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NOTL Museum brings the past to life with heritage festival
Victor Packard demonstrates his collection of antique rifles at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum's heritage festival on August 1. He had two authentic rifles made in the late 1800s and a model of a rifle from the 1580s.

Museums hold an important place in society as access points for knowledge and relics from the past.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum proved that point during its free Past is Present Heritage Festival and Treasure Sale on Monday, Aug. 1.

History enthusiasts taught visitors about old firearms, the art of spinning and the stories of the Niagara region’s past.

“It’s important for folks to get out here and see what happens at the museum,” Coun. Allan Bisback said at the festival.

Bisback celebrated the museum as a bastion of information about NOTL’s storied past. He said more visitors and residents could benefit from visiting the museum.

“You have folks that come into town and they look at a house and they want to understand the history of the house — it’s here,” he said about the museum.

“I remember when we had a bed and breakfast we were always saying to people, ‘You’ve got to go see the museum. You’ve got to go see the museum.’ Because all of our heritage attributes, they’re right here.”

The museum was bustling with visitors and volunteers hosting educational stands on Monday.

But Bisback noted there are still lots of residents who have never been to the museum.

And until Monday, one of those residents was Vera Bura.

“This is my first time here and I’ve owned a property in town for 16 years,” Bura said.

The festival functioned as the gateway for Bura getting to know the museum. She said a friend told her the museum was having a treasure sale.

“I like treasures, so I said, ‘I’m going.’ But at the same time I looked inside and I never educated myself into the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake and I thought, ‘It’s time.’ ”

“Considering I pay taxes to Niagara-on-the-Lake, I should know everything about it,” she said with a natural burst of laughter that peppered her parlance.

“I haven’t toured the museum yet because they’ve been too busy with the treasure thing but I will. I’m going to go through it and educate myself.”

Speaking to Bisback’s point, Bura said she has several neighbours who are longtime NOTLers and have also never been to the museum. 

After her experience on Monday, Bura said she was going to give them a nudge out the door in the direction of the museum.

Several stands run by volunteers evoked the past is present theme of the festival

Victor Packard, former president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 124, was on hand with a collection of antique rifles.

One of the oldest on display was a replica model of a rifle from the 1500s.

“What I’m trying to do here is demonstrate the different actions that have been developed over the years,” Packard said.

“This one was developed in the 1580s. It’s called a wheel lock and, of course, it’s a muzzleloader.”

Fran Giles from St. Catharines was bringing another integral part of the past to the present.

“I’m spinning on a spinning wheel,” she said.

Giles was spinning merino wool into thread. She said merino wool is valued for its comfort when used in garments that will be directly against skin.

She wasn’t taught spinning by a family member but rather followed her own interests in the 1970s.

“I just enjoy working with fibres,” she said.

“I learned after I bought the wheel in Iowa, which is where I was living at the time. I sort of increased my knowledge each time I moved.”

She said the spinning wheel is an example of an early technology that made common day practices more efficient, with some sources estimating its introduction as early as the 5th century A.D. in Asia and the Middle East.

It was an essential technology for at least a millennium before being overtaken by the rise of industrial machines in the 1800s.

“It’s important to keep the traditions of the past,” Giles said about her work and the museum’s festival.

“And there are fortunately enough people who are interested in not just knowing about the history but actually participating in history to keep things alive.”

NOTL resident Chris Allen has been a longtime visitor to the museum but he said it has really hit its stride in recent years.

“It’s way more involved in the community these days than it used to be. The volunteers are amazing and their programs are better. They’ve got more outreach with things that interest people,” Allen said.

“And the travelling museum, which I think is wonderful,” added Elizabeth Oliver-Malone.

Museum director Sarah Kaufmann said she wants to see the festival grow next year.

“I’d like to expand it with more community partners with a broader scale. The heritage that’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake is so strong and I think there’s a lot of potential to make it a big festival,” Kaufman said.

She pointed to the Canal Days festival in Port Colborne as an example of how she would like to see the festival grow.

“It’s a heritage festival and it started with the museum and now it’s grown across the whole community.”

“It’s all along the canal and all over the place. So, I would love to do that with us, eventually.”

  • Would you support a large-scale heritage festival that took place in a prominent area of NOTL such as along Queen Street or in Simcoe Park? Write to and share your thoughts.