One of the semi-regular vacation destinations of my childhood was traveling with my family to visit Upper Canada Village, a recreated 19th century town saved from the flooding caused during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. It was an easy day trip from where we lived and was educational, something my parents appreciated. It was a chance to see how people lived before I was born, to get a flavour of what life was like in a simpler time.
Upper Canada Village is not unique. In 1988 Vivian and I visited King’s Landing, a similar outdoor museum/theme park in New Brunswick.
When we were in Bucharest this summer I had scheduled a visit to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, wanting to get a feel for how Romanians used to live (and how perhaps some on the more rural areas still do). Vivian had other plans, saying we should visit the Peasant Village instead. Looking at the description in the guidebook I could see that there were differences between the two. The museum was my natural inclination – I crave the information that can be found in such a setting, but I thought there could be worse use of our time than spending the afternoon outdoors on a sunny Sunday, so we opted for the Peasant Village.
It did remind me very much of Upper Canada Village and King’s Landing, but more extensive, which makes sense as Romania has more of a history than Ontario or New Brunswick, at least in terms of housing. We spent about three hours wandering the site, looking at houses and other structures that had been brought for display from different parts of Romania.
I could complain that it seemed like every second house was closed, that we didn’t get a real feel about how extensive and varied the culture was as we were reduced to peering through windows. It seemed also that in most of the places that were open there were officious older Romanian women whose Soviet era English was limited to “No photo, no photo!” There were no signs forbidding photography (except for the church interiors) so I could only surmise that employing these women is cheaper than the cost of “No Photography” signs. Or maybe I just missed the subtext, maybe I was supposed to tip for the privilege of taking pictures.
It was a pleasant outing, although I wish we had seen the Peasant Museum also; I think that would have provided a bit more context to what we observed. There was a sign outside each building, explaining where in Romania it had been brought from, how old it was and a little bit about it, but not with the detail I would have liked. Next trip to Bucharest the Peasant Museum moves to the top of the “must see” list.
This being our first visit to Romania we were pretty much limited to the capital. We saw a bit of the countryside when we did our day trip to Dracula’s castle, but there was no time on that journey to stop and look at the villages. Visiting the Peasant Village at least gave us a bit of an idea for how things used to be.
I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked at those buildings from the past, will our houses and offices form part of such a museum in a century or two? Will future generations marvel at how primitive our living conditions were? I suspect each generation thinks they have reached the apex of civilization. We look back with curiosity, and have no idea what the future holds.