When it comes to planning the perfect family vacation, most parents are content to pack the itinerary with activities that will keep their little ones entertained and in harmony with one another.
Noble goals that are hard enough to come by, the thought of transforming a vacation into an opportunity for learning, too, is often set aside as being too risky. After all, aiming at learning instead of fun — especially when fun is expected — can yield boredom or worse, rebellion.
Well, what if you didn’t have to choose between having a great time and learning a little something while that great time was being had? The beauty of taking a family vacation to Niagara is that the two work in tandem pretty regularly, whether you’re enjoying a trip to the Butterfly Conservatory or Safari Niagara or you’re just staring, mouths agape, at the region’s eponymous waterfalls. Yes, Niagara is an ideal location to spark and satisfy a child’s curiosity, and one of the area’s best and least-known places for such an undertaking is at the Morningstar Living Mill Museum Park in St. Catharines.
The Grist of It
A completely restored 19th century gristmill that is currently owned and operated by the city of St. Catharines, the Morningstar Mill is the only functioning water-powered mill in the entire Niagara Peninsula. Built in 1872, the mill utilizes water from Beaverdams Creek, and sits just below the Upper DeCew Falls.
It was the first turbine-powered mill in all of Ontario. Any visit to this mill makes for a picturesque photo opportunity as well as a fascinating look at hydropower and early 20th century life, as the grounds also include a house, blacksmith shop, and cottage garden — all of which have also been fully restored.
A Visit to the Past
One of the best parts about visiting the Morningstar Living Mill Museum Park is the simple, impressive, and efficient way of life it presents to children — and their parents — who themselves are almost always fully immersed in the super-mechanized, technological 21st century.
It’s amazing to see such a straightforward machine make use of the power of water to mill grain that you can actually buy in the gift shop and bake with. Likewise, a visit to the blacksmith’s shop — staffed by skilled and knowledgeable volunteers — will show and tell about how valuable the ability to hammer metal into nails, horseshoes, and other tools was at one time.
For parents who are interested in ensuring their children maintain a sense of connectedness to what life and work was like in our less digital past, the mill makes for an intriguing and unforgettable lesson, and the fact that it’s set in a beautiful bit of landscape doesn’t hurt either.
The Morningstar Living Mill Museum Park opens each season on May 1st and stays open through Thanksgiving weekend each November. They have several open houses, which will afford children the best opportunity to learn about the mill and how it works, its history, and blacksmithing. In particular, the Memorial Day Weekend is a popular time to visit. Admission is free, although the museum does accept donations.
For a fun experience that will give you and your children insight and education you can’t get anywhere else, take a trip to the Morningstar Living Mill Museum Park.