Kickin’ it Old School at the Marshville Heritage Festival

 

Celebrating Our Community

We are big fans of local events that connect people with each other and with history. One of the ways we celebrate that is by drawing your attention to some of the great local events and experiences that inspire us.

 

Inspiration comes in many forms, and for the founders of the Marshville Heritage Festival, inspiration was found in an old log cabin. Built in 1841, the Morgan-Neff Cabin was moved from Wainfleet to Chippawa Park in Welland in 1924, and by 1983 it was obscured by graffiti, whitewash and rotting timbers. After seeing other historic buildings in the area fall victim to the swing of the wrecking ball, the Wainfleet Historical Society determined that would not be the case this time. 

Log by log, the little cabin was carefully dismantled, moved, scrubbed, repaired and then reassembled as the first building in what is now the Marshville Heritage Village. To ensure such buildings would not fall prey to disrepair and demolition again, the group decided to create a festival showcasing the area's built history and the life of farm families in the 1850’s. The inaugural Marshville Heritage Festival took place in the fall of 1988, and this Labour Day weekend will be the festival’s 29th year. 

As we continue to forge ahead at the Brown Homestead, it is thrilling to see a great local celebration of Niagara's rich farming heritage, and we reached out to long-time Festival Chairwoman, Margaret Robertson to give us the inside scoop.

“The whole thing was built around two buildings” said Margaret, “the log cabin and the Dean sawmill.” The first festival attracted over 5,000 visitors and it has continued to grow ever since. “We have seventeen buildings now” said Margaret.

In every building visitors will find an enthusiastic, costumed volunteer, ready to transport them back to days gone by. Margaret’s favourite building is the schoolhouse, which is original to Wainfleet. It is also the first building in which she volunteered. 

“I am a retired teacher, so my friend asked if I could help out in the schoolhouse. I said yes, and I have been helping ever since.” She chuckles. “Everyone likes the candy store.” It's no surprise, considering it’s filled with delicious confections!  

In every building there is something to discover that will engage your senses and satisfy your curiosity. Step into the sawmill and you’ll be engulfed by the smell of freshly sawn wood, while volunteers operate the mill to turn logs into lumber. Follow the clanging of hammers meeting anvils to the blacksmith shop, where blacksmith’s work to turn metal into horseshoes, hooks and other wares. You can even purchase a lucky horseshoe for yourself! At the carpentry shop, local carpenters work to complete a project by the festival’s end. When asked what this project will be, Margaret simply smiled and said, “People will just have to come and find out!” 

The activities aren’t just restricted to the buildings.  Throughout the village there are multiple displays and demonstrations of how household items and framing equipment used to operate. When the clock strikes 10 on Saturday morning, aspiring heritage craftsman can try their hand at rope making, shingle making and timber framing. Foodies can delight their tastebuds at one of the 15 food trucks, the pig roast, or with traditionally made soup at the stone house. On top of all that, there is live entertainment, a car show and a handmade market throughout the weekend. The festival brings excitement to the otherwise quiet village, and watching it transform into a hub of activity is one of Margaret's favourite parts. 

“I like the calm, when I arrive at 6 o’clock in the morning and there's nothing going on, except the pig being cooked. It’s very peaceful and then all of a sudden it comes to life, which is exciting to see. Out of all the times I have done it, I still enjoy that part of it.” 

Without Margaret and her team of dedicated volunteers, this transformation wouldn’t be possible. The entire village is maintained and operated throughout the year by volunteers using funds raised during the festival. “Nobody gets paid, it's just for the love of Marshville and the fellas who started it,” said Margaret. 

Margaret hopes the festival continues to inspire people to take an interest in history, and motivates them to volunteer at a heritage site themselves.  She would love to see the village used on a more regular basis, though they need more volunteers. Fortunately, Margaret's passion is infectious. The Marshville Heritage Festival offers a rare immersive experience of history and reacquaints you with the lives - the accomplishments, the joys and hardships - of those who came before us. It is a treat to have an event like this in our Niagara Region and it is one we should all continue to help grow!

So, make sure you find your way to the Marshville Heritage Festival this Labour Day weekend, and reach out to Margaret if you're interested in volunteering! 

To check out the lineup for this year's festival and for directions: