Lifestyle

Time travel to the 19th century

Mrs. Lint sets the coals on the stew pot. - Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Mrs. Lint sets the coals on the stew pot.
— image credit: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

Kings Landing, New Brunswick – No ghosts lurked in the Donaldson House – or so I was told.  Disappointment was tinged with relief, as I park my suitcase beside my cot in the 19th century frame house beside the St. John River. King’s Landing Settlement, just 20 minutes west of Fredericton, is to be my home for the next three days.

I’d been warned there would be no shower, bathroom, running water, or electricity, in my new home.

Together with four other travel writers, I am to brave the 7am cold to milk the cow, attend to the chickens and pigs, and fill my days with quilting, making butter, hooking rugs, spinning, and making stew over an open hearth. In other words, I’m back in Loyalist Canada of the 1840-1860s. It is, we are told, the first (and last) time visitors will be allowed to stay in an historic home on the site.

Kings Landing Settlement doesn’t actually open until June 15, but the house we are to live in, plus two other village houses and Kings Head Inn (where the bathroom is!), have been opened for us.

Discarding my 21st century Simon Chang jeans and hoodie, I firmly secure the quilted petticoat ties around my waist, and slip into a brown checkered home-spun dress. My arms and ankles are modestly covered. A brown knitted hug-me-tight (rather like a fitted shawl with arm holes) will protect my back from draughts. My bangs stick out like a min-rug under my snowy white mutch. It is to be worn in the house, and under my emerald green bonnet for public appearances. A red plaid cape is a welcome protection from chilly Spring air and showers. My white apron slips easily into my drawstring bag for visits to “Mrs. Perley” and “Mrs. Lint”.

This is to be my indoctrination into the woman’s world of the 1800’s. Here I will learn that open kitchen fires catching alight flowing skirts killed more women than childbirth, the seasons dictate the dinner menu, survival demands working together, and nothing is wasted.

I also plan to decline liquids after 5 p.m. to avoid a road trip in the dead of night to Kings Head Inn to ‘the facilities’.

Two charming young women, our personal human fire alarms, have been assigned to stay awake at night keeping an eye on the open kitchen fire.

We peel potatoes and carrots, the last of the previous year’s root cellar vegetables, and add beef and hearty stock to the stew. Mrs. Lint shovels glowing coals onto the hearth from the wide brick fireplace. She wears a thick wool apron, which will smoke and save her life, rather than igniting as cotton does. The iron cauldron is swung out from the fireplace, deposited on the coals, filled with vegetables, and covered with more glowing embers. Dinner will be ready by 5pm. The result is delicious.

At Mrs. Perley’s later period home I find a cast iron wood stove… and a blue and white crockery butter churn. My mutterings about aching arms elicits little sympathy from my veteran hostess. Plunging the ‘dash’ up and down, I’m convinced this cream will never turn to butter. Mrs. Perley finally takes pity on her charges. Soon a sloshing sound and resistance signals our mission is accomplished.

Pressing the butter into a small press isn’t as easy as it looks (no air holes, please). The milky residue is poured into a pail – a treat for the pigs tomorrow. A few days later Mrs. Perley, apologizing for the out-of-character lined paper, delivers handwritten recipes we’ve requested. We are delighted.

Bidding her “Good day”, we head for the school house.

Suddenly, I’m 11year-old Sarah Ingraham faced with a very forbidding teacher, a small wooden desk, and a slate. Oddly enough, the writers later confess to classroom nerves. School room jitters clearly transcend generations.

We stand at attention, sing the national anthem, recite in unison (we aren’t very good!), print on our slates (no good at that either!), and jump up and down answering questions. There is room for improvement, we are sternly admonished. Half an hour later our eagle-eyed school mistress steps out of character, confessing that conducting a class of ‘real’ 8-year-olds is easier. No detentions. Our parents are not summoned. We’re off the hook.

Our final evening is a hearty dinner at Kings Head Inn followed by fiddle music, singing, and frantic attempts to learn to play the spoons. Clearly we are in the Canada’s hospitable Maritimes where good music and excellent seafood are the cornerstones of hospitality. Even our ‘serving maid’ is a wealth of information.

Kings Landing historic houses were relocated to the current property following the damming of the St. John River during the Mactaquac Dam Project in the 1960s.

Since the river had been the source of transportation for the early settlers, homes had been built on the river banks. To preserve the history of the settlements, a new “settlement” was created. Historically and architecturally significant buildings were moved out of the flood plain to what is now Kings Landing.

Years of care and dedication have restored the homes and furnishings to their original time periods. 19th century tradition and history lives on in the St. John River Valley through charming characters like Mrs. Lint and Mrs. Perley.

Each summer this living history settlement demonstrates the transition from the Loyalists to the late Victorians from 1780s to 1910.

As refugees from the American Revolution, Loyalists clung steadfastly to their beliefs. They had lost everything, were declared enemies of the new regime, and fled with little more than their lives, dignity and determination.

British land grants in the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and Bermuda allowed them to re-establish themselves. Thousands of Loyalists landed at the mouth of St. John River in the spring and fall of 1783, a time when New Brunswick was part of Nova Scotia. It became a separate colony in 1784.

Scottish, Irish and English settlers also arrived in the 1800s, and the province prospered. Local craftsmen became known for their furniture, silver, cloth, manufactured products and farming.

As I leave Kings Landing I think how lucky youngsters are who take part in the Visiting Cousins program. For a week they live the life we did, and since many staff members were once “Cousins” the program, like a visit here, obviously is one to remember.

Kings Landing Historical Settlement is located on the Trans Canada Highway Route #2 at exit #253. 20 minutes. For more information go to www.kingslanding.nb.ca



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