Fall is for exploring
Townships history groups gather for inaugural Heritage Fair
More than autumn’s brilliant hues await discovery this season on the byways and backroads of Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
A wide range of historic collections, exhibitions and built-heritage treasures will also be on display as museums and historical societies from across the region gather in the tiny village of Eaton Corner for the first-ever edition of the Eastern Townships Heritage Fair.
The event, jointly sponsored by Townshippers’ Association and the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN), takes place on Friday, October 13, from 1 to 4 p.m.
“Think of it as a taste of Townships history and culture,” said fair co-organizer and museum curator Heather Darch.
Darch and her colleagues from Missisquoi Museum in Stanbridge East will join members of a dozen or so history and cultural societies to meet area residents, visitors, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in Townships heritage – including leaf-peepers – following a morning discussion with Qahn-member groups about creative ways to finance their work in local communities.
Eaton Corner Museum is hosting the fair in its recently restored Foss House (circa 1820s), part of a unique colonialera building complex that includes a beautifully preserved former Congregational Church (1841) and the local Academy (1864). Both are striking examples of the American influence on 19th century Townships architecture, and provincially designated historic sites.
Other displays include Knowlton’s Brome County Historical Museum; Uplands Cultural and Heritage Centre and the Lennoxville-ascot Historical Association; Stanstead’s Colby-curtis Museum; Richmond County Historical Society Museum; and the newest addition to the Townships’ network of community heritage organizations, the Copp’s Ferry Museum in Georgeville.
Author and Townships historian Nick Fonda will be on hand to sign copies of his latest book of stories, Richmond: Now and Then: An Anecdotal History, and local fiddler Terry Howel will furnish the tunes.
Being situated in a part of southern Quebec celebrated for its stunning fall colours is at once a blessing and a curse for small-museum operators in the region, as the seasonal uptick in visitor traffic tends to be driven by a thirst for scenery, rather than historical curiosity.
“We’re fortunate to live in a part of the country where local communities still find value in knowing about the past,” said Darch, who has worked with QAHN in recent years to help train nonprofit groups in fundraising and volunteer-management skills, “but I think most of us would admit that getting people in the door remains our biggest challenge.”
Eaton Corner Museum’s own permanent exhibit – a conceptually impressive and fresh telling of the area’s settlement and agricultural development – will be open to everyone on the day of the fair. Visitors will also find access to a wealth of information on regional and local history, including previews of current and upcoming exhibits taking place at museums throughout the Townships, geneaological resources and even tips for safeguarding family heirlooms and old photos. Something to satisfy everyone, from the curious day-tripper to the diehard history buff.
A key message that fair sponsors and organizers hope to get across is that local history societies do not exist merely to preserve stuff and stories from the past; they also make it possible for the communities they serve to explore and understand that heritage.
Which is why Darch and her fellow exhibitors hope to hear this question a lot from visitors throughout the afternoon: “How can I get involved?” The answer in most cases will probably be, “Start by taking out a membership.”