Just outside the city limits, on a spot overlooking the Grand River, Alexander Graham Bell conceived the idea of a “speaking telegraph” in 1874. Over a century later, the world has marvelled at, and been transformed by, the telephone. Who knew that outside a town of 90,000, an idea conceived would change the world?
In fact, many people are not aware of the art, culture, and history that inhabit the county of Brant. Important histories, like the story of the telephone, seem to be hidden gems, undiscovered by many, but invaluable to those who have found it. It seems wasteful to come to Brantford, as a student or a resident, and not take in the sights, fun, and learning this area has to offer. The following are just a sliver of what you can do when you are bored this year.
Bell Homestead National Historic Site
The prominent green and white house that sits on Teteula Heights Road dates back to 1858. In 1870, the parents of Alexander Graham Bell brought their 23-year-old son, suffering from tuberculosis, from Scotland.
“Brantford has been known for over a hundred years as the Telephone City because of the work Bell did in 1874,” said Brian Wood, curator at the museum. “This basically started the revolution in communications technology.”
In the eleven years his parents worked the farm, A.G. Bell stayed regularly during his summer and winter vacations from teaching in Boston. In August 1876, the site was used in one of A.G. Bell’s three major telephone tests—the most famous was the first long distance call from Brantford to Paris.
The property has been a museum for over a century. It includes a visitor centre, café, and two historical homes as well as outbuildings on the property. The second historical home, Canada’s first telephone business office, has the office recreated just as it would have sat when the building was in downtown Brantford. The building houses an extensive telephone exhibit showcasing phones from the present to the late nineteenth century. Switchboards too. If you don’t know what one is then this would be a good chance to find out.
This museum has a mixture of history covering Victorian life, the Bell family, and the story of the telephone. Want to find out more…Call Them Maybe.
Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks
Pine trees from Paris were floated down the river over two centuries ago to create a small Anglican chapel. The chapel, now 227 years old stands as the oldest Protestant Church in Ontario. It is one of only two royal chapels outside the United Kingdom today.
“It fell into disrepair in 1970 because the local residential school closed and the children had made up the congregation,” said Audrey Bomberry, curator of the chapel. “This was the case until Six Nations Council took it over so [now] it is able to function six months of the year.”
The stain-glass windows that adorn the chapel were not installed until the twentieth century but were designs taken from the letters of missionaries—each window with an excerpt from those letters. Each window depicts events in the history of the Six Nation people.
The chapel build in 1785 serves as a reflection of the history in this area from the Haldimand Proclamation when the area deeded to the Six Nations.
Whether Anglican or not, a visit to this chapel is well worth it to take in the marvellous interior of solid wood. It is certainly a place where one can come to seek solitude surrounded by many years of history.
Woodland Cultural Centre
Open for the past 40 years, Woodland Cultural centre is the longest running cultural centres in Canada and boasts the largest collection of First Nations artifacts in Canada. The Six Nations of the Grand River are responsible for its operation.
“We are the real deal. We are authentic,” said Paula Whitlow, museum director for the Woodland Cultural Centre. “Since the centre is run by Six Nations, even though we’re located in Brantford, you are coming on to the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.”
The property was once the site of a residential school for First Nations people before it closed in 1972. Since then not only has the property been a space for promoting culture, language, and history, it has been a place for many survivors of the residential school system to come to terms with their ordeal.
There is a permanent gallery of 10,000 square feet with special exhibitions that rotate, including art exhibitions. There is a language resource centre and library for those doing work in Canadian or Indigenous studies.
Woodland Cultural Centre is an amazing place to learn in a variety of methods. It sports everything from art to academic learning, and it is likely after one visit you will return.
Glenhyrst Art Gallery
The home on the Grand River once owned by Edmund Lister Cockshutt now goes by the name of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery. Edmund had quite a passion for art and horticulture—accumulating quite a collection of art—and always made his grounds available for the community to enjoy.
“[Cockshutt] built this estate, sixteen acres on the Grand River, with gardens and would always leave it open to the public,” explained Marcia Lea, executive director and curator. “When he died he left it to the City of Brantford and it has been used in this way since.”
Glenhyrst not only maintains the well-trimmed grounds that have an array of outdoor sculptures and art, but also rotates displays inside the main building year round. The focus is largely on contemporary art but the museum has a permanent collection of over 700 pieces.
There are a variety of art classes on weekends and evenings in the former coach house to Mr. Cockshutt for all levels of artists. Information on guest speakers and classes are available on the website.
The sculptured gardens are a great place to sit, relax, or have a picnic. They also connect right into a network of trails that extend around the city. Whether toning your skills or just taking in the art, Glenhyrst is one place you have to see before leaving this city.