Hidden History: Ruthven Park

You never know what you’ll come across when driving through the Canadian hinterland. While driving towards the Niagara Peninsula this summer, we happened to drive through Haldimand County on the Grand River. As we were leaving the town limits to our right we saw a sign, tucked away behind a hedge, indicating a national heritage historical site. Being the history advocates that we are, we decided to see what could be found.

Ruthven Park

In the quietest places of Canada, one can find a bevy of fascinating historical sites

Tucked away in a picturesque nature preserve, we discovered the 1500 acres of land which constitute Ruthven Park. Headlining this preserve filled with historical ruins, a butterfly sanctuary, Carolinian forests and farmland is a fantastic Greek revival mansion built between 1845 and 1847 by David Thompson I. Within the manor lies five generations worth of collective history of the Thompson family. Our guide took us on a tour through the massive building, recalling the history of the area, the characters of the family, and the estate’s future as a Canadian Historical site.

North Entrance

View of the northern entrance to the main estate building

While aesthetically superb, we found the most interesting that the stories surrounding the lifespan of the manor and the lives of its inhabitants revolved around key periods of Canadian history. Two of the families’ generations of men fought in Canadian wars, while also serving in prominent positions within the government, and acting as host to various famous officials in Canadian history, including numerous governor generals.

The Parlour

The parlour, where numerous dignitaries including the Governor General of Canada were received

Ruthven Manor has many characters who played key parts in our history. David Thompson I, born in 1793, the founder of the estate, played a key role in the War of 1812 as an officer in the Canadian militia. He was injured in combat during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in 1814, later retiring as a lieutenant colonel in order to pursue an entrepreneurial and political career. His Light Infantry Pattern (1803) sabre can be viewed within the manor.

David Thompson

David Thompson I, with original Light Infantry Pattern Sabre

Later generations of the family would fight in the First and Second World Wars, where they served as commissioned officers. The distinctive markings of each of these men can be found throughout the house. For example, we discovered that a majority of the paintings in the house were produced by one of the brothers who served in the First World War; products of a man’s attempt to fight the post traumatic stress disorder borne from his time in the trenches.

Generations

Generations of the Thompson family fought in Canada’s wars

Ruthven Park also contains acres of walking and hiking paths to explore. While ambling by the butterfly sanctuary we came across the family burial plot; quietly placed in a corner of the estate, this aspect of the park should not be missed. Further investigation of the other trails in the park would certainly unveil a wealth of ruins and history tucked away in the picturesque landscape.

The Grounds

Wander through the grounds of Ruthven Park and you’ll discover historical time capsules, such as the family plot

When planning the itinerary for our Niagara trip, we considered the sites to visit. Fort George, Queenston Heights, and many other prominent locations came to mind. Little did we know that while exploring the back roads of Ontario, we would find one of the many wonderful volunteer led, historically rich, sites that pepper the Canadian landscape. Ruthven Park is one of these historical gems which should not be missed if you’re traveling in the area.

If you wish to learn more about Ruthven Park, or would like to make a donation to this important historical site, please visit: www.ruthvenpark.ca or call (877) 705-7275.

We thank Ruthven Park for the permission to use our pictures of the site in this feature


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