Victoria Day Gathering at Ameliasburgh celebrates 25 years

CHILDREN AT PLAY- Evelyn Adams of Cornwall plays a game with (left) Benton and Wellington Mains of Kitchener at the Gathering of Friends event this weekend. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

The Ameliasburgh Museum hosted a Gathering of Friends 25 years in the making this weekend.

Stepping back in time to the Loyalist era, historical reenactors, fans of 1800’s history and people wishing to reconnect with their Loyalist roots camped at the museum grounds.

Just as a great number of them have been doing since 1994.

Huddled in canvas tents, chopping wood, fetching water, cooking over a open fire or early cook stove and spending time exactly like Loyalist settlers might have when they arrived in Adolphustown in the late 1700’s, over a dozen families from all corners of Ontario descended upon Seventhtown this weekend.

Organizer Joanne Killick-Hill was trying to stay mum about the weather as clouds had finally parted and had given way to sunny skies on Saturday.

Killick-Hill had experienced washout weekends in the past quarter century but was hopeful for a clear forecast.

“That ‘r’ word, we don’t need it in camp or anywhere else in Prince Edward County,” Killick-Hill told the Gazette.

Asked what continues to bring these dedicated re-enactors together year after year, Killick-Hill said it was camaraderie and the spirit of friendship along with a shared interest in history that keeps the gathering going.

“We all have a shared interest in history and we like to stay connected throughout the year through social media and meet in Prince Edward County every Victoria Day weekend,” Killick-Hill explained. “The groups and families work together to make camps, share kitchens and it’s been that way from the beginning. I have pictures of children that were here as toddlers and now they are 18, 19 years old walking around.”

In terms of modern convenience, Killick-Hill admitted that food safety necessitated coolers but those items along with electronic devices were kept well out of sight.

“The rule is that if you are in camp, you have to stay in kit and the modern stuff stays in the tent,” she explained.

The campers have fun with visiting children who have no concept of life in the 1800’s.

“It’s a real eye opener for them. Even though they might have read a book or been told about what the people who settled this area went through, children have no concept,” Killick-Hill said. “I might ask them about chores and sometimes they made their bed but when I ask them about slopping pigs or gathering eggs or cleaning horse stalls, they have a blank look. I do my best to stay authentic and give them an authentic experience.”

Tom Kadbits from Foymout near Pembroke, ON has been attending the Gathering on the shores of Roblin Lake regulary and his reason for continuing his participation indicated a common theme amongst participants.

EAGLE EYE- Tom Kadbits of Foymount, ON takes part in an axe throwing competition at the 25th annual Gathering of Friends event at the Ameliasburgh Museum this weekend. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“Coming here every year, you are meeting people you know and who have become your friends,” he explained as he took part in one of the axe and tomahawk throwing competitions.

Ron and Juanita Martin of Huntsville, ON have been reenacting for nearly 40 years and agreed the long term members of the Gathering of Friends was one of the reasons they have continued to come to Prince Edward County annually for their May long weekend.

“You meet up with the same people and you even get to know the visitors who drop by for the day and you start to look forward to seeing everybody,” Ron said.

For Juanita, the connection to the area is somewhat more emotional.

“My mother’s side of the family was named Nelles and they landed in Adolphustown,” Jaunita said. “I remember we would get phone calls from people conducting genealogy studies and family tree projects and it’s really neat to think back to those times about your family helping settle here. To connect with that type of history is a wonderful opportunity.”

Juanita added Ameliasburgh Museum curator Janice Hubbs continues to make the group feel at home every Victoria Day weekend. “(Hubbs) is amazing and she looks after everything you can imagine to make us feel so welcome,” Juanita added. “The setting at the museum is so comfortable and the whole area is really beautiful.”

Hubbs told the Gazette since she became curator in 2002, she has somewhat adopted the Gathering of Friends and facilitated the annual event.

“They organize themselves, there’s no money exchange and other then some bent grass on Monday afternoon, you would never know they were here,” Hubbs told the Gazette. “Having them here is an amazing extention of what we offer at Ameliasburgh Museum. We exemplify the 1890’s and what the Gathering offers is up to 1840 so the buildings here would have been built by the offspring of the reenactors. So it’s not exactly the same but it’s connected for sure. As the land was being settled, this how the Loyalists would have lived their days.”