Some of the very best holiday experiences are rooted in nostalgia. From decades-old family recipes to nights spent caroling the tunes of yesteryear, there’s just something about celebrating the many layers of Christmas past that feels especially cozy and comforting. Those feelings are in full force at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum.
I live a scant 10 minutes from this museum, which is located about 30 minutes east of downtown Ottawa (Canada’s capital city). Yet it took the fierceness of our local pandemic lockdown to prompt my first visit. I heard about a special holiday event that was designed as a drive-through experience and I immediately signed on, knowing few of the details, but highly encouraged by the rare opportunity to do something safe, seasonal, and socially distanced. Little did I realize that I was getting my first taste of a beloved local tradition.
This special holiday event I showed up for is the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum’s Vintage Village of Lights program. Every December, the Museum opens its grounds on weekends for visitors to enjoy Christmas lights; 30,000 of them, in fact! They adorn the fences, the trees, and all of the beautifully preserved heritage buildings in one incredible, delightful display of holiday cheer. If you’re attending this year, here’s what you should know before you go.
The Walking Route Is Back
Last year, the Museum cleverly adapted to pandemic conditions to offer a driving route through its property so visitors could enjoy the sites from the safety of their car. I loved this practical approach to the pandemic restrictions and was so excited I could listen to a specially produced “radio broadcast” in the car, which reflected the kind of programming rural residents might have enjoyed in the 1920s and 1930s. My good friend Lisa Potter, who also lives locally, shares my sentiment. “We thought it was a wonderful alternative that they offered,” she says. “It was organized, easy to drive through, beautiful with the lights.”
However, for 2021, Vintage Village of Lights is reverting back to its traditional walking program. While I’ll miss being snug in the car, I’m excited to see what the walking experience offers. (Guests will want to note that the Museum’s paths are gravel and that the heritage buildings may have some limited accessibility.)
You Can Expect Some Interactive Demonstrations
While pandemic restrictions prevent some activities, visitors can expect some demonstrations while visiting the Vintage Village of Lights. The Museum’s many buildings include the old Vars Train Station (complete with station master’s office and passenger waiting room), Watson’s Garage (which was once a 1925-era bicycle shop and then later a gas station), a blacksmith shop, a pump factory, a schoolhouse, a church, a fire hall, and several period homes. While local regulations will dictate what’s offered, you can expect some interesting demonstrations. I’m told that the printing press will be in operation.
You Need To Plan In Advance For Tickets
This year, like last, admission is by advanced ticket purchase, and everyone has their own designated time slots to avoid crowding. Admission is a very reasonable $25 per group (not per person!) and each group can contain up to six people. As the Museum is part of the City of Ottawa, you must purchase your tickets via the City’s website.
Santa’s Visit Is Super-Special
Without a doubt, the star of the Vintage Village of Lights is Santa Claus, taking time from his busy schedule at the North Pole to chat with the children of Ottawa. If that wasn’t lovely enough, Santa is also displaying one of his little known talents: He’s bilingual! Kids can chat about their wish list in both French and English. I’m looking forward to saying hello in person and seeing what I can do about my rumored position on the naughty list.
There’s A Sweet Treat At The End
Your nostalgic Christmas experience continues even after you leave. A package of gingerbread men, with everything you need to decorate them, is waiting for you to take them home. What a cozy end to the visit! Another local friend, Bonnie Kirkwood, shares my enthusiasm. “I think what I love about it is that it’s cute,” she says. “It’s run by volunteers and feels like the true Christmas spirit. It isn’t flashy like some corporate ones. You get a gingerbread kit, it’s beautifully decorated in the country. Pre-COVID, they had bonfires and sleigh rides. We are longtime museum visitors and so much care is put into their events”.
Have Dinner Nearby
The tiny community of Cumberland is home to a superb restaurant that even a lot of locals haven’t heard of. The Maker Feed Co does farm-to-table style fare, including gourmet pizzas, ultra cheesy French onion soup, and mains with ingredients like duck, lamb, and mussels.
If you wish to learn more about Christmas markets and traditions around the world, check out these articles: