Phantoms of the Past

When you hail from Europe, colonization is something you only read about in history books. Without actually seeing the colonized territories you can hardly imagine a time when people sailed ships across the vast ocean for even the smallest chance to build and prosper in a new land. Travelling to North America ultimately changed my understanding of history.

The present-day cities, that we know and live in, prevailed against hunger, war, disease, and other hardships. They grew big and changed according to the flow of time. But there were many more – those cities are no longer on our maps. Remnants of colonization, with nothing more than gravestones to account for. Maps created by fellow travellers and history enthusiasts show the locations of numerous settlements across all North America that existed for ten, twenty, fifty years, and more. However, they all met the same end.

The pioneers had to blaze their own trails. Would you dare walking the same roads? Some will take you deep into the forest. Others will leave you out in the open. You may even get lost a couple of times. Not every place is accessible by car. Occasionally you will have to walk on an abandoned railway, because that is the only way to get there. There might be only one house left standing, or even less, a shadow of a house hovering above a dilapidated foundation. But to me they all are proof of someone’s courage and strength.

When you look at the graves of people who lived a century or two ago, you wonder about many things. What was their life like? Were they happy? Did they have regrets? Disease took lives of many children. Young women often died in childbirth. Freezing, drowning, or burning in a fire was not rare either. Death had many forms and anyone could meet their demise unexpectedly, even more so in a land that has not always been welcoming.

There are a few places that can be considered lucky. Ball’s Falls – a historical ghost town which was established in early 19th century is now preserved as a conservation area. There are several original and restored buildings: the Ball family home, an operating flourmill, a lime kiln, a restored church, a blacksmith shop, and a carriage shed and more (source: www.npca.ca). You can see the pictures here.

Unlike Ball’s Falls, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (1639 to 1649), one of the first European settlements in what is now province of Ontario, was completely destroyed in its time and reconstructed only three centuries later. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1920, the reconstruction is now operating as a living museum. Here are some of the recent photos of the reconstructed Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.

Unfortunately, few places are being truly preserved and reconstructed. I have seen several cemeteries and ghost towns that are towns only in name. There is a lot of history behind them, but that history is likely to be lost in years to come.

Here are some of the places that I have visited in Ontario: