Peterborough’s Living History Museum
"Sir Sandford Fleming is best known for his major railway building accomplishments on the Intercolonial, linking central Canada and Halifax, and the Canadian Pacific Railways to the west coast. Fleming was also known for many other innovations: the design of Canada’s first adhesive postage stamp, the three-penny Beaver; promotion of the Pacific Cable; and his world renown as the inventor of Standard Time."
Hutchison House holds a special place in the social history of Peterborough.
Local volunteers built the house in 1836 to persuade one of their first doctors to stay in the settlement. Over a century and a half later, another group of dedicated volunteers contributes their time and skills to operate the house as a living history museum.
In 1830, Scottish immigrant Dr. John Hutchison set up his medical practice in the new village of Peterborough. For the first few years, he rented a small cottage, but by 1836, his growing family needed more room. With no suitable housing available, the doctor contemplated moving to Toronto. The local citizens donated their skills and most of the building materials to construct a limestone house on an acre of land at the edge of the village. In 1837, the Hutchisons moved into their new home.
It was not a grand house but it was far more comfortable than the log cabins and small frame structures that housed most of the villagers. Now located in the downtown core, Hutchison House is one of the oldest stone houses still standing in the city.
Sir Sandford Fleming, a second cousin of Dr. Hutchison, considered the house his home for two years after arriving from Scotland in 1845 at age 18. He drew the first map of Peterborough in 1846 and sold lithographed copies to earn his keep. While living with the Hutchisons, he became friends with their neighbour, James Hall, Peterborough’s Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), who later helped him establish his illustrious career. In 1855, he returned to Peterborough to marry Hall’s daughter Jeanie. Sandford’s early diaries provide a wealth of detail about early Peterborough, the Hutchison’s family life and the doctor’s journeys about the countryside visiting patients.
Sadly, the popular doctor died in the 1847 typhus epidemic that swept across Upper Canada. In 1851, the house was sold to James Harvey, a prominent local businessman, who renovated the upstairs and built a brick Victorian addition at the back. The house remained in the Harvey family until 1969, when it was bequeathed to the Peterborough Historical Society by Harvey’s great-great granddaughter.
In the 1970s, the original stone house was carefully restored under the direction of Peter Stokes, a restoration architect. It opened as Hutchison House Living Museum in 1978.
Today, over 7,000 people visit the museum and participate in its programs annually.
Of special interest is the doctor’s study that features a collection of surgical instruments and other 19th-century medical tools. The period furnishings are typical examples of what would have been found in a rural doctor’s office.
The Victorian parlour is set for tea as it might have been when Mrs. Hutchison entertained guests, including pioneer author Catharine Parr Traill, who was a patient of Hutchison and a family friend.
A bedroom is devoted to Sir Sandford Fleming’s stay at the house. On display is one of his original 1846 maps of Peterborough and his design for a type of roller blade that proved to be before its time.
On the ground floor, the pioneer kitchen was fully restored to its original stone walls and beamed ceiling. It contains a collection of pioneer furniture and early kitchen utensils. During restoration, the old stone hearth was uncovered and is now used by volunteers for demonstrations of cooking in the 1800s.
While the old kitchen and main-floor rooms reflect the lifestyle of the Hutchison family in the 1840s, the upper floor, which would have been just a bare attic bedroom for the Hutchison boys, shows the renovations made by the Harveys, with furnishings that would have been acquired by a well-to-do family in the 1860s.
Today, Hutchison House is owned and operated by the Peterborough Historical Society. Costumed volunteers provide opportunities to explore early life in the city, giving guided tours of the museum, conducting workshops on pioneer cooking and heritage crafts and maintaining the heritage gardens.
Each year, the public is invited to Hogmanay, a traditional Scottish New Year’s Day party complete with pipers, dancing and haggis. Visitors enjoy Scottish teas during the summer, and heritage lunches in front of the open hearth during the winter months. The museum also offers a wide range of educational programs for school children, using the house and its collection to make history come alive.
For more information, visit www.hutchisonhouse.ca.
A provincial plaque entitled “The Hutchison House, 1837” stands on the grounds of the museum. There are also two provincial plaques commemorating Sir Sandford Fleming – the first at Fleming Park in Peterborough, while the other stands at the War Memorial Gardens in Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland. The latter is one of the Ontario Heritage Trust’s 22 international provincial plaques.