Adventures of trying to buy Canadian at a local “historical” attraction

Why can I not buy anything Canadian anymore? We have friends who live in the southern US and the common thing we hear from them is that they’d love us to send them something that is “Canadian”. This is harder than one would think. Or at least harder than I thought it would be.

In the hunt of things Canadian, my exploration led me to Upper Canada Village. I’ve been there dozens of times, my first time being in May of 1985 as a Grade Three student in Mr. Paul’s class at Escott Public School. After moving to the area in 2005, my wife and I bought seasons passes for a few years to take our kids as it was just down the road from our house. As I remember it, they had a really nice gift shop with lots of Canadian things, had is the operative word in that sentence. Unless Jim Shore Disney figurines, sterling jewelry from Thailand, tin ceiling art from India and Melissa and Doug toys are Canadian. Where was the Canadian? Well… They did have one four foot display of books and videos on the War of 1812, the Seaway and Upper Canada Village. They also had some beautiful (and expensive) Inuit carvings in a display case by a door. That was it.

Some background. Upper Canada Village opened in 1961 as a re-creation of life in Upper Canada in four distinct periods of time, with some buildings displaced from the St. Lawrence Seaway Project being used along with period costumed interpreters. Great concept that gradually blurred. The four distinct time periods merged into 1860’s, buildings altered to kind of represent that time period. Over time the place has stagnated due to poor management, unionized staff caring more about their pay cheque than their job and a constant dumbing down of some of the great stories of our Canadian history. Still, it was Canadian and the attraction and the goods sold there represented Canada.

Enter the Provincial Government of Dalton McGuinty, and some pin-head bureaucrat in Toronto who needed to see the attraction’s attendance go up. A new “discovery center” was built and the general store (gift shop) was renovated as part of it…. into a cheap touristy ketch store of overpriced knockoffs made in China, India, Thailand and Taiwan. A veritable United Nations of overpriced, generic crap that could be bought at gift shops anywhere from Flordia to Winnipeg and any/everywhere between.

The problem isn’t just with the gift shop, it goes to the core of the problem, the idiocy of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission which operate the Village. Take the price and marketing efforts of the Upper Canada Village’s “Alight at Night” event. The event is advertised on their website as being $13/adults, $10/Youths and Seniors, Children 5 and under are free. First, according to the Parks Commission, if you are 13 years old, you are an adult and pay full price. For a family of four, two adults, two kids youths, you are looking at $46+HST, to go look at Christmas lights. For my family, it would be $66+HST.

Ah, but go in person and look at the sign where you get your tickets. Adults are $13/each, Seniors $10 and Children Free. So which is it?

Being the curious person I am, I asked a few different families while I was searching for something Canadian. I found that one family of five paid $26+HST, as their three kids were free. But the next family I talked to indeed paid $46+HST as they were two adults and two youths. A third family I asked gave me an earful about how the ticket sales person tried to charge for their kids and he had to argue to get them for free by pointing out the signs above the sales person’s head. They paid for four adults total (parents and grandparents) and their three kids were finally no charge.

My own experience from last year was enough to tick me off with this stupid coupon promotion they did with fine print details that basically invalidated their promotion discount. The only reason we went that time was because my kids were right there with me as I was getting the tickets and since they were bundled up I decided not to argue over $20. I suspect the St. Lawrence Parks Commission made a lot of money last year, and this year from Dads not arguing over an extra $20 but stating that this would be the last time they’d go to the Village. I was one of them last year and I almost was lured in by the cheap admission this year.

After hearing the complaints about the pricing, I did ask if they enjoyed the attraction. Most of the comments were along the lines of, “It was better last year” and “that was it?” Hardly a glowing review (no pun intended). I mean, it’s Christmas lights. Hard to mess that up right? After the third family I decided to get out of there as the point was made.

When I went to leave, I had found a bottle of medium amber Maple Syrup from the Maple Forest that is part of the park, and it was in a glass bottle shaped like a maple leaf. Kitsch yes, but it was something. Off to the cash register to buy for our friends. I asked the clerk, why is there not more Canadian items. Her response was what I expected but I was still shocked to hear it, “Canadian stuff doesn’t sell.”


That electrical frying sound was my brain twitching from the short circuit caused by that statement.

Canadian things don’t sell in the gift shop of an attraction that is about Canadian history in Upper Canada. HUH?????

I gave the clerk the bottle and said, “I guess you wont be selling this then” and I walked out without the bottle.

I am still stuck without something Canadiana for our southern friends with less than a week until Christmas and less than 24 hours left to get a package in the post. Maybe I’ll find a Canadian Flag somewhere. I know however that unless things change drastically at Upper Canada Village, that will be the last time I darken their attraction again.