As the proverb goes: Necessity is the mother of invention. There has never been a more relevant time than now for this saying to ring true. The necessity of COVID-19 restrictions has meant an explosion of innovation amongst our businesses and attractions—especially here in York Durham Headwaters. Our owners and operators are rising to the challenge of finding innovative and creative ways to adapt their offerings, and with solutions that go far beyond simple (though extremely vital) social distancing guidelines and sanitization routines. They are creating entire new experiences that are just as engaging as their pre-COVID ones. The Pickering Museum Village is a perfect example of this necessity-driven invention… literally. Fasten your seatbelts, because they’ve got two new Drive-Thru experiences.
For those unfamiliar with the Pickering Museum Village, this hidden gem is comprised of a charming collection of buildings located on a 27-acre site. These historic buildings 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. The museum focuses its programming and artifacts on the history of the area, and because it is a living museum, naturally its activities are based heavily on hands-on experiences. “Visitors can smell the herbs in our gardens and taste what we’re making,” says Laura Gibbs, Supervisor of Museum Services for the City of Pickering. “We always have something hot and fresh from the oven, and we have fresh-made butter and ice cream. We also have activities like wool carding, where guests can actually hold the carders and feel the wool.”
With COVID-19 impacting the way we interact in our community, museum staff were presented with the challenge of coming up with creative ways to adapt programming for the summer season. The two new Drive-Thru tours were the exciting result. “Our tours fit in well with all three phases of economic reopening, because people are self-contained in their cars,” Laura explains. “The audio guide visitors receive is sanitized, and there is not any physical human contact—no repeated touching of things, no big groups.”
What are these two new tours? Without further ado, allow us to introduce you to them.
The first, which takes place every Friday (ends August 31st) is the Drive-Thru Storytelling Tour, where guests are invited to drive around the museum with the assistance of an audio tour. “Your guide is Nelly,” says Laura. “She takes you through 1850s Pickering, when the city was experiencing a boom.” Through Nelly’s stories, guests will be transported back in time 170 years to learn what life was like. Discover historical aspects of local landmarks like Frenchman’s Bay, and of the local trades.
The second new experience at the Pickering Museum Village is the Haunted Ghost tour, which takes place on Thursday nights. “It’s similar to the Drive-Thru Storytelling Tour,” Laura says. “Guests come in their car, and with the help of an audio guide they are taken through the village at night.” The most exciting thing about this tour is that the stories told are based on the spooky experiences and encounters of staff, visitors and volunteers that have occurred on the premises. They are also based on the findings of a paranormal investigator team which came to the museum several years ago.
When Pickering Museum Village’s heritage programmer was in the process of developing the tour, she discovered that many of the people she spoke with to collect her stories were relating the same experiences. One of these is centred on a man in the Miller-Cole house. Laura says, “A volunteer here was with a school group when one of the children questioned the presence of a man. Not seeing anything, our volunteer said, ‘What man? I don’t see a man.’ But the child was so insistent that there was a man standing in the doorway, that our volunteer was convinced it was a ghost. The astonishing thing is that there have been other stories about this man from different people, and in different buildings.”
So, keep your eyes peeled—you never know where or when the next encounter will be.
In addition to its spooky tales of ghosts and things that go bump in the night, the Haunted Ghost tour offers historical information about the people living in and around Pickering at that time, and about the places and contemporary events. It is, after all, a museum, and there are lots of interesting things to learn. As a poignant example, with the present COVID-19 pandemic affecting each of us today, visitors may be moved by stories of the typhus and cholera epidemics that our predecessors experienced 170 years ago. Perhaps life wasn’t so different back then after all.
These Drive-Thru experiences come at a perfect time in our new social reality. Laura and her staff have found that, with all the digital experiences available, which have emerged as a result of COVID-19, people are eager to get out of their houses and away from their devices. “After so many months of being stuck on the computer and the phone, [our Drive-Thru programming is] a totally different experience,” she asserts. “Even though you are in your car, you can still see and feel and hear. The first stop on our Haunted Ghost tour is the Millpond Meadow, and the first story is about the forest. If you’re sitting there at night, you can hear the owls hooting and you can see the stars and hear the wind blowing through the trees. Just sitting in your car, you will get goosebumps with all of this and with how we have everything lit in a spooky kind of way.”
To book your Haunted Ghost Drive-Thru Tour and to view events and protocols at the Pickering Museum Village, visit their website at https://www.pickering.ca/en/discovering/pickering-museum-village, or call 905.683.8401. Don’t forget to come back and tell us all about your experience. Maybe your haunted encounter will be the next spooky story added to the tour!
Pickering Museum Village
2365 6th Concession Rd.,
Greenwood, ON L0H 1H0
Story by Katherine Ryalen