Thursday, 6 October 2016

LUMBERING THROUGH HISTORY: THE ALGONQUIN LOGGING MUSEUM

THROWBACK THURSDAY

BY: SERENA YPELAAR

As we say goodbye to summer and move into fall, I thought I’d focus my first ever Throwback Thursday post on a hidden history museum I discovered on a summer vacation.

Having grown up in Toronto, I spent a lot of my summers camping in our province’s wonderful Ontario Parks. Last summer, on a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park about three hours north of Toronto, I came across a museum I hadn’t even known existed – the Algonquin Logging Museum

A wooden sculpture of a 19th century Ontarian logger stands at the entrance to the Algonquin Logging Museum trail.
A wooden sculpture of a 19th century logger stands at the entrance of the Algonquin Logging Museum. Source.
Algonquin might be the best-known Provincial Park in Ontario, but most people haven’t heard about its Logging Museum, located just inside the park’s east gate. The museum opened in 1992 and illustrates the history of Algonquin’s logging industry, which began in the 1830s. 

The most fascinating thing about the museum? It’s almost entirely outdoors. The interpretive displays are located at various points along a 1.3 km loop trail, integrating the historical narrative with its contextual setting.

As someone who loves both museums and nature, this visit was an exciting prospect. I loved the fact that we were outside in the sun and simultaneously exploring a museum, complete with artifacts on display and interactive elements. I also find it amusing that this museum defies the stereotype of the rainy day museum visit; as cool as it is to walk through this museum in the great outdoors, it’s definitely preferable to go on a clear, warm day!

Nevertheless, the museum is open year-round for visitors and campers alike. The experience starts at the Museum Reception, with four indoor dioramas and an introductory video on the region’s logging history. After the video, the screen promptly rolls up to reveal the trailhead, so you can walk right out and begin your journey!

The Algonquin Logging Museum is an outdoor museum that is open year-round.
Historically, the logging process began in the winter and  took place throughout the spring, so it’s fitting that the museum trail is open year-round. Source.
In addition to the outdoor display cases with interpretive panels and artifacts, the museum trail includes vehicles such as a steam engine and caboose, as well as other mechanisms used for logging production. Most of these structures are interactive and accessible, encouraging visitors to enter – children are welcome to climb on many of the open large-scale displays, adding to the impression that this museum has very few boundaries.

Panoramic view from atop the steam-powered warping tug (called an "Alligator"), which was used to winch large log booms across secluded lakes in Algonquin Park.
Panoramic view from atop the steam-powered warping tug (called an “Alligator”), one of only three surviving examples. Alligators were used to winch large log booms across remote lakes in the park. (Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar)
Since much of the logging process is centred on transport, the museum’s presentation as a wilderness trail takes full advantage of the surrounding environment. Throughout the 19th century, the pond next to the museum trail was used as a dam and chute, as water was the easiest way to transport the heavy logs all the way to the Ottawa River. Pine trees were felled in the winter when sap was not running; logs could be dragged through the snow, and were squared with broadaxes.

A lumber camp in Aylen Lake, Ontario. Loggers often set up camp in the winter and worked to prepare logs to be transported to the Ottawa River via waterways.
A lumber camp in Aylen Lake, Ontario. Loggers built camps during the winter and prepared the timber for transport to the Ottawa River. Source.
When spring arrived and the ice melted, loggers would drive the squared logs down rivers to get them to their final destination. The museum’s display sequence highlights how technological developments such as the steam-powered donkey engine (introduced in 1897) improved the transporting of lumber.

A chute on display at the Algonquin Logging Museum. The trail features numerous examples of how 19th century loggers used contemporary technologies to prepare the trees and transport them.
A chute on display at the museum. The trail features numerous examples of how 19th century loggers used innovative technologies to prepare the trees and transport them. Source.
Even a year later, I’m still fascinated by the museum’s outdoor concept, which offers a seamless integration of the natural setting and the contextual history that accompanies it. The museum’s interactive structures demonstrate early logging technology and help visitors envision the production of one of Canada’s staple exports in the 19th century.

By taking the museum outside the limits of traditional walls, the Algonquin Logging Museum puts a new and immersive spin on the idea of interactivity. Visiting this outdoor museum highlighted how a museum’s structural setting influences the way we think about its subject matter. If you’re ever in Algonquin Park, you can experience this boundless museum yourself – just be sure to check the weather forecast before you venture out! 

2 comments:

  1. Awesome! This museum sounds so cool, and I love the outdoor and interactive element to it. I'll definitely check this out when I go up there! :)

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    1. Thanks Kristen! Let me know what you think, if you end up making the trip. I wonder what the museum looks like in the fall colours... :)

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