a lot!) but that’s life. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, I recommend stopping by!

Big Bone Lick State Historic Site

Okay, I’ll admit it. One of the reasons I visited Big Bone Lick State Historic Site was to see the bison. And they were worth it (there were calves!)–for the benefit of those who prefer not to read or scroll all the way to the end, here are a few photos.

Getting those photos took rather longer than I would have wished. I had my dog Riley with me. He’s a medium-sized dog, but when he wants to he can let loose with high-pitched yapping. Bison evidently were worthy of all the yaps he could summon. It took quite a while to settle him down to the point I could hear myself think, and so he wasn’t annoying the other visitors. The bison, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care at all. Perhaps they knew that, if the double fences between us were to dissolve, they could totally take him (they could, too, there’s a reason there were two fences).

The path downhill to where the bison are kept.
The path downhill to where the bison are kept

Bison are not the only attraction at Big Bone Lick. The name comes from the number of big bones found in the area–dinosaur, mammoth, and various now-extinct species–plus the presence of a salt lick, which drew the animals. Several Native American tribes, in particular the Shawnee, used the salt lick. I didn’t take photos of the bones (most of which are in storage, the museum, or still in the ground–a museum attendant mentioned guesstimates of tens of thousands of bones still covered by earth). Nor am I going to recount the story of European-Americans discovering the bones (see the website for that, under history).

On the other hand, I walked down to the salt lick and took some photos along the way, and of salt trickling out from under a wooden platform. Following in the footsteps of the extinct animals and Shawnee, European-American settlers extracted salt and for a while the area became a health resort (of the early 19th century sort). But they didn’t exhaust the salt. It’s still there, still trickling out from the earth.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

When I hear or read the phrase “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” I think of the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Most people in the United States who are at all familiar with 19th century American history probably have the same association. Canadians may have a different view on the matter, however.

Ontario has the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, run by the Ontario Heritage Trust. It sits at a site where Rev. Josiah and Nancy Henson lived and lead the Dawn Settlement–a Black settlement mostly of people who had escaped from slavery in the United States, as the Hensons did. Indeed, Rev. Josiah, Nancy, and their four children escaped along the Underground Railway from New Orleans up to Canada in 1830–this after he had arranged to purchase freedom but was betrayed.

Two story house with porch; three men in foreground
The Henson House (the men in the foreground are arranging festivities to celebrate Emancipation Day)
Two old rocking chairs with an enlarged photo of the Hensons nearby.
Two old chairs in the museum, with a photo of the Hensons.

The museum hosts a group of buildings including the Henson’s house, another house, a church, sawmill, smokehouse, and a family cemetery.

Here are three views of the sawmill. It’s open-air with a very high roof.

A smokehouse made from a roof being placed over a very large hollowed out tree trunk, with a small door below

And here’s the smokehouse. This gives an idea of the size of the trees that were cut down and turned into logs in the sawmill! It must have been a stunning site to see–all the old-growth trees before the forests were cut down.

The church was quiet when I visited — on Emancipation Day in Ontario, as it happens, and later in the day there were a number of events at the museum! All things considered, not at all a bad day to go — but I recommend visiting anyway. It’s in the middle of farms and fields, a lovely quiet drive with a well-done a museum at the end.