Heritage by numbers

Homewood Museum in Maitland

Photo: Homewood Museum in Maitland


Gordon Pim

Black heritage, Buildings and architecture, Natural heritage

Published Date: Feb 15, 2007

Ontario’s heritage is an immense and complex jigsaw puzzle. Every individual element of heritage creates a whole . . . a sort of heritage by numbers. All the bits and pieces fit together to chronicle a history rich with adventure and emblazoned with spirit.

For example, the Trust owns a property in Maitland (near Brockville) called Homewood. This c. 1800 homestead – one of the oldest in Ontario – was built for Loyalist Solomon Jones and was home to the Jones family for six generations. Behind this handsome façade is a collection of furniture, pottery and memorabilia that comprises the museum’s exhibits today, and is still relevant in telling this family’s remarkable story. Further elements of this tale were discovered in 2000 when 300 children from area schools joined in archaeological digs to uncover over 10,000 artifacts.

Collected anecdotes also enrich a history. And people from our past continue to impact our present. For instance, a provincial plaque at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, a property owned and operated by the Trust, tells the story of Josiah Henson, an escaped slave and abolitionist who established a settlement in Dresden for a growing Black community. The Trust has unveiled provincial plaques to commemorate 16 Black heritage subjects – including communities like The Buxton Settlement near Chatham-Kent, burial grounds like the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Cemetery in Otterville, and remarkable people like Harriet Tubman, Richard Pierpoint and the “Colored Corps.” These plaques help to tell the powerful story of Ontario’s Black pioneers.

There is further evidence of Ontario’s heritage in the natural landscapes that surround us. For example, Ruthven Park National Historic Site in Cayuga (about 30 km south of Hamilton) covers land that was occupied by Aboriginal people from 8000 BC to AD 1000. Today, Ruthven stands as a rare surviving example of that romantic combination of Classical architecture and picturesque landscape that characterized country estates of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Trust holds a conservation easement on both the buildings and the natural elements. Ruthven also has an active archaeology program. Over 30 archaeological sites have been identified. For information on touring this site, visit

Each element of our heritage accumulates to tell robust tales teaming with the spirit of our forebears. Identifying each element separately has merit – the interpretation of a particular structure will have different significance from the collection housed inside. But analyzing the history as a whole helps us understand better where we come from, and as we discover more, our heritage becomes richer.