Here in York Durham Headwaters, May is Museum Month. For a full 31 days, we’re showcasing our unique museums and attractions that are both a tribute to, and a repository of local history. These are the places that preserve our traditions, our past, and our people, and which tell the stories of how the communities in which we live work and play were shaped. When it comes to a rich and exciting history, we think Durham Region is extraordinary, so check out our Durham Region museums this May.
270 Simcoe St. N., Oshawa
Just about everywhere you look in the city of Oshawa, you will see the influence of Robert S. McLaughlin, Canadian auto baron and founder of General Motors Canada. Step back in time at Parkwood Estate, a 15,000 square-foot estate which “Colonel Sam” and his family called home. Open to the public, Parkwood focuses on the inter-war period from approximately 1918 to 1939, and offers an experience that cannot be found at most other historic houses—authenticity. That is because when Mr. McLaughlin passed away in 1972, many of the home’s original items remained there. Furniture, textiles, kitchen equipment, family home movies and even purchase receipts all tell the factual story of what life at Parkwood was really like.
In recent years, Parkwood has worked hard to develop visitor tours of the house and grounds. For general interest, try the Auto Baron Experience, in which you will be taken around the property as though you were a guest of the family, and shown the rooms that were meant to impress. Fans of Downtown Abbey will adore the Servants’ Experience. What was life as a servant like at Parkwood? What did the rooms look like that guests weren’t meant to see?
Did you know that Parkwood is also a popular location for film production? If you’re a movie afficionado, then you’ll delight in recognizing key shooting locations from films like X-Men, Chicago, Hollywoodland and Billy Madison… minus the jet-skis in the fountain, of course.
99 Simcoe St. S., Oshawa
Since 1962, the Canadian Automotive Museum has showcased the rich history of Canada’s automobile industry. Also located in Oshawa, once home to R.S. McLaughlin and the General Motors Canada factory, the museum is located in a former car dealership building that is nearly a century old. The museum houses a diverse collection of Canadian, American, British and European vehicles, and tells the story of automotive manufacturing in Canada, with a particular focus on Oshawa—a city dominated by the automotive industry for most of its history.
The permanent collection of the Canadian Automotive Museum features Masterpieces from the McDougald Collection, and Cars Made in Canada 1903-1999. There is also a special exhibit on Oshawa’s Automotive Community. For the kids, CAM has a full-scale replica of Lightning McQueen from Disney Pixar’s Cars 3. If you want more adventure, CAM hosts a 1.5 hour guided walking tour that highlights the history of automotive manufacturing in Downtown Oshawa. Make a day of it and check out what other nearby attractions there are to experience, helpfully listed on the Canadian Automotive Museum’s website.
2365 Concession Rd. 6, Greenwood
This 27-acre hidden gem houses a charming collection of historic buildings which have come from all over Durham Region. You may recognize some of the museum’s locations and features from film and television productions like Anne of Green Gables, Road to Avonlea, Little Men, and Lantern Hill. Step back in time, and learn all about life in Pickering in the 1800s with immersive, and hands-on experiences. Smell the herbs in the onsite gardens. Taste what staff in period costumes are cooking and baking. Try your hand at wool carding. There is so much to see and do—just like the pioneers did.
In these times of social distancing, the Pickering Museum Village has developed a series of drive-thru tours which allow guests to experience the museum from the safety of their vehicles. Currently, the Roaring 1920s Drive-Thru Tour is on, where you can hop in your jalopy to learn about Pickering’s toe-tapping music scene and how the dry days of prohibition led to bootlegging. When in-person visits are permissible, the museum runs programs and events like the Haunted Ghost Walk, the Anne Experience, and Barn and Butter to name just a few. Make sure to check ahead of time which tours and experiences require advance registration.
19 Railway St., Uxbridge
Locomotive enthusiasts, you’ll love this: there is a museum in Durham Region where you don’t just get to learn about vintage railway cars—you get to ride them, too! The York-Durham Heritage Railway, a museum at which railway memorabilia is both on display and operational, is focused on preserving and promoting the heritage of the Canadian Railways of South-Central Ontario. The original Stouffville-Uxbridge line was built in the 1860s, and has ties to the Gooderham and Worts distillery in Toronto. The original Uxbridge Station, where the museum is located and where YDHR’s heritage rides depart and return, was added onto the line in the early 1870s.
Today, this living museum operates railway equipment from the mid 1900s, offering a unique tourist experience on its heritage coaches which includes on-board entertainment and snacks for passengers. Take a regularly-schedule trip any time of the year (coaches are heated in the chilly winter months), or experience special events that will transform and transport you—literally! A Day Out with Thomas and the Santa Train are popular traditions for families. And in recent years, YDHR has gone above and beyond to create new immersive experiences: Wizards’ Fest for Halloween and The Polar Express for the holiday season. Be sure to check in for what upcoming experiences the YDHR team has in store when we are able to visit safely again.
There are more wonderful museums to explore in Durham Region. Why not make a day of it by turning your one-stop visit into a full-fledged museum crawl with these other options? Of course, please be sure to check each location for its current status, hours of operations, and COVID-19 guidelines.
1450 Simcoe St. S., Oshawa
1000 Stevenson Rd. N., Oshawa
62 Temperance St., Bowmanville
16210 Island Rd., Port Perry
7239 Concession Rd. 6, Uxbridge
900 Brock St. S., Whitby
284 Simcoe St., Beaverton
11850 Durham Regional Rd. 1, Leaskdale
Story by Katherine Ryalen