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A Cool Miss Warms to Old Canada

November 16, 1986|NANCY O'KEEFE BOLICK | Bolick is a Newburyport, Mass., free-lance writer. and

KINGS LANDING, Canada — She was a newly minted 12-year-old when we dropped her off at Kings Landing Historical Settlement in July. She was a 20th-Century American looking adolescently cool in short shorts, the collar of her shirt turned up under the purple sweater, headphones stuffed into a pocket.

Five days later we retrieved a 19th-Century 12-year-old in a long, flowered, apron-covered dress, her hair peeking out of a cotton bonnet, and girlhood, not adolescence, written all over her face.

As one of the "Visiting Cousins" at this re-created Loyalist village a half-hour west of Fredericton, New Brunswick, our daughter Katie stepped back more than a hundred years for a taste of life in the good old days, and she thought it was terrific.

"It was neat getting up in the morning and cleaning the houses where we were assigned to do chores. We dusted, made the beds, helped card wool, and on the last day we made fudge in a kettle on the open fire." Clearly, what was drudgery at home ("What, me make my bed?") was an adventure in New Brunswick.

The Historical Life

"Visiting Cousins" teaches history by having kids live it, a concept that lures boys and girls ages 9 to 14 to Kings Landing for five-day sessions, Tuesday through Saturday, all summer.

They live dormitory-style in Slipp House and are assigned to one of the 12 restored homes where they're responsible for household chores each day.

They attend classes in the one-room schoolhouse in the mornings and spend part of each afternoon learning the crafts that kept people dressed and housed in the early 19th Century.

The idea for Kings Landing, one of Canada's more successful historical settlements, began in the late 1960s when the province was planning to dam the St. John River at Mactaquac to generate power. Officials realized that they shouldn't abandon the buildings in the path of rising water from the Mactaquac Headpond because they represented a valuable 100-year architectural and social history of the area. Provincial officials decided to save representative buildings and restore them as a way of keeping the history of the area alive.

More than 70 restored buildings, including 12 homes, a school, church, forge, grist mill, sawmill and inn, cover the 300-acre settlement.

Kings Landing is one of New Brunswick's most popular tourist places, drawing 115,000 people a year to see life the way it was 100 years ago along the St. John.

The salvaged buildings span roughly the Loyalist period in New Brunswick from the late 1700s to the late 1800s.

Patriots or Traitors

"Loyalist" has a different connotation, depending on your heritage. To Canadians, these refugees from New England were patriots who stayed loyal to King George III in 1776. To Americans, they were traitors who refused to support the emerging United States during the Revolution.

All of the buildings on the Kings Landing site were carefully restored and furnished to their original condition, and the family histories that go with them have been saved too. Each one represents a different social class and working background, from the Jones House, an 1830 residence of Squire Thomas Jones, a prominent farmer and magistrate, to Lint House, an 1830 cottage of small farmer and cobbler Lawrence Lint, to Morehouse House, an 1820 home of a Connecticut Loyalist who practiced law.

Regular services are held at St. Mark's, an Anglican church built between 1846 and 1859. The Kings Head Inn, originally a farmhouse, was converted to an inn in 1855, and waitresses in period dress serve lunches like Dubliner's Delight (beef braised in Guinness), a hearty Ploughman's Plate, apple cider and tempting homemade cakes and pies. The food is what Katie remembers with particular fondness.

"Everything was homemade and delicious. Lunch one day was chicken soup, rolls, milk and chocolate pudding, and dinner was fried chicken, salad, peas, bread and apple pie."

No Twinkies, no corn chips, no Cokes, but all wonderful.

School by the Rules

"School," wrote Katie in her diary, "was a lot different than it is today. We wrote on slates with slate pencils and we had copybooks, but there were no books except a Bible we read from."

Katie also got firsthand experience with the work that girls her age were expected to perform in "the old days."

Once to a Customer

"Visiting Cousins" is entering its 10th summer, and although the demand for spaces is great, the settlement can only accommodate 126 Cousins in eight sessions from the end of June until the end of August. Children from nearly every Canadian province, from New England and a few other American states have enjoyed the program. They aren't allowed a repeat performance. "We just can't allow children to come more than once--it wouldn't be fair to all the others who want to be Cousins," said Kay Parker of the King's Landing staff.

"From June through September, children who come for the day with their parents go with a teacher from our staff and play period games like tug of war, sack races and horseshoes, take a turn at spinning flax or making butter or straw hats.

"Six years ago, in response to the demand, we started 'Family Kin,' aimed at 12- to 15-year-olds who have been Cousins. Young men and women of the 19th Century would be choosing their trade at that age, so we expose them to a variety of trades and skills and give them a good beginning in the one they choose. We have three one-week Family Kin sessions each summer," said Parker.

The fee for each program is $120, deadline for applying is March 15. Applications are available from Kings Landing Historical Settlement, P.O. Box 522, Fredericton, N.B., Canada E3B 5A6.

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